Thursday, 24th April 2014

A beginners cooking guide to spicing up healthy eating plans

schwartz-northshrop-9th-nov.jpgCommercial Feature

Healthy eating has become something of a hot potato in recent times. Research has shown the benefit of a healthy diet, allied to a healthy lifestyle, in playing a key role in the reduction of many debilitating conditions and illnesses. Many diet companies will often provide a new member with a copy of its cooking guide, showing them clearly what foods they should eat and which they should avoid; and therein lies a dilemma.

Even with the best of intentions and a determination to eat more healthily, the fact remains that once you are on a limited diet, food loses a lot of its flavour. Many of the ingredients which are seemingly on the ‘banned’ list, including sugar, cream and cheese, are often those that give us the tastes we enjoy. There are alternatives, of course, but they never taste quite the same, do they?

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be this way, though. There are a whole cornucopia of little additives you can add to any food to enrich its flavour and lift a dish from the mundane into the spectacular. Best of all, these additives are readily available, inexpensive, handily packaged and can freely be used on any healthy eating plan; they’re herbs and spices.

It seems something strange that, in an age when the population is generally far more aware of the need to eat healthily, one of the biggest complaints about healthy food is its lack of variety and taste. This criticism is actually less a gripe about the quality of the food that people can eat, and more a statement of the fact that many people lack the knowledge and understanding required to make their meals that little bit more exciting without reverting to fatty or sugar-based additives.

For example, let us take the humble pork loin steak. Once this succulent cut of meat has been trimmed for fat, it can be used as part of a healthy diet. Most people would opt to cook the pork either wrapped in foil in the oven or perhaps, for a little added extravagance, on a barbecue. If cooked well, the pork will taste nice, but eating the meat like this day after day would drive most people on a healthy eating plan to at least want to try something different. So, why not head off to a quality recipe website, look up some of its Caribbean recipes and try those?

With your pork loins, you can make yourself a fantastic and healthy variation on their Jamaican jerk pork. Simply add some chunked sweet potatoes and parsnips to some pork or chicken stock and a generous helping of Schwartz Perfect Shake Jamaican Jerk Special Blend, coat the pork in one of the low fat cooking sprays available, and then roast everything together until you have an aromatic, tasty, authentic Caribbean dish. In every respect, this is a million times more exciting than a bland pork steak.

Furthermore, if you find that the special blend of herbs and spices which come ready-mixed are not quite to your taste then you can experiment; there is no law which states that this special mix of herbs and spices must be used for Jamaican jerk pork. Why not get the base ingredients yourself and mix your own combination, even? The wide range of herbs and spices which is readily available in your supermarket means that you can flavour your food to give exactly the taste that you like.

This is one of the most versatile and often-forgotten aspects of herbs and spices. Many novices in the kitchen feel that these condiments are to be used sparingly to gently flavour or accompany a meal. They may feel that adding a little grated parsley to a bowl of tomato soup is as exciting and exotic as it can get. This is nonsense.

Herbs and spices are some of the most intensely-flavoured and versatile allies to a chef in the kitchen. They are a staple of so many forms of food around the world that it is safe to say that any type of cuisine is likely to use a liberal amount of many forms of spice for its signature dish.

Nowhere in the world is this more evident than on the Indian sub-continent. Indian food is massively popular across the world, particularly in the UK; though recreating this authentic taste at home using nothing more than herbs and spices is easily achievable for even the most ill-at-ease in the kitchen.

Take a delicious and healthy chicken and coconut curry, for example. From those two core ingredients, all we need to add is a little lemon juice, onion, garlic, some low fat frying spray, garlic and lemon juice, some boiling water and a sprinkling of salt. The real magic of this dish comes from the gentle blend of many herbs and spices.

The base to this curry is the beautifully-aromatic garam masala spice, and once that has flavoured the dish delicately, other spices including ginger, fenugreek, cayenne chilli, turmeric, coriander and cumin are added. As the curry cooks, these combined textures and tastes mingle with the natural juices of the chicken, the tartness of the lemon, the sweetness of the coconut and the distinctive flavours of the garlic and onion to provide a meal that is equal to that found in a restaurant across the UK. Best of all, provided you use skinless chicken breast and a low fat frying spray to fry the onions, the dish would adhere to any healthy eating plan!

One of the biggest reasons for people giving up on a healthy eating plan is not because they want to eat high-fat or sugary foods again, but simply because they are bored with the food they are having to eat. By using herbs and spices liberally in your cooking and regularly consulting online resources to vary how you cook your staple food, you will find that you can liven up any healthy eating plan considerably.