Black to basics

Dark-colored food is a treasure trove of important nutrients.

black beans (photo credit: Courtesy)
black beans
(photo credit: Courtesy)
My dear mother Ida, who will be celebrating her 95th birthday in September, loves the color black in clothes, but finds eating black foods distasteful.
Her attitude recently made me think of what a complex approach we humans have toward the color. On the one hand, black is associated with sophistication and power; it is authoritative and powerful, formal (limousines, tuxedos, the attire of judges, haredim and clergy). Yet, on the other hand, when dealing with our fellow humans, the attitude of many people towards others of a different color is sadly unjustly and horrifyingly prejudiced.
What my mother didn’t know, and what I recently explained to her, is that naturally black food is now in the spotlight, since it turns out that it is specifically the black pigment that holds a treasure trove of important nutrients, vital in the prevention of illness.
What are black foods? Black beans, black (Japonica) rice and black rice noodles, black lentils (the tiny ones), black plums, prunes, mulberries and blackberries, black sesame, nigella seeds, seaweed, black mushrooms, black pepper, chia seeds and poppy seeds, among others.
Black beans have been found to contain more antioxidant activity, gram for gram, than other beans, followed by red, brown, yellow and white beans, in that order. Black mushrooms (primarily shiitake) have also been shown to help reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure, and contain polysaccharides that are thought to boost the immune system and inhibit the growth of tumors. Even little black peppercorns are a source of antioxidants, and taken together with turmeric enhance the latter’s anti-inflammatory activity. In nature in general, the darker the seed coat, the higher the level of flavonoids.
Another interesting thing I discovered in recent years is that little black nigella seeds (ketzah) are an amazing source of nutrients, and have been used for thousands of years to strengthen the respiratory and digestive systems, to improve liver and kidney function, to increase milk in nursing mothers and energy in general, and to help prevent cancer and other illnesses.
Among the Arab population, the oil of nigella seeds and black nigella tehina are considered nutritional supplements; in fact, according to an Arab friend, the Koran states that it is helpful for virtually everything but death (!). According to Chef Hussam Abas of the Elbabor restaurant, one Arab home remedy for diabetes sufferers is three teaspoons of nigella seeds soaked in 1⁄2 a liter of olive oil for two weeks. The dose is a teaspoon of the oil every morning. Nigella oil (shemen ketzah) is available in Arab markets (primarily spice stores) and through and
Another option is nigella tehina, usually a blend of 30% sesame and 70% nigella seeds (nigella alone has an extremely bitter taste). It can be found in some Arab markets, tehina factories, at Saba Habib ( in Kibbutz Parod, and in the Nitzat Haduvdevan health food store chain. Although I love it, it is an acquired taste.
Nigella seeds are found in all spice shops and can be used to sprinkle on bread, mixed with clarified butter for Indian dishes and steamed vegetables. To enhance their flavor, you might want to toast them in a dry frying pan before using.
Makes 4 servings
1 cup black quinoa1⁄4 cup chopped scallions1⁄4 cup red onion, minced1 medium avocado, cubed or chunked1 medium mango, cubed
For the Dressing:1⁄4 cup olive oil2 Tbsp. rice vinegar11⁄2 Tbsp. honey1 Tbsp. (or more) lemon juice1⁄2 tsp. prepared mustard1 Tbsp. (or more) chopped tarragon or basil
Pour the quinoa into a wiremesh strainer and rinse briefly under running water. Let drain and put in a pot with 11⁄4 cups water. Bring to a boil and cook on low heat 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand, covered, 10 minutes.
Transfer the quinoa to a serving bowl and add the rest of the ingredients for the salad. If not serving immediately, add the avocado at the last minute.
Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a screw-top jar and shake. If not serving immediately, add most of the dressing to the salad (to prevent mango from discoloring), and add the rest, along with the avocado, just before serving.
These super-healthy sweets combine four flavors – sweet, salty, bitter and astringent – to create a really special-tasting sweet that’s full of energy. I love them, but, like nigella tehina, they are an acquired taste and mostly meant for adults. Keep them in the fridge and have one for a burst of energy!
4 Tbsp. nigella tehina
4 Tbsp. regular tehina paste
4 Tbsp. honey
A few drops of rose water
4 Tbsp. chia seeds (available in health food stores), finely ground
1⁄2 cup finely ground sunflower seeds
Coconut and/or toasted and coarsely chopped pistachio nuts
In a small bowl, mix the ingredients for the balls together with a spoon in the order given. Form small balls and roll in coconut or pistachio nuts. Store in the refrigerator.