I have a confession to make. I am a boring cook. I try to make healthy foods, but my spice shelf is limited, and I generally stick to salt, pepper and garlic. It’s not that I prefer plain flavors, or that I don’t like spice, I do. I just also happen to be somewhat unimaginative when it comes to spices, and I am stingy in the grocery store. In addition to this being a real bore for my taste buds, I wondered if it’s also somewhat unhealthy. I started to think that maybe I should actually take a look at how much salt I am getting (versus how much I should be getting), since it’s something that I haven’t paid too much attention to in the past.
It is recommended that the average adult consume no more than 2300mg of sodium per day. For people who are older or have a greater risk for high blood pressure, this number drops to 1500mg. Before I decided to write this blog post, I didn’t really know what that amount looked like. As it turns out, 2300mg of sodium is contained in just 1 teaspoon of salt. Yikes! Of course we do not add an entire teaspoon of salt to our meals to season our food throughout the day, but with the hefty dose of sodium that is contained in any prepackaged, restaurant, or canned foods, it certainly doesn’t hurt to cut some out where you can.
Because of this, my goal in the next few weeks is to improve my recipe repertoire by experimenting with different spices in order to use less salt and make more varied and flavorful dishes. In addition to the health benefits of using less salt in my cooking, spices also have their own health benefits. For example, curry powder is an anti-inflammatory, and oregano contains antioxidants and vitamin K.
So it feels like I have a plan, but there is one problem: I do not know what spices go together. To start, I did some research on spices, cooking with spices, and how to combine them for a cohesive flavor. First of all, many websites recommend that you always use whole spices and grind them yourself with a mortar and pestle for best flavor. While this sounds fun and exotic, I had to do a reality check with myself. If I am going to be grinding spices for every meal, then there will be no spices incorporated. When time and energy are factors, I prefer to make things simple so that I don’t feel like a change I am making is too intrusive on my time.
Second, when experimenting with new spices in the kitchen, I do not want to spend a whole lot of money, and maybe this is the same for you. Good news! At Sprouts, you can by small amounts of a huge variety of spices in the bulk section. This will allow you to experiment with new spices and spice combinations without committing to a huge and expensive container of something that you later realized you hate.
So now, I’m off to sprouts to buy some spices, but first I want to get an idea of which spices go well together. Luckily, there are tons of websites that will help you identify appealing combinations. Here are some of the staple spices and flavors that I repeatedly found for different styles of cuisine:
Mexican– cumin, lime, cilantro, coriander, chile powder, garlic, cinnamon, vanilla
Italian – oregano, basil, bay leaves, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, garlic
Chinese – ginger, garlic, chile oil, sesame (oil and seeds), anise
Indian – cardamom, curry, nutmeg, ginger, mint, turmeric, saffron, cumin, coriander
Greek – dill, lemon, mint, nutmeg, olives, oregano, garlic
Caribbean – nutmeg, cloves, thyme, coriander, allspice, lime, ginger, red pepper
As you can see, there’s a ton of repetition within each category. It looks to me that even if you only invested in a few new spices, you could bring out a whole new side of any dish you’ve made tons of times. I am looking forward to spicing up the tired recipes that I always make, and hopefully finding lots of new and interesting ways to make healthy eating a treat for the senses.