Creating flavour with herbs and spices

By Christina Ross, Accredited Practising Dietitian

Cooking meals at home is a fantastic way to nourish your body, and whether using fresh or dried, ground or whole, herbs and spices pack a flavourful punch to your meals while adding many health benefits too.

While you might think you need a spice pantry and herb garden to use these ingredients, you can start simply with a few versatile herbs and spices that you use across many dishes.

  • Ground cumin and coriander – great in Middle Eastern stews and Indian curries
  • Cinnamon – sprinkle over porridge or use in a savoury mince (along with ground cumin and coriander)
  • Ginger – grate fresh ginger into stir-fries, curries and soups (tip: store in a snap-lock bag in the freezer to keep fresh)
  • Oregano – mix with garlic to season meat and fish, before BBQ’ing or baking
  • Paprika (sweet or smoked) – add a smoky flavour to a Mexican chilli or sprinkle over your protein of choice (eg. chicken tenderloins, white fish) before baking

Be clever with your herb and spice storage too, to prevent food waste.

  • Ground spices are best stored in a cool dark area (eg. pantry). Be sure to keep them in an easily accessible and visible spot, to encourage you to use them more often.
  • Fresh herbs can be wrapped in a damp paper towel or tea towel and kept in the fridge. Be sure to use fresh herbs within a couple of days – or better yet, grown your own!

Now that you have mastered the basics, lift your flavour game with these tips.

  1. Jazz up your salads with leafy fresh herbs eg. freshly torn basil leaves pair beautifully with a tomato and Spanish onion salad, while chopped coriander and mint form the basis of many Thai and Vietnamese salads
  2. DIY seasoning for when you are feeling creative in the kitchen.
    • Chop a range of seasonal vegetables, spray with extra virgin olive oil, then toss with sweet paprika or dried oregano before roasting.
    • For an easy marinate or rub for meat, chicken or fish, combine 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil with sweet paprika and dried thyme.
    • Create your own Mexican seasoning by combining ground coriander, cumin, smoked paprika, cinnamon.
  3. Instant flavour when you don’t have a lot of time to mix and match your herbs and spices, opt for ready-to-go options.
    • Dukkah (Egyptian spice blend of toasted pine nuts, coriander and sesame seeds) – sprinkle over salad or create a crust on a salmon fillet before baking
    • Za’atar (Middle Eastern dried herb blend) – sprinkle over salad or steamed greens
    • Chinese 5 spice – stirfy with protein and vegetables
    • Pre-made spice pastes – check the ingredient list to ensure the majority of the ingredients are herbs and spices (not oil). Spice and curry pastes are a healthier alternative to “simmer sauces”, and a great time-saver for making a healthier version of your favourite curry. You can take your healthy recipe renovation a step further by boosting the veggies, opting for light coconut milk (or coconut flavoured evaporated milk) and adding a lean protein.

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