By Heather Nicholds
I really started getting into using spices when I first started cooking with plant foods.
I don't know why I didn't use them much before, I think I was afraid I wasn't going to use them properly.
Now, I use them all the time - from cinnamon and nutmeg in porridge to cumin and smoked paprika in bean dips to coriander and cardamom in squash soup.
They bring such wonderfully rich flavors to a dish, and the really great part is that they also bring lots of nutrition to a dish as well.
Spices are full of antioxidants, some have lots of calcium and iron and other vitamins and minerals. Just one tablespoon of whole cumin seeds has 22% of the average daily iron intake.
And some - especially the Indian spices like cumin, coriander and turmeric - have some important amino acids (building blocks of protein) that can help balance the overall amino acids in a vegan diet.
Some spices have a specific anti-inflammatory action, so they can be helpful in preventing disease and also for people with joint inflammation or arthritis. Cayenne, coriander and turmeric are particularly effective. I've seen anti-inflammatory creams that include cayenne or capsicum for putting on the skin to help reduce swelling and joint inflammation.
Garlic and ginger are fantastic anti-bacterials, and ginger is also great for soothing upset stomachs and warding off colds. I like grating fresh ginger into hot water or putting some in a smoothie or juice for a nice warming hit of ginger.
I use spices in almost every dish I make. I feel a bit lost without adding a spice. Sometimes I use just dried herbs, and they also have some fantastic health benefits, but spices are such a rich concentrated flavor.
I sometimes make up these spice mix recipes to have a ready-to-go flavoring for a dish. It saves time, because I only need to pull out one jar or bag and measure once. They're better than a lot of store-bought spice mixes, which can include MSG or refined sugar or some other additive.
I tend to buy spices in the bulk store or section, so that I can get exactly the quantity I want, plus it costs a lot less than buying them in the jars. Then I can make up these spice mix recipes, and I often change them around slightly to make them a bit different each time.
Feel free to play around with the basic guidelines I've listed here, making them work for your own tastes. When I list 'part' - that means whatever measure you want to use. So it could be a teaspoon, it could be a tablespoon, it could be a quarter cup.
It just depends how much of the mix you want to make. I'd suggest starting fairly small to see if you like it, though you can always add to it after.
There are so many curry and Indian spice mixes, and also so many spices used in Indian cooking that you can play with almost endless combinations in making a mix. Personally, I leave out the spicy cayenne, or only use a pinch. I like to add the cardamom and cinnamon, giving a unique and slightly sweet flavor.
This mix perfect for spicing up a stir fry.
This is a great mix for vegetarian chili or tacos, in a creamy dressing for bean salad, or any other dish you want to spice up.
I love having gingerbread spices mixed up and ready to make cookies or pudding or adding to my morning porridge.
What's your favorite spice mix? If I missed one here that you'd like to see, let me know below.