Spicing Up the Dinner Table

Spices are fascinating, tasty additions to the family diet – yet they are still elusive to so many families.  They tend to be intimidating (especially the pepper family), and someone who hasn’t learned to cook formally may not have any practical knowledge of how to use spices appropriately.  So, this post is meant to be a short and easy crash course in the spice world!  Here are some common flavorings, and the ways they can be used to “spice up” your family meals:

  1. Garlic: powdered, minced, or whole cloves – This popular and well-used seasoning is actually a bulb, in raw form.  It has been used for thousands of years as a flavor addition to our diets, and even adds health benefits, like antioxidants, and immune boosting properties, to our bodies.  Garlic can be diced, minced, pounded, crushed, mashed and powdered, just to name a few ways to add it to food.  It is mainly used for aromatic and digestive flavor.  Usually seared and simmered before the rest of the dish, it is a strong addition to pastas, meat dishes, vegetables, and casseroles.  The more crushed and pummeled garlic is, the more benefits it releases!
  2. Black Pepper – Everything is better with a dash of black pepper, and especially if it is the coarse, fresh “milled” variety.  There are many varieties available, such as lemon pepper (great with fish, vegetables and lamb dishes) and peppercorn medleys.  Adding whole peppercorns to soups, stews, crock pot dinners and other dishes will add a kick!  This spice contains digestive benefits, as well as antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
  3. Cumin – Used to spice up Indian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern and North African dishes (just to name a few of the multiple ethnicities who appreciate cumin!)  Cumin mixes well with other spices, but still brings its signature nutty flavor to the dish!  Usually ¼ to ½ teaspoon is plenty of this flavoring’s beneficial goodness!  This little seed is a relative to the parsley family and aids the digestive system, as well as the liver’s detoxifying function.
  4. Thyme – Aiding in the digestion of fatty foods, thyme does more than just season dishes with a fine, though pungent flavor.  Thyme is a wonderful seasoning when used fresh, and is flexible enough to be boiled, roasted, baked, and grilled.  Dried thyme provides a fragrant addition to most meats, poultry, vegetable medleys, and more.
  5. Bay leaves – This slightly bitter yet aromatic herb  contains many strong oils and is widely used in soups, stews, pot roasts, as well as with most meats.  Bay leaf has been used medicinally over the years to treat high blood sugar, migraine headaches, bacterial infections, and ulcers.  It is a strong herb, and shouldn’t be overused, since its qualities are potent.
  6. Basil – Aromatic, but not too strong, basil is a gentle, delicious addition to many dishes such as vegetable medleys, soups, pastas, and meats.  Easy to grow anywhere, this herb is commonly found all over, and is used in pestos and sauces.  Like many of its herb cousins, basil is a digestive aid, so it adds more than just sweet flavor to food.

The spices listed are just a few of the most commonly used, but provides a great starting point.  Adding more than just flavor, these herbs and spices will assist digestion and enrich bodily functions.  They’ll give great benefits to the dinner plate, with very little effort and cost!