When it comes to dressing up healthy staples like vegetables, whole grains and beans, nothing beats accessories. Not scarves and earrings, but those things that sparkle with flavor: Spices. An amazing amount of concentrated flavor is found in the roots, bark, seeds, pods and flowers of certain plants. These spices offer limitless ways to transform a dish, bringing aroma, pungency, bitterness, heat, nuttiness, citrus, smokiness and even sweetness.
Ramp up the spices’ addition even more by dry roasting whole spices in a skillet over medium heat until aromatic and then fresh grinding them in a mortar and pestle, a clean coffee grinder or a spice grinder. Beyond salt and pepper, having a well-stocked spice cabinet will turn the blank canvas of unprocessed whole foods into tempting, delicious dishes. Prized globally and traded for centuries, spices are one of the most versatile and easy ways to make your food palate pleasing.
One of my children’s favorites is the aromatically rich bark of a tropical evergreen tree, cinnamon. Packed with antioxidants, cinnamon is particularly easy to incorporate into breakfast and desserts. My son sprinkles it on his oatmeal; or we just pop whole cinnamon sticks into the pot such as in Apple Scented Breakfast Oatmeal and Buckwheat. Cinnamon also lends its spicy sweetness to snackable Apple Cinnamon Oat Squares and to Apple Pear Sauce, which is a lovely accompaniment to savory dishes. Cinnamon even works well in savory dishes such as chili or with cumin in Lentils, Brown Rice, and Caramelized Onions.
You can also pair cinnamon with ginger in A Fresh Take on Apple Pie for an even larger burst of flavor. I also like to add a pinch of cinnamon or a grating of fresh ginger to my smoothies. In cooler weather everyone in my house loves warmed apple cider, infused with cinnamon bark, cardamom, cloves and fresh ginger. Peppery and sweet, fresh ginger root lends a mild spiciness to dishes and is particularly good in recipes with an Asian flair, such as stir-fries like Beef Stir-fry with Bell Peppers Carrots and Snow Peas.
In marinades and dressings, ginger pairs well with slightly bitter cruciferous vegetables. Make a cabbage slaw with the Carrot Dressing, pair with broccoli in Broccoli Salad with Almond and Chile Dressing or dress bok choy with a hint of ginger in Bok Choy with Carrots and Sesame-Orange Dressing. (Store fresh ginger in the refrigerator.)
With a whole world of spices to choose from, there’s always something new to try. Lately, smoked paprika has been my favorite. Much more than just a colorful garnish for deviled eggs, different kinds of paprika range from mild to spicy hot, in a rainbow of orange and red hues. All varieties of paprika are made from sweet red pepper; some, like my current favorite, are smoked to future enhance their flavor.
Try smoked paprika, also called pimento in Romesco Sauce and see if you love it as much as I do. The indispensible pepper also provides us with chili powder, which give beans a taste makeover. Try Lentil Chili for one of my family’s favorite chili recipes. Also, don’t overlook spice blends in your cabinet. A perfect blend of spices can elevate a dish to new height of flavor, plus you only have to open one jar!
Here are three great recipes that use spice blends: Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup is a perfect comfort food; for vegetables to grains or meat, Curried Apple Chutney provides sweetness and spice; and Collards with Lentils, Tomatoes, and Indian Spices may become an instant classic in your kitchen.
What are some of your favorite spices?