Cooking with spices isn't just about flavor and enjoying your food. It's also about making your food more digestible and understanding that your food can be a form of medicine.
Cooking doesn't have to be complicated and it generally shouldn't be bland. I've worked with many clients who just simply don't get much joy from their cooking. Many find their food downright boring, rarely experiencing pleasure in the delicate tastes they've created from their home-cooked meals. Making well-flavored food seems so cumbersome. So the result is that they don't like to cook and they'd much rather go to a restaurant and eat more well-flavored food in a restaurant.
If you haven't been raised and trained to cook with spices, it can feel like a daunting task. We buy these little tiny ounce jars of spices from the store, often hidden away in a cabinet. It's important to get those spices out of the margins and make them be the center of your kitchen.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Get a spice tray (pictured above). A stainless steel spice tray is best. Place it right next to your stove. Having it there will be a reminder to regularly use it. Making things just a little more accessible makes a big difference. Many gardeners will tell you that vegetable gardens that are right by the door get much more care and attention than gardens that are even 50 feet away. If you want something to be part of your life daily, keep it close, visible, and within arms reach. It helps that your spice tray is beautiful, which can encourage you to use these powerhouse herbs even more.
2. Pick your essential spices for the container. I think every household needs these five spices. Here are some potential benefits of these spices.*
- coriander - burning urethra, cystitis, urinary tract infection, urticaria, rash, burns, sore throat, vomiting, indigestion, allergies, hay fever
- fennel - indigestion, abdominal pain, cramps or gas, difficult or burning urination, children's colic
- cardamom - colds, coughs, bronchitis, asthma, hoarse voice, loss of taste, poor absorption, indigestion
- turmeric - indigestion, poor circulation, cough, amenorrhea, pharyngitis, skin disorders, diabetes, arthritis, anemia, wounds, bruises
- cumin - bloating, gas, nutrient malabsorption, uterine inflammation, clears the head of mucous and congestion, digests toxins
3. After getting those 5 spices listed above, the other spices should be chosen based on what you like, your digestive health and your body/mind constitution..
If you have a fiery digestion that is susceptible to burning indigestion - you may want to include mint, dried coconut flakes and tarragon.
If you have a sluggish digestion and weight loss would be beneficial for you, you can add dry ginger, mustard seeds, and clove.
if you have a weak digestion and are dealing with symptoms of gas and constipation, you can add cinnamon, pippali (long pepper) and ginger.
Of course, there are many variations. Think about the spices that you enjoy and then do a little research about what spices are best for your constitution.
4. Get them in bulk, not tiny jars. (For those in northeast Los Angeles/ Pasadena, head over to Namaste Spiceland and buy some bags of spices.) If the amount feels too large for you, share them with a friend.
5. Just one small tip when you're arranging your spices... Remember that coriander and cumin look almost exactly the same. I always place my coriander in the center of the spice tray so I'll never get confused.
6. And finally, get some recipes and experiment. After you've experimented with recipes, you'll have a better sense of playing with the spices on your own. So many of the spices blend well together. I'll take a recipe and modify it with the different spices that I have in my spice trays.
* Herb Information - From Yoga of Herbs, David Frawley and Vasant Lad & Ayurvedic Medicine, by Sebastian Pole