Add Some Spice To Your Life… and Food!

Add Some Spice To Your Life… and Food!

One of my secret weapons in creating tasty, plant based recipes is using heaps of fresh, exotic spices. I was telling my husband the other day while we were cooking (and who is also a chef), I’m always surprised at how underutilized spices are in most people’s cooking. I’m not talking about onion powder, dried thyme and garlic – these are fine, but it seems as if people limit themselves to the ‘tried and true’ sometimes, and don’t dare to go outside their comfort zones with spices and herbs they have not heard of or previously tried.  A stir fry of broccoli, onion and carrots can all of a sudden turn into a star dish by just throwing in some new flavors. I encourage you all to experiment with a spice you think sound exciting in your next meal!

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My favorite outing in Manhattan is Kalustyan’s – the (not so little anymore) spice store in Murray Hill where they carry every spice, condiment and international food you can think of.  I was first introduced to this store when I was a culinary student at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York, and had to make trips over there as a stage (a work-study student) to help fill our pantry for the chefs and classrooms.  I always loved the smell of curries from the neighboring restaurants and walking through the streets always took me somewhere else and encouraged my creativity when cooking.

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Curries are some of my favorite dishes to make, they are easy but can be so different in flavor, texture and heat that I feel I could spend a lifetime just experimenting with this particular dish. The other night I made a wonderful chickpea and sweet potato curry that I had to share with you all… Invest in the spices and produce listed, as they make all the difference.  The best thing about spices and flavorful dishes such as this is that minimal amounts of fat are needed, so are not heavy to digest but rather give you energy and a burst of happiness with every bite!

CHICKPEA AND SWEET POTATO CURRY (vegan, gluten free)

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 tbsp Thai yellow curry paste (vegetarian)
  • 2 sweet (Vidalia) onions, finely chopped
  • 3 large stalks lemongrass, bashed with the back of a knife
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp mustard seed
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1 inch cubes
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1x 15 oz can reduced-fat coconut milk
  • 1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 limes
  • large handful mint and cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup brown basmati rice, cooked
  • naan bread, to serve (optional)
  1. Heat the oil in a sauté pan, then gently fry the curry paste with the onions, lemongrass, cardamom and mustard seed for 2-3 mins until fragrant. Stir the sweet potatoes into the pan and coat in the paste, then pour in the stock and coconut milk. Bring everything to a simmer, add the chickpeas, then cook for about 10 mins until the sweet potatoes are tender. (The curry can now be cooled and frozen for up to 1 month).
  2. Squeeze the juice of one lime into the curry, then cut the other lime into wedges to serve alongside. Just before serving, scoop some rice into a serving bowl, pour over the curry and tear over mint and cilantro leaves, then bring to the table with the lime wedges and warm naan breads.

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Creating food with maximum flavor

If there is anything I can offer to the fitness world it is my relentless quest for flavor in food and a desire to make food more appealing to people who are trying to get fit.  I use the international kitchen for inspiration, meaning I combine spices, herbs, ingredients and recipes from all over the world and tweak them to fit my dietary needs so I can have my tummy and soul satisfied.   Having traveled to and lived in multiple countries, I’ve adapted many culinary tricks I’ve learned along the way and put my own spin on it. I am not a fan of jumping on the latest bandwagon of the latest and the greatest- for the longest time I resisted using any kale, quinoa or gluten free recipes, because I got bored of seeing everyone thinking this was the solution to all their health problems, and mostly I want the food to be organic (meaning natural- from nature!) and also  important;  serve a PURPOSE – for my goals. Some parts of the year I will be in contest prep meaning most of the stuff I post on my Facebook page I will not eat (sad but true) – but most of the time I am all about using fresh, seasonal ingredients combined with wholesome ingredients that transport me to a certain place.

Food for me is fun, food is emotion, good times and pleasant experiences – even as a fitness competitor I refuse to let those pleasures escape me.  Your diet does not have to be torture – quite the opposite, it can be delicious satisfying and rewarding while low in fat and high in nutrients.

Today I decided to make a pot of chicken to last me for a couple of days – because I am in a period where I am tiring of cooking.

BRAISED CHICKEN THIGHS IN TOMATOES

2 lbs of chicken thighs

salt, taco seasoning and dried oregano seasoning to season chicken thighs

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp whole cumin seeds

2 tsp red chili flakes (or to taste – less if you don’t like very spicy)

5-6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 knob garlic (2 inches)- peeled and grated

1 whole red pepper, thinly sliced

1 Vidalia onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

6-7 large button mushrooms

1 can (28 oz) whole plum tomatoes

2 cinnamon sticks

4 bay leaves

Season the chicken thighs with salt, taco seasoning and oregano. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium-high heat – place the chicken thighs in the pot (be careful not to overcrowd the pan – they need to be in a single layer, otherwise they will steam), sauteing the chicken thighs about 3 -4 minutes on each side until golden brown.  Remove chicken thighs onto a plate and set aside.

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Add onion, paprika and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and saute until translucent/soft, about 10 minutes.

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Add the garlic, ginger, cumin seeds and chili flakes and saute for a couple of minutes.

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Add in the tomatoes, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves and simmer for about 5 minutes until flavors blend. Add in the chicken thighs, reduce heat to low, place a lid on the pot and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

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Serve with white rice or as is. Delicious!

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