Season and Spice

How to quickly become a master of flavor

Nature is bountiful. It gives us raw ingredients — the building blocks for delicious meals. Crispy romaine to toss in a salad, earthy mushrooms to sautée for an omelette, juicy tomatoes for your caprese.

But, what do you do with them? How do you make them taste good?

Bestowing flavor on food can be simple. Say you’re in the mood for grass fed steak. You may grab a blue cheese sauce or a teriyaki rub for a flavor kick, but these pre-made sauces are heavy with preservatives and flavorings. How about a sprinkle of salt and cracked black pepper before grilling? That’s all it needs.

The same goes for baked salmon. Lemon, thyme, and a slice of grass fed butter will do the trick. Greek salad on the menu? Dress it in lemon, EVOO, oregano, and garlic.

Herbs and spices are nature’s way of adding an impactful, tasty punch to basic raw ingredients. There’s no need for complex sauces, additives, or cooking techniques; all you really need is a few accoutrements.

These are some favorites, and how we use them:

Cilantro

Cilantro may be the healthiest herb in the world. It contains strong amounts of vitamin A, C, E, K, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. It’s also full of antioxidants and antimicrobial properties.

As for the taste, it’s packed with a unique freshness and crispy tang, almost like citrus. Disclaimer: about 20% of humans think cilantro tastes like soap (it’s genetic).

Because of this zesty quality, cilantro marries beautifully with full fat and other deeper tastes. Its classic place is in guacamole; it balances the creaminess of the avocado well. It’s also great as garnish on poached fish or lamb kabobs, and as a flavor enhancer for EVOO-based dressings.

Try this recipe for Chimichurri sauce (parsley, cilantro, garlic), a great way to give zest to hearty meat dishes.

Oregano

As one of the classic Italian spices, oregano has a distinctly Mediterranean flavor. It’s reminiscent of tomato sauce, with a slight peppery, earthy quality.

It’s amazing. The best way to cook with oregano — dried or fresh — is as seasoning for light, fresh dishes. It’s great on a chopped cucumber and tomato salad, for example (add some feta cheese and olives for a burst of greek goodness). Or, sprinkle it on baked white fish.

It’s also a central ingredient in many sauces and dressings. Tomato sauce benefits from a pinch of dried oregano to provide depth; salad dressing would gain from the same.

Oregano’s health profile is extensive, too. It has high amounts of fiber and vitamins A, C, E, and K. It also has strong antioxidant properties, both in herb and oil form (oregano essential oil has many antibacterial and antifungal properties).

A word to the wise: oregano (dried or fresh) loses potency quickly, so replace it every month or so.

Thyme

Thyme is part of the mint family, giving it a uniquely savory taste. Balanced with hints of flowers and citrus, it’s a great accompaniment for soups, sautéed veggies, meat, and eggs.

Thyme is an integral part of a traditional French blend of herbs called bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, bay leaves). It’s also heavily used in Mediterranean cooking and on lighter meats like poultry, fish, lamb, and pork.

A great way to use it is in a lemon mustard dressing for grilled broccoli — mix together EVOO, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and thyme, then toss in grilled broccoli. Or, pair fresh thyme with EVOO, salt, and pepper; use this concoction as a marinade for chicken drumsticks.

On the health side, thyme is an incredible source of vitamins A & C, and has powerful antibacterial properties.

Garlic

Garlic isn’t technically an herb, but it’s one of the most powerful ways to give flavor to food. It’s as simple as this: roughly chop a clove, sautée the pieces in butter, then scramble a few eggs on top. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper to taste. It’s absolutely delicious.

Garlic is good with anything. Add it in dressings to pack a punch, sautée it with bitter veggies (like kale) to take the edge off, use it as a rub on steak for a savory burst of flavor, even chop it into salsas for added fragrance. Word to the wise: overcooking garlic will give it a bitter taste. Make sure to cook it to a slight brown.

Any way you use it, make sure to get garlic in organic cloves. Try to avoid bottled or powdered garlic; it’s not fresh and usually laced with preservatives.

Here’s an easy recipe to taste the savory power of garlic. Clean a full head, cut off the top to expose the individual cloves, and drizzle with EVOO and salt. Then, put it in the oven covered in tin foil for 45 minutes at 400 degrees — tasty!
 
Garlic also has many documented health benefits. It contains essential enzymes that promote calcium absorption and proper thyroid function. It’s high in vitamin B6 and manganese.

And by the way, the best way to get these benefits? Chop the garlic and let it sit for 10 minutes. This allows the health promoting allicin to form, which is a strong cancer inhibitor and immune enhancer.

Pro tip: if your hands every smell like garlic, rub a wedge of lemon to get rid of the scent.