You may have noticed by now that there's always a little spiciness going on in my raw food recipes. To say I love spices would be a complete understatement lol!
My mother was a pundit (sage or guru) in the kitchen, thats where I learnt to prepare food - by taste, colour and aroma. A pinch of this and a dash of that, was the norm and it's where my love affair with fragrant, spiced up food began. Mum was an excellent cook, knowing how to combine the recipes of two different cultures with precision, where all Indian spices were referred to by their Hindi names. It feels very much like a natural family art of the kitchen, that has been passed on traditionally through the generations of mothers in my family. I am to this day inspired by their culinary wisdom.
In my raw, plant-based food lifestyle, one of my primary purposes with plant food, is to create a healthy fusion of the African Caribbean and Indian flavours that is synergistic with my own experience. In this post, I'm going to list some easy-to-use spices, which you can usually find more cheaply in the Caribbean or South Asian grocery stores and markets.
As a raw food teacher and mentor, I'm often asked, "do I have live on boring salads for the rest of my life?". It's a genuine question of course, when it's being asked, people are hoping for some sort of reassurance that their fear of living on a bland diet, no matter how unfounded, won't be the truth of it. It's always a pleasure for me to reply with a smile and an a reassuring example as to why their fear couldn't possibly be true, (unless they chose it). And not that salads are at all boring either...
Clearly taste is important to us and can make a big difference in our ability to stay committed to transitioning to a clean (non processed) and healthy eating lifestyle. In some parts of the world, including spices within your dishes is standard, in others the emphasis is more on herbs, while still others use very little of either, so it's not only subjective, but cultural too. Additionally geographical location and climate plays a role in the availability of certain spice or herb plants. Yet still, it's so simple to develop our appreciation of the spice world.
I love that having lived most of my life in a culturally diverse city, it is totally normal that virtually most food types are available.
For many of us now, as we approach the autumn, it is a time when we begin to consider the shorter, darker and much cooler days that are coming. It's a time when taking care to stay well and warm through the long winter months will form the backdrop to what we choose to eat. In corporations more spices into our raw soul food creations, offers an opportunity for warming, energising ourselves.
Many culinary spices come from an ancient linage that have been revered for their health- properties, both preventive or healing, and for many health conditions. They have been the jewel in many ancient kingdoms and their therapeutic power have been widely valued as part of ancient health systems, which have helped thousands of people to live more healthful lives.
Here I am, visiting Mr Vijay Ghandi's spices shop in Lusaka early this year. The stunning aroma of spices hits you the moment you turn into the street. After that, on a visit to Varkala in South India, I enjoyed creating food using fresh, locally grown spices, the taste and aroma of which were magnificent.
Why use spice?
Spices perform several culinary tasks at once:
- Spices add a pleasant aroma to dishes, this stimulates your appetite.
- Spices add a pleasing flavour to your raw food dishes.
- Spices help create sweet, tangy, hot or sour flavours.
- Spices can act as thickeners and binders in sauces.
- Spices can add colour to your dishes.
- Spices assist in the digestive process.
Spices are rich in antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and any herbalist, ayurvedic doctor or traditional healer will tell you, they have an immense capacity to not only add flavour to food, but are an essential part of natures own pharmacy in our homes. You can add spices to your raw soul food dishes to boost immunity, cleansing, energy, warming, restorative, and their calming benefits. More than that though, learning about how to combine spices, is a domestic art worthy of your attention.
Take your time to get to know the magic of spices, if you're not accustomed to using spices or herbs in your kitchen, it's best to start off using small amounts, then build up as your confidence increases, adding additional amounts to suit your taste. Consider taking a course in learning how to combine spices to achieve the results you'd like to create in your kitchen.
Here's a handy list of selected spices that fall under those categories mentioned above.
•Immune boosting spices:
Turmeric, cumin, clove, allspice, star anise and citrus zest
Our immune system strives to keep us well and healthy. These spices lend a hand to our body's protector.
Add turmeric to smoothies, sauces, juices and teas.
Add cumin to dips, sauces, soups and sprinkle whole seeds over salads.
Add clove to sweet & savoury dishes, add to seasonings, pumpkin dishes & herbals teas.
Add allspice to sweet & savoury dishes, sauces, marinated vegetables, infused fruit desserts.
Add citrus (lemon, lime, tangerine, orange, mandarin, grapefruit) zest like to sauces, dressings, soups, herbal teas, flavoured water.
Add star anise to marinated fruit, soup, masala teas, in chocolate recipes. (Not for babies).
Mint, sage, lemongrass, saffron and basil
Packed with phytonutrients that can help to soothe the body and calm the mind
Add basil to salads, soups, sauces, juices, ice-cream.
Add saffron to raw breads, health drinks, sauces, desserts and parsnip rice.
Add mint to juices, salads, herbal tea, pea soup, sauces, chocolate recipes and ice-cream.
Add lemongrass to herbal teas and juices
Add sage to salads, sauces, seasonings, dehydrated savoury balls and soups
Ginger, horseradish, wasabi, mustard and chili pepper
Warmth for the body when there's a chill in the air. Increase circulation, open sinuses and stimulate the body's defence mechanisms.
Add chill pepper to seasonings, soups, sauces, dips, marinades, drinks and fermented vegetables.
Add ginger to juices, sauces, dips, seasonings, herbal teas, and desserts.
Add mustard seed to sauces, pate's and seasonings.
Add horseradish to salad, sauces and marinades.
Add wasabi to salads, sushi, sauces, seasonings and marinades.
Cinnamon, hibiscus, bay leaf, oregano, and rosemary
Providing support for the body's natural detoxification processes.
Add cinnamon to desserts, shakes, fruit marinades, herbal teas, energy balls, raw cakes & cookies, lassi and dips.
Add rosemary to sauces, dips, crackers, seasonings, marinades and dehydrated flans, pies and pizza's.
Add oregano to sauces, dips, crackers, seasonings and dehydrated flans, pies and pizza's.
Add bay leaf to herbal tea, sauces, dips, crackers, fermented vegetables, seasonings and dehydrated flans, pies and pizza's.
Add hibiscus to drinks, herbal tea, juices, desserts, sauces, dips and dehydrated and fruit pies.
Cocoa, nutmeg, tamarind, black pepper and coriander
To spark the system and the body's stores of energy; and aiding digestion.
Add black peppercorns to seasonings, pate's, salad dressings, sauces, and crackers.
Add coriander (cilantro) to sauces, dips, juices, seasonings, salads and dehydrated crackers.
Add cocoa to drinks, desserts, dressings, cookies, chia pudding and chocolate energy bars.
Add nutmeg to desserts, dressings, seasonings, drinks, herbal teas, pumpkin pie and juices.
Add tamarind to sauces, fruit marinades, fruit pies, chutneys, raw non-dairy yogurt and dips.
Fenugreek, cardamom, thyme, garlic and pomegranate
Restorative spices for restoring strength and radiance by helping your body to reboot.
Add garlic to sauces, dips, juices, savoury dishes, marinades, soups and dehydrated crackers.
Add cardamom to ice-cream, lassi, desserts, masala tea, fruit pies, energy balls and dehydrated cookies.
Add pomegranate to desserts, salads, juices, soups and parsnip rice.
Add fenugreek to seasonings, fruit marinades, sauces, chutney and dehydrated flat breads.
Add thyme to seasonings, herbal teas, soups, salads, chocolate recipes dressings and sauces.
It's a great list isn't it? As a quiz, why not check off how many of these spices have been part of your life experience so far and at what stages...with absolutely no judgement!
Buying, storage and equipment for spices:
Different spices have different shelf life, its best to buy whole spices and grind them down yourself, the aroma is released when they are ground. Where this isn't possible, you can purchase them dried, coarsely or finely ground. Store your spices in a cool dark place, in airtight containers, preferably glass in order to preserve freshness. Old spices loos their flavour and healing power.
You only need a few pieces of equipment for using spices. A mortar and pestle for crushing spices. Make sure that the pestle fits snuggly into the mortar, it make it easier to keep the spice in one place while you're working with it. You can also use a spice grinder if you want to grind more than a tiny amount to a smooth powder.
Resource and Research:
Book: Healing Spices by Bharat B. Aggarwal, PHD
Book: Food as Medicine, Vol 2 by Brain Clement PHD
www.MySpiceSage.com (New York)
www.TheSpicery.com (Bath, UK)
www.coppersfolly.co.nz (New Zealand)
Gandhi's Spices (Cairo Road, Lusaka, Zambia)
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