Friday, March 16, 2012

10 Heart-Healthy Ingredients

As the head recipe curator for, I rely on great flavors to take the place of food culprits, especially in recipes calling for extra salt, sugar, and some fats. These herbs and spices are my heart-healthy secret ingredients for recipe success.

Especially now, with spring holidays approaching, I like to make sure I’m not going to run out of my family’s favorite dry and fresh herbs and spices, so I check the supply in our kitchen drawer and fridge. This week, I even checked the herb pots on my deck and discovered the chives made it through the winter. Very exciting! When replenishing dry herbs, I shop at a bulk section that has large turnover, ensuring the freshest supply.

I simply love it when people ask after they’ve tasted a dish, what’s that flavor?

Tabbouleh Salad with fresh mint
My favorite spice mixture

Here are 10 of my favorites, in no particular order. Each one links to a recipe using the spice or herb.
  1. Mint – the secret ingredient in any salad, grain or green.
  2. Smoked Paprika – the depth of flavor makes me think of my Southern roots, especially in stews with fish or shellfish.
  3. Garam Masala – a blend of the most aromatic spices of Northern India. Go the extra mile and make your own to effect the taste you want. 
  4. Curry – seems like a big mystery, but it’s the easiest spice to use to make your dish far from bland. 
  5. Nutmeg – not just for coffee drinks, a sprinkle gives a lift to anything with spinach.
  6.  Red Chili Flakes – sprinkling a little on green vegetables, such as broccoli, creates a whole new taste.
  7. Cayenne – provides heat when salt won’t be used.
  8. Cumin – complements many Mexican and Indian dishes with gentle, but not hot heat.
  9. Ginger –provides a lively warm flavor without harshness.
  10. Garlic – begin any recipe with minced garlic and you’re on your way to a successful dish.
An easy-to-remember tip: The ratio for fresh to dried herbs is 3 to 1. For example, when a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon dried herbs and you want to substitute fresh, you’ll use 3 teaspoons fresh.

Waste nothing! I keep a closed jar in my herb drawer that contains leftovers from filling the jars—such as basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary. This becomes the daily go-to salad mix for my family’s all-purpose house dressing. Add a liberal pinch, and it’s good to go.

I’ve even been known to bottle and label the herb mixture in assorted containers, and then wrap them for party favors.

What are your favorite secret weapons that provide interest and intrigue to your dishes? Go ahead—you can share and we won’t tell!

Contributed by Susan Levy


Good post. It can sometimes be difficult to find recipes that are healthy and tasty. Knowing the right spices to use is key.

Just posted some good healthy recipes on my blog