Some fascinating emails have come through my in-box over the past decade. One example arrived a little while ago from Erica Sonnenburg. Erica and her husband, Justin Sonnenburg, are researchers at Stanford, where they study the collection of bacteria that inhabit our gut. It’s called the microbiota. Her name struck me as familiar because the Sonnenburgs, both PhDs, were included in Michael Pollan’s article “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs” from the New York Times Magazine, May 15, 2013. Her note went on to say that she and Justin often cook recipes from my website, 101 Cookbooks, because many of them have the hallmarks of “good microbiota food.” This immediately made me feel great but also sparked many questions that have been dancing around my head ever since.
When it comes to broad strokes, I get it: you want to encourage, nourish, support your internal bacterial community. The good bugs. And there are some general “best practices” in life that help. But, for me, the real, well-researched specifics beyond that start to get increasingly hazy. I immediately wanted to know from Erica which recipes, exactly, and why? How, exactly, do I befriend and support my microbiota? How much does food impact it, and what are the other major factors? Best beverages—beer? wine? smoothies? In short, I wanted to know what sort of things I was doing in my day-to-day to support (or hurt) my unique-to-me friendly bugs, so I could continue to do more to support my microbiota.
Erica went on to tell me about the book she and Justin were working on, The Good Gut. The book established the case for the importance of gut microbiota, and documented the Sonnenburgs’ research and findings. They’ve done a lot of work to start to understand the role of diet in this realm, and what they’re finding is that a diet rich in dietary fiber (plant matter) helps to keep the microbiota happy. Also, because different microbes feed on different things, diversity in your diet is key. Broadly speaking, you’re after a wide range of beans, whole grains, seeds and vegetables. And you’ll want to consume foods rich in microbiota-accessible carbohydrates. Published last spring, the book is a fascinating read that goes well beyond dietary recommendations. The authors are doing direct research into what makes your microbiota happy, and have some amazing findings based in good science.
The back of the book includes a recipe section to set the tone for this type of beneficial food choice. These turmeric cashews became one of my favorite snacks of the week. They’re substantial, filling and microbiota friendly. I used the recipe in The Good Gut as a jumping-off point, and flared it out with a few extra spices. My cashews were extra special because I used turmeric gifted by Tara O’Brady, of the blog Seven Spoons. She told me the turmeric was from her maternal grandfather’s estate in Dehra Dun (Dehradun) in Uttarakhand, in the north of India—beautiful turmeric.
Prep time: 3 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
2 cups raw cashews
½ tablespoon toasted sesame oil, plus more if needed
Scant ¼ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt, or to taste
Half an 8- by 8-inch sheet nori seaweed
1½ teaspoons sesame seeds
Scant ¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ tablespoon ground turmeric
Toss the cashews with the sesame oil and sea salt and toast in a 350°F oven for 5–10 minutes, or until golden, tossing once along the way. Remove the cashews and toast the seaweed for a few minutes. Allow it to cool and crisp, then crumble it. Combine the seaweed, sesame seeds and cayenne in a mortar and grind together with a pestle. In a bowl (one that won’t stain) toss the cashews with the sesame spices and turmeric, really go for it. If you need to add a few drops of sesame oil to moisten things up a bit, do so. Taste and adjust the seasonings to taste.
Makes 2 cups.
Inspired by the Turmeric Cashews in The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-Term Health by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg.
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First published on 101cookbooks.com. Reprinted with permission by Heidi Swanson, © 2016.