Why would we eat bland food, except in the case of stomach troubles, imprisonment or mom punishment?
As a child, I was made to force down boiled brussels sprouts and steamed broccoli. For some reason, it didn’t occur to my mother to season with anything but salt and pepper. It took me a while to get back to eating both of those vegetables.
I will probably catch flak from readers who really do love the flavor of steamed broccoli for dissing it. But why not give it a squirt of lemon or a dash of sriracha?
So many of my friends (and my husband) are working toward the life change to a plant-based diet. Not just a new year’s resolution, but a permanent life change. A change like this is hard, but there are ways to make the transition easier and so much more likely to stick.
It’s true that vegetables don’t have the natural umami flavors of meat, but there are countless ways to make steamed broccoli and boiled carrots delicious and satisfying. Sauces are one tool, and they don’t have to be high fat, high calorie. Herb mixes are other tools.
You can buy many herb mixes ready-made off the store shelves although you may need to visit higher-end groceries to find some of the more exotic ones. Or you can mix your own. I grow herbs and chile peppers and dry them all summer. Then I mix my own mixes. It’s so easy to simply toss a tablespoon of homemade Italian seasoning into a marinara sauce.
Try to avoid ready-made packets, like spaghetti and chili mixes because they often contain ingredients that you may not want. For example, Lawry’s spaghetti sauce mix has these ingredients: “Modified Food Starch, Sugar, Salt, Onion, Mushrooms, Garlic Powder, Spices (Including Paprika And Parsley), Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Whey (Milk), Natural Flavors (Beef And Pork), Cheddar Cheese (Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Torula Yeast, Citric Acid, Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Inosinate.”
While these are not inherently bad ingredients, why not make a cleaner simple Italian mix of oregano, basil, marjoram, paprika and garlic?
The ethnic aisle in the grocery is my favorite place to browse. Mose ethnic cuisines have intriguing spice combinations and sauces. My latest love is Za’atar seasoning which is made of thyme, sesame, sumac and sometimes cumin and coriander. I love this sprinkled on roasted potatoes and chicken, and used to season minestrone for a change from traditional Italian seasoning. I was able to buy a big package at my local grocery.
Here are some sauces and herb mixes to bring your cooking up to the highest standards of flavor and healthy eating. Most are readily available in the grocery. Have fun shopping!
Japanese miso (white and dark)
Indian garlic curry paste
Thai red or green curry paste
Thai sriracha sauce (try mixing this with coconut milk for an astounding sauce for roasted broccoli)
Mexican salsas (way too many choices here)
Indian garam masala
French herbes de provence
Roasted Potatoes with Za’atar – Warm, comforting and full of umami flavor
Preheat the oven to 425. Peel (or leave the skin on) and cube 1 pound of potatoes (Yukons or golds work well). You can also quarter small red potatoes. Rinse in a colander and roll dry on a dishtowel. Drying them off makes the oil and seasonings stick.
Toss with 2 tablespoons of high-quality olive oil, salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of Za’atar or any other seasoning mix. For spicy potatoes, toss with chile oil in place of the olive oil.
Prepare a baking dish large enough to hold the potatoes in one layer with a film of olive oil or cooking spray. Place in a cold oven in the bottom third of the oven. Roast for about 20 minutes, stirring and turning them once at the halfway mark.