Have you ever watched an episode of Chopped on The Food Network? If so, you get it. A contestant prepares a meal that hits all the right notes and tastes ultra-yummy. As a result, the judges tend to be more forgiving if that same meal had been served with a less-than-perfect presentation. In a competitive throw down, the tastier meal will triumph over another dish that might look prettier on the plate, but falls completely flat on the flavor profile. It’s only human nature that many of us make assumptions about a dish based upon what it looks like. However, as the old adage goes, you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Realistically, what keeps us coming back for more is every scrumptious bite of goodness.
To elaborate, let me give you an example. Every so often, my family and a few extended relatives will gather together for dinner on the weekend. On one of those occasions, my cousin who has a very raunchy sense of humor said something hilarious about an Arabic dish called kefta. He looked down on his plate and said: “Soon you’ll disappear. I must say bye for now, but I will see you tomorrow!” Certainly, you would have to know what kefta looks like to get his joke, but I’ll give you a hint. It’s long and brown. With that said, the next secret should become obvious.
Secret #4: Make it taste good! As you can see from the example, nothing quite dictates what we eat more than our taste buds. Having spent years in the health and fitness industry, I’ve worked alongside many personal trainers who never wanted to accept this reality when dealing with their clients. Typically, these were young and inexperienced trainers who would eat the same bland food every day. Plain oatmeal, egg whites, chicken breast cooked without any salt or seasonings, an apple, a small bag of carrots or celery sticks; you can get the idea. When they tried to convince their clients to follow suit, this failed time and time again. Basically, because that type of diet might work well for body builders, however for most of us, it’s just way too strict and monotonous. Yes, we should eat clean, but healthy food doesn’t mean we must sacrifice great taste. In fact, quite the contrary. As I mentioned throughout this series, the right food choices which includes organic, unprocessed, and NON-GMO ingredients are the foundation to better tasting meals. So let’s summarize what we’ve covered thus far. To cook a delicious meal, start with good-quality ingredients, believe in yourself and be creative. Next, make it taste good! How?
First off, unless you’re a culinary expert or bona fide foodie, making a meal taste good does involve a learning curve. The difficulty or ease of preparing a meal, and the length of time required, depends considerably on the meal itself. For example, you could make pasta from scratch, or just buy your favorite variety premade. Furthermore, taste is a matter of preference. What tastes great to you may be overpowering to someone else or vice versa. Sometimes, your taste preference depends on your mood. Are you feeling something deep, complex and authentic to your culture, or something light, crisp and refreshing? What’s your tolerance to spicy foods? Consequently, the type of dish you want to make and what your taste buds dictate are important considerations to keep in mind.
Fortunately, certain foods by the very nature of how they’re cooked can create a flavorful, universal appeal. For instance, grill some of your favorite vegetables: green, red, yellow or orange peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and zucchini with just a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. The natural char that occurs on those veggies will amp up the flavor of any dish. Toss those charred veggies into a crispy mixed-greens salad, or add them into pasta, quinoa or a jasmine brown rice dish. Suddenly the same old meal has a little pizzazz and tastes delicious! Of course if you want to keep it simple, just stuff those veggies into a warm pita with some roasted chicken slices and garlic sauce.
Another way to pump up the flavor of a dish is to start experimenting with an array of savory herbs and spices. Aside from your basic garlic and onion powder, this includes: black pepper, ginger, cloves, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, cayenne, cardamom, and the list goes on! Not only do seasonings add zest to a dull plate, but many herbs and spices contain healing properties and antioxidants. For example, turmeric—a spice common in Asian cuisine, contains a substance called curcumin which is widely used to make medicine. It’s considered an anti-inflammatory which helps to ease arthritis pain, manage Crohn’s disease, and so much more. Another gem that could be hiding in your cupboard or pantry is paprika. Paprika doesn’t just taste great on hummus or in Hungarian food, it’s also a good source of Vitamin C and helps promote circulation.
Although everyone has different taste preferences, most people would agree that authentic Middle Eastern food is phenomenal! One reason is because Arabs use a wide variety of spices. Baharat, for instance, isn’t just one Arabic spice; it’s a mixture of seven spices which can be used to add depth and flavor to meats, sauces, soups, grains, vegetables, stews and more. There isn’t a hard and fast recipe for Baharat. Different countries have slight variations on the blend of spices used and the amounts; however, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, coriander and cardamom are frequently included in the mix. Speaking of nutmeg, research indicates it’s helpful in relieving indigestion, bloating, diarrhea, and chronic nervous disorders. Similarly, a study on cinnamon found it to be helpful in reducing blood sugar levels in those with Type 2 diabetes, and in lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
The health incentives for making your meals taste good is a very long one! Virtually every spice or herb comes with a benefit or healing properties. Let me give you just one more. Years ago, many American’s viewed parsley as just a pretty garnish. Yet parsley is a nutrient rich herb which has since been used to help treat urinary tract infections, indigestion, and colic. It also inhibits tumor growth, can be used as a diuretic and helps in detoxifying the body. So don’t just order tabbouleh in your local Mediterranean restaurant, be creative and start cooking with parsley! You know that kefta I mentioned earlier? Yup, it’s in there!
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