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Cooking with herbs and spices

Cooking with herbs and spices
By Alyssa Rolnick RD., MHSc.

Alyssa Rolnick, R.D.Using herbs and spices – both fresh and dried – in your cooking is one of the best and most flavourful ways to help you lower your salt intake.

Why is lowering salt intake important? The sodium in salt can increase blood pressure, especially in salt-sensitive people. High blood pressure is the No. 1 risk factor for stroke, and a major risk factor for heart disease. That’s why the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that Canadians use no more than 5 mL (1 tsp) of salt a day (2,300 mg), whether it comes from the salt you shake on your food or the salt in processed and packaged foods.

A diet low in sodium can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. So, rely less on your saltshaker to add flavour and enjoy seasoning your foods with these herbs and spices:

Garlic both raw and ground is so versatile that it can be added to almost any dish. Pure garlic powder (check label to make sure salt hasn’t been added) has all the same benefits as raw garlic. Roasting whole garlic cloves is a favourite in our house. We enjoy adding them to pasta dishes, eating them with roasted regular and sweet potatoes and in salads such as our black-eyed pea roasted garlic salad.

Cayenne pepper, chili powder, paprika, red pepper flakes and raw chili peppers all contain capsaicin that gives chilies their heat. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin and antioxidants you’ll find. Often found in Mexican dishes, these types of herbs can add a zing to your cooking. They all work well with meat, fish and egg dishes. Try sprinkling a pinch of ground cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes into pasta sauces or try our recipe for spiced salmon sticks.

Turmeric Most often used in Indian dishes, turmeric gives a bright yellow colour to curries and rice dishes. Sprinkle over cooked potatoes, rice or couscous to add a wonderful flavour and colour. Try our turmeric-scented basmati rice recipe.

Cinnamon This spice is often used in desserts, but it can also be sprinkled in savoury dishes such as stews or meat sauces instead of salt. Try adding ground cinnamon to your waffles, pancakes, French toast, cakes and cookies or even add a cinnamon stick to a cup of warm tea. Try our recipe for cinnamon apple bread pudding.

Fresh versus dried In general; you can substitute 5 mL (1 tsp) of dried herbs for 15 mL (1 tbsp) of fresh herbs and vice-versa. The biggest difference between dried herbs and fresh herbs are taste and potency. Fresh herbs have a subtler, fresher taste. Dried herbs, on the other hand, lose their pungency the longer they are stored in your pantry. The correct herbs and spices to use is one that tastes right for you. So experiment and make your dishes heart healthier by limiting the salt you use and replacing it with the wonderful world of herbs and spices.

Grow your own Whether in a pot on your windowsill, on your balcony or planted in an herb garden, there is nothing better than having fresh herbs available right when you need them. My favourite herbs to grow are basil for pasta dishes, salads and on sandwiches; dill for chicken or fish dishes or in homemade soups; mint used in salads or steeped for tea; and chives for potato and egg dishes.

Posted: May 2011 


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