Who says that what's good for you has to taste bad?

Who says that what's good for you has to taste bad?
Fresh mint and ginger are a flavorful team. They combine refreshing herbal crispness and a peppery-sweet edge. When you taste them atop cookbook author Nina Simonds' alluring pan- roasted salmon, the last thing you may think of is their health-giving potential.
But in her latest cookbook, "Spices of Life" (Knopf, $35), Simonds explores the tonic properties of herbs and spices while also giving readers delectable recipes.
Simonds says she wants readers to understand that eating for pleasure can mean eating for health.
For instance, the mint in her salmon dish might also relieve bloating. The ginger may lower cholesterol levels or aid circulation.
"I preface everything by saying that herbs and spices don't replace professional medical care," Simonds said in a recent interview. Simonds, author of nine cookbooks, is a member of the Nutritional Roundtable at Harvard University's School of Public Health and serves as a correspondent for Gourmet magazine.
"Herbs and spices not only have different medicinal qualities, but many of them help strengthen the immune system," she said.
Her holistic approach incorporates the principles of traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine), along with current data from Western-based nutrition experts.
Sandwiched into each chapter is advice from authorities such as David Heber, founding director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and Dr. Andrew Weil, authority on medicinal herbs and pioneer in integrative medicine.
"If you go back and look at some of the ancient text, not only in traditional Chinese medicine but also in Ayurveda, you see two things -- the use of spices and herbs as seasonings, and their use for tonic properties," Simonds said. "Classic spice combinations and spice-herb combinations were put together for their health-giving properties."
She explained that in imperial households in ancient China, the herbalist was in charge of retaining the health of the family and would work in conjunction with the chef. It was thought that disease results when an imbalance in the body occurs and that food, herbs and spices play an important role in helping to maintain proper balance.
"So, for instance, Asians have believed for thousands of years that ginger is yang, which means it has a warming effect, and is most often used with yin (cooling) foods such as seafood to create a balance," she said.
"Chinese cooks would often serve chicken soup (augmented) with ginger as a panacea for colds and flus. We now know from research that ginger is antibacterial."
Peppermint is antibacterial, too, according to the chapter that features the findings of Dr. Jim Duke, who was a medical botanist for the USDA for 30 years. Duke, author of "The Herbal Pharmacy" (St Martins Press, $7.99, paperback), offers a breakdown of several "key benefits" for 14 herbs and spices.
Cinnamon, he contends, can fight colds, coughs and fevers. It can relieve gas and indigestion, stimulate circulation and ease allergies. Simonds puts a plentiful amount in her recipe for delicious Pumpkin-Applesauce Muffins.
Basil can also ease gas, and helps fight plaque formation on teeth. Simonds adds it to a colorful salad made with fresh spinach and roasted tomatoes.
Cardamom, Duke suggests, can sooth indigestion, ease congestion and kill bad breath. It's featured ground and sprinkled on top of an herbal tea. Duke says that the concoction boosts energy yet prevents insomnia.
But herbs and spices can do only so much. As with other authorities featured in the book, Duke includes common-sense suggestions for lifestyle changes that include getting adequate rest and exercise, along with eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts.
Simonds says that enjoying food is a big part of the healing process, too.
"The pleasure of food is one of the joys of living," she said. "Many Americans think of food as the enemy. And too often, sadly, when people think of healthy food, they think of sacrifice."
And though skeptics might question holistic medicine and the healing benefits of specific natural ingredients, few if any could associate Simonds' delicious recipes with any kind of sacrifice.
1 1/2 tablespoons softened butter or nonstick spray for greasing tins
31/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar; see cook's notes
4 large eggs
1 cup applesauce
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup apple juice, cider or orange juice
1 1/2 cups raisins
Cook's notes: I am trying to cut back on sugar and discussed my concerns with Simonds. She suggested that I reduce the amount of sugar, add a little minced orange or lemon zest (peel) and increase the amount of vanilla. I used unsweetened applesauce and decreased the amount of sugar to 12/3 cups, increased the vanilla to 1 1/2 teaspoons and added 1 teaspoon orange zest. The muffins were delicious.
1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 22 ( 1/2-cup) muffin cups or lightly coat with nonstick spray.
2.Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
3.With electric mixer beat butter and sugar about 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down sides if needed. Add eggs, applesauce, pumpkin and vanilla; beat just until combined, scraping down sides as needed.
4.Alternatively mix in some of dry ingredients, then some juice or cider, mixing with each addition until smooth. Fold in raisins.
5. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full. Bake in middle of preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center. Cool 5 minutes then turn out onto rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: About 22 muffins.
Nutritional information (per muffin):Calories 235 (38 percent from fat), fat 9.9 g (sat 1.5 g), protein 5 g, carbohydrates 32.1 g, fiber 1.9 g, cholesterol 18 mg, sodium 251 mg
Source: Adapted from "Spices of Life" by Nina Simonds (Knopf, $35)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or sake
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes or hot chili paste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for brushing on grill
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
In medium glass or ceramic bowl, combine soy sauce, rice wine or sake, garlic, chili flakes or chili paste and 1 tablespoon oil. Add chicken breasts and gently toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Prepare a medium-hot fire for grilling or preheat gas grill. Brush rack with olive oil and place meat 3 inches from heat source. Grill, covered, 5 to 7 minutes per side, or until chicken is opaque all the way through. As an alternative, heat a nonstick skillet until very hot over high heat and sear chicken until done, about 8 to 10 minutes, turning once. Cool slightly. Cut chicken across grain into thin slices.
Yield: 6 servings.
Nutritional information (per serving):Calories 390 (44 percent from fat), fat 19 g (sat 3.5 g), protein 24 g, carbohydrates12.2 g, fiber 2.1 g, cholesterol 35 mg, sodium 944 mg
Source: "Spices of Life" by Nina Simonds (Knopf, $35)
3 tablespoons fresh peppermint leaves
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
3 tablespoons fresh spearmint leaves
4 cups boiling water
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon stevia, or to taste; see cook's notes (optional)
Cook's notes: The recipe also called for 3 tablespoons eucalyptus, suggesting that it be purchased at a health-food store. But it is difficult to find, and Simonds says it can be omitted. Stevia is a natural sweetener that is sold at health-food stores and some supermarkets. If unavailable, use honey or omit.
Place herbs in teapot. Pour in freshly boiled water, cover and steep 10 minutes. Strain into 4 teacups and sprinkle each with cardamom to float on top. Drink leisurely. If desired, add stevia to taste. Refrigerate any leftover tea for later use.
Yield:4 servings.
Nutritional information (per serving):Calories 25 (less than 1 percent from fat); fat 0.2 g (no sat); no protein; carbohydrates 6.4 g; fiber less than 1 g; no cholesterol, sodium 32 mg.
Source: "Spices of Life" by Nina Simonds (Knopf, $35)
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 salmon fillets with skin (each about 6 ounces)
1 1/2 pounds sugar snap peas
3 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil; plus 2 tablespoons; divided use
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or more to taste
6 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Prepare marinade. In medium bowl combine ginger, soy sauce and vinegar; stir to combine. Add salmon and gently toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature while you prepare peas and dressing.
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in large saucepan on high heat. Add peas and cook 2 minutes, or until tender-crisp. Drain in colander and refresh with cold water. Drain again and blot dry on paper towels.
In medium-large bowl, whisk 3 tablespoons oil with lemon juice, mint, salt and pepper. Add peas and gently toss. Taste and add more lemon juice, if desired. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large skillet over high heat until very hot. Rub marinade all over salmon and place in skillet skin side down. Partially cover and fry about 5 to 6 minutes over high heat (depending on thickness) until skin is crisp and salmon meat has started to become opaque. Carefully flip over with spatula and cook for additional 3 to 4 minutes, or until just cooked.
Arrange salmon on serving platter and spoon snap peas around. Any dressing that remains in bowl, spoon over salmon. Serve.
Yield: 6 servings.
Nutritional information (per serving):Calories 510 (65 percent from fat), fat 36.8 g (sat 18.2 g), protein 40.3 g, carbohydrates 4.5 g, fiber 0.9 g, cholesterol 84 mg, sodium 981 mg.

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