Is salt necessary? In its proper measure, yes, because it contributes sodium to the body, a crucial micronutrient in plasma volume, the transmission of nerve impulses and the proper functioning of cells. However, it is not essential from a nutrition point of view because sodium can be obtained from meat, milk and shellfish. And excess salt intake is associated with kidney problems, fluid retention and, above all, hypertension. Its ability to enhance the flavor of food is what makes it very difficult for us to do without it, but fortunately, we have allies to achieve it: spices.
The kitchen teacher and owner of the Spicy Yuli store in Madrid, Juliana Perpén, defends that they provide an infinite number of nuances and, in very restrictive, limited and boring diets (although they do not necessarily have to be), they open the culinary range. If we know how to use them, we will never eat the same steak twice. “A grilled meat, typical when you are on a diet, does not have to be a suffering, you can add pepper, cumin and turmeric, a curry that you have at home or a mixture for Moorish skewers, and give it flavor without extra calories.” Take note of how to flavor food and make it healthy with just a touch of the wrist.
Cumin, an idyll of centuries
This seed, either whole or ground, stands out for its high mineral content and has been considered a natural sedative. Antioxidant, digestive and antiflatulent properties have also been attributed to this seasoning. Roasted and crushed, the cumin gives off notes of dried fruit and lemon, and when fried in oil, it gives the dishes a spicy touch, according to the book by author Niki Segnit, The Encyclopedia of Flavors .
“It has a lot of flavor and it is in our food memory because we have been eating it for many centuries in Spain. It is the great ally to season the fish before frying it, so you don’t need to add as much salt, or even none,” says Perpén. It combines well, for example, with tuna, because its power is perceived without diminishing the role of the main actor. It is an off-road condiment, which marries almost all food groups, although its idyll with legumes, soups (including gazpacho, whose original recipe does not contain tomato)and vegetables is much more passionate. “Now that summer comes and we consume a lot of tomato, we add cumin, oil, vinegar or lemon, a minimum pinch of salt and a little oregano. It is very simple, but it is delicious and visually beautiful, because the food is than to make her attractive, “says Perpén.
Saffron, an inimitable flavor
Saffron is a bulbous plant, from whose flower an expensive and succulent object of culinary desire is extracted. Perpén is committed to the rational use of this species from the Middle East, which came to our latitudes through the Arabs, to regain its prominence without ripping our pockets. “It is not a cheap product, in large quantities it has a higher price than gold, but what is invested in a paella is minimal,” says Perpén.
Turmeric, safflower and bija are often used as substitutes to simulate that characteristic color and a certain bitterness that it gives to food. But, as The Encyclopedia of Flavors notes , saffron is inimitable. The author defines her spiral of flavors as a combination of sea air, sweet and dry grass, and a touch of rusty metal. It is usually added to sweet ingredients, and to rice, bread, fish, potatoes, cauliflower, white beans … as well as with more bitter aspects such as almonds (or was it crickets?) and the lemon rind. And the saffron acquires great harmony with sweet and bitter floral components.
Coriander is more than leaves
Contrary to what happens in some Latin American countries where this plant is the equivalent of our parsley, Spaniards maintain a love-hate relationship with it. Even machines have a troubled relationship with him. What not all of us take into account is that not only is the plant used, the seed can also be used in cooking, and “it is more pleasant and subtle, less invasive,” says Perpén, who recommends it for seafood soups, stews. potatoes, noodles …
This spice is a flavoring widely used in making cookies or to offset the bitterness of wine, and is one of the natural ingredients in gin. It provides a fragrant touch for curry mixes and pickles, it is a good resource to season pasta and pairs with almost all pork derivatives, such as sausages, mortadella and blood sausage, according to The Encyclopedia of Flavors. Among its curiosities, the book highlights an evocative balsamic touch. As the chapter dedicated to fruity florals collects, coriander seed is an improved version of the flavored wooden balls that people keep in their underwear drawers, a peculiarity that Perpén corroborates: “It has an aroma point of soap”.
Turmeric, a golden touch for lentils
It is an increasingly common and widespread ingredient. It is cultivated in various Asian areas and is one of the main components of curry. It comes from a herbaceous plant from whose rhizomes (underground stems) a yellowish powder is extracted that has a moderately spicy, warm and bitter taste, which has certain similarities with ginger, which can remedy travel sickness. It contains a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals, and has been associated with benefits for the brain and stomach.
From a gastronomic point of view, one of its main virtues is the ability to aesthetically dress food. A fair and balanced amount (a small tablespoon) is a good choice for rice and most stews. One as traditional as lentils integrates this spice well. It can also be used in potato omelette and even in smoothies and orange juices. “It provides a fun touch to batters, for example the pavia soldiers,” adds the expert. In addition, it is one of the main components of a very fashionable star preparation today, golden milk, an Indian drink erected in western nutritional altars in recent times.
Paprika, smoked magic in the pan
Among the spices, Perpén highlights the value of the smoked ones for its enveloping character on the palate. The paprika from La Vera belongs to this group and acts as a versatile condiment that makes it possible to do without salt in eggs or grilled meat and even vegetables. “If we don’t like a bacon at a barbecue and we prefer an eggplant and some zucchini, when they are done, you paint them with the paprika and some oil so that it doesn’t burn, and you serve them,” says the kitchen teacher.
A more exotic option is zaatar, a mixture of spices that usually contains sumac (ground berry from Turkey) and that gives a citrus-like touch of lemon, the toasted flavor of sesame and the fresh part of the herb, which is normally savory, but can also be found with thyme or oregano. “It is perfect for salads with fresh cheese, meat and fish. And it does not have any salt. It is very versatile, although in the Middle East it is usually eaten with bread and oil,” concludes Perpén.