Spices: Cooking With Spices for Better Health (cont.)

For instance, there's a wonderful recipe in the book for roasted asparagus with a garlic dressing. The dressing does call for soy sauce - " lite" soy sauce. "Lite" soy sauce has a lower sodium content. But you can reduce the sodium even further by adding orange zest or lemon zest, which gives the dish flavor and adds a different type of sweetness.

What I tried to do is to suggest to people to increase amounts of herbs and spices because they not only give pleasure and flavor, they also give health.

As I mentioned you can reduce the salt or sodium in many dishes. And you can also reduce sugar, if you are diabetic or sensitive to sugar -- herbs and spices allow you to do that. So thank you, that was a wonderful question.

MODERATOR: You talk about cardamom in the book -- a spice that probably many people aren't too familiar with. Could you tell us about why and how you use this spice?

SIMONDS: We know from the latest research that cardamom soothes indigestion and relieves gas. It can also help ease congestion if you have a cold. Cardamom refreshes your breath and soothes your throat.

I think many people think of cardamom in sweet dishes. Cardamom is wonderful in breads, such as in hot cross buns. Many cultures use cardamom in their breads and coffee cakes. Indians use cardamom in their puddings and fruit desserts.

Cardamom is also excellent in some savory dishes. We have a wonderful recipe in the book for asparagus with cardamom butter. The cardamom infuses the butter. You could cut back on the butter by using a fruity olive oil and some butter for flavor. You melt or heat the butter and olive oil with a smashed cardamom pod and it infuses the dressing with so much flavor.

Cardamom is available in supermarkets, and it comes in jars in pod form. What you want to do is smash it; take a knife, cleaver or the bottom of the hand and smash it to release the flavor. Then, you can add it to many of the dishes, even tea or milk -- Chai is wonderful. Warm milk or tapioca pudding is wonderful with cardamom. You can use cinnamon, vanilla, and cardamom for a wonderful dessert. You can either use soy milk or regular milk, then you have phytoesterogens as well as a comforting, yummy food.

You should have a little pod in your kitchen that you put in a sunny place. It's lovely to look at, and you can snip a little of it and sprinkle it into your food.

"Cumin is excellent for colds and fevers."

People ask me how you can preserve herbs and spices, and one of the best ways is making pesto. We all know about Italian pesto, but many people don't think about cilantro pesto or mint pesto. Southern Indians make what they call chutneys, and southern Indian chutney is a fresh herb pesto. It's made with mints, cilantro, or basil. But you could use any herb -- they actually use coconut that is grated, but you could easily use olive oil, and keep that in your refrigerator. You can put a teaspoon or tablespoon in soups, or over roasted, grilled, steamed vegetables or seafood. I love herbal chutneys with grilled seafood, chicken and other poultry. It will keep if you cover it with a little olive oil and will stay almost indefinitely. I put it over pizzas and soups. For very busy people, start with chicken broth bought at the store and build a soup around it with vegetables and left over grilled meats; then flavor it with these herbal pestos.

MODERATOR: Rosemary pesto is also excellent.

SIMONDS: I also have to admit that I will take a good, ready-prepared soup from a good market (Pacific Chicken Broth is wonderful) to build meals around. I go through the refrigerator and throw in steamed vegetables, tofu, grilled meats, and I make a meal out of them with crusty bread. It's terrific. That extra herb and spice just adds a lot of flavor and accentuates the flavor of many good ingredients.

We're all busy. I'm a busy working parent like many people. The bottom line is to eat well. I'm not apologetic about using prepared foods -- good prepared foods are good to build on. We have to be realistic.

Part of the message in my book is that you can easily integrate a few things into your lifestyle. Good foods, relaxing every now and then and having a meal with your family and friends -- all of this improves your health and well being. I think that is really what it's all about and I want to show people how to do it. We're constantly told what to eat, what to do, but few books really show us how to do it. That's what I hope to do with this book.

I have to say that my other books have mainly been Asian inspired, but this book is extremely personal. There are Asian-inspired recipes, but there are also family favorites as well, such as the Sour Cream Coffee Cake, which my son adores. It's one of his favorites along with my great Aunt Sophie's Chicken Soup.

It has been recently discovered that Asians are more predisposed towards becoming diabetic than Caucasians -- two to one. It's becoming a huge global problem. In this country, about 10% of the Asian population has diabetes. The Harvard University's Joselin Diabetes Center is the world's leading center for treatment, education and prevention of diabetes. They've launched an initiative -- the Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI). It's an extraordinary program. I'm also with the Nutrition round table at the Harvard School of Public Health.

MODERATOR: How would you use cumin?

SIMONDS: I make a marinade with cumin, and it has a wonderful flavor. There are Asians that believe it has wonderful health properties. And another spice, turmeric, is wonderful for color and has an anti-inflammatory effect.

MODERATOR: What are the health benefits of cumin?

SIMONDS: It is excellent for colds and fevers. You can make a tea of cumin. It's excellent for digestion, fighting gas and flatulence. Indian doctors believe that it purifies the blood. It's considered one of the key spices in Indian cooking.

MEMBER QUESTION: What about garlic?

SIMONDS: One of the greatest things is that it is an antibiotic, so it fights and prevents colds and flu. I've resorted to chewing garlic cloves. Before my book tour, everybody had a cold. I ate a huge fresh garlic, made a chili pepper tea and sucked on ginger. Low and behold, I did prevent catching that cold.

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