Intuitive nutrition & wellness coach Aubrey Mast says “herbs are typically directly from plants. For example, basil, chives, rosemary are all found specific to their plant parts whereas spices are typically the roots or fruit of plant such as turmeric root, ginger root and black pepper.” Another easy way to differentiate is that herbs have fresh or dried leaves and are grown in temperate regions. Spice seeds from roots or barks are generally grown in more tropical zones. Both are essential and unique in the possibilities they offer to vegetarian cuisine.
As a plant-based chef Aubrey looks for unique ways to add flavor to what might otherwise be a bland meal. “My go-to spices are turmeric, paprika, cumin, coriander, ginger, black pepper and za’atar—a middle eastern spice mixture.” Not only do these help her make her dishes as flavorful as possible, but they also have added health benefits.
When learning to cook with spices one can take advantage of its nutritional properties while enhancing the value and flavor of the dish. But you don’t have to be an expert like Aubrey to add great taste to your vegetarian cooking, just try a few spices and have fun taste-testing what works for you.
“Spices and herbs add heat and flavor to meals as well as increase thermogenesis,” she explains. “They are rich in antioxidants and are potent in fighting inflammation while aiding one’s metabolism and natural detoxification.”
“Any stir fry or salad that is typically flavored with salt and pepper can take on a new life of its own by just experimenting with these spices,” she says. “Even mash potatoes can taste completely different.”
A great way to start is by conducting a pantry makeover. Explore organic choices for spices, as well as herbs from one of the economical buying co-ops or farmer’s markets in your area. “Spices are so versatile,” shares Aubrey. “Adding them into dressings, smoothies, or even vegan desserts are a wonderful way to adapt spices into your life. And remember, a little goes a long way. Using fresh horseradish root provides a different flavor profile than the powdered horseradish.”
Of course as a busy career professional, you need to be cognizant of time. Prepping ingredients, like cutting up veggies on a Sunday can take the load off of meal planning. Then simply putting the various ingredients together through the week and adding flavorful herbs and spices when preparing makes a fast and healthy lunch or dinner. “Just taking the leap of trying herbs and spices can provide a whole new flavor experience,” says Aubrey.
With this “sage” advice in mind here is a suggested list of ten must have spices (and herbs) for vegetarian cooking.
- Basil, a very aromatic herb, is the foundation of soups and sauces. It also stimulates the senses, aids in digestion and has antibiotic properties.
- Cinnamon in its fresh state can be grated to sweeten desserts, breads and even main dishes like stews and stuffing.
- Curry is a delightful substitute for a more expensive alternative such as cardamom. It is a blend of spices and is the foundation of many savory recipes and stocks in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.
- Dill, with its light fresh flavor is great for sauces and soups and is a staple with pickling to preserve the flavor and shelf life of many fresh vegetables such as cabbage, tomatoes or beets.
- Garlic cloves, fresh or dried, are easy to use and with their vibrant flavor go well with pastas, spreads, casseroles and many other dishes. Garlic is also known for its medicinal properties acting as a natural antibiotic and contributing to lower blood pressure.
- Ginger, with its fantastic tangy and sweet taste, is commonly used to cut the soy taste of tofu. Popular in eastern dishes like stir fry, seasoned rice or noodle and salad dressing, it’s also known for its ability to aid in digestion and counter inflammation.
- Parsley has a clean fresh flavor that heightens the taste of a broth and is nicely mixed with greens in a cold summer salad. It’s packed with B vitamins and adds fresh flavor to any dressing.
- Rosemary has a beautiful and strong aroma ideal for bread recipes. Just a spring in a soup or in a baked potato can add a wonderful bouquet of scent. Rosemary has also been found to help stimulate circulation and relieves muscle pain.
- Thyme has an aromatic flavor with a variety of fresh uses such as in stocks, chowders, stuffing, marinades and vinegars. Along with sage this spice is fundamental in vegetarian holiday meals. Thyme as been said to strengthen the immune system.
- Oregano’s peppery taste makes in a common ingredient in Italian and Mexican dishes, also because it grows well in warmer climates. Although best when added fresh at the end of meal preparation, the dried form is very common and easy to use.
Readers, please share your own tips and recipes below. One of the goals of A Healthy Career is to build community and share inspiration on how to stay healthy and well while building a successful and sustainable career.
***Before experimenting with any exercises and nutrition tips posted on A Healthy Career, always consult with your physician, wellness or health practitioner.
Kim Monaghan, PCC, RYT, CPBS is the owner of KBM Coaching & Consulting LLC, a boutique Human Resources Consulting and Career Coaching Firm serving a national clientele.