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Herbs and Spices

Nearly all cultures incorporate herbs and spices into their regional cuisine. Unfortunately, American food culture focuses on heavily processed sugar, salt, and unhealthy fat to enhance the flavor of many of our dishes. Herbs and spices not only make food more palatable, but offer a wealth of nutritional benefits as well.

IMG_2428 (1)Fresh cilantro, basil, and home-dried dill.

During the warmer months, you’ll find a bountiful supply of fresh herbs at your local farmer’s market. Look for basil, mint, cilantro, rosemary, sage, and dill. You can easily grow your own herbs at home either in a garden or indoors in pots. You can also dry your own fresh herbs by hanging a bunch in a sunny spot for one to two weeks.

Don’t compromise quality when it comes to spices. An organic, high-quality spice will taste more potent and consequently last longer since you don’t need as much of it to enhance a dish.

Here’s a list of herbs and spices along with their respective health benefits and ways to incorporate them into your diet. This list doesn’t include everything… I encourage you to try any herb or spice that intrigues you! Many of these herbs and spices have a long list of health properties; I’m only highlighting a few. Remember when it comes to herbs, fresh is always best.

Fresh Herbs
Basil: Antioxidant, decreases inflammation. Use in home-made pasta sauces or pesto.
Cilantro: Antioxidant, digestive aid. Use in home-made guacamole or to add more flavor to any Mexican dish.
Dill: Antioxidant, antimicrobial, diuretic. Combine with greek yogurt to make a creamy dip or make Creamy Cilantro Dill Dressing.
Thyme: Antioxidant, inhibits bone resorption. Add to organic scrambled eggs.
Mint: Antioxidant, antimicrobial, stomach soother. Make your own herbal mint tea by steeping leaves in boiling water.

Spices
Cayenne Pepper: Boosts metabolism, decreases inflammation, improves digestion. Sprinkle on soups, stir-fries, or anything that could use a spicy kick.
Turmeric: Antioxidant, decreases inflammation, antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal. This Indian spice is being widely recognized for its astonishing health benefits. The taste is similar to mustard. Sprinkle on salads for flavor, or use in curry powder to make Indian dishes.
Cinnamon: Antioxidant, antimicrobial, controls blood sugar, boosts metabolism. Add cinnamon to fresh fruit or any sweet dessert to help manage blood sugar levels.
Garlic: Antioxidant, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, decreases inflammation, boosts immunity. Add to sautéed vegetables.
Ginger: Antioxidant, decreases inflammation, boosts immunity, digestive aid. Use fresh ginger in stir-fries or home-made vegetable juices.

This only skims the surface of what herbs and spices have to offer. Not only are the health benefits are astounding, but they’ll bring your cooking to life, too! What are your favorite herbs and spices and how do you use them?

Spice things up,
Emily

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It’s no secret that I’m a huge advocate for salad. I eat a large salad for two meals of the day on average. But no matter the combination of vegetables, greens, and patés, salad can get a little redundant. That’s where dressing comes in.

Nearly all dressings you buy in a bottle are full of chemicals, additives, thickeners, and sugar. A quick check of the ingredient list tells all. But an easy, healthy, and considerably more delicious option is to make your own dressing. Fresh squeezed lemon juice and a good quality olive oil make a nice dressing, but sometimes you want something with a little more pizazz.

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Personally, I’m partial to creamy dressings. I use nuts and seeds to achieve a rich, creamy dressing while adding healthy fat. I have never measured the ingredients while making a salad dressing, but I’ll give you a basic template to experiment with, as well as some of my dressing recipes.

Template for Salad Dressing
1/2 cup nuts or seeds. Try cashews, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or a combination.
Tangy component. I prefer fresh squeezed lemon juice (one lemon’s worth) which is detoxifying and alkalizing to the body. You can also use 1 tablespoon raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, which has many known health properties as a detoxifier. Avoid other types of vinegar as they encourage “bad bacteria” growth in the intestines and don’t offer anything nutritionally.
Fresh herbs or spices. I will use almost a full bunch of cilantro or basil to make a dressing flavorful. Herbs and spices have great medicinal properties and can be used in abundance. Don’t be stingy; this is creating your dressing’s flavor identity! Basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, and thyme are all good options. If you don’t have fresh herbs on hand, try spices like cumin, curry powder, or powdered ginger.
A little kick. I will often add 1-3 cloves of fresh garlic. You can also use a bit of red onion. Remember that because these ingredients are raw, they will be quite pungent. A little goes a long way. If you like a spicy dressing, add cayenne pepper.
Sea salt. How salty you like your dressing is up to you, but certainly add some to enhance the flavor. You can also use raw soy sauce (Nama Shoyu) or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos.
Water. I’ve never measured how much water I use, but I estimate around a half a cup. Add more as needed. How thick you want your dressing is up to you. Remember that once you refrigerate your dressing, it will thicken.

Combine all ingredients in a blender. I use my high powered Vita-Mix. If your blender is not very strong, consider grinding your nuts/seeds in a food processor first. Store in a glass jar or tightly-closed tupperware container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Here are a few of my dressings to get you started.

Creamy Cilantro Dill Dressing
(pictured above; quantities of ingredients can vary)
– 1/2 cup combination of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
– 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
– 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
– 1/2 bunch to 1 bunch fresh cilantro
– 2 tablespoons dried dill
– 1/8 cup chopped red onion
– sea salt

Tahini Dressing
(quantities can vary)
– 1/2 cup sesame seeds
– 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
– 2-3 cloves of garlic
– 1 tablespoon cumin
– juice of one lemon
– sea salt

Basil Pesto Dressing
(quantities can vary)
– 1/2 cup combination of cashews and almonds
– 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup water
– 1/2 bunch to 1 bunch fresh basil
– 2 cloves of garlic
– juice of half a lemon (optional)
– drizzle olive oil
– sea salt

I hope this inspires you! Do you have any good ideas for salad dressings? Share them with me. I’m thinking of attempting an Asian-inspired dressing next, using fresh ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil. If you need a little salad inspiration, be sure to check out my post, Salad Making 101 for a step-by-step guide. Keep your salads interesting!

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Eat well,
Emily

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