Cold Days, Warming Spices

spicesBaby, it’s cold outside! Time to warm up with spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom. Long valued for their rich flavors and healing properties, these fragrant spices have the added benefit of making you feel warm from head to toe. Need to get your blood circulating better? Add turmeric-spiked curry powder to your chicken dinner, or season your movie-night popcorn with some cayenne pepper!

  • Ginger is a popular remedy for colds and sore throats, plus it flavors everything from beer to curries. You can use it as a fresh root or a powdered spice. Look for roots that are firm, with no soft spots—when you snap off a small piece of it, the interior should be juicy, not dried. A slice of ginger + a lemon wedge + piping hot water makes a delicious caffeine-free infusion, or you can combine fresh ginger with green tea for a wintertime energy boost. To use fresh ginger in Asian stir-frys, first trim away the “bark,” then mince the root and stir it into your veggies and/or meat about 5 minutes before you’ll be done cooking everything. Like to bake? Use powdered ginger liberally in gingersnap cookies and spice bread.
  • Turmeric is the signature earthy, orange spice primarily used in curry powder blends. You can add a dash of powdered turmeric to most Indian or Pakistani dishes, or you can include fresh chopped turmeric root for a brighter, more floral flavor. (Fun fact: turmeric and ginger are related.) Yellow mustard often lists turmeric as an ingredient, partially because turmeric is a natural yellow/orange dye. If you want extra-colorful deviled eggs, stir a dash of turmeric powder into the mashed yolks. Bonus point: the curcumin it contains is being studied for its health benefits.
  • Cardamom is a main spice in chai tea, one of Indian’s traditional fragrant tea blends. Make your own chai by brewing black tea with cardamom pods, whole cloves, a slice of ginger root, cinnamon sticks, and black peppercorns. If you like, you can toast the cardamom and cinnamon first for 2 or 3 minutes in a dry skillet to bring out their flavor even more. Green cardamom is considered “true” cardamom, while black cardamom is a different species; white cardamom is green cardamom that has been bleached. Green and black cardamom are used extensively in Indian and Pakistani cooking and also in Scandinavian cookies and sweets. Turkish and Vietnamese coffees are often infused with cardamom—try adding a pinch of powdered cardamom to your coffee the next time you brew a cup.
  • Cinnamon, like cardamom, has a “true” form: Cinnamomum zeylancium is softer in texture and flavor than the other species of closely related cinnamon that non-Americans generally call “cassia.” But no matter which species you use, cinnamon sticks can be added to lamb-based stews, mulled cider or wine, or anything else that would benefit from its sweet/hot nature. Sprinkle ground cinnamon over oatmeal, whisk it into pancake batters, or add a pinch to tomato-based sauces. Just adding a cinnamon stick to a glass of water creates a refreshing, warming experience.
  • Cayenne is also called bird eye pepper and red hot chili pepper. (Crushed red pepper flakes are often cayenne flakes.) Its heat fades with time, but when fresh, the capsicum in whole or powdered cayenne can instantly bring a flush to your cheeks. Try your hot cocoa Mexican-style—add a pinch of cayenne! Or for a savory treat, sprinkle it on your popcorn along with some grated Parmesan. Want to up the ante on your breaded chicken fingers? Make the breading mixture out of ground almonds, cornmeal, and a pinch of cayenne. Fire up the chili pot with a chopped cayenne pepper. Just be sure to wear gloves when you handle fresh cayenne! A little of it goes a long way.

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