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5 Super Spices

Add extra flavor to winter dishes and get a dash of good health

Healing Winter Spices

— Doable/Amanaimages/Corbis

ROSEMARY

Connie Guttersen, author of The New Sonoma Diet, talks about the benefits of using rosemary in your diet because of its carnosic acid, a powerful compound that acts as an antioxidant to protect the brain, lowering the risk of strokes and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's — thinking that has been corroborated in a study by the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in California.

Fresh and dried rosemary contain the same nutrients but they vary in quantity. For example, fresh rosemary is a good source of the chemical manganese; however, some of the manganese is lost through the drying process. (Manganese helps with various metabolic processes.)

Usage: Rosemary is complementary to beef, poultry, pork, potatoes and olive oil. When cooking with fresh rosemary, finely chop the needles to release their natural oils. As a woody plant, more robust stalks can be used as a skewer for grilled foods once you've used the leaves. The rosemary stalk will continue to infuse foods with rosemary's natural flavor, but with milder intensity.

Recipe: Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops

CLOVES

Sarah K. Khan, an ethnobotanist who teaches classes on spices of the world at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, notes that, traditionally, cloves have been used as a topical anesthetic to treat toothaches. "In fact today, a clove gel provides dentists with an alternative to benzocaine for topical anesthesia in their daily practice," Khan says. A 2006 study found that clove extract improved the function of insulin and lowered glucose.

Always buy whole cloves. If you buy them ground, the oils will dissipate or potentially go rancid.

Usage: Before using, pound cloves gently in a mortar and pestle or grind in a spice grinder. Try black or green tea with cloves: gently crush 1 or 2 cloves with a pestle; place in a mug with a few green or black tea leaves; cover with boiling water; brew for 2 to 3 minutes, and sip. Add a dash of clove powder and ground cinnamon to hot chocolate.

Use it as a partner with cinnamon in baking, in stews and in soups. You can also add it to barbecue sauces, make syrup with some sugar and use it in cocktails or as a way to add flavor to plain old white rice (add a clove or two toward the end of the cooking process).

Recipe: Ham in Coca-Cola

NUTMEG

Bains enjoys cooking with nutmeg and notes that it is well-documented in the Indian science of life, Ayurveda, for its capacity to treat diarrhea. Nutmeg has also been shown to have antimicrobial properties (in a study by Cornell University).

Usage: Sprinkle into hot milk or onto the top of frothed milk for European-style coffees such as cappuccino. Add a pinch to soups and stews. The best way to bring out the flavor of nutmeg, as well as increase its antioxidant value, is to heat it in a little oil first. That also takes away much of its natural bitterness.

Recipe: Butternut Squash Soup With Nutmeg Cream

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