Is salt necessary? In its right measure, it does, because it provides 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 indispensable from the point of view of nutrition because sodium can be obtained from meat, milk and crustaceans. And excess salt intake is associated with kidney problems, fluid retention and, above all, hypertension. Its ability to enhance the taste 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, argues that they bring a myriad of nuances and, in very restrictive, limited and boring diets (although they don't necessarily have to be), they open the culinary fan. If we know how to use them, we'll never eat the same steak twice. "A grilled meat, typical when you're on a diet, doesn't have to be suffering, you can add pepper, cumin and turmeric, a curry you have at home or a mixture of bite skewers, and give it extra calorie-free flavor." Take note of how to spice up food and make it healthy with just a touch of your wrist.
Cumino, a centuries-old idyll
This seed, whether 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 condiment. Toasted and crushed, cumin gives off notes of nuts and lemon, and when fried in oil, gives the dishes a spicy touch, as collected by author Niki Segnit The encyclopedia of flavors.
"It has a lot of flavor and is in our food memory because we have eaten it for many centuries in Spain. It is the great ally to season the fish before frying it, so that you do not have to pour as much salt, or even none," Perpén says. It combines well, for example, with tuna, because its potency is perceived without attenuating the role of the lead actor. It is an off-road seasoning, which marries almost all food groups, although its idyll with legumes, soups (including gazpacho, whose original recipe does not carry tomato) and vegetables is much more passionate. "Now that summer arrives and a lot of tomato is consumed, it is put cumin, oil, vinegar or lemon, a minimal pinch of salt and a little oregano. It's very simple, but it's rich and visually beautiful, because the food has to be made attractive," Perpén says.
Saffron, an inimitable taste
Saffron is a bulbous plant, from whose flower is extracted an expensive and succulent object of culinary desire. Perpén bets on a rational use of this species of the Middle East, which reached our latitudes through the Arabs, to regain its prominence without shearing our pockets. "It's not a cheap product, in large quantities it has a higher price than gold, but what is invested in a paella is minimal," Perpén says.
Turmeric, alazor and bija are often used as substitutes to simulate that characteristic color and some bitterness it gives to food. But, as The encyclopedia of flavors warns, saffron is inimitable. The author defines her spiral of flavors as a combination of marine 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 more bitter sides like almonds (or was it cricket?) and lemon rinds. And saffron takes on great harmony with sweet and bitter floral components.
Coriander is more than leaves
Unlike in some Latin American countries where this plant is the equivalent of our parsley, the Spaniards maintain a hateful love relationship with it. Even machines have a troubled relationship with him. What we don't all consider is that not only is the plant used, the seed can also be used in the kitchen, and "it's more pleasant and subtle, less invasive,"says Perpén, who recommends it for seafood soups, potato stews, noodles...
This spice is a flavouring very used in the production of biscuits or to compensate for the bitterness of the wine, and is one of the natural ingredients of gin. It provides a fragrant touch for curry mixtures and pickles, it is a good resource to season pastas and blend with almost all pork derivatives, such as sausages, mortadella and black pudding, as highlighted By The Encyclopedia of Flavors. Among its curiosities, the book highlights an evocative balsamic touch. As the chapter dedicated to floral fruit trees collects, coriander seed is an improved version of aromatized wooden balls that people keep in the drawers of underwear, a peculiarity that corroborates Perpén: "It has a soapy aroma point".
Turmeric, a golden touch for lentils
It is an increasingly common and widespread ingredient. It is grown in several 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 the traveler's dizziness. It contains a wide 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 wear food aesthetically. A fair and balanced amount (a small tablespoon) is a good choice for rice and the vast majority of stews. One as traditional as lentils integrates this spice well. It can also be used in potato omelettes and even in smoothies and orange juices. "It adds a fun touch to the batter, for example the pavia soldiers," she adds. In addition, it is one of the main components of a very fashionable star preparation today, golden milk, an Indian drink erected on Western nutritional altars in recent times.
Paprika, smoked magic in the pan
Among the spices, Perpén highlights the value of the smoked for its enveloping character on the palate. The paprika of the vera belongs to this group and exerts a versatile seasoning that allows to dispense with the salt in some eggs or in the grilled meat and even in the vegetables. "If in a barbecue we don't fancy bacon and we prefer an eggplant and courgettes, when they are made, pints with paprika and some oil so that it does not burn, and you serve them," proposes the cooking teacher.
A more exotic option is zaatar, a mixture of spices that usually brings zumaque (ground baya from Turkey) and that gives a touch similar to lemon citrus, the toasted taste of sesame and the fresh part of the grass, which is usually the ajedrea , but can also be found with thyme or oregano. "It is perfect for salads with fresh cheese, in meat and fish. And there's no salt in it. It is very versatile, although in the Middle East it is usually taken with bread and oil", concludes Perpén.