Spices, Not Salt
Visiting the Spice Bazaar in Turkey was an incredibly cool experience. We got to visit Ucuzcular Baharat, a stall that has been in business since 1886 where we tried tons of different spice blends and talked to a lady whose family had been selling spices for five generations! Obviously, she knew a thing or two about spices and she had some great suggestions about using them.
I love spices, they are a great way to keep a dish healthy- in fact, they may even help improve the health of a dish- and add tons of flavor while helping you to reduce the amount of salt, sugar and even fat in a recipe! Sweet spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, enhance the sweetness of a dish without added sugar. A pinch of lemony sumac, lemon zest or parsley helps enhance the flavor of a dish similar to salt but without all the negative health impacts. Spices can really change a dish, not only the flavor, but can increase the health of a dish as well.
Spices have come under investigation lately for their health benefits- they are a good source of antioxidants and may have other health benefits, including anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties as well. Some spices, such as allspice, have shown anti-cancer tendencies.
While it is hard to say that herbs and spices can prevent diseases, it is easy to say that they are a healthy way to add flavor to your meals and a great alternative to things we know are detrimental to health!
Store spices in a cool, dark place, away from the oven or other heat sources. Whole spices last longer than ground spices, so if you purchase a spice you will not use often, purchase it whole and grind it yourself in a spice grinder or even a clean coffee grinder. When spices lose their smell, it is time to get rid of them as they will no longer be as effective. You can try and refresh them or sprinkle them on a hot grill as you are grilling to get one last use from them. To “refresh” older spices, toast in a small pan over low heat, just until fragrant. Remove from heat and use immediately. Toasting intensifies and deepens the flavors of spices, so try toasting whole spices before grinding them for more flavor.
Fresh herbs can easily be substituted for dry spices. If you use fresh in place of dry spices in a recipe use three times the amount as the flavor of fresh herbs is not as concentrated. Dry spices should be added at the beginning of the recipe so they have time to re-hydrate, fresh herbs should be added towards the end of cooking.
While purchasing spice blends at the store is convenient, you have to watch out for added salt and MSG as well as other additives. It is very easy to make your own spice blends- you can adjust them to your liking and you know exactly what is in them!
Here are some unique spice blend combinations and ideas to use them:
Oregano + Thyme + Basil + Dill + Marjoram= Greek
This mix goes well on breads or fresh salads. Try it sprinkled on a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and feta.
Cilantro + Garlic + Cumin+ Mint + Paprika= North African/Moroccan
Add it to meatballs or grilled vegetables. The mint with a savory dish brings a surprising “wow” factor!
Thyme + Sumac + Sesame Seeds= Simple take on Za’atar
One of my new favorite spice combinations, the sumac provides a bright, lemony burst, and the thyme provides some earthiness. Use it on breads or pitas, mix it with hamburger or other meats or add to vegetables- this delicious blend is so versatile!
Thyme + Rosemary + Sage + Oregano = a quick Herbes de Provence
Great for grilled vegetables, fish or meats. Add it to soups or stews.
Pepper + Paprika + Cumin + Coriander + Mint + Clove + Cinnamon + Cardamom = Turkish Baharat Spice
Zesty, sweet and smoky, it is great as a dry rub on vegetables or meat and a pinch really lives up rice or grain dishes. It also makes a mean pilaf!
Another great resource to help you incorporate more spices can be found here.