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Spice Up Your Holiday with Healing Culinary Herbs

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I don’t know what it is about the holidays and me, but when this time of year comes around I think about spices. It’s probably because of the season – winter, colder weather, Kidney time – and spicing up meals enhances all three of these. So once again I give you something about spices, although this time with a different twist -- I’ve found a perfect book not only for your kitchen, but as a lovely gift option as well.

Titled, Healing Spice: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Diseases, this fabulous book by Bharat B. Aggarwai with Debora Yost (Sterling, 2011) does exactly what it says: presents 50 spices along with their health uses, science, how to buy and use them, and my favorite part – recipes!

I was so inspired by this book that I completely restocked our spice cabinet, throwing out a lot of old stuff, cleaning up the mess and bringing in just those spices we wanted and would use. Now when I open the spice cabinet I can easily grab the ones I want. It has become a delight to use them rather than a burden to find them. As well, this book inspired me to create my own spice blends (another great gift idea, by the way).

How often do we think of spices as medicine? How many people know that our "lowly" kitchen spices are some of our most potent healing herbs? According to Aggarwai, "(W)orldwide scientific research has linked spices to the prevention and treatment of more than 150 health problems, including heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s."

Many people know that ginger aids digestion and treats motion sickness, and turmeric is good for pain and arthritis. But how many know that caraway is a folk remedy to prevent and control blood sugar problems and that its daily intake for two weeks normalized blood sugar in rats? How many cooks know that a compound in star anise is used as the "starter ingredient" for Tamiflu, the most commonly prescribed drug for flu? How many realize that a vanillin-derived drug significantly reduced the percentage of sickle cells in rats, becoming a potential new agent for those with sickle cell anemia?

Do you cook with fennel, fenugreek, asafetida, juniper berry, ajowan or tamarind? All of these highly flavorful herbs also have tremendous health benefits. Many of these spices aid digestion, improving appetite and eliminating gas and bloating. Of course just a dash of spice won’t heal your arthritis, but continued use of these spices does have beneficial effects on health and prevents disease.

So go ahead – spice up your life this holiday and help others to do so, too! Here’s a spice recipe I love that you may enjoy, too. I made this so often recently that I decided to combine all the spices in one large batch for easy use in the future. However, if you choose to do so, keep the seeds separate from the powders; they brown at different rates. 

KORMA

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil or sesame oil
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground clove
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 Tblsp chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Directions:

1) Heat ghee or oil in a large pan and add fennel and fenugreek seeds. After heating for a few seconds, add the remaining spices. Cook for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring, until browned.

2) Mix in onion and garlic and sauté on medium heat until onion is near translucent.

3) Place yogurt and salt (and red pepper if desired) in blender. Cool spice/onion/garlic mix and then blend with yogurt/salt until smooth. Add yogurt to thin as needed.

4) Stir into or pour over warm, cooked meat (chicken, beef, lamb), and vegetables (I like to use one carrot, halved and sliced, 1 cup cauliflower florets, 1 cup fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces and/or one red bell pepper cut into pieces). Garnish with parsley.

5) Enjoy!

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