Guest Blogger - Ruth Clark, RD, LD, MPH
As I help people change their eating style to healthier habits, we often have conversations about how to make food tastier. It’s difficult to make many foods tasty without using herbs and spices. They are a great way to add lots of flavor without adding calories, salt and fat. Many of these tasty, powerful gems are also antioxidants which reduce inflammation and help protect against chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
What I have found is many people agree this is a good idea, but they feel clueless about how to start. I think it works to help people create a system to understand how spices and herbs work together. The inspiration for this system comes from popular cuisines. They provide a great example of how different herbs and spices work together.
Most kitchen spice drawers or cabinets contain cinnamon, dill, garlic, lemon, mint, nutmeg, olives, olive oil and oregano. Yes, I know, olives aren’t an herb, but they pack a ton of flavor. These herbs and flavorings are often used in Greek cuisine.
Let’s say you have a basic recipe for a grain salad that you would like to enhance. Using the flavors of Greek cuisine, you can add dill, garlic, lemon, and olives very easily and boost the flavor big time.
Herbs and spices by cuisine to boost flavor
Chinese cuisine includes anise seed, bean paste, chili oil, garlic, ginger, green onions, hot red peppers, sesame oil and seeds, soy sauce, and star anise.
Let’s say you got a good deal on some Bok choy at the supermarket. So, now what do you do? It’s often used in Chinese cuisine, so you could sauté up some garlic, ginger and green onions, add the Bok choy, cook to desired crunch and finish this dish with soy sauce, sesame seeds and drizzle of sesame oil. Delicious!
French cuisine includes bay leaves, black pepper, chervil, chives, fines herbs, garlic, marjoram, nutmeg, onions, parsley, pink and green peppercorns, rosemary, shallots, tarragon, and thyme.
I use these French herbs and spices all the time. A favorite is Roasted Winter Vegetables which includes black pepper, garlic, onions, parsley, rosemary, shallots and thyme. Just chop up carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts. Add some avocado oil along with the herbs and cook at around 400 degrees for 25 to 30 min.
You can see where I am going with this. Just get more creative in the kitchen. Using herbs and spices by cuisine can help you create more flair in the kitchen.
Indian cuisine includes anise seed, black and red pepper, cardamom, chilis, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry powder, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, mace, mint, mustard seeds, nutmeg, saffron, sesame seeds, turmeric, and yogurt.
Italian cuisine includes anchovies, basil, bay leaves, fennel seeds, garlic, marjoram, onions, oregano, parsley, pine nuts, red pepper, and rosemary.
Spanish cuisine includes almonds, bell pepper, cumin, garlic, olives, onions, paprika, parsley and saffron.
Southwest or Mexican cuisine uses cumin, garlic, onion, coriander (or cilantro), chili powder, paprika, black pepper, lime juice, chipotle, clove, and cinnamon.
The spices and herbs you keep in your pantry will depend on your taste preferences, as well as your comfort level with using them. Start with what you have and build your spice cabinet over time.
Ruth Clark is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a master’s in Public Health and over 35 years of experience. She lives in Sharon with an office in Peterborough and sees clients in Keene (Jeni’s Skin Care). Ruth specializes in mid-life women who are struggling with weight, mood and fatigue to regain their energy and vitality. You can reach her at RuthRD@SmartNutritionLLC.com.
Melissa Mustapha Herbalist/Manager at Maggie's Market