….Let Food Be Thy Medicine
Updated April 18, 2015
Noah Argual loves to be in the kitchen. To please his palate, he cooks up dishes dominated with colors of red peppers, kale, mushrooms, tomatoes, cilantro and parsley, and infused with spices such as cumin, turmeric, coriander and paprika.
He has two criteria in mind when he is in the kitchen: taste, and also health.
Argual is a clinical pharmacist. He received his Doctor of Pharmacy from Idaho State University, and he has been working in the pharmacy at San Carlos for the last year. He, along with another co-worker, is also in charge of the diabetes program, a sort of pharmacy-based diabetes care clinic.
Yet, Argual suggests that medication should be used as a last resort for treatment. When he is in his own kitchen, he chooses to follow Hippocrates’ advice:
“Let medicine be thy food and let food be thy medicine.”
In Argual’s opinion, often times the best medicine is simply food. It is a concept he hopes to pass on to his patients by setting an example.
“If people ate fresh diet, we wouldn’t have a lot of the health problems we have today,” he says.
“I’ve wanted to know how my body works. And if you know how the body works, then you know how medication works,” he says. “Now I’m learning more about nutrients.”
Whichever ingredients Argual is blending into his dishes, he is consistently considering their health properties and impact.
Cumin, for instance, helps in weight loss, decreases body fat and improves unhealthy cholesterol (LDL), he says.
Turmeric works an anti-inflammatory, like Ibuprofen, he adds, and when combined with black pepper, it has anti-cancer properties. Meanwhile, coriander helps you sleep.
When it comes to flour, Argual chooses to use whole grain, unbleached flour instead of bleached, white flour, in order to benefit from the nutrients of the flour when it is unbleached.
“In white, bleached flour, all the nutrients are gone. You eat, but you still feel hungry,” he says.
“And when you’re hungry, your brain shuts down. That’s why you go buy fast food,” he continues. “If you are consuming a nutrient-dense diet, you won’t feel hungry.”
That is why balanced meals are key, he says.
“My goal is to make the healthiest food that I can,” he adds. “My wife and I treat our food as daily medicine.”
When GMT pays a visit to his kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, Argual, along with the help of his wife Tara, is in the process of preparing a feast.
Argual is originally from Morocco. He has been in the U.S. since 2001; and on this particular day, his wife requested some Moroccan food.
The Moroccan influence is probably most evident based on the must-haves in his kitchen, which includes garlic, cumin, turmeric and ginger.
Also, Argual’s dishes call for veggies, and lots of them.
What he generally tries to avoid, on the other hand, are carbs, MSG and saturated fats. For instance, he tries to substitute coconut oil for olive oil when possible.
When I arrive, he and Tara have already prepared zaalouk, and he hands me the bowl so I can try it. Zaalouk is a common Moroccan dish that can be served hot or cold with bread. It is not difficult to make; spices are the key. The eggplant is sauteed and then simmered with tomatoes and spices — namely cumin, turmeric, paprika, cilantro, parsley, garlic and salt.
I try the zaalouk by itself on a spoon. It’s garlicky and slightly tangy. The cooked eggplant is chunky and has a nice consistency. It leaves a nice after-taste.
Tara prepares a hearty Moroccan bread made of unbleached flour, salt, honey, yeast and olive oil. Once it comes out of the oven, it makes an excellent match broken from the loaf and dipped inte the zaalouk.
As Argual chops vegetables, he is quick to point out that he cuts all of his vegetables with a ceramic knife, because unlike a steel knife, a ceramic knife supposedly won’t oxidize whatever food is being cut.
Back home, Argual’s father was a potato farmer. There was always fresh produce around, like potatoes, onions, cauliflower, carrots and eggplants. This upbringing, Argual explains, influenced his emphasis on a vegetable-rich diet.
Argual began cooking when he left Morocco at 21. His mom was no longer around to cook for him, so he had the choice between eating out or learning how to cook for himself. He chose the latter, and began experimenting in the kitchen.
As he cooks, he remembers one of the first dishes he ever made — it was a concoction of chickpeas, lentils and pepper he made for 10 people.
“It was awful,” he says. “I remember because my roommates invited a couple Moroccans over, and they said ‘What is this?’”
He has come a long way since then.
“I’m always comfortable in the kitchen,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders.
A little observation reflects this. As he is cooking, he isn’t measuring any of his ingredients.
Next, he is preparing the ingredients for harira, a typical Moroccan soup. The soup base is made of chickpeas, fava beans, lentils, onion, turmeric, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Meanwhile, Tara prepares a tomato mixture in their blender — a Ninja. The mixture consists of onion, tomatoes, celery, lemon, parsley and cilantro.
“It’s the most common soup,” he says. “Every Moroccan family has it.”
The tomato mixture then is combined with the soup base in the pressure cooker, one of his favorite kitchen devices. He uses it to cook other things like lamb, beef, chicken or beans.
Argual throws chickpeas on top. Then he mixes flour, egg and water, and adds it to the soup, too, along with a pinch of saffron, straight from Morocco.
The soup cooks in the pressure cooker for about 30 minutes before it is ready. This, too, makes a nice match with the bread. The flour mixture adds just a hint of thickness to it, but it is not too heavy, and the spices give it a robust, slightly spicy flavor.
Meanwhile, Argual moves on to his specialty dish. He calls it “Noah’s Creative Dish.” It is especially healthy, he explains, because it contains no oil.
They key is to cook the dish at a low heat of 150 degrees. That way, he doesn’t deplete the nutrients, and it doesn’t burn.
He cooks it in layers. First, he cooks the onions, without oil. After a few minutes, he layers slices of tilapia on top, preventing the fish from burning. He adds a third layer of bell peppers, a fourth layer of cilantro, and kale on top.
The key to this dish is the concoction of spices that he pours over the top: lemon juice, garam masala, cumin, garlic, turmeric, coriander, paprika and a little water. It cooks for roughly 15 minutes. The spices soak into the tilapia and vegetables, but don’t overpower them.
The last dish on the table is a flavorful salad composed of cucumber, tomato and onion. It is drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil, which make for a light yet juicy dressing. It’s topped with mint and cilantro, complementing the taste of the onion.
Cooking up such a meal is a Sunday tradition in Argual’s kitchen. It is a four to six-hour process, but it has lasting benefits. A huge meal cooked on Sunday means leftovers, so he and Tara can take them to work for lunch instead of eating out or buying fast food.
“They make that food to sell, not to make you healthy,” he says.
Full and satisfied, we finish off our meal with tea, served Moroccan style and infused with mint.
“This will help you digest,” he says, as he pours steaming tea into the cups.
The after effect of the evening is a pleasant one — feeling full of good food, and nourished.
*This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.