It’s that time again, when people start worrying about their immune systems in the hopes of fending off potential colds in the colder months. Good job if you are! Strengthen your immune system before you get sick! This season you’ll easily avoid cold-attacks by making your immune system ship-shape, rather than just grabbing the cold medicine and cough syrup and adding more junk into your system in an effort to get through an illness.

Click here for Immunity-Boosting Recipes

Eating right can be your first best defense. Knowing which foods to add as ingredients to your recipes is a must. Here are a thing or two about some foods. Some of the BEST immunity-boosters present in food are these:

Vitamin C. Big surprise. Here are some my favorite top C-packers: hot peppers, bell peppers, parsely, dark leafy greens, broccoli and brussels sprouts, and strawberries. Other top sources are guavas, kiwis and papayas. But why did I make the separation? Because the first list contains foods that have a low glycemic index and barely any sugar content, whereas the second source list contains things that are high in sugar, and should be eaten in small doses. What about the old vitamin C stand-by, the Orange? Well, it’s holds middle ground on the sugar front, but strawberries are better. (And do I need to mention that eating these things fresh and raw or lightly steamed is always the best option for nutrient value?)

Vitamin E. A sleeper. It’s like Vitamin C’s shorter, smarter, artistic-introvert younger brother. It boosts production of natural killer cells that destroy germs, bacteria, and cancer cells. Nuts and seeds, folks and leafy greens! Also, consider the herring and the sardine. Supreme sources of E, and also of great bone-strengthening calcium. Pickled herring…mmmm, good on a cracker. Sardines? See below for a recipe to broaden your health horizons.

Carotenoids. They help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. And research shows that they seem to have an important function in a healthy female reproductive system!! This is great information that I found out here.

Zinc. This is the active ingredient in cold remedies lik Zicam, the homeopathic medicine you can find at the drug store. Getting your vitamins and minerals from food is always the best (as nature intended), but it’s a little tough going with zinc, unless you really like oysters. WebMD recommends 8mgs a day for most adults. GET THIS: One single medium oyster is about 12mgs – so much for an apple…an oyster a day keeps the doctor away! But there are other options, if oysters don’t appeal, like crab, beef, dark-meat turkey, and beans (though you’d have to eat about 3-4 cups a day.) If you are a vegetarian, talk to your doc or me about taking a supplement. If you like oysters or are hip to try them out, see below.

Bioflavenoids. These lessen cardiovascular disease and generally boost immunity. You can find them in high doses in apples, apricots, blueberries, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, parsley, pinto beans and tomatoes.

Selenium. Another natural killer cell booster and antioxidant. Seafood is a great source: tuna, red snapper lobster, shrimp. But PLEASE be a conscientious seafood consumer who takes into account environmentally-friendly fish-farming and -catching methods. I keep this little guide in my wallet and pull it out at the grocery store.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids. You need “healthy fats” in your diet to reduce inflammation (translated: pain) and help your cells work efficiently. Your top sources are salmon (yum whichever way you make it), walnuts and flaxseeds or flax oil, that last of which can easily be eaten by mixing a tablespoon into your morning yogurt or smoothie. It has a slight nutty flavor.

Immunity-Boosting Recipes

Superhero in a Glass – The Green Smoothie

Let’s talk about smoothies for a second. These can be a fantastic way to get a whopper of a breakfast, chock full of a couple of serving of cold-fighting vitamin C-filled fruit, some protein and calcium(plain yogurt and/or milk or soy milk).

You can make a smoothie out of just about anything, so get your creative juices (tee hee) flowing. Throw some greens into your fruit smoothie – see the vitamin C list above!! Try this for starts: Kale, mixed berries, milk or soy-milk, non-sugar yogurt, and 1/2 a banana or a couple of dates for thickness and sweetness. Experiment with ratios, always moving toward more green and less sweetness.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

This traditional middle-eastern dish is primarily parsley and a grain. This one has a twist. The peppers, spices and garlic mixed with a healthy does of parsely and/or cilantro are a perfect marriage with protein-packed quinoa.

1 cup quinoa
1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 red or orange bell pepper, seeded, membranes removed, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 red jalapeno or serrano chile pepper, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
Juice of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1 bunch mint, chopped
1 bunch cilantro (or parsley), chopped

Combine quinoa and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until liquid is absorbed and the germ, or tail, is released from the quinoa, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Stir in olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature. Add remaining ingredients except for the mint and cilantro. Toss to combine. Taste to adjust seasoning. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour or up to 4 hours to allow flavors to develop. Before serving, stir in the mint and cilantro.

Kale and White Bean Soup with Beets and Spicy Sausage

Need I say it…KALE. It is so awesome. You can add or replace the beets with sweet potatoes for the carotenoids for even more immunity-fighting punch. Beef is a great source of zinc, a natural cold-fighter, so choose your spicy sausage with that in mind. Also, you can make huge batches of this and freeze it for later meals.

1/2 lb spicy chicken sausage, casing removed and thickly sliced

2 medium sized golden beets, peeled and diced

2 large carrots, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1 leek, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth

2 15-oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed

1 large bunch green kale, chopped

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp pepper

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat and add the thinly sliced leeks. Saute for five minutes then add sausage. Brown sausage then add carrots, beets and celery. Toss to combine and continue cooking for another six minutes. Add kale and beans and cook until kale just starts to wilt. Add chicken broth, salt, red pepper flakes and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes.

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

There is a need to fear the brussels sprout no longer. This recipe is by no mean low-cal, but every once in awhile you need serious comfort food. And in the colder months, this is the best of both worlds: cold-busters covered in cheese. (The sprouts grow on stalks that look freaky and jurassic – try tempting your kid to help you pop them off and cook them with you – they might like them if they think they are what dinosaurs ate.)

1 1/2 pounds brussel sprouts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup finely grated Gruyère cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F. (180 C.) Wash brussel sprouts. Trim outer leaves and bottoms. Cut in half. Steam brussel sprouts until crisp tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined and light golden in color. Add milk in a steady stream, whisking to incorporate. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring, until thickened. Stir in Gruyere cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg until smooth. Pour over the brussel sprouts and mix to thoroughly coat. Transfer to a gratin dish. Combine panko and Parmigiano in another small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over brussel sprouts. Bake in oven until golden brown and heated through.

Drago’s Style Charbroiled Oysters

Don’t be scared. Try it. Garlic, hot pepper, parsley, oysters. This recipe is like the poster-child for immunity.

The Sauce:

1 Stick Unsalted Butter, very soft
1 Pinch Kosher Salt
1 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 Tbsp Minced Garlic
4 Tbsp Pecorino Romano
1 pinch Cayenne
1 pinch White Pepper
1 Spritz Lemon Juice
1 tsp Minced Italian Parsley

Whisk together all ingredients.

The Oysters:

1 Dozen Large freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell
1 Recipe of the Sauce, above
Pecorino Romano to finish
Minced Italian Parsley for garnish
Fresh Bread
Lemon wedges

Heat a charcoal or gas grill until very, very hot. Place the oysters on the hottest spot on the grill and let them cook in their own juices for a few minutes, just until they start to bubble and the edges curl. Top each with a generous portion of the sauce, enough to fill up the shell. When the sauce starts to bubble and sizzle sprinkle each oyster with about a Tbsp of Pecorino Romano. Let the Oysters go until the sauce on the edges of the shells gets nice and brown. Garnish with minced Parsley.

Serve while still sizzling with Lemon wedges and fresh bread.

Sicilian Sardine and Broccoli Rabe Pasta (This one I found from the kind folks at (photo by FoodBlogga)

Who doesn’t love pasta? I make this one with brown rice pasta or whole wheat pasta for extra health-punch. The wine-soaked raisins, lemon and Kalamatas provide enough smoke-and-mirrors to divert away from the sardines. This seems like a fabulous recipe for the unitiated. Yumminess mixed with protein, ridiculous amounts of calcium and vitamin D (for bone health), selenium for antioxidants, heart-healthy B12 and omega 3s, as well as vitamin E. Seriously.

1 medium bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), stems removed

3 tablespoons raisins (soaked in white wine)

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small garlic clove, finely chopped

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 (3.75 -ounce) cans sardines in olive oil

2 tablespoons halved Kalamata olives

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Salt, to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

8 ounces rigatoni

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Boil broccoli rabe for 1 ½-2 minutes; remove and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Shocking the rabe will maintain its vivid green color and stop it from cooking. Using the same pan, bring the water to a boil again, and add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover with some dry white wine. Let them soak about 10 minutes to become infused with the flavor of the wine. In a small, dry skillet over medium heat add the pine nuts and breadcrumbs. Shake pan in a back-and-forth motion until they are are golden and aromatic, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add garlic and shallots, sauteing 2-3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Drain the broccoli rabe, pat dry, and add to the skillet. Drain the sardines. Using a fork, break sardines into small pieces and add to the skillet. Add the drained raisins, olives, lemon juice, lemon zest, crushed red pepper, and salt. Sauté 1-2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Add cooked pasta to the skillet with the broccoli rabe mixture. Add toasted bread crumb mixture and fresh parsley and toss. Drizzle with quality extra virgin olive oil before serving.

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