By: Jennifer Maher
If you’re anything like me, you’re looking for something quick, easy and most importantly—delicious, when it comes to cooking. Spices and herbs are a quick-fix to freshen up an otherwise bland recipe and can be found right here in Ocean County! Not only are spices a delicious way to keep your meals interesting, but they are also recognized for their added health benefits. Try some of these fresh ingredients to keep your meals tasty and exciting:
Garlic, King of the Vegetable Kingdom
There really is nothing like fresh garlic. Packed with essential vitamins B6, C, and manganese, garlic is an everyday cooking essential. The aroma that fills the room as freshly sautéed garlic sizzles up in the pan is enough to make your mouth water. But aside from its delicious flavor, garlic has also been recognized as a medicinal spice throughout ancient history. Early Greek and Egyptian medicine men often prescribed garlic for treatment of disease and health maintenance. In fact, garlic is one of the earliest recognized plants used towards health treatment, and this still holds true today. Flash forward to modern-day, studies show that garlic will help lower blood pressure, treat high cholesterol and help prevent heart disease. Health experts suggest that fresh garlic should be incorporated DAILY into your diet.
Along with its health benefits, garlic will add that extra punch to any recipe. Before you start any sauce or marinate, mince a clove or 2 of fresh garlic and sauté it in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 2 minutes before adding the rest of your ingredients. Here’s a quick tip: if you don’t have time for fresh garlic, remember this conversion: 1 fresh clove of garlic = 1/8 tsp of garlic powder. Keep your meals lively with a kick of garlic!
Basil can be one of the most under looked herbs on the market. Its refreshing aroma instantly brings interest to any dish, and it is virtually calorie and sodium free. Basil often pairs well with pizzas and pastas, along with other fresh produce or even a cup of tea! Using fresh basil makes it easy for us to skip the extra calories—a quarter cup of chopped basil contains only 2 calories! Opting for fresh leaves over other dried seasonings allows us to avoid the added sodium that many processed spices contain. Even better, basil contains nutrients like vitamin K and vitamin A and is also known for having hundreds of therapeutic applications.
Basil Bonus: Basil season is just around the corner, running from July through September. Invest in a new hobby and plant your OWN basil leaves. Visit your local flower shop and pick out your favorite basil plants. The next pesto sauce you whip up for dinner with be that much more satisfying knowing it came from the love and care of your home garden!
When life gives you lemons…
When life gives you lemons, you make lemon pepper chicken! While not technically a spice, lemons are just as useful. Lemons can be used in so many ways; Sweet or savory dishes; Dinner or dessert. The possibilities are endless. Try squeezing lemon juice over some sautéed veggies for a new flavor, or add lemon wedges to your water for a refreshing taste.
Health wise, there are multiple benefits to consuming lemon. For one, lemon acts as a detoxifier. Adding fresh lemon to a glass of water first thing in the morning helps to flush out toxins in the kidneys, liver and digestive system. It can also promote weight loss, as lemon juice helps make you feel fuller and can slow down the absorption of sugars. Packed with vitamin C, lemons are also known to enhance immune functions by increasing antimicrobial and natural killer cell functions, keeping your immune system strong and your body healthy.
What is my favorite way of incorporating lemon into my meals? Using lemon as a marinate. This one takes a little bit of planning ahead, but is well worth it! Combine chicken broth, salt and pepper, juice from a lemon (or 2, depending on how big the serving is) and don’t forget the garlic! Transfer the liquid to a zip lock bag and soak chicken cutlets. Wait 3-4 hours before baking or frying. Pair your finished chicken with some grilled asparagus, or any of your favorite local veggies.
Our local farmer’s markets are in full force this summer. Visit yours this weekend and shop for your favorite ingredients or find a new one. Don’t be afraid to experiment with you meals—Food is far too interesting to limit yourself to routine, dull recipes!