How To Flavor Your Dishes Without Sacrificing Your Health

Season, season, season! 

In culinary school, the mantra was, “Season, season, season!” And then,  “Season some more!” This roughly translates to using the right amount of salt (and a little bit of pepper) from the very beginning of the cooking process, and continuing to add more and more until the very end. It is important to taste for “seasoning” just before serving so that when you present your final masterpiece to a table of critics, you have delighted the taste buds of each one of them, and everyone thinks, “Wow – this chef is a genius!”

Now, of course, I can appreciate genius in cooking. And the art of perfect seasoning is a tough one to master. However, there is a difference between seasoning, and adding extra salt to cater to common salt addiction. As an example of just how much salt goes into some of the items we think are “healthy choices” on a menu, let’s take a look at the culinary school method for cooking green vegetables.

  • In a large pot of water, add a ton of salt – about a cup – or until it tastes like the ocean. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the vegetables and cook until tender.
  • In the meantime, prepare an ice water bath (water and ice in a large bowl).
  • Once the vegetables are cooked, drain and place vegetables in the ice water bath to shock them  (this will stop the cooking process and help retain their vibrant green color).
  • Just before service, sauté vegetables in a good amount of bubbling, melted butter. Add salt and pepper as needed. Add fresh herbs and serve.

News flash: restaurant chefs love salt

Deceitfully addictive, salt teases the taste buds at the front of our tongues, tricking us into a cyclical need for more, more, more! The problem is that we are not and were never meant to consume large amounts of salt. The excess sodium is NOT GOOD FOR OUR BODIES! It stiffens our arteries, increases our risk for auto-immune diseases, raises blood pressure and puts a strain, not only on our arteries, but also on our kidneys, heart and brain.

There is a scientific trick in the food industry to find the “bliss point” when developing packaged cookies, crackers, and chips. The trick is to add the perfect amount of salt, sugar, and fat to make a food so delicious that, of course, we can’t “just eat one!” What’s better than sugar or salt?! It’s genius, right? And a simple, surefire way to keep customers coming back for more. But, the consumption of all this sugar and salt is also at an expense to our health.

Garden of Eydie to the rescue!

I will help you learn delicious and healthy ways to cook that protect you from disease. At the same time, I will cultivate your love for the flavor of foods without an ocean full of salt, fat, or sugar! (Article on Why No Salt, Oil or Sugar, coming soon) Let me help you start cooking the Garden of Eydie way.

The 6 essential elements of flavor

First off, there are six elements of flavor that Garden of Eydie uses to add deliciousness to our recipes: Herbs, spices, citrus, sweet, heat, and umami.

Herbs

Herbs are grown in the garden and used for their leaves and stalks. They can be added in the process of cooking and/or added fresh just before serving. A sprinkling of fresh herbs brightens a dish – it’s like adding that final bling to an outfit that completes it and makes it sparkle.

Herbs also have healing properties. They are full of antioxidants and rich in nutrients including iron, calcium, fiber, potassium, and manganese.

Most commonly used herbs (and there are so many more):

  • Rosemary, dill, thyme, parsley, sage, chives, cilantro, basil, tarragon, oregano, and bay leaves

Other herbs currently grown in the Garden of Eydie (just to name a few):

  • Curry leaves, kaffir lime leaves, mushroom plant, and sorrel

It’s so much fun to cook with herbs that are not usually found in stores, but easily grown in your garden. These herbs can also be dried for use. Just remember – if a recipe calls for fresh herbs and you only have dried herbs on hand, halve the amount called for in the recipe. So, 1 TB of fresh herbs = ½ TB dried herbs (flavor from dried herbs is much more concentrated).

Herbs grown in your own garden deliver an exceptional freshness and flavor profile that only freshly cut herbs can provide. Freshly cut herbs also provide higher nutrient levels. Give growing your own herbs a try! You will not be disappointed.

SPICES

Spices are sketched into our DNA. They have existed as a significant part of cultural tradition in cooking since the beginning of common civilization.  According to literary anthology, the first spices were grown in the Garden of Eden, born from the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, which provided everything humankind needed to survive and thrive. Spices are literally in our roots. We are innately wired to consume them. And, best of all, spices make our food sing! Let’s explore their exquisite properties.  

According to The Spice Trader, “Spices, in history, play an important role in lands discovered, empires built and brought down, wars won and lost, treaties signed and flouted, flavors sought and offered, and the rise and fall of different religious practices and beliefs. Spices were among the most valuable items of trade in ancient and medieval times.” Some spices also have significant nutritional and medicinal benefits. Spices will play a starring role in all Garden of Eydie recipes – connecting us to our past, while also providing for a healthy future.

Spices are created from dried fruit, flowers, seeds, bark, and roots.  For example, cinnamon and black pepper are both spices, yet cinnamon comes from the bark of a bushy evergreen tree, while black pepper is the dried berry from a vine.

The rouxbe.com course where I earned a certification on plant-based cooking, teaches,“Spices carry a powerful flavor profile which, when used properly, can electrify a dish and please the palate. However, using too much of an herb or spice can overpower a dish and render the ingredients unrecognizable. For example, when used in excess, cardamom can dominate an entire dish. Too much nutmeg can be bitter. And while a small pinch of the Indian spice fenugreek can add a subtle maple-like flavor to a dish, too much lends bitterness.” If you are interested in furthering your education of plant-based cooking, I highly recommend the courses by Rouxbe, especially the one on Plant-Based Cooking: An Introduction

The most commonly used spices include: allspice, anise seed and star anise, black pepper, cardamom, cayenne, chili powder, chili flakes, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seed, cumin, curry powder, dill seed, fennel, garlic powder/granules, ginger, marjoram, ground mustard and mustard seeds, nutmeg, onion powder/granules, sweet & smoked paprika, and turmeric.

It’s a long list. And yet, there are so many more spices to explore.

Want to expand your spice repertoire? Travel is a wonderful way to explore new spices! Depending on the cuisine, you’ll find spices you’ve never encountered before. If you’re not planning to travel anytime soon, simply, commit to experimenting with some international dishes. The more you cook and the more you sample different global cuisines, the more attuned you will become with the wonderful, magical world of spices. You will learn how spices can transform your meals, and at the same time, take you on a journey to lands you’ll want to discover!

This chart from Rouxbe provides a visual guide of  spices you can add, to literally, spice up the basic recipes provided on Garden of Eydie to create the flavor profile of a range of international cuisines.

Culturally Inspired Spice Combinations

PROFESSIONAL PLANT-BASED CERTIFICATION COURSE

Herbs, Spices & Aromatics
Italian & SicilianThai & BalineseMexican & SpanishMoroccan & AfricanJapanese & ChineseTurkish & GreekIndian
BasilChili Garlic Leek Marjoram Onion Oregano Parsley *Rosemary *Sage Thyme *White PepperBasilChili Cilantro Coriander Cumin Curry Galangal Ginger *Kaffir lime leaf Lemongrass Mint Tamarind Turmeric *SesameCilantro Cinnamon Chili Coriander Cumin Garlic Olive oil Onion Paprika (sweet, hot or smoked) Parsley *SaffronCardamom Clove Chive Cilantro Cinnamon Coriander Cumin *Fenugreek Garlic Ginger Mint Onion *SaffronSage *RoseBasil *Cardamom Chili Coriander Garlic Ginger Miso Scallion *Sesame *Star anise *Vinegar *Wasabi*Anise Cilantro Cinnamon Chili *Clove Dill *Fenugreek Garlic Marjoram Mint Oregano Parsley *Poppy seed *Saffron *Sesame Sumac Thyme Onion*Anise *Black Pepper Cardamom Chili Cinnamon *Clove Cumin Curry Garam masala Garlic Ginger Fennel seed *Fenugreek Mint *Mustard Onion *Rose *Saffron *Sesame Tamarind Turmeric
Produce
Avocado Bell pepper Broccoli Capers Cucumber Lemon Olive Spinach TomatoBaby corn Carrot Cauliflower Coconut Lime Pea Potato Tomato ZucchiniAvocado Corn Jicama Lime Olive Bell pepper Tomato ZucchiniBell pepper Cauliflower Corn Eggplant Lemon Melon Olive Orange Potato TomatoBroccoli Lime Bok choy Cucumber Lemon Mung bean sprouts Sea vegetables Shitake mushroom Snow peasArugula Cucumber Eggplant Lemon Olive Pomegranate Spinach TomatoBell pepper Cauliflower Coconut Eggplant Lemon Pea Pomegranate Spinach Tomato
Beans & Grains
Arborio rice Barley Borlotti beans Cannellini beans Corn Corona beans Fava beans Farro Garbanzo beansBlack short-grain rice Jasmine rice Long-grain rice Soy beansAmaranth Black beans Brown rice Lentils Pinto beans White beansBasmati Rice Garbanzo beans Lentils MilletSplit peas Teff WheatAzuki beans Barley Basmati rice Black beans Black rice Bhutanese rice Mung beans Red beans Soy beansBasmati rice Bulgur Garbanzo beans Gigante beans Lentils Lima beans Wheat White beansBasmati rice Garbanzo beans Lentils Mung beans Pigeon beans Soy beans

* Use sparingly, so it does not overpower the dish

Citrus

Citrus fruits are filled with sunshine and make us pucker with delight! Picture yourself biting into a juicy wedge of lemon. Are you puckering, salivating, and wincing with delight?  mmmmm….ahhhh…eeeee!

The five taste buds we have on our tongue are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and the most recently discovered, umami (Think smoky, earthy flavors like tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, and celery). The goal of every chef is to balance these flavors in just the right amounts to delight all the senses when we eat. Citrus and vinegars are used quite often at the end of cooking to add brightness to a soup, stew, or sauce. As I learned to prepare plant-based foods sans oil, salt, and sugar, the biggest “AHA” moment for me was that when citrus and fresh herbs are incorporated into a dish, the need for salt is greatly diminished!

A couple of tips when using citrus:

  • If citrus is added too early in the cooking process, it can ruin the dish by making it taste “funky” at the end of cooking.  
  • When used at the end, the right amount of citrus elevates the dish, adding brightness, a little zing, and a notable liveliness to the end result.

Sweeet!

Who doesn’t love sugar?! The mere thought of it fills us with dreamy childhood memories of ice cream cones in summer and after-school treats with friends. Even breast milk boasts a slight sweetness; we are simply born to crave it. The reason we crave sugar is actually scientific. When we consume sugar, our body releases dopamine, a hormone that makes us feel good or happy. Unfortunately, too much sugar (and it is easy to have too much) does the body harm. Excess sugar causes inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, etc. So how do we satiate this hard wired craving?  

Fruit!  

Fruit is life-giving, delicious, and satiates our sweet tooth in a healthy, nutritious way.

Fruit:  Why it’s SO important to eat?

It’s juicy, and it can be sour, but usually it’s very sweet, it’s a food that is the most healthful and delicious to eat.

Fruit is a magical food.  Think about it—fruit gets its life from the earth and the sun–elements in nature we all need to survive. It makes sense that this is a health food. Plus the variety of fruits available today from all over the world, provide the richness of nutrients we couldn’t get in the past. This food is filled with vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C and potassium.

Here are a few of the benefits:

Fruit is a super effective medicine: It is anti-inflammatory and improves artery function. Fruit also helps prevent all sorts of diseases including cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other heart issues, including skin disorders. Fruit is a super effective medicine.

Antioxidant power houses: What are antioxidants, you ask?  They are found in certain foods and neutralize the damaging free radicals we all have in our bodies.

Excellent source of Fiber:  Fiber helps maintain a healthy gut and prevents constipation.  Take it from me!…..I suffered with constipation for as long as I can remember, until I started eating a lot of fruit, which from the very first day, provided my much needed “Sweet relief.”  It works!

But how much fruit is healthy to eat? Many sources on the Internet talk about the dangers of fructose, of course found in fruit.  Where do these people get their information? Not from science! This terrific article from one of my favorite docs, Dr. Michael Greger, sets the record straight on how much fruit is too much. You must read this short article until the end (pun kind of intended). It’s really funny!

Here’s an excerpt from the article about a study on how much fruit is too much:

Seventeen people were made to eat 20 servings a day of fruit. Despite the extraordinarily high fructose content of this diet, presumably about 200 g/d—eight cans of soda worth, the investigators reported no adverse effects (and possible benefit actually) for body weight, blood pressure, and insulin and lipid levels after three to six months.

More recently, Jenkins and colleagues put people on about a 20 servings of fruit a day diet for a few weeks and found no adverse effects on weight or blood pressure or triglycerides, and an astounding 38 point drop in LDL cholesterol.

There was one side effect, though. Given the 44 servings of vegetables they had on top of all that fruit, they recorded the largest bowel movements apparently ever documented in a dietary intervention!

Are you convinced yet?  Not only is fruit tasty and sweet, it is nature’s gift to life!

I used to only ever like “sweets” as dessert and avoided putting them in my savory dishes or salads (aside from a delightful pear and arugula salad). Once I discovered plant- based eating and cooking, this completely changed. Now, I love adding a mix of sweet and savory to my dishes to bring out all of the flavors. My favorite kale salad has five of the six flavor enhancers we’re talking about; kale with cumin (bitter); goji berries (sweet), lemon juice (sour), tomatoes (umami), red pepper flakes (heat), plus avocado.  The goji berries are what makes this salad so special. Try it and you will see! I also love mango in salad with a little lime juice, cherry tomatoes, and basil or cilantro. There is no need for fat-laden salad dressings when using these sweet and juicy additions.

Have no fruit fear – it’s healthy, let’s cheer!

Heat

Heat is a satisfying bomb of flavor! Pardon my exuberance for all things super spicy and hot – I’m from Texas! You’ll find jalapeños, hot sauce, and all sorts of chili peppers in every “home and restaurant on the range!” When I lived in Dallas, TX, my best girlfriend, Gigi, and I would dine in restaurants and always ask for extra red chili flakes, habanero, or whatever hot Chilies the restaurant had on hand to generously sprinkle on every dish we ordered, from the salad, to the sides, to the main entree. (We would always order several things off the menu and split them—fun memories!) Gigi and I would continuously surprise waiters with our ability to take the heat despite their warnings to be careful. We found that the more we ate super spicy foods, the more tolerant we became. Somehow, these foods helped us feel content and kept us from overeating.  

Fast forward to present day. I live with my husband, Ed, in Santa Monica, CA. I’ve found that most of my friends and family here do not like spicy foods. In fact, Ed says, “I don’t like food that hurts!” As a result, my tolerance for spicy foods has diminished dramatically. However, I still love to add red chili flakes, chipotle peppers, dried, smoky Jalapeños (my personal favorite), as well as chilis de arbol. I learned to use these little bursts of flavor from LA’s revered and award winning chef Suzanne Goin, who uses chili de arbol in almost all of her recipes.  The wonderful world of Chilies is vast; there are dozens upon dozens of types found all over the world, ranging from mild to so dangerously hot that they can literally burn your esophagus. We’ll discuss Chilies, at length, in another article. In the meantime, see if you get a little kick out of Chilies!

Smoke

Smoke is another Garden of Eydie favorite. We love its ability to bring summertime flavors to your dishes all year ‘round! It’s also the subject of festivals, clubs, organizations and competitions. People are smoking cheese, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and whatever else they can get their hands on. Smoke gives food that extra depth and yumminess – like a warm blanket for your taste buds.

My favorite tool for smoking foods is the Cameron StoveTop Smoker. It’s very inexpensive, easy to use, and elevates your meals to greater heights of happiness! We smoke beans of all sorts to make a smoked white bean hummus or smoked black bean pizza sauce. You can choose from an array of smoking chips like hickory, alder, pecan, apple, and mesquite, just to name a few. You can also use woody herbs like rosemary and thyme to add flavor to the foods you are preparing to smoke. You’ll find many recipes on this site that will teach you how to pack in this unique punch of flavor, which promises to delight you and your guests!

I hope these flavor-enhancing options inspire you on your own journey to health, adding exquisite taste to all of your cooking adventures along the way. 

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