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Dr. Linda Shiue had been practicing as a primary care physician in San Francisco for a decade or more when she hit a wall: No matter what she did, her patients continued to be overweight, their cholesterol and blood pressure high and they felt low. The prescriptions she wrote based on the best advice in medical journals didn’t solve the problems, leaving both her patients and her frustrated.
While Shiue has been practicing medicine in the Bay Area for more than 20 years, she grew up on Long Island, New York and graduated from Brown University. She ended up on the West Coast when she moved to San Francisco for her internal medicine residency at UCSF.
Several years ago, she was introduced to Napa when her teenage daughter found a semester program for studio artmaking at Oxbow School. They had never spent time in Napa until they visited the school and Linda quickly made the decision to take the money she had saved for a home in San Francisco and purchase a home in the city of Napa. Today, she spends three days a week in San Francisco and the rest in Napa.
But, back to her existential crisis: She had always loved to cook so she was looking forwarding to a medical conference called Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives, cosponsored by Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America. However, this went far beyond learning a new sauce for the salmon. The presenters dug down into the latest in nutrition science and translated it into how to help their patients.
You would naturally think doctors are at the head of the class in nutrition information but nutritionfacts.org writes: “Medical students are still getting less than 20 hours of nutrition education over four years, and even most of that has limited clinical relevance. Thirty years ago, only 37 percent of medical schools had a single course in nutrition. According to the most recent national survey, that number has since dropped to 27 percent.”
Shiue walked away from the conference a changed doctor. Just a week later she taught her first cooking course, which she called “Cook Your Way to Better Health” at Whole Foods in Los Altos and discovered she enjoyed teaching.
When Shiue met with patients, after discussing the results of lab tests and their blood pressure, she’d sometimes write them a prescription for kale chips: a humorous but clear message that their eating habits played a critical part in their health.
By stepping into the chef-teacher role and out of the doctor/patient hierarchy, the interaction became more casual, allowing her to have a much bigger impact in the patient’s lifestyle. To continue this journey, the next step was to become better at teaching cooking classes and that meant professional culinary training.
She found a six month program for professional culinary arts at San Francisco Cooking School, but she would need to go full time. When her employer didn’t buy into her taking off for that long, she switched to Kaiser Permanente, letting them know it would be a while before she arrived; well, actually, a year, allowing her to travel and then attend school for half a year.
While San Francisco Cooking School teaches classic French culinary techniques and recipes, the professional skills she picked up and how to teach them were what she needed.
Her combination of medical knowledge and professional cooking skills allowed her to become Kaiser’s first director of culinary medicine and in 2017 launch Thrive Kitchen, a hands-on cooking class for physicians and their patients to change their lives by cooking healthy meals at home.
The brochure listed the classes as Global Cuisine, which brought in the world of spices and herbs but were plant-forward. Shiue never mentioned the dishes were vegetarian and the results were so satisfying that most patients never noticed it.
In the meantime, she had become friends with Francis Lam, food journalist, cookbook editor, and now host of the radio show “The Splendid Table.”
In those days he was food editor of Salon.com and hosted its weekly Kitchen Challenge, which was described as “your challenge is to create an eye-opening dish within our capricious themes and parameters.”
Shiue was one of only two participants who submitted a dish each week for an entire year. She thought the best way to get her message out about healthy eating was a book, so she asked his help in getting it published.
His answer: no. He later relented, asking, “How bad do you want to do it?” Meaning: “Do you want to do the extensive work of writing new recipes and organizing the photography and styling, all while still working fulltime as a physician?”
Her answer was she had to do it, some way, somehow. He led her to a book agent who handled health books, but who had never done a cookbook. But she knew how to catch the eye of an editor with a professional-looking book proposal, which Linda didn’t know how to do.
The book proposal did its job, leading to Linda signing a book deal, but she, not the book publisher, had to use her small advance to pay for the photographer and stylist.
With little money to spend and no history of writing books, she had to find a stylist and photographer willing to take a chance on her. Luckily, she had met a fellow culinary student at San Francisco Cooking School, Haley Hazell, who wanted to be a food stylist, but she needed experience.
Haley introduced her to a photographer, Michelle K. Min, who had never shot for a book before but was eager to break into the food publishing world. Linda started the project in 2018 and wrote the book in 2019. Their collaboration paid off when “Spicebox Kitchen” was published in March 2021 but they had the bad luck to have to promote it during the pandemic, which required Shiue to attend almost all virtual events.
With the name “Spicebox Kitchen” as the book’s title and “Vegetable-Forward” in the subtitle, it’s clear how the doctor will make your meals tasty and healthy.
In fact, after the introduction, where she tells a little of her story to embracing plant-forward cooking (she does use seafood, eggs and dairy when needed in a recipe) she lays the ingredients for what you need as a full spicebox in the first chapter, alphabetically from allspice to za’atar, plus a selection of herbs.
She also covers the building blocks for a healthy meal, discussing greens, whole grains and legumes. And Shiue touches on the other ingredients you can add to your cooking for flavor and nutrition, from acorn squash to walnuts. There are even tips on how to shop.
Many of her patients haven’t cooked much, so there is the necessary discussion of cooking equipment, knife skills (I’ve seen up close that most folks don’t know how to use a knife) and even drills down to details about food topics such as the difference between “use by” and “best before” on packaged goods.
After being outfitted with knowledge and gear, you’re finally ready for recipes. She writes, “The best way I have found to make transitioning to eating more healthfully a joy is to bring in flavors from around the world.” Her own influences including growing up with parents from Taiwan, living in Singapore for a year, marrying a man from Trinidad and, of course, California cuisine after living here for two decades.
Recently, the book was awarded a Gold Nautilus Book Award in the category of Food, Cooking and Healthy Eating. The Nautilus Book Awards represent “Better Books for a Better World”, and its mission is “to celebrate and honor books that support conscious living & green values, high-level wellness, positive social change & social justice, and spiritual growth.”
Here is a taste of this delicious book.
Excerpted from “Spicebox Kitchen: Eat Well and Be Healthy with Globally Inspired, Vegetable-Forward Recipes by Linda Shiue, MD, Hachette Go, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Endive Leaves with Harissa Carrot Yogurt
Makes about 36 leaves
Yogurt Dip
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces carrots (3 to 5 carrots) peeled and grated coarsely
1/3 cup unsalted pistachios, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon fine kosher salt
4 medium size garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon harissa (if unavailable, use paprika and Aleppo pepper or cayenne pepper to taste)
6 heads endive, carefully separated into leaves; choose the largest/crispest
Garnishes:
Pomegranate arils (The shiny red seeds inside the fruit are called arils)
Minced carrot greens, fresh parsley, or fresh mint
Flaky salt
Prepare the dip. Heat olive oil in a medium-size skillet over medium heat until shimmering.
Add carrots and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until they start to soften.
Add pistachios and salt, then cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly, until carrots start to brown.
Add garlic and cook for another minute, or until fragrant. Remove from heat and allow to cook for 5 minutes.
Put yogurt in a medium-size bowl, then add the cooled carrot mixture and harissa. Stir together and adjust seasoning to taste.
To fill endive leaves: Hold each leaf in one hand, facing upward like a boat. Add a teaspoon-size dollop to bottom/root end (only) of each endive leaf. Arrange prettily on a platter, then garnish each filled leaf with a few pomegranate arils, minced herbs, a few chopped pistachios, and a pinch of salt.
Miso-Glazed Maitake Mushroom Burgers
Makes 4 burgers
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound maitake mushrooms, cleaned and divided into 4 clusters, or oyster mushrooms
6 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon miso thinned with 2 tablespoons water
4 soft burger buns, ideally potato or brioche
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
2 cups arugula
Melt butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat, then add mushrooms and cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden and slightly crisped. Press down with a spatula to maximize browning.
Add scallions to pan and cook for a minute, until wilted and slightly charred.
Add salt and some black pepper to taste. Pour miso mixture over mushrooms and turn over until evenly coated and absorbed.
Toast buns, then assemble burger:
Place bottom half of each bun on a plate.
Sprinkle each with ¼ cup of grated Swiss cheese.
Place hot mushrooms and scallions on top of cheese layer.
Top with sliced red onion and arugula.
Cherry, Plum and Nectarine Clafoutis
Serves 6
Butter, for pan
8 ounces cherries, stemmed and pitted (if using frozen—but why would you? It’s cherry season right now–defrost and towel dry before using)
1 firm-fleshed ripe plum
1 firm-fleshed ripe white nectarine
3 large eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups whole milk
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish (optional)
Butter a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate and preheat oven to 350° F.
Slice and arrange fruit in n even layer in prepared pie plate.
Whisk or blend together eggs and granulated sugar in a medium bowl; add ginger, salt, and vanilla; then flour; and last, milk, mixing until you have a smooth and airy batter.
Pour batter over prepared fruit. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned and a knife inserted into center comes out clean.
Remove from oven, let cook on a wire rack, and serve just slightly warm or refrigerate and serve cool (it will be easier to slice when it cools).
Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving, if desired.
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