Spice it up!

Today we've got a great guest post for you! I love reading Lauren's blog, The Spiced Plate, because she shares great ideas on how to use spices, not only for healthy eating and healing, but for bringing easy (and calorie-free!) flavor to her dishes. I cannot wait to try the recipes that she is sharing with us today, especially following my meat/cheese/beer fest this week in Spain & Switzerland. Enjoy!

Hello fellow readers of The Avid Appetite!  My name is Lauren, and I write the food blog The Spiced Plate, where I write about spices, nutrition, and eating a gluten-free and vegetarian diet. My journey into the world of healthy eating began when I started working in a health food store at the age of 16.  There, I was introduced to the idea that food can be used to heal -- someone might switch from an all wheat diet to a gluten free diet and be healed of digestive woes.  Another might find comfort from joint pain by including ginger and tumeric into their diet.  While Rachel is enjoying her vacation, she's asked me to write a guest post.  I decided to highlight a few spices that have healing benefits and share few recipes that highlight them. 

I love cooking and experimenting with spices.  Here are four spices that I use often in my kitchen, for both healing properties and taste:

GARAM MASALA:  Versatile and aromatic, garam masala literally means "hot mixture".  The warming combination usually includes coriander, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, and pepper.  This blend is great to use if you're new to using spices in your meals, since the proportions of various spices are already measured out.  Each component of garam masala has its own health benefit.  Cinnamon and coriander help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.  Cumin, cloves, and pepper are great for digestion, while nutmeg has been shown to relieve stress. 

GINGER:  You can find ginger in a plethora of forms:  as a root, powder, candy, pickle, paste, or tea.  Golden in color, ginger is a spicy-sweet rhizome that has been used traditionally as both flavor enhancer and medicine. 

Ginger is a super star for your health:  it's great for stomach aches, motion sickness, muscle pains, and arthritis.  Plus, it's full of antioxidants, and may help prevent Alzheimer's Disease.

CURRY:  Another mixture of spices, curry is predominately composed of turmeric, along with mustard, chili, cayenne, and black pepper.  Much like garam masala, curry powder's ingredients vary depending on what kind you buy.  Warming and full-flavored, curry powder also has healing benefits.  The ingredients may ease joint swelling associated with arthritis, detoxify the liver, and help to relieve gas.

CUMIN:  This pungent spice can be found as a tiny brown seed or ground.  Earthy and nutty, cumin might also be found in curry mixtures.  On its own, this spice assists with the functions of your gut, liver, and kidneys.  Cumin is also known for being a great source of iron. 

Spicy Sweet Potato Chips
Serves 4
Active time: 10 minutes
Total time:  40 minutes

This simple recipe is a flavor upgrade from regular potato chips.  Since they're baked, they're healthier than their fried counterparts.  Garam masala kicks up the heat on these chips, adding a savory flavor.  Sweet potatoes are nutritious, too -- they add fiber and vitamin A to your diet.  Serve as a healthy snack or an accompaniment to a meal.  This recipe may be halved.

3 large sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1.  Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  Grease a sheet pan with cooking spray or olive oil.  Wash and peel the sweet potatoes, and cut them into thin slices.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the oil with the garam masala, salt, and pepper.   
3.  Toss the sweet potato slices in the oil and spice mixture, making sure to coat each slice.
4.  Spread the chips onto a greased pan in a single layer.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Take the sweet potatoes out, and using a spatula, flip them over onto their other side.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes.
5.  Let cool.  Serve with ketchup or enjoy them plain.

Triple Threat Ginger Cookies - Gluten Free
Yields 12 cookies
Active time:  10 minutes
Total time:  35 minutes

These golden cookies offer the spicy-sweet taste of ginger in three ways:  crystallized, ground, and grated.  Here they are made gluten free with rice flour, but you can substitute whole wheat flour if you don't want to make them gluten free.  A light dusting of sugar adds a bit of crunch to the outside of the cookie, while the inside is chewy and moist.  Low in sugar and fat, these cookies are still sure to please and warm up a crowd.

2 cups rice flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 heaping teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger, chopped
rind from 1/2 a lemon, plus a couple spritzes of juice
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup of sugar

1.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray or butter. 
2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients, except for the sugar.  Stir everything together until well incorporated.
3.  Add in the applesauce and milk, mixing until the batter is creamy.
4.  Place generous tablespoon-sized cookies onto the baking sheet.  Let bake for 25 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies start to turn golden-brown.  Let cool completely before serving.  May be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup
Serves 4
Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes

The cauliflower absorbs the essence of curry powder in this hearty soup.  A touch of ginger and turmeric give this dish even more of heat level, without being overwhelming.  Lentils add an earthy touch and a good deal of protein and fiber.  Pureeing part of the soup at the end makes it delightfully creamy, without any dairy.  Recipe may be halved, or made ahead and stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

1/2 head of cauliflower, about 5 cups., chopped
1 1/2 cups broccoli, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup green lentils
5 cups water
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt

1.  In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium heat and add the onions.  Stir frequently, until the onions soften and become translucent. 
2.  Add in the vegetables, lentils, and water, and cover.  Let boil for 25 minutes.
3.  Add your spices and salt, and stir well. 
4.  Pour or scoop about 1/3 of the soup into a blender.  Puree until smooth.  You may use an immersion blender to puree part of the soup.  Add the puree back into the pot, and stir well.  Serve with naan bread or a drizzle of cream.

Spicy Falafel
Serves 4
Active time: 10 minutes
Total time:  35 minutes

A staple of middle eastern cuisine, falafel is a patty made from ground garbanzo beans.  Here, the beans get a boost of flavor from cumin, turmeric, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.  High in protein and fiber, these falafel get a healthy boost by being baked, not fried.

2 1/2 cups garbanzo beans, pre-cooked, or one can of garbanzo beans
1/4 large red onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
4 white button mushrooms, chopped finely
1/2 cup rice flour

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a baking sheet with canola oil. 
2.  Place all the ingredients, except for the rice flour, into a food processor.  Pluse until the chickpeas to be chopped into small pieces, but not a fine puree.  If you only have a blender, put the onions, mushrooms, garlic, and spices on the bottom and the chickpeas on top.  Use the ice crusher setting or pulse until it reaches the desired consistency. 
3. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.  Stir in the flour, incorporating all ingredients.  With a bit of flour on your hands, shape into balls about 2 inches in diameter and place on prepared baking sheet.
4. Bake for 10 minutes.  Turn the falafel over with a spatula and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes.  Serve with a blend of yogurt and dill, hummus and lettuce and eat in a pita pocket, or crumble falafel over a green salad.

I hope you enjoy spicing it up!  What spices are your favorite to use in cooking?