It's exciting to read about the latest discoveries that link what we eat to our health. What is even more fortifying is to turn that knowledge into our own culinary masterpieces. For instance, cinnamon has been shown to positively affect blood sugar, peppermint to help curb appetite and ginger to relieve digestive problems.
Often, in the popular press there will be follow-ups to scholarly studies with simple suggestions, such as sprinkling a bit of such herbs or seasonings in your smoothies or oatmeal. However, cooks may find it more rewarding (and easier to stick with a regular regimen) by considering from a culinary perch what is most compatible with the substance from an ethnic perspective or in terms of cooking techniques. This viewpoint also can help us expand our gourmet horizons by introducing us to new recipes while on our quests for improved health.
Cumin has been a case in point for me. These aromatic seeds from the parsley family are often ground and used as a spice, including within curry powder. Cumin jumped to the top of my grocery list when I read that over a 12-week study people who consumed one daily teaspoon of cumin lost three times more body fat than those who didn't without any other dietary or exercise adjustments. Researchers reported this might be due to cumin's possible effect on metabolism.
I immediately recognized the aroma of ground cumin from the restaurant falafel I've enjoyed over the years and when I looked up a recipe, sure enough it called for a dose of ground cumin. Therefore, whenever I enjoyed falafel, from a restaurant, from a store-bought mix or homemade, I potentially reaped the benefits of cumin.
Other than that, at first I went the generic route attempting to get my daily teaspoon of cumin by sprinkling a tiny bit here or there. Soon, though, I got bolder and found a few new favorites that made me feel as exotic as the spice. It also pepped up what might otherwise have been plain Jane dishes. What's more, the spice tasted as though it belonged, rather than a supplemental add-on. All ingredients are to taste, unless otherwise noted.
HOT IDEA FOR HOT CHOCOLATE
In the past, a nutritionist highly recommended to me unsweetened cocoa powder and stevia, stirred into hot water as a daily hot chocolate indulgence that she noted can help control blood sugar (as cocoa has been shown to do). I now also stir in 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin per 10-ounce cup. I love the distinctive flavor and it makes me feel like I'm sitting in a street cafe sipping something a la a Turkish coffee (often made with cardamom) or a Mexican hot chocolate (often prepared with cayenne pepper and cinnamon).
CARROTS WITH A KICK
Glazed carrots are always a treat for a hot vegetable dish. Easier are raw glazed-style ones. Top a small amount of honey with ground cumin. Dip raw mini carrots for a snack or side dish.
POULTRY WITH PEP
As a dipping sauce or marinade for hot or cold cooked, sliced, skinless chicken breast, use olive oil, red wine vinegar and ground cumin. Like in this rendition, the spice is so pungent, it often takes the place of what might usually require multiple spices to create a similar impression.
QUICK TRICK FOR QUICK BREADS
Stir ground cumin into plain nonfat Greek yogurt (which is usually thicker, higher in protein and lower in sugar than other types of yogurt) and spread a thin layer on warmed store-bought or homemade banana, date or zucchini quick breads.
AFTER-WORK GOURMET COOKBOOK SHELF
The Greek diet is recommended for health as a cornerstone of the Mediterranean eating habits that are often associated with the longest lifespans in the world. But New York City restaurateur Maria Loi and health journalist Sarah Toland went one step further and translated the Greek diet into "The Greek Diet: Look and Feel Like a Greek God or Goddess and Lose Up to Ten Pounds in Two Weeks." The duo break down the highlights into 12 "pillar" foods, including olive oil, yogurt, beans, vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds and wine. One hundred of acclaimed chef Loi's most doable recipes ("based on science") follow, such as Walnut-Olive Spread, Baked Salmon with Yogurt Sauce and Lemon and Olive Oil Cake.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook." To find out more about Lisa Messinger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.