“Please pass the salt.” Growing up, I had no idea what spices were; salt and pepper were the only spices I ever saw being used in the kitchen. When mom added a bay leaf to a stew she was making, I remember being astonished and asking her what it was.
Today I have the luxury of shopping at numerous stores, including Asian markets, for a wonderful variety of spices.
With the onset of fall and winter, many of us start to plan meals that include root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, beets and carrots as well as turnips and the many varieties of squash that are available locally. Turban squash is a particular favorite for its firm flesh and deep orange colour.
The compounds which give many of the root vegetables their yellow and orange colour are the carotenoids. Carotenoids are anti-oxidants which are essential in our diets for the maintenance of healthy tissue in young and old. Skin and eyes are especially reliant on carotenoids for health and vitality.
If you are struggling to get a quick and nutritious meal on the table, stir-frying is an excellent way to cook with vegetables. The key to stir-frying is to slice or chop vegetables thin enough that they can cook quickly. Keeping the temperature low enough to avoid the creation of smoke from the oil or butter is also imperative.
If you have more time, then using a crock-pot or a dutch oven is a wonderful way to produce softer vegetables and really bring out the flavour.
Getting back to spices, there are certain spices that do a great job of augmenting the flavours of cooked vegetables. Throwing a pinch into a cup of boiling water is also an easy way to make a medicinal tea.
Let’s turn our focus to some warming spices that can boost nutrient content and add complex flavours to our seasonal cooking.
Black pepper is an anti-oxidant and has a sharp flavor, which works well with potatoes and celery. White pepper is less common, being hotter and slightly sweet.
Cardamom is a member of the ginger family and is lovely in baked goods. It can also be used to flavour tea and coffee.
A bit of cayenne can be added to soups and stews, and is known for relieving chills and sinus congestion. Try small amounts of fresh Scotch Bonnet peppers if you are adventurous and brave.
Cinnamon is gaining attention lately for its ability to improve cardiac health and balance blood sugar. Widely used in baked goods and teas, it can also balance the flavour of tomato-based
dishes very nicely.
Garlic has been know for centuries for its antiseptic properties. It is an amazing flavour booster in so many dishes. Try roasting whole bulbs in the oven, then slicing off the tops and squeezing out wonderful soft garlic with a rich sweet flavour.
Whether you enjoy trying new nutritious ideas or just like to share a cozy meal with friends, experimenting with spices can brighten up our meals and our healthy eating.