The average American spends a total of 37 minutes per day on meal prep and cleanup. If that’s you, it means you’re probably making few, if any, of your meals from fresh ingredients, but may be relying on pre-packaged foods, fast food, and eating out.
Convenience foods make life easier, and (if we’re being honest) they often taste good, too. But they also tend to contain extra fat, sugar, and other simple carbs that aren’t so good for our health.
Why don’t we cook more? Part of the reason may be that we’re not so confident in our cooking skills. If that’s the case, a few simple classes—and a little practice—can go a long way.
So, can getting beyond salt and pepper as seasonings. Not that they aren’t key ingredients in many foods we love. But there’s a whole other world of herbs and spices out there that can turn your food from “bland and nutritious” to “healthy and delicious.”
Here are some of our favorite ingredients that help to spice things up:
Known as “the king of herbs,” basil is a staple of Mediterranean cooking (including Italian and Greek). Its peppery, minty leaves are also used in Southeast Asian cuisine such as Korean and Thai. Basil is easy to grow in either garden or container (and even indoors with proper light). Its taste and aroma are brightest when fresh, but the dried version makes a good flavoring in sauces. Basil is a good source of vitamin A, and contains vitamins C and B-6 as well.
This spicy (by American standards) chili pepper is used in foods all over the world, but especially well known for its use in Asian and Cajun cuisines. It’s also the ingredient in the powdered red pepper you may find in your spice cabinet. Cayenne is generally used in such small amounts that its vitamins and other nutrients don’t register greatly. Its spicy taste is commonly thought to act as an appetite suppressant, and a few studies have supported this, especially among those who don’t eat spicy foods often.
The unsung hero of chili recipes everywhere, cumin is also an important ingredient in Asian and Indian cuisines. It’s available in seed form, or ground. Nutritionally, it’s a good source of calcium and a great source of iron.
If you’re committed to exploring any type of home cooking, you might as well start by picking up a head of garlic. Most cooking traditions make use of it in some form. Many rely on it regularly. It’s known as a natural antibiotic and for its antioxidant properties. And like its cousin the onion, it excels at bringing flavors together to create a taste that’s bigger than the sum of its parts.
Like cumin, garlic has an odor you may or may not love. (Pro tip: Be careful when cooking with garlic to avoid burning it, as this can add to the stink.) Take our word for it: These 23 recipes may help turn you from garlic loather to garlic lover.
The spice we know as ginger comes from the root of a flowering plant. It provides that spicy kick we associate with ginger snaps and ginger ale, but it’s a common seasoning in Asian and Indian cuisine as well. Ginger contains vitamin C and magnesium, and is thought to relieve the symptoms of nausea. There is actual research to back this up, but since ginger is perfectly safe to consume, the most important test is whether it works for you.
This hardy, piney herb is native to the Mediterranean, so no surprise that it’s often used in Greek and Italian, as well as Spanish, cuisine. Rosemary is another great candidate for a backyard herb garden: some varieties even do well during milder winters. Since its strong flavor means you’ll most often use it sparingly, you won’t gain much nutritional benefit from rosemary, but its taste and scent help bring out the best in both meats and vegetables.