Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tips: Spices

Spices are a great way to add flavor and depth to a dish without adding calories, fat, or cholesterol.  While they are initially expensive as long as they are used they pay for themselves in great tasting meals.  For example, if trying to lose weight, you could eat only boiled chicken breasts.  But doesn't a chicken breast roasted in the oven or cooked on the stove top covered with spices sound much better? I believe that part of the reasons diets fail for people is that they don't eat exciting food.  Some of my favorite and go to spices (many I assume you can guess from reading my recipes) are:

Garlic Powder: With the taste of real garlic this is an excellent stand-in if you are short a garlic bulb and need the flavor.  It pairs well with the whole gamut of meats and vegetables.

Paprika: The smokey, slightly hot taste works great with meats giving a deep background flavor that compliments the natural taste of the meat.  Also, its red color adds visual interest to chicken and fish.  You eat with your eyes first, so a pop of color is always welcome.

Chile Powder:  This comes in many different forms, from regular to chipotle to ancho, etc.  Each provides the essence of that chile and gives a lovely smokey/spicy taste to meats, potato dishes, and yes even the meal that takes its namesake.  Experiment to see which you prefer.

Black Pepper/White Pepper: An old standby and a lesser known counterpart.  There are a wide variety of peppers out there to experiment with.  From the sharper black to the milder white (which is often used in white sauces as to not stand out) there is plenty to try.

1.  Spices can go bad, so if you've had a spice on the shelf for more than a year it is time to change it out.

2.  When cooking you can "bloom" spices by adding them to a pan of warm oil.  This wakens up the oils in the spice so they can permeate the whole dish more easily and the full impact of their flavor is reached.

3.  Experiment!  One of the easiest ways to change up a dish is to change out the spices.  A chicken salad can be curried, chile'd, or garlic'd with just a shake of the wrist and voila a whole new dish emerges.

What are your favorite spices and what ways do you like to use them?

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