Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The top ten herbs and spices

Ah, herbs and spices.  They add so much flavor to everything we eat and can even heal our bodies.  Today, I'm going to tell you about the top ten spices and herbs, their healing properties, and how to make some of your own spice mixes.  If you're lucky enough to be able to get fresh, whole, spices that you can grind yourself, great.  If not, try to buy the smallest amounts of the best quality you can afford.  Avoid, however, the premixed and packaged spice blends as they are usually filled with chemicals, sugars, and wheat. I'll tell you how I make some of the blends that I use when I just don't feel like grinding them fresh.  I'll also tell you how to properly store them so that they don't lose their taste or health benefits.

First, though, the top ten:

1.  Turmeric  This is the superstar in the spice world, and its potency is due primarily to curcumin, which is an antioxidant.  I am able to get the roots, but I'll warn you: These things are hard to grind into a fine powder--even my coffee mill has a difficult time with it.  Thank goodness one small root goes a long way.

  • It has anti-inflammatory properties, especially with regard to the knees, mouth, and bones.  
  • It suppresses carcinogens.
  • Turmeric helps regulate our insulin and triglycerides.
  • Some evidence suggests that it aids in our immune system, and can help speed the healing of wounds, colds, and other respiratory illnesses.
Too much (more than 1/2 teaspoon, or so) can cause problems with your gallbladder or blood, so use this in moderation.  Besides, too much just tastes bad--I guess that is Mother Nature's way of telling us that we are taking a good thing too far.

2.  Ginger  One of my favorites and it is a staple in my kitchen. Its potency lies in the gingerols, which are powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. I almost always use it fresh, though I have been know to dry some and grind it in my mortar and pestle.  There is nothing better, though, than the taste of fresh.  Here, they call it Ajo Chino, Chinese garlic, and it is very inexpensive and plentiful.  Depending on where you live fresh may not be an option, so just buy the best quality you can afford.  
  • Calms upset stomachs.
  • Soothes migraines.
  • Helps sore muscles feel better.
  • It can even help with the discomforts of menstruation.
Again, more is not better.  Too much and you can get heartburn or worsen a bad gallbladder.  It also has negative interactions with certain medications, so you should talk to your doctor if you are taking any prescription drugs.  

3.  Sage  Ever wonder why wise people are called "sages?"  Well, sage is loaded with an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, and that boosts brain power.
  • Improves memory and has been shown in studies to hold back the tide of dementia, Altzheimer's, forgetfulness, and other cognitive functions.
  • Relieves hot flashes, upset stomach, digestive problems, and sore throats.
  • Contains many vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as magnesium, copper, manganese, and more.
This can be used to season meats and vegetables, or even used to make tea.

4.  Thyme  This herb with its lovely aroma and flavor is a staple in most parts of the world.  Its anti-microbial properties are well-known and grounded in good, solid, science.
  • Anti-microbial action kills staph, E-coli, and contaminants in food that can cause food poisoning.
  • Used in many mouthwashes and cleaning products for its powerful anti-microbial action.
  • Contains many vitamins and minerals.
A little goes a long way in terms of cooking and flavoring, so be careful not to overpower your food with it.

5.  Basil  I love this stuff.  I usually buy it fresh, use some that day, and then dry the rest for later use.  It's one of the few herbs that maintains its flavor even after it has been dried. You can also freeze it to use later as well.
  • Used to treat asthma.
  • If you have diabetes--this helps with some of the damage caused to your body due to the diabetes.
  • Relieves stress and tension.
  • Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory.
  • Loaded with vitamins and minerals.
This can be used to make a soothing tea, or to season your food.  It can't be Italian without basil.

6.  Cinnamon  Smells good and tastes even better, this spice is great in sweet or savory foods.  
  • Its most notable health benefit is that it can help to stabilize blood sugar in Type II diabetics.  Just a teaspoon/day is all it takes to prevent--or reduce--those post-meal spikes in blood sugar.
  • Anti-microbial properties make it a good fighter of infections.
When mixed with cloves and ginger, cinnamon makes an excellent tea that soothes your nerves and assists with upper respiratory congestion.

7.  Chili peppers  Give your food a kick and kick-start your metabolism, too.  The capsaicin found in peppers increases your metabolism and that means you burn more calories.
  • Possibly stimulates your brain to help you feel full faster.
  • Reduces the risk of stomach ulcers.
  • Helps keep your LDL's (bad cholesterol) lower.
8.  Garlic  No list of herbs and spices would be complete without our friend garlic.  I don't think a day goes by that I don't use this spice.  It just makes our savories taste better.
  • Known as "poor man's penicillin" for a good reason--it is a potent anti-microbial.
  • May protect against colon cancer.
  • Prevents heart disease.
Use a little, use a lot--just use it!

9.  Fennel  Betcha didn't see that one coming.  Yep, fennel.  This bulb with its sweet, licorice, flavor is great eaten raw in a salad or roasted.  
  • Used as a digestive aide, so if you have gas or indigestion, give it whirl.
  • Has strong anti-oxidant properties that help fight inflammation and cancer.
10.  Cilantro  One of my favorites.  This pungent herb is essential in many of the world's cuisines, including Indian, Chinese, and Mexican.  
  • Aides in the removal of toxins from our bodies, such as heavy metals.
  • Filled with vitamins and minerals.
  • Refreshes and revitalizes our bodies.
  • Aids in digestion and even relieves gas or indigestion.
So, now that we've covered my top ten list of herbs and spices, I want to share with you some spice blends that I make and use when I just don't feel like grinding and blending fresh.  Let's face it, we've all been there and sometimes it's just easier to use a mix.  By making some different blends in advance and having them on hand, it will prevent us from being tempted to buy the pre-packaged ones in the supermarket that have things in them that we really don't want. You can adjust these recipes to suit your own tastes--adding or omitting ingredients as you see fit.  Also, if you want to use salt in your blends I would recommend putting the salt in your coffee mill LAST--this way you clean your grinder and make the salt fine enough so that it doesn't all settle at the bottom of your jar.

Most of these recipes I got from The Spice House web site and have been using them for a long time.  I've tweaked them to suit myself, but here they are in their original form.  For more recipes like this or to buy top of the line spices, go here. When I lived in the States, I bought from them.  Another good source is Barry Farm Foods.  Finally, I also get a lot of recipes like this from The Mountain Rose Blog--she has great recipes.

Adobo Chicken Marinade Notes
This is a good Mexican style marinade that isn't very spicy hot with a very pleasant flavor.
Ingredients
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 ounce tequila
  • 1 ounce olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt-free adobo seasoning
Serves / Yields
As written - for one pound of chicken breast, adjust as needed
Preparation Instructions
Place all ingredients into a cruet and vigorously shake to create an emulsification. Pour into a large bowl, add chicken breast meat and marinade for at least 1 hour. Grill chicken to well-done (of course)
Helpful Hints
You can chop the chicken breast into small pieces and grill on skewers, or you can grill the breasts whole and then slice them after grilling - your choice. This marinade could probably even be used to pan fry ground chicken/turkey if you were so inclined.
Garam Masala
I couldn't imagine life without this basic blend of spices.
Ingredients
  • 1 2" Cinnamon Stick
  • 2 Bay Leaves, broken
  • 3 tablespoons Green Cardamom Pods
  • 2 teaspoons Fenugreek Seeds
  • 1 tablespoon Whole Cumin Seeds
  • 1 tablespoon Whole Coriandar Seeds
  • 1 tablespoon Black Peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon Whole Cloves
  • 1 teaspoon Blade Mace
Preparation Instructions
Break the cinnamon sticks into pieces. Crumble the bay leaves. Heat a heavy frying pan and after 2-3 minutes put in the whole spices. Dry roast over medium heat until the color darkens, stirring or shaking the pan frequently to prevent burning. Leave to cool, then grind. Store in an airtight container. The mixture will keep for 3-4 months.
You can add 2 teaspoons of ground tumeric after grinding to add a golden color to the curry and/or add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground ginger to give some heat, or to taste.

Taco Seasoning

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/4 cup cumin powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
Grind spices if whole, salt last, and store in airtight glass jars.  Three tablespoons is equivalent to one packet of store bought mix.

Curry Powder
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup Paprika Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cumin Powder
  • 1 tablespoon Fennel Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Fenugreek powder (optional)- gives sweetness
  • 2 tablespoons ground Mustard Powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground Red Chili Pepper Flakes (optional)- adds spiciness
  • 3 tablespoons ground Coriander (optional)
  • 1/4 cup ground Turmeric root
  • 1 tablespoon ground Cardamon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cloves powder (optional) – Adds complex flavor

To make: Mix all ingredients in a bowl, jar or food processor and store in an air-tight container until ready to use. Can be used on meats, vegetables or in soups. Especially good in with chicken, shrimp or vegetables.

Cajun Seasoning Mix
I had to have something especially for my sister, Brenda, who is a fiend for Cajun seasoning.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup Paprika Powder
  • 1/3 cup Himalayan Salt or sea salt
  • 1/4 cup Garlic Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Onion Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper (optional- won’t be spicy without this)
  • 2 Tablespoons Oregano leaf
  • 1 Tablespoon Thyme leaf

To Make: Mix all ingredients in jar or food processor and store in an airtight container. Good on stir frys, eggs, casseroles, and poultry. Can add more or less Cayenne to get to your taste.

Ranch Seasoning Mix
Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup dried Parsley leaf
  • 1 Tablespoon Dill leaf
  • 1 tablespoon Garlic Powder
  • 1 tablespoon Onion Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Basil leaf (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

To Make: Mix all ingredients together in jar or food processor. To make into Ranch Dressing, mix 1 Tablespoon of this mix with 1/3 cup Homemade Mayonaise or Greek Yogurt and 1/4 cup Coconut Milk.

I hope you enjoyed today's tasty post.  Please feel free to share your spice blend recipes with me.  I'll be sure to post them and give you credit.

Until next time...

1 comment:

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