Robin's Healthy Take: Spice it Up


Ever wonder what to do with those leftover spices in your spice rack? Things you bought for one recipe and haven't used since? I’m talking about things like Chinese 5-spice, cardamom, star anise, coriander, marjoram, garam masala, tarragon and other unique, rarely used spices (rarely used in everyday American cooking, that is). I can help you clean out your pantry while savoring delicious meals. First, I’ve given you flavor profiles and tips for using several spices. Then, I created amazing dishes using Chinese 5-Spice and Cardamom. Check it out.

Star Anise: Mild licorice flavor used predominantly in Asian cooking, especially in savory dishes with pork, duck and chicken. Try adding star anise to your next chicken stir fry with vegetables or mix it into your sweet/savory glaze for pork (it’s available whole or ground; when using whole, remove the “stars” before serving). Use sparingly, a little goes a long way.

Coriander: The dried seeds of the cilantro plant; sold whole or ground. The flavor is a wonderful blend of lemon, sage, and caraway. Try coriander in your next curry dish and with fish and shellfish, ham and pork, chicken and turkey, lamb, lentils, stuffing and potatoes.

Marjoram: An herb in the mint family with a similar flavor to oregano (it’s sweeter and milder). Used in a variety of ethnic cuisines: in Germany, it’s used in sausage, in England, it’s partnered with goose and chestnuts, in France, it’s one of the herbs in herbes de Provence, and in Italy and Greece, it’s used in sauces and meat dishes. Try swapping marjoram for oregano in any of your favorite internationally-inspired recipes.

Garam Masala: Literally means hot (garam) spice (masala). Not a spice in itself but a blend of spices used throughout India and the surrounding region. The unique, strongly-flavored blend is used in small quantities and is either added at the very beginning or the very end of cooking. The actual blend of spices varies by region but the most common garam masala contains cardamom, cloves, mace, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, fennel, black peppercorns and fenugreek. Add garam masala to your favorite curry recipe or savory sauce for chicken, fish and beef.

Tarragon: Bittersweet anise or licorice flavor with slight floral quality. Tarragon adds a wonderful, distinct flavor to egg and cheese dishes, cream soups and fresh fruits. Combine tarragon, melted butter, lemon and chives and use to baste chicken, fish and shellfish.

chinese 5-spice chicken

Chinese 5-Spice Chicken With Orange Marmalade Sauce

Serves 4
8 ounces brown rice noodles
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese 5-Spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and garlic and cook 3-5 minutes, until chicken is golden brown on all sides, stirring frequently. Add Chinese 5-spice, salt and pepper and stir to coat chicken. Cook 1 minute, until spices are fragrant. Add orange marmalade, soy sauce and sesame oil, mix well and bring to a simmer. Simmer 3-5 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Serve chicken and sauce over cooked noodles.

rice pudding

Creamy Rice Pudding With Cardamom and Toasted Almonds

Serves 4
1 cup white or brown rice
2 cups low-fat milk (1%)
1/2 cup half and half, or more as desired
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted (in a dry skillet for 2-3 minutes over medium heat)

Combine rice, milk, half and half, brown sugar, cardamom and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Mix well and set pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, cover and cook 15-20 minutes, until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, stirring occasionally and adding more half and half if necessary to reach desired consistency (I like my rice pudding on the thick side while some folks like it thinner). Spoon rice pudding into dessert bowls and top with almonds.

Robin Miller is a nutritionist, host of Quick Fix Meals, author of “Robin Rescues Dinner” and the busy mom of two active little boys. Her boys and great food are her passion. Check her out at

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