Right then – I am going to sing the praises of herbs and spices! A simple basic weekly shop of vegetables, pulses, grains and meat can be transformed into a variety of wonderful dishes that will take your mind on Worldwide travels…and no, I haven’t lost the plot. Just think for a second of a chopping up a few tomatoes, a pepper, an onion, some mushrooms and an aubergine – a basic veg combo – and then add some garlic, oregano and basil…and you are in Italy! But add some cumin, turmeric, ginger, garlic and coriander to the same veg combo and you have a curry, transporting your mind to India and hot climes! Or add some ginger, paprika, cumin and mint…and you have a Moroccan veggie tagine…with images of Marrakech floating around your mind – or maybe it’s just me that has these food / travel fantasies!
There are so many options when using herbs and spices in your cooking to keep things lively – and there is no reason to get bored with your healthy eating plan. As well as adding copious amounts of flavour, many herbs and spices bring health benefits too. Anti-oxidants, vitamins, nutrients and essential oils are found in herbs and these can help boost our immune systems and contribute to a feeling of well-being. Many spices – such as cinnamon and cumin for example – have been shown to help with diabetes as they assist in lowering blood sugar levels…and I have actually found this to be the case with my own diabetes. And antioxidants found in turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties and have been linked to delays in the onset of Alzheimer’s. So not only do they taste good, but they have hidden benefits too. Most herbs and spices are fairly gentle too…so don’t worry about adding lots of heat and spice to your dishes…they can be very subtle!
I wanted just to focus on some of the main herbs and spices that I use regularly – as I am not what you would call an overly adventurous chef – so they shouldn’t be too scary! There are quite a few to look at though, so I am going to split this post into two and we will look at basil, chives, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, garlic and ginger today, with the others later on in the week!
This is one of my favourites. It needs to be added towards the end of cooking as it can lose it’s flavour…and fresh leaves are best as the drying process tends to remove the flavour – which is quite rare as it usually enhances flavour! I love fresh leaves in a salad – scattered over a tomato and mozzarella dish. It is known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Basil contains exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zea-xanthin – which basically means that it can help deal with the nasties that cause ageing and various disease processes. Vitamin A has antioxidant properties and is essential for vision and is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Basil also contains minerals such as potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium, and its leaves are an excellent source of iron.
They have a rather mild taste of onion – like spring onions or leeks actually. They are quite a delicate herb – a little like basil – and so don’t require much cooking at all. They are great for sprinkling in salads or for use with eggs…I use them in frittatas a fair bit…oh, and they are good in smoked salmon scrambled eggs too! They contain allicin, which reduces cholesterol production and is also found to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal activities. Allicin can also help to reduce blood pressure. Chives are high in vitamin A and also have some other essential vitamins such as vitamin C, and K, in fact; chives are one of the richest sources of vitamin K and studies suggest that vitamin K has a potential role in bone health by promoting osteotrophic (bone formation and strengthening) activity. They are packed with other B-complex vitamins as well as some essential minerals such as copper, iron, manganese, zinc, and calcium. The leafy greens contain several vital vitamins such as pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin in healthy proportions.
This is one of my favourite spices and regular readers will know that I often sprinkle it onto my porridge! Cinnamon is sold as sticks and ground to a powder…but grinding your own is a nightmare as you can never get it fine enough…so buy the ground stuff unless a recipe states otherwise! Great for warming desserts, it is also used to flavour meat and stews – and is popular in Eastern cooking. As already mentioned, there is some research to suggest that cinnamon may lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes and reduce cholesterol levels. I find that the warming, sweet flavour can also help combat cravings for sweet foods – it tastes lovely sprinkled over an apple with some natural yogurt…this is my version of a McDonalds Apple Pie!
Again – I love coriander! It has a taste that I can only describe as fresh – and is supposed to be chewed as a breath freshener apparently! You can use it fresh, or use ground coriander…the fresh stuff is best added to dishes just before serving, but the ground coriander can be used right from the offset of your dish for maximum flavour. Coriander is high in vitamin K which contributes to bone strength and can help the blood to clot. It is rich in antioxidants, essential oils, vitamins, and dietary fibre, which help reduce LDL or “bad cholesterol” while increasing HDL or “good cholesterol” levels. Coriander is a good source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure and iron is essential for red blood cell production. It is also rich in many vital vitamins, including folic-acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C that is essential for optimum health. Vitamin C is a powerful natural antioxidant. As mentioned before, vitamin A is great for vision. I have also read that coriander acts as an aid for reducing water retention…and when I made my infamous ‘coriander chicken’ I lost 6.5lbs that week…although it was probably just a wild coincidence!
Cumin is often used in Indian cooking and has quite a pungent smell – you can buy cumin seeds and grind them yourself, but the seeds work just as well in most dishes…you can dry roast them first and then add your other ingredients. Like cinnamon, cumin may help with diabetes to keep blood sugar levels in check. It also has powerful germ-fighting properties that have been shown to help prevent stomach ulcers. Cumin is also a very good source of calcium, iron and magnesium.
I use dill quite a lot when cooking fish. It has a slightly aniseed taste – a bit like star anise or fennel – and is typically used with fish and in a lot of Eastern dishes…such as with falafels and yogurt dishes. Dill oil, which is extracted from the seeds, has anti-spasmodic, carminative, digestive, and sedative properties. It is also rich in many vital vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A, ß-carotene, vitamin C that is essential for optimum metabolism inside the human body. Dill is also a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium.
This is another herb that tastes like aniseed and works well with fish – the leaves can be used as a herb in cooking and the bulb can be used in soups and stews, or finely sliced in salads. Fennel is particularly helpful if you suffer from bloating, gas and other digestive issues, and also for stopping symptoms of heartburn. I have to confess that I added a chopped build into a dish I made recently but it was still raw when I ate it…it can take a bit of cooking to soften it! It tasted nice, but the other veggies had softened well…perhaps I should cut it up a bit smaller next time!
Garlic has to be my all-time favourite! I can often be found eating something containing masses of garlic…and yes, I have the garlic breath to prove it! I love it fresh, puréed and dried – and as long as the purée contains no oil (Lazy do a great pot which uses vinegar instead of oil – you can use it freely in your cooking without worrying about syns. It does have a strong flavour and my other half used to refuse to eat it…until I began adding it little by little, secretly, and he now loves the stuff too! As with the chives, the allicin in garlic can help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure and can help to thin your blood – which decreases the overall risk from coronary artery disease and stroke. Research studies also found that consumption of garlic is associated with a possible decrease in the incidence of stomach cancer. Garlic is an excellent source of minerals and vitamins – the bulbs are one of the richest sources of potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium. Selenium is a heart-healthy mineral, which helps to promotion of antioxidant enzymes.
Ginger is a lovely peppery but sweet ingredient that makes it into every curry and tagine I cook! I tend to use the puréed variety – for ease of use, but you can finely chop, grate, or slice fresh pieces if you prefer. Ginger is a well-know cure for sickness…I remember my Nan making me eat ginger biscuits to stop travel sickness as a child…and is also used for morning sickness. There is some limited evidence that it might be an effective painkiller too: treating arthritis, joint pain and muscle soreness. It also contains a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure.
There we have it – a whistle stop tour of herbs and spices. Honestly, you don’t have to be a whizz in the kitchen to liven up your food…just try some new flavours and see what you think. The BBC Good Food site has a nice section on it – you can click on the herbs (on the right hand side of the page) and it will give you a little description along with some recipe suggestions too. And of course, Slimming World have some fantastic recipes – most of which encourage the use of herbs and spices…which are syn free when fresh and dried. Just note though that if you are using packet mixes – such as fajita spice – remember to check the syns as some do contain sugar which is synned.
Onto to the usuals then…
It has been a rather sedate day. My Mum had a car full this morning so I wasn’t able to get to the horses, which was a bit sad as I like the fresh air that goes with the territory! So I finished off the book I started last night and had a bit of a lazy hour until my other half got back. We then had breakfast and I caught up with the various social media pages that the man has set up for me – it has taken over my life…but in a rather positive way…yet my other half is telling me that I need to take some time out as he thinks the iPad is glued to me now! I then did my herb and spice research for the blog and before I knew it lunchtime had arrived. Although it has been a quiet day I feel a little on edge for some reason. I think that the lack of transport is getting to me – and no, I haven’t called and checked on progress because I didn’t want the stress of knowing that they have found something else wrong…so I am going to leave them to it! I also think that my weigh in tomorrow morning is playing on my mind. It has been another good week, but I need 3lbs for my next award – 12st – and when I set myself a target I am devastated if I don’t hit it. I aim to lose a stone each month and I really want this award. My exercise hasn’t been great, but to be honest at my weight, it isn’t a necessity for weight loss…just a few less doughnuts do the trick. But seriously, I want that award so badly and know that I will not be happy if I don’t get it…I have warned my other half that 2.5lbs will not cut the mustard…even though that gives me a 1st loss this month…it’s the shiny sticker and that extra 0.5lb that I have my heart set on!
Breakfast: Two slices of wholemeal toast (HEB + 3 syns) spread with Marmite and topped with cheese (HEA) and tomatoes with mixed herbs added.
So it has been another good / nice food day – nothing too out of the ordinary though. Just good healthy grub! The jacket potato at lunch was big, but not as big as it looks in the picture…the tuna had overflowed…so the potato was not as long as the plate – honestly! Most of the meals are fairly self-explanatory, with the soup consisting of some cooked chicken, a packet of low fat chicken Supernoodles, stock, a carrot, butternut squash, onions, mushrooms and a pepper. No spinach or celery as they didn’t arrive with the goodies from Asda…even though they were on the list – my other half and his shopping forgetfulness strikes again! Although to give him some well deserved credit, he did stock up on Snack a Jacks after last nights argument…
Exercise: There has been a distinct lack of activity in the Weight Loss Bitch household today…and I am not pleased about that. I just felt a bit ‘meh’ and couldn’t be bothered really! My consultant saw my posts about my leg and mentioned her concern…I am going to get it checked out as it is hard to motivate yourself to move lots when it bloody well hurts!
Anyway – that’s me done with for the day my lovelies…thank you for reading,
Weight Loss Bitch xxx