If you are cooking and the food tastes bland, what do you do? Nine times out of ten, the answer I usually hear is, “add salt.”
There is no doubt salt is a necessary ingredient for building flavor in a dish. Rather than make food “salty,” the right amount of salt can increase the sweetness of some fruits or even decrease unpleasant bitterness. Salt has the miraculous effect of simply enhancing the delicious flavors of foods.
Salt has vital biological function as well. Membrane channels in cell walls are regulated by the concentration of salt (and potassium) inside and outside of our cells. As a result, biological functions ranging from digestion to nerve transmission are impacted by the amount of sodium in our body.
High quality, non-iodized sea salt is a truly vital cooking ingredient. However, it is 100% necessary to learn how to build flavor and create dynamic taste combinations apart from the basic salt and pepper routine. Don’t our taste buds deserve something a bit more fun?
So how do we develop these tasty flavor profiles without being overly dependent on salt? One answer: herbs and spices
When we bring these ingredients into the kitchen we expand our culinary potential by one hundred fold. Think of a little fresh parsley that garnishes braised chicken. It’s the element that freshens the dish and makes it come alive with brightness. A bowl of Vietnamese pho would not be complete without the torn mint, cilantro, or basil that accompanies it. The crispy skin of my mother’s roasted chicken is so divine because of thyme and oregano (and copious amounts of butter of course).
Now think about any global cuisine that you can imagine. It is the century-old herb and spice combinations that give it the unique flavor you crave. The taste of Mexico is completely within grasp when you have some cumin, cilantro, cinnamon, and oregano on hand. You can take a trip to Provence with rosemary, sage, marjoram, and thyme, and bring India into your kitchen with turmeric, cumin, coriander, and cilantro. Herbs and spices will bring your food to the next flavor-popping level.
Not only are they essential to the culinary toolkit, but herbs and spices also bring an incredible array of nutrition onto your plate. In the recipe that follows, I’ve used a classic Indian spice combination and paired it with bright parsley and crisp mint. Between the five spices and two herbs, we’ve got cardiovascular, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and digestive benefits well covered and accounted for.
With all that stands to gain by cooking with herbs and spices - from the taste to the nutrition - the next time your food tastes a bit bland, how will you be upping the flavor?
That’s right. A bit of salt and a whole lot of herbs and spices.
Turmeric and Cumin Roasted Cauliflower Salad
Yield: 4 – 1 ½ cup servings
1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon + pinch salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup loosely packed mint, chopped
1 cup loosely packed parsley, chopped
2 cups cooked chickpeas, or one can, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup almonds, chopped and toasted
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Place the cauliflower florets in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix together ¼ cup of the olive oil, the spices, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Pour the oil mixture over the cauliflower and use your hands to make sure the florets are equally coated. Transfer the cauliflower onto baking sheets, making sure not to crowd them, and roast for 25 minutes. Allow cauliflower to cool.
- While the cauliflower is in the oven, mix together the remaining ¼ cup olive oil, pinch of salt, lemon juice, honey, and garlic.
- Combine the cooled cauliflower, lemon dressing, mint, parsley, chickpeas and raisins. Top with toasted almonds when ready to serve.