So when I was coming up with the idea for these meal plans, I talked to a bunch of my friends and asked them why they didn’t cook and what they hated about cooking and what intimidated them about cooking. And one thing that surprised me was that more than one person was intimidated by recipes that call for a lot of spices.
I was very fortunate to grow up with a mom who cooked from scratch, and a well-stocked spice rack was and still is part of her repertoire. When she remodeled her kitchen, she created a special giant rotating cabinet for her spices.
But that that hasn’t been a lot of people’s experience. Which is why I sat down and made my Top 7 Essential Spices list (it was going to be six, but I had to get an Italian herb blend in there), which are the only spices you absolutely have to have to make these recipes. Occasionally I’ll throw in some optional extras like turmeric and sage, but if you’re just starting out your spice rack, this keeps it manageable until that time when you’re ready to spread your spice wings and fly.
And you will, because once you taste what humble pieces of dried leaf or crushed seeds can do to your food, you will say, “Give me more!” And eventually you’ll find yourself drooling in the spice aisle at the grocery store, or panicking when you get a gift certificate to Williams-Sonoma because how are you ever going to choose? If you know what I’m talking about, well, you know what I’m talking about.
So, to wrap this up, let’s talk about the spice that is probably the most familiar and friendly, and why I like it so much: cinnamon.
- There’s been a lot of talk lately about how cinnamon is good for you. It’s good for your blood sugar, your metabolism, inflammation, and all sorts of other things. However, don’t overdo it. I started drinking cinnamon tea a little too regularly in the morning after reading this article and let’s just say that something else started being not so regular. Cinnamon is dry.
- The best thing about cooking with cinnamon is that it’s great not only in sweet dishes and baked goods but also in savory main courses. I love cinnamon in a homemade oatmeal cookie as much as the next person, but my favorite things to do with it is season red meat, particularly ground beef. You get a lot of that in Eastern European and Moroccan cooking. I’ve made this recipe for Serbian Ground Beef, Veggie & Potato Bake countless times, and it always turns out great and tastes amazing. I leave out the beef bouillon step because you don’t need it and bouillon cubes are usually full of crap.
Serbian Shepherd’s Pie
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1/2 medium onion
- 1 carrot
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 green bell pepper
- coconut oil
- 1 tsp paprika
- dash cinnamon
- dash cloves
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper optional
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1 Tbsp half-and-half
- 1 lb. red or white potatoes
- Put potatoes in a large saucepan or stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are fork tender, 10–15 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400. In a skillet over medium heat, cook the beef until evenly brown, stirring occasionally, about 6–7 minutes. Meanwhile, chop onion, carrot, celery, and bell pepper.
- Remove beef from skillet, leaving juices in the pan, and set aside. Add 1 Tbsp coconut oil to the same pan and when melted, sauté green pepper, onion, carrot, and celery until tender, about 10 minutes.
- Return remaining 1/2 lb. cooked beef to skillet, and season with paprika, cinnamon, cloves, salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Stir in red wine until heated through and mostly absorbed. Remove skillet from heat and mix in half-and-half.
- Slice potatoes thinly. Lightly grease a loaf pan or small casserole dish with coconut oil. Cover the bottom of the dish with potato slices. Scoop in the beef and vegetable mixture, and top with remaining potato slices. Cover and cook 10 minutes.
If you feel like getting fancy, you can also make your own chai mix with cinnamon sticks and some other whole spices: allspice, cloves, cardamom, and ginger are my favorites, along with a stick of lemongrass.
- 2 Tbsp loose-leaf English breakfast tea
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 stalk dried lemongrass
- 6 cardamom pods
- 6 black peppercorns
- cream and sugar to taste
- Put tea, cinnamon, cardamom, lemongrass, and peppercorns in a regular-sized teapot.
- Bring water to a boil then remove from heat; as soon as boil subsides pour into teapot.
- Let steep 5 minutes under a tea cozy and serve with cream and sugar.