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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   Shubhra Krishan | Herbs

Green Cuisine
By Shubhra Krishan

"If the day and night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, and is more elastic, more starry, more immortal--that is your success. All nature is your congratulation…"
                                                --
Henry David Thoreau

Herbs are perfect little things.So green and tender. So intensely alive with the shining sun. They seduce the senses with their unique flavors and intoxicating aromas. And they have impressive healing powers.

Healers around the world have studied herbs up close for thousands of years. The Ayurvedic healers of India have been one of the most passionate herb-lovers. Pounding and stewing, mixing and matching whole flowers, roots, stems and leaves—those ancient vaidyas absorbed the very essence of the plant. What they found was what modern medicine is slowly recognising today. Herbs heal because they are filled with nature’s intelligence. Each of them has its own area of specialisation—be it the liver, the heart or the digestive system.

Happily, most of these healing herbs can be grown on your kitchen-window or picked off the nearest supermarket shelves. They are just waiting to pop on to your plate and liven up your palate.


 



Look what you get when you pick up a handful of herbs:

Flavor: without the fat. Away with those creamy, buttery sauces! All your taste-buds need is a squeeze of lemon, a dash of pepper and a sprinkling of chives. They’re fail-safe taste-enhancers, your fresh mint sprigs and spry cilantro.

Satisfaction: Those aromas fill up your senses, making you feel like you are indulging, even when you are not. Allspice and peppercorns, for instance, lend sharpness and pep to fat-free marinades.

What you don’t get from your herbs is equally important.

Sodium: Sodium makes you retain water, tipping the bathroom scales and undermining your efforts to lose weight.

Calories: Rosemary and thyme, parsely and marjoram…high on flavor, zero in calories…

So fall in love with the bountiful world of herbs and spices—you’ve got nothing to lose—except pounds!

Here, 25 vibrant ideas to start you off:

  1. Spike tomato juice with a pinch of caraway seeds and a few mint leaves. Add three ice-cubes. Excellent for non-drinkers at cocktail parties.
  2. When boiling rice, throw in a few sprigs of mint or cilantro just before the rice is done. Squirt half a lemon too at this time—it lends tang and fluffs out the grains.
  3. Quarter a firm tomato and blend with cilantro, cumin and a pinch of sea salt. Toss with corn niblets, and lay the colorful paste on a bed of crisp whole-wheat toast. Butter? What’s that?
  4. Warm some olive oil in a pan. Throw in a teaspoon of oregano seeds. Wait for the aroma to rise, then pitch in some mashed potatoes and fry on high heat for three minutes. Flavor with fresh chopped fenugreek leaves--and lemon to balance out the slightly bitter flavor.
  5. Wheatgrass grows quick, looks cute on your kitchen window and fills you with vitamins. Grab a handful every morning--chop it up and sprinkle the power grass on salads and in lentils.
  6. Fry crushed red chilli flakes and minced garlic in olive oil. Add to soup pot for instant pep. Ayurveda recommends chillies for "kapha" or phlegmatic body types.
  7. Dish up some colorful, soft-flavored rice tonight. Bring home the Indian basmati variety. Stir three strands of saffron into half a cup of warm oil, and add to the water in which you cook rice. Add crushed seeds of one green cardamom when done.
  8. Turmeric—the yellow spice, lends that distinct golden colour to Indian curries. Ayurveda also considers it an anitbiotic and a terrific digestive.
  9. Roast a tablespoon each of whole coriander seeds with cumin, and pound together. Mix this with boiled garbanzo beans, and moisten with lemon juice. No salt required for this healthy snack.
  10. Boil potatoes and scoop out the centres. Fill the hollows with a paste of mint , rock salt and olive oil. Bake on high for fifteen minutes and you have hot, minty potatoes, bursting with flavor.
  11. Try this sense-gratifying marinade: blend ginger with garlic, sesame oil, mustard and green chillies. Dunk vegetables in this for a good hour or so, then grill. Luscious.
  12. Cook tofu with kidney beans, olive oil, chile powder, turmeric and tomatoes. Toss in yoghurt, chopped onion and minced coriander.
  13. Plain white steamed rice is great on its own, but one bay leaf helps release the aroma. Max the impact with two cloves. A pinch of turmeric will make it look nice and exotic.
  14. Bake acorn or butternut squash with a cracked cinnamon stick. Spike with black pepper and cilantro when done.
  15. Microwave cumin seeds till they release their unique aroma—be careful not to burn them. Then pound with onion, cilantro leaves and roasted peanuts for an instant, flavorful chutney.
  16. Pick up the freshest green beans you can find. Chop and steam for five to ten minutes, then mix with cooked yellow split lentils. Flavor with slices of raw tomato, crushed garlic and black peppercorns.
  17. Do a home-made platter of roasted vegetables like bell peppers, squash, eggplant. When just about done, drizzle some hot ghee on the veggies and top with dried basil or rosemary.
  18. Take away the salt and pepper shakers from your table. Substitute with one each for grated nutmeg, dried and crushed fenugreek leaves, and powdered cinnamon.
  19. Fines Herbs is a traditional French mixture of four fresh or dried herbs including parsley, chervil, chives and tarragon. Sprinkle over fresh salads or gravies just at the end of their cooking.
  20. Try a herbal pasta sauce. Just take half a teaspoon each of fresh rosemary, thyme and basil, and toss in garlic.
  21. Cilantro cuts the hotness of foods, so it’s a good idea to sprinkle it as a garnish on curries.
  22. Fry green tomatoes with basil leaves. Tenderise tomatoes on slow flame, cover bread with basil leaves and sandwich.
  23. Soak sun-dried tomatoes in hot stock until soft. Puree with basil and herb vinegar. Use as an alternative to oil-based dressing.
  24. Shred one cucumber with a small sprig of mint. Add aroma with roasted and ground cumin seeds, and color with a pinch of paprika.
  25. Make sun-oil. Spike a cupful of sunflower oil with vegetable salt, your favourite herbs or fresh garlic. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Touring The Kitchen Garden

Basil: The Indian variety of basil, called "tulsi", is the protective spirit of the Hindu family. For ages, vaidyas have used it as a disinfecting and air-purifying herb. Water boiled with basil leaves is considered extremely beneficial in boosting immunity.

Chives: This grassy member of the onion family grows well outdoors or in window-sill pots. Just clip it regularly, and it will flourish. Use fresh in salads and with mildly spiced vegetable dishes.

Dill: The word "dill" comes from the Old Norse "dilla", which means to lull or soothe. Dill is is a natural preservative. Combined with fennel, dill has been found to ease colic and prevent flatulence. Snip dill fresh over salads, sauces and spreads. Dill-icious! with potato salads and fresh cucumber dishes.

Fennel: Fed up of flatulence? Feast on fennel! Yes, traditional Ayurvedic medicine uses fennel to cure flatulence, dyspepsia, and colic. Fennel is also believed to stimulate appetite. Use this classic herb for stuffings, stews and sauces.

Ginger: Ginger’s "hot" properties make it ideal for the "kapha" or phlegmatic body types. Crushed ginger root briefly boiled with tea is an Indian grandma’s remedy for the common cold. Fresh ginger root is said to be great for keeping the immune system on track. Though Ayurveda warns that ginger, a thermogenic or heat-generating herb, may not be suitable for "pitta" or fiery body types.

Lemongrass: The Caribbeans have long used lemongrass as a remedy for fever, and natives of the Amazon believe it is an effective contraceptive. Ayurveda believes the scent of lemongrass can sweep away stress. Peel the thicker, lower stems and bundle the tender cores to be steamed or chopped. That sweet, lemony flavor is a great hit with tea and of course, lemongrass juice.

Marjoram: The Greek called it "joy of the mountains". This aromatic herb is also a mild-antiseptic. It can be used fresh in the summer and dried in the winter. Wild marjoram has a stronger flavor that it's Italian cousin oregano.

Mint: You have a great variety of mint to choose from: applemint to cologne and refreshing lemon mint. Mint tea is very cooling in summer.Ayurveda considers it an excellent digestive. In the summer months, you’ll find mint-flavored drinks complementing hot Indian curries.

Oregano: Hot, peppery oregano are considered anti-oxidant, anti-spasmodic and anti-septic. Chopped oregano enhances tomato sauce and pizza. Oregano combines well with lemon, garlic and olive oil.

Parsley: Ayurvedic vaidyas use the dried root, essential oil, and fluid extract of parsley as a carminative, diuretic, and expectorant . German healers use parsley to keep away ailments of the lower urinary tract. Try parsley in pesto sauce and in rice and pasta dishes. Parsley is best used fresh.

Rosemary: Ayurveda uses rosemary leaves to cure dyspeptic flatulence, tension and migraine. Add rosemary to bread dough, cream sauces and soups. It also goes well with potatoes, beans and tomato-base sauces.

Sage: Ayurveda recommends sage tea to treat sore throats, stomach disorders and even gingivitis. It enhances tomato and cheese-based dishes. Unlike many herbs, it has a stronger flavor when dried. Use sparingly.

Thyme: Ayurvedic medicine finds thyme useful as an antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, astringent and expectorant. Try it in stews, chowders and stuffings. Thyme enhances mustard, olive and vinegar. Strongest when used fresh.


Shubhra Krishan is a journalist from India, specialising in writing about health. For ten years, she was on-air news correspondent for India's largest television channel, Doordarshan. While in India, she also scripted and edited 104 episodes of "Feeling Fine", a popular weekly TV show that focused on healing with Ayurveda. She then moved to print journalism, when Cosmopolitan (India)hired her as Features Writer. Shubhra also worked as Senior Editor with India's leading women's magazine, Femina. She now lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado and freelances for American magazines and for several websites.
 

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