The dinner hours looms, and you stare blankly at some uncooked chicken, rice and broccoli. While these are the same staples you enjoy in your favourite cantina, trattoria or bistro, you have no idea how to add the right herbs and spices to savour ethnic flavours at home.

Learning to use herbs and spices will inspire you to create interesting new dishes, but that’s not the only advantage of a well-stocked spice rack. Many herbs and spices offer protective health benefits too. Plus, using a pungent variety of flavourings can help you enhance your foods without using excess amounts of salt, sugar or fat.

Take your family on a taste vacation from bland foods. Try any of these herb and spice combinations to prepare ethnic foods in your own kitchen. Then, use some authentic ingredients as plate accoutrements, like olives with Greek food, or roti and Darjeeling tea with Indian food.

Caribbean: Allspice, annatto seeds, ginger, thyme, coriander, cumin, cayenne.

Chinese: Star anise, garlic, ginger, cayenne, five spice powder, Szechuan peppercorns.

French: Tarragon, rosemary, marjoram, sage, chervil, parsley, herbes de Provence.

Greek: Oregano, mint, garlic, basil, fennel, savory, thyme.

Indian: Cumin, cardamom, fenugreek, turmeric, coriander, garam masala, curry powder.

Italian: Oregano, basil, garlic, parsley, marjoram, rosemary, sage.

Mexican: Garlic, chili powder, cilantro, coriander, cumin, oregano.

Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, oregano, cumin and turmeric all contain protective antioxidants that’ll give you a whole new reason to add lots of season. Studies suggest that antioxidants may reduce inflammation, which can help ward of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Just a teaspoon of cinnamon or cloves provide more antioxidants than a half-cup of blueberries.

If you like it hot, try cayenne pepper. The heat comes from capsaicin, which has been widely studied for pain-reducing effects, cardiovascular benefits, and its ability to help reduce inflammation. Cayenne also helps relieve congestion and stuffiness due to colds.

It’s a good idea to eat the garnish! Green herbs such as basil, parsley and oregano are packed with vitamin K and a host of antioxidants. Specifically, basil contains lutein and xeazanthin, which can help reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, a common eye disease in older adults. Studies show that basil can also help curb the growth of bacteria, including Listeria and E coli.

With each pinch, dash and teaspoonful, herbs and spices can perk up any drab weeknight meal, protect your health, and turn your kitchen into a four-star restaurant… or ristorante.

Categories: Recipes