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Reader’s Request: Herbs, Spices, and Sauces

Posted May 26 2011 7:55am

Good morning friends!

How are you doing this morning? I hope your day is going well so far. I’ve just returned from the gym and am kicking my morning off with yet another glorious bowl of Kashi Heart to Heart , berries, yogurt, and a green smoothie. A perfect start for a Thursday – or any day – if you ask me!

Herbs, Spices, and Sauces: Which ones to choose?

Recently a reader wrote to me asking about how I “always know” what spice blends pair nicely with various foods. To be honest, I wish I always knew which ones to choose! Often my salad combinations, marinades, and seasonings tend to be mixes of a bunch of spices thrown together, and there has certainly been a lot of trial and error in my kitchen! Over time, I’ve come to find that certain spices and herbs just seem to work! For example…

Chicken:

Oh chicken, where do I start? There are a ton of things to be done with chicken, from warm, deep curries to herby tomato-based sauces, to peanut-y satay sauces. To me, chicken is to meat eaters what tofu is to vegetarians: super versatile and rather difficult to mess up (unless of course you overcook it, in which case it shrivels up and eating it becomes a task similar to chewing an eraser.) In terms of flavour combos, I love the following:

  • Marinades of peanut butter, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and ginger
  • Ground chicken meatballs swimming in a homemade tomato sauce of crushed and diced tomatos, sauteed onion, roasted garlic, basil and oregano (or Italian seasoning blend)
  • A standard herb seasoning of sage, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, parsley and sea salt
  • A warm, slightly spicy blend of cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger and cinnamon, like in this recipe for Cumin Spiced Chicken with Bell Peppers .

  • Southern-inspired chicken smothered in a mix of salsa, chipotle chili powder, finely diced jalapeno peppers, and sprinkled with freshly chopped cilantro
  • Herby chicken left in lemon juice and olive oil for a few hours, then sprinkled with rosemary and/or thyme and fresh parsley.
  • Nut-encrusted chicken, such as walnuts, pecans, pistachios or almonds mixed with crispy breadcrumbs, sea salt and black pepper. (Yes, I know nuts aren’t spices!)
  • Indian-inspired chicken (where you can use curry spice blends, pastes, or both) such as this Cranberry Chicken Curry :


Oh the possibilities! But that’s enough about chicken – there are other proteins that can be nicely spiced too!

Fish:

Since the flavour of many types of fish found in the grocery store is fairly mild (think tilapia, cod, basa, haddock), I don’t tend to season these too heavily. One of my all-time favourite combos is a mix of dill, black pepper, sea salt, and lemon, which tastes great on all of the aforementioned species! (For some quantity specifics, check out The Favourite Tuna Salad ). The delicate flavour of these fish also goes nicely with other herbs such as tarragon and basil, like in this recipe for Basa Fillets with Cucumber-Basil Sauce :

http://eatspinrunrepeat.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/spotlight-on-spring-produce-cucumbers/

For stronger tasting fish like salmon, I like to use soy and sesame-based flavours. For a few examples, check out Honey-Lime Salmon and Honey-Soy Salmon . Citrus also tends to pair well, so marinading salmon or mild fish fillets wtih lime, orange, and lemon can be very tasty! Oh, and if you’ve got a craving for a fish fingers-like meal, try breading the fish in whole grain crackers such as Triscuits, or pretzels. If you bake them in the oven instead of fry them in oil, you’ll still get a nice crunchy coating with so much less unhealthy fat.

Red Meat:

Sorry, I don’t have a whole lot of experience here because I don’t eat it! But I’m told that it pairs nicely with red wines…. ;)

Tofu:

The thing I love about tofu is that it can take on whatever flavour you put it in. I don’t have a fancy tofu press so I usually just use a paper towel draining method in order to get as much moisture out as possible. As you might expect from many Asian restaurants, tofu takes on the flavours of rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame really well to create delicious stir fried dishes. I like to marinade mine for as long as possible (as in, overnight and a little longer if I’m actually organized and prepared enough to do so), but if you only have a couple of hours, that should be enough to impart an Asian-inspired taste on the tofu. For some pressing directions, marinade quantity info and a recipe for Teriyaki-Baked Tofu, check out this post .

And just like chicken can be made into all sorts of Indian dishes, so can tofu! Curry spices are one of my favourite things to use in things like burgers , as well as just for sprinkling on baked tofu.

Edamame:

When I use edamame, the entire dish – whether it’s a stir-fry or a slaw-type salad – usually takes on a bit of Asian flare. My go-to combo is equal parts low-sodium soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, a few pinches of ground ginger (or freshly grated ginger), chili flakes, and a little stevia or brown sugar. The taste can certainly satisfy a salt craving, and is spicy and sweet at the same time. Just be careful with the soy sauce – a little goes a long way and too much sodium is not a good thing!

If Asian isn’t what you’re after, try a simple dressing of olive oil, minced garlic, sea salt, pepper, and chopped parsley. I love the taste of edamame on its own, so don’t feel the need to dress it up with strong flavours. One of my favourites is this delicious salad :

Salads:

I’ll admit that I usually use dried herbs, mainly because I can’t seem to find small enough quantities of fresh ones in the grocery store that I can use up before they start to go bad. However, since beginning to grow my basil plant , I’ll attest to the fact that dried herbs don’t hold a candle to the fresh kind, especially when it comes to salads! Torn basil, fresh parsley, mint and chives add such great flavour to veggie-based salads and totally eliminate the need for added help from sauces and dressings. By combining herbs with simple dressings made with healthy oils and vinegars (think balsamic, cider, red or white wine vinegars), I’ve managed to come up with some pretty delicious salad beasts – no store-bought dressings required!

Grains:

Like salads, herbs are usually my first choice when it comes to grain based dishes. Lately I’ve been loving the mix of fresh basil and parsley, used in salads like this one :

Now that the weather is warming up, I’ve also been doing a lot of blending of fruity flavours with my grains. When I first tried raspberry vinegar , it pretty much changed my life and made me wishing I’d found a bigger bottle! You can simply mix it into an oil for a simple fruit-infused vinaigrette (I usually aim for about 1 part oil to 2-3 parts vinegar) like in Quinoa and Pluot Salad ….

… or you can add dried fruit for a little added sweetness, like this Spelt Berry and Dried Fruit Salad :

Fruit juices such as apple juice can also give grains a little extra sweetness when you use them as the boiling liquid, like in this Kamut Power Blend salad:

So tell me:

  • What are some of your favourite marinades or herb/spice combos for any of the above types of dish?
  • Any spice-related kitchen disasters? Once I was trying to shake chipotle chili powder out of a spice jar that had a lid with small holes in it, but it wasn’t coming out very easily because some of it had clumped together. I guess I shook a little too hard because the lid popped off and ALL of the chili powder in the jar fell into my frying pan! That particular omelette had quite the kick to it – no hot salsa required!

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