Kitchen Shrink: Spooky foods beyond Halloween

KITCHEN SHRINK:

Believe it or not, the real life food frights that lurk in oceans and fields, on farms and supermarket shelves are even more horrifying than the nastiest witch's brew of bat bone marrow, spider eyes, and salamander thighs bubbling in a rusty caldron.

Years ago when I was pregnant with my first child in Florida, my trusty fishmonger refused to sell me freshly caught swordfish — a bottom feeder — for fear its high PCB and mercury content would be dangerous to the baby's developing nervous system.

Eventually, I learned to buy wild-caught salmon instead. So here's a bone-chilling list to keep you aware, safe and healthy for All Hallows' Eve and throughout the year.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

A shocking 85 percent of seafood consumed in this country is imported, mainly from polluted waters of developing nations, and mostly farm-raised or produced by aquaculture. Many of these fish are laced with microbes, heavy metals, formaldehyde, antifungals, growth hormones, and a hefty dose of antibiotics to prevent the spread of diseases caused by packing fish tighter than sardines in enclosed pens.

Shrimp and prawns score the highest drug residue levels, followed by crab, eel and tilapia. Since Vietnam, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan and India have been found to be the worst culprits, steer clear of these sources, and fall hook, line and sinker for carefully chosen domestic (where possible local) fish and seafood, especially wild-caught, deep-sea, cold water varieties.

If wild-caught is unavailable, make sure farm-raised fish have been produced and harvested sustainably, without cloning and the use of growth hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, and mammalian products added to their feed.

Sourpuss

Avoid grapefruit and meds — they don't mix! The mighty grapefruit tinkers with the pharmacology of certain prescription drugs, especially those for lowering cholesterol, and controlling blood pressure and anxiety by bolstering absorption in the blood, giving a super concentrated dose. Citrus lovers can switch to oranges of all manners, lemons and limes for a zesty oomph of Vitamin C.

The Seedy Side of Fruits

Even the glorious apple, a phytonutrient wonder has a seedy side (and we're not talking about Adam and Eve), along with pears and stone fruits, including peaches, plums, apricots and cherries. They harbor toxic cyanide in their seeds and pits that can cause serious health problems.

The avocado pit also contains an unknown toxin that is particularly harmful to animals. Enjoy these fruits, but dodge their hazards.

Take It with a Small Grain

Alas, brown rice has been found to contain higher levels of harmful arsenic than its paler counterparts since it accumulates the toxin from the soil in the outer bran that's stripped away in the milling of white rice. No need to give rice the shaft, simply change up with different varieties, like basmati from India, jasmine from Thailand, volcano red rice from the soils of West Java, along with black or forbidden rice from China. While California brown rice has been found to contain lower levels of arsenic than crops harvested in other parts of the country, rinsing rice for several minutes also removes a large amount of residue.

Brazilian Bombshell

Beware of the super-charged Brazil nut. Although a protein-packed morsel with a load of heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, it comes from a tree with a massive root system absorbing elements from the soil in great concentrations, particularly radium, making the nuts radioactive, along with selenium. While the latter is a trace mineral necessary for many functions, especially to boost a sluggish thyroid, eat in moderation to also prevent selenium toxicity.

For a frightfully delicious autumn treat whip up these pan-fried crab cakes, so divine you won't have to fish for compliments.

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Recipe: Crab Cakes

Ingredients: 1-pound fresh lump crab meat (wild, domestic), cartilage and shells removed; 1 1/2-tablespoons chopped parsley; 3 scallions, finely chopped; 1 celery stalk, diced; 1 small red pepper, diced; 3 to 4 tablespoons fine breadcrumbs; Juice from half a Meyer lemon; 1/4 cup mayonnaise; 1/2-teaspoon Worcestershire sauce; splash of hot sauce; 1/2-teaspoon dry mustard; 1 large egg; 1/4-cup canola or grapeseed oil, plus 2 tablespoons

Method: In a saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of oil on medium, and sauté celery and red pepper until tender. Let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, gently blend crab, scallions, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, lemon, Worcestershire, hot sauce and seasonings. Fold in egg and vegetables, stirring until the mixture is cohesive. Add more breadcrumbs if necessary. Divide into four portions, and shape into round, thick cakes. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Chill for one hour.

Add remaining oil to a heavy skillet, and heat on medium. Place cakes on skillet and pan-fry until crispy, about 4 minutes each side. Serve with aioli sauce and lemon wedges.

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: kitchenshrink@san.rr.com

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