Adam DeVito recently shared some of the ideas that he developed for Time -- Life's Healthy Home Cooking series at L'Academie de Cuisine, the Bethesda cooking school. To enhance food flavor without excess salt and fat, DeVito suggests experimenting with underutilized herbs and spices in conjunction with acids, marinades and stocks. Among his recipe tips:
*Allspice: Good on beef, veal, roast lamb, stews and chicken; use allspice berries in chicken and veal stocks. Saute' a little olive oil in a pan; add currants, mustard and allspice and pour over carrots. Or steam cubed sweet potatoes, add fresh peas, a little curry powder and a sprinkling of allspice.
Anise: Use on fish, fish stews, lamb, onions, potatoes and carrots. Combine anise and cracked mustard seed; mix with scallions, pepper and bread crumbs. Coat fish with a little butter, lemon and chopped garlic and dip in bread-crumb mixture. Cook at 500 degrees for 7 minutes.
Bay leaves: Remove skin from a 4-pound chicken. Wrap in bay leaves and cover with foil. Roast at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours or until done.
Cardamom: Use with poultry, winter squash, carrots. DeVito also adds a 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom seeds to a tablespoon of coffee beans before he grinds them.
Cinnamon: Use as a savory spice with chicken or beef stews. Add a cinnamon stick to chicken or beef stocks.
Dried oriental mushrooms: Use to impart smokey flavors to food.
Fresh ginger: Use on fish, duck, beef or any vegetable that has a natural sweetness.
Thyme: Very versatile, can be used to perk up any number of dishes.
Fresh vs. dried: Mint, basil, chervil, marjoram and parsley are not as good dried as they are fresh. Oregano, on the other hand, is better dried than fresh. Use two or three parts fresh basil, oregano and mint to one part dried. For all other herbs, DeVito uses four parts fresh to one part dried. Most dried herbs should cook for at least 30 minutes in dishes; add fresh herbs at the end of the cooking process.
Hot Spices: Use chilies, cayenne and black and white peppers. The volatile oils in hot spices help to tenderize meats and spark food flavor; thus, they are good ingredients to include in marinades.
Acids: Use acetic acid (vinegar), citric acid (fruits) and tannic acid (wine) in conjunction with herbs and spices. Lemon juice can frequently be used to replace salt in dishes, such as in cooking water for pasta and in marinades. It can also freshen many foods if a sprinkling is added toward the end of the cooking time. Adding a little balsamic vinegar to steamed vegetables, stews or saute's can add depth. Wine can be used to deglaze pans after saute'ing and then reduced to intensify flavors and add complexity.
Marinating: Marinate skinless chicken breasts with finely chopped prunes, soy sauce, lemon juice, ginger and sesame oil. Marinate chicken or fish with crushed red pepper, garlic, safflower oil and some chopped onion. Freshen with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice toward the end of cooking.
Dried fruit: Match figs with duck, dried peaches and apricots with chicken, prunes or apricots with beef. Match dried fruits with grainy mustard, stock and a little vinegar and simmer for an intensely flavored sauce for duck, chicken or pork.
Stocks: Use instead of water to impart richness and flavor.
Onions: Deglaze pans with thinly sliced shallots and wine, cognac or cassis. Caramelize onions in a small amount of olive oil, scraping the pot frequently to incorporate the caramelized bits. Deglaze the pot with apple cider vinegar and use along with vegetables, soups, stews and all saute's.