The staples of the average vegan diet, the vegetables, and common add- ons such as pasta, bread and tofu can easily become routine, mundane and eventually dreadfully boring. If you’ve ever found yourself in a rut, try thinking of the herb first. Basing your diet around herbs rather than thinking of them as an afterthought will instantly enhance the flavor of your food as well adding health benefits.
Four varied, widely available, and easy to use herbs: Cilantro, basil, mustard seed, and pepper corn are a great place to start when looking to add natural herbs into a diet. They can provide a focus on which to build delicious meals.
1. Cilantro is the name for the leaves of the Coriander plant. They a quite different in flavor from the seed of the Coriander. Most often described as having a mild to medium citrus flavor, the cilantro leaf can immediately add a quick punch of flavor.
Ideas: Try making this easy paste. Combine some cilantro leaves with onion and garlic. Mix in blender, then store it in an air tight container. It will keep three days in the refrigerator and can be added to any vegetable dish. It’s a wonderful way to enhance marinara sauce, or experiment as a simple dip or spread for thickly sliced raw zucchini and squash. It makes a great dip mixed with diced tomatoes and served with tortilla chips,
Benefits: Cilantro is historically used to treat everything from urinary tract infections and headaches and as a bases in ancient salves. You also receive the added benefit of Vitamin K, a nutrient important in helping the bones remain strong and in preventing heart disease.
2. The basil leaf is sweet, slightly minty, and mildly peppery. Keeping some fresh and dried basil on hand will not only enhance your tomato dishes but also on pasta with some olive oil will made a truly enhanced plain pasta to subtly sweet in mere minutes.
Ideas: Try a making a quick marinade with some fresh basil garlic and capers. Store up to three days experiment add to tofu or on sautéed with eggplant. Desserts… yes desserts (you read it correctly!) can also be enhanced with a few basil leaves. Try blending vanilla ice cream with finely chopped basil in a blender for a slightly sweet, minty, and savory treat! Basil pairs well with fruits such as apples and pears. Sautee together and cool serve with ice cream, pie, or alone for an unusually amazing treat.
Benefits: Your added nutritional benefits include omega -3 fats- great for mental health, magnesium which helps keep blood pressure stable, and vitamin B1 which converts blood sugar to energy.
3. The mustard seed is found is several colors, white, brown, yellow, and black variations. They range in taste from slight pungent to extreme piquant. The yellow is a great choice. Slightly strong but not so much that it overwhelms the senses.
Ideas: It can be added to olive oil with a bit garlic and some peppercorn and used as a dressing for lettuce, kale, and raw veggies. A homemade mustard can be easily made combining the mustard seed, some vinegar, and sweet or savory additions based on your individual preference. It’s easy and fun to try different variations. Keep in small containers in your fringe labeled so you can quickly add some sweet, or sharp zest to any sandwich or wrap. Store in an airtight container. It will keep in your refrigerator for a week.
Benefits: Adding a little mustard seed can add a lot in terms of health benefits. It has historically been praised for its anti-inflammatory and anti –cancer properties.
4. Peppercorn, which can be found in a rainbow of shades: black, white, red, and green are all derived from the same plant. The varied colors are a result of being picked at various stages in the plant’s life then dried, frozen, or pickled.
Ideas: Make a quick salad dressing using soy milk, vinegar and peppercorn to taste add more for a stronger taste. The green is the mildest of the colors, try starting out there and adjusting to your own personal preference. Store the mixture up the week in the refrigerator. It can be added an instant flavor boost to sautéed vegetables such as eggplant or zucchini, then added to your favorite pasta.
Benefits: A natural metabolic booster – the peppercorn can help you shed unwanted pounds, help to detoxify the body and also protect against cancer.
Use cilantro, basil, the mustard seed, and peppercorn fresh or prepared ahead of time and mixed into your favorite veggie sauté, pasta, tofu, or even in a dessert dish. It will add excitement to run of the mill recipes and as added benefit impart important health benefits. So next time you reach for your old standby- think of the herb first!
What’s your favorite herb and how do you like to use it? Share!
Photo: Alexandra Kudukis