It’s flu season and purportedly the worst flu in ages. While nothing can cure the flu, wasabi can ease the symptoms and strengthen the immune system. If nothing else, the fire will clear the sinuses, which is a decent compromise for anyone with a stuffed nose. Besides that, the wasabi panini is easy to prepare, even when you feel less than functional.
The traditional bread of the panini is a baguette, turned inside out to show the grill marks. When cooking a single sandwich, opt for a soft mini-baguette (as pictured). In this recipe I added a few teaspoons of wasabi powder to Greek yogurt. The upside of preparing the wasabi spread yourself is that you are in control of just how pungent the spread will be. Keep in mind that wasabi powder will incorporate well in any sandwich spread, such as mayo, hummus, even butter at room temperature. Spread the wasabi mix on both sides of the bread (if you dare) or just one side, then add sliced turkey and a slice or two of cheese. It’s your sandwich so feel free to substitute and improve.
This sandwich calls for havarti or brie, as both cheeses melt smoothly and the creamy texture makes an excellent contrast to the burn. Work smart not hard as they say, especially when ill. The George Foreman grill is perfect for making paninis and will even give them the customary grill marks. (No Foreman? A frying pan and a spatula will get the job done.) Once compiled, slightly squish the sandwich and then crush it between the griddles. Crush it, don’t be shy, it’s meant to get squished. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, until the cheese melts, the turkey is warm, and the bread has golden brown grill marks. Serve immediately. Whatever else happens, while eating this sandwich, your sinuses will clear. The burn is the proof that it’s working.
The healthy burn
Wasabi has many health benefits, especially those helpful when fighting the cold or flu. Besides being a cancer fighter (always good) wasabi has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties and relieves the symptoms of allergies. The cold and flu are of course viruses but while ill you are less able to fight other germs, which is why a boost of anti-bacterial food is a decent course of action. Inflammation happens throughout the body, even in the lungs. Wasabi helps to alleviate lung pressure (a symptom of inflammation) and increases blood flow (and thereby oxygen). As an added bonus, that increase in blood flow is a natural aphrodisiac for women.
The bad news
Most of the wasabi served at Japanese restaurants isn't “real” wasabi. Instead it’s a mix of horseradish and green food dye.
The good news
Real wasabi is available, especially wasabi powder. The powder can be incorporated into any sandwich spread, say hummus, mayo, or Greek yogurt as used in this panini.
The silver lining
Even “fake” wasabi has health benefits. Horseradish itself is a Super Food with a long history of fighting the flu and respiratory infections. It’s also a cancer fighter. Six one way, half a dozen the other.