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Spice up your holiday cooking

By Caroline Hodges

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With the holidays upon us, cooking and eating traditional holiday food is a given. However, many popular Southern dishes are seasoned with salt and fat. Adding fats like butter, lard, fatback or bacon to recipes increases the amount of saturated fat in the dish, turning a lean meat or vegetable into a high calorie food. The flavor of many foods can be enhanced without using calorie-laden sauces and gravies or basting the meat or vegetable in butter or lard. You can enhance foods by adding herbs and spices. Whether they are fresh or dried, herbs are a calorie-free way to season any food. 


Herbs and spices come in many forms. Fresh herbs can be found in the produce section of your local grocery store. Sometimes dried or ground herb options may be more useful and affordable. Common herbs found in these forms are basil, bay leaf, dill, fennel, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme. Ground spices include allspice, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cumin, curry, garlic, onion and paprika. Herbs and spices also come in blends such as Italian seasoning or lemon herb. No matter how you buy them, the combinations of seasonings are endless and can transform a traditional dish into a dynamite one! 

Vegetables can be seasoned with any herb or spice in your cabinet.

• Southern favorites collards and cabbage can be flavored with garlic or red pepper flakes instead of bacon.

• Non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli or green beans can be baked or sautéed with lemon, chives and garlic for an interesting kick.

• Starchy vegetables such as white potatoes readily pair with most any herb or spice combination. Try baking diced potatoes with carrots in the oven and adding rosemary, garlic and olive oil.

• Sweet potatoes offer many healthy nutrients such as beta carotene and potassium. Try them baked with cinnamon and nutmeg instead of large amounts of butter. 

Some herbs and spices go better with certain meats.

• Chicken, one of the leanest meats, goes well with most herbs and spices. Try coating chicken with Italian herbs, basil, parsley or thyme or Asian spices like ginger and garlic before baking or grilling.

• Red meat, such as steak and beef roast, pairs well with stronger Italian herbs and spices and black pepper.

• Pork pairs well with the fruity accents of apples and sage.

• Grilled and baked fish combines well with the lighter flavors of dill, lemon, paprika, tarragon or thyme.  

Buying herbs and spices may seem expensive but dry herbs and spices will retain their quality and last up to a year in storage. Dried herbs and spices should be kept in a cool, dry, dark place and stored in air-tight containers.

Fresh herbs with stems can be treated just like cut flowers. They should be placed in a cup or vase with a small amount of water covering the stems and stored in the refrigerator. This will extend the life of fresh herbs from a couple days to over a week or more.

An important thing to look for when buying dried herbs or blends is to check the sodium content. Some blends will have salt as the first ingredient. Picking blends or spices that say salt-free or low sodium will help decrease the total amount of in a dish.

Cooking with herbs and spices is all about creativity. Next time you are making your favorite meal or even baking your holiday turkey try out herbs and spices to increase the flavor without increasing your waistline. 

 

— Caroline Hodges graduated from East Carolina University. She works with the Pitt County Health Department as a Dietetic Intern to become a Registered Dietitian.

 

 


 

 

Garlicky Green Beans

Makes 8 servings, about 1 cup each

  • • 2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed

  • • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • • 3 tablespoons minced garlic

  • • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

  • • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, or 2 teaspoons dried

  • • ½ teaspoon salt

  • • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place a large bowl of ice water next to the stove. Add half the green beans to the boiling water and cook until tender-crisp, about 4 minutes. Transfer the beans with a slotted spoon to the ice water to cool. Repeat with the remaining beans. Place a kitchen towel on a baking sheet and use a slotted spoon to transfer the beans from the ice water; blot dry with another towel. Just before serving, heat oil in a large Dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the green beans and stir. Add parsley, tarragon, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until heated through, 1 to 3 minutes.

Nutrition per serving: 92 calories; 6 g total fat (1 g saturated, 4 g monounsaturated); 0 mg cholesterol; 10 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 2 g protein; 4 g fiber; 148 mg sodium; 186 mg potassium. 

Source: eatingwell.com

 


 

 

Tips for cooking with herbs and spices:

 

  • • Season a dish with one strong spice or herb and one or more milder seasonings to complement the food (for example, garlic combined with lemon and thyme). Too many strong seasonings can overwhelm a dish.
  • • Dry herbs and spices carry more flavor than fresh: ¼ teaspoon powder = ¾ teaspoon dried leaves = 2 teaspoons fresh leaves. 
  • • Fresh leaves should be chopped very finely to allow the food to absorb more of the herb’s flavor. 
  • • When cooking hot foods, add dried herbs and spices early in the process but use fresh herbs at the end for optimum flavor. For cold dishes, allow the flavors to blend for several hours before serving.
 

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