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The Culinary Pharmacy

By Lisa Masé 



My father laced on his ancient hiking boots and headed to the south-facing hillsides in our local forests to forage for chanterelle mushrooms. After a bountiful harvest one summer, he and I cooked an immune-boosting lunch of risotto, an Italian staple that defines itself by its regional variations. In the south of Italy, risotto may be prepared with fresh tomatoes and seafood. A traditional northern recipe is made with minced onions, carrots, and celery sautéed in butter—a combination known as soffritto—with white wine and mixed with chanterelles. As we sat before the steaming bowls, we paused, and my father shared the prayer that his mother taught her children and grandchildren. Engaging with ancestral rituals and foods to reconnect to the place that defines our identity can feel grounding, calming, and nurturing, just like a warm bowl of risotto.

Chanterelle Risotto

6 cups chicken stock

3 tablespoons butter

1 yellow onion, minced (about 1 cup)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 stalks celery, minced

2 medium carrots, minced

½ pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms, diced

2 cups risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)

½ cup white wine

¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)

  1. Another way to measure the rice is to put a handful per person into the skillet. Brush any dirt off the chanterelles before chopping them; do not wash them to maintain their flavor.

  2. Bring the chicken stock to a gentle simmer in a pot.

  3. Heat the butter in a deep skillet and add the onion. Cook over medium heat until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the salt as it cooks.

  4. Add the celery and carrots and cook for a few more minutes.

  5. Add the diced chanterelles and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook for 5 more minutes. Smell the earthy fragrance that rises from the cooking mushrooms. Offer a moment of praise for the endless network of mycelium that spans the forest, informing trees and ferns about woodland activity from miles away.

  6. Stir in the rice and cook until it becomes translucent, about another 2 minutes. Add an extra handful of rice for an unexpected guest.

  7. Pour in the white wine. Reduce the heat to medium-low.

  8. At this point, stop stirring. I know that many people talk about stirring risotto constantly. I grew up never stirring it. I love the risotto my family prepares. Try it. It will work out.

  9. Once the wine has been absorbed, start adding the hot stock, a ladle or two at a time. When you see bubbles rising to the surface of the rice, add another ladle or two of stock—just enough so that the stock barely covers the rice. Keep adding stock until the rice is cooked. My father swears it takes exactly 18 minutes.

  10. Add the Parmigiano (if using), stir well, and serve a ladle or two to each person at the table. Eat steaming hot.


Every traditional culture weaves food as medicine into daily life. Over time, with modernization, migration, and globalization, these daily food practices have changed or been forgotten. After my family moved from Italy to Kansas City, we found ourselves praying over hot dogs with supermarket-pickled relish served on white buns. “God bless this food which now we take, and do us good for Jesus’s sake. Amen.” I remember glancing sidelong at my mom as my grandfather recited these words every evening at dinner. How could we be praying over this mass-market, industrially produced food that had no roots—no local provenance, no seasonality, no farmer or forager or maker to thank? I started trying to bring the same degree of quality and mindfulness I’d been accustomed to in Italy to the foods my American grandparents enjoyed. I started taking some of the foods that they ate to places like Loose Park, the local nature spot. It helped me restore my connection to myself as a member of the natural world and gave me solace in a world of denatured foods.

Late-Night Grilled Cheese

2 tablespoons (or more) pastured butter

2 slices good bread, preferably sourdough rye

3 slices Fontina cheese, or whatever variety is your favorite.

Spread butter on each slice of bread.

  1. Heat a skillet on the stove, preferably one that is cast iron or stainless steel. Turn the heat down to medium-low and place one slice of bread on it, butter side down. Hear it sizzle. Place the cheese on top of the sizzling bread.

  2. Then place the second slice of bread on top of the cheese, butter side up.

  3. Cook over low heat for a couple of minutes.

  4. Flip the sandwich with a wide spatula. Press it down gently.

  5. Listen to the butter melting. Breathe in the aroma of spring cow pastures, if you remember them.

  6. Rip off a sheet of aluminum foil and lay it flat on the counter.

  7. Check the bottom of the sandwich. When it is crisped to your liking, place it on the foil. Wrap it up and take it to Loose Park after midnight. Tomorrow, Mom will chide you for leaving the dirty skillet on the stove. 


About the Author:

Lisa Masé is a board-certified holistic nutritionist (BCHN) and a registered health and nutrition coach (RHNC) as well as an herbalist, intuitive eating coach, food sovereignty activist, and poet. The founder of Harmonized Living, a wellness coaching practice, Lisa lives on unceded Abenaki land in Montpelier, Vermont.

Excerpted with permission from "The Culinary Pharmacy" by holistic nutritionist Lisa Masé, a groundbreaking work that seamlessly weaves together three ancestral healing philosophies—Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and the Mediterranean diet—with modern nutrition science. This unique fusion offers readers a comprehensive guide to discovering their ideal eating plan for vibrant health.

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