Use spices and herbs instead of salt

Can you tell me which herbs and spices are best for vegetables? I’ve always seasoned with salt, but now I want to reduce my salt intake.

I’ll start with my first salt-free cooking tip, which I developed after removing the salt shaker from my stove a few years ago. Keep a good peppermill, filled with mustard seeds, within arms’ reach from your stovetop. Two or three grinds add just the zing needed to enhance cooked vegetables. White or yellow mustard seeds are available in the supermarket spice section. I’ve started blending in brown mustard seeds from a specialty food store – 2 parts white seeds to 1 part brown seeds. Here are some other ideas:

Seasonal vegetables
I serve lightly cooked, fresh asparagus spears with fresh tarragon leaves in a citrus vinaigrette. Fresh-squeezed orange juice works best, with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil. Grind a pinch of black pepper into the vinaigrette.

Fresh basil leaves were born to be paired with vine-ripened tomatoes, zucchini or eggplant. Add fresh garlic or garlic chives to that combo for a summer garden flavor experience.

Fresh mint leaves punctuate the flavor of green peas, snow peas or sugar snap peas perfectly. And whenever you combine corn kernels with green or red peppers, be sure to round out the flavor with fresh cilantro.

Something’s missing from summer potato dishes without chopped fresh parsley, and you can always snip some fresh dill to toss with cucumbers, yogurt and black pepper.

All-purpose fresh flavorings
A magic flavor-booster for any vegetable is sliced fresh scallions; they perk up a salad fresh from the cutting board or add a garden glow to any cooked vegetable.

Freshly ground black pepper is my recommended finishing touch for salads and vegetables. Be sure to use black peppercorns: white pepper is used for cooking — it is too potent for table use.

Minced garlic cloves with extra-virgin olive oil will transform any vegetable into a Mediterranean feast; toss into cooked pasta and shredded Pecorino Romano cheese for an irresistible meal.

When to use dried herbs and spices

Dried herbs and spices
I prefer to use dried herbs and spices on vegetables during autumn and winter. Thyme leaves are the signature flavor for potato and vegetable chowders, and no hearty stew vegetables should simmer without the fragrant essence of bay leaves. (Be sure to remove the stiff leaf from the stew before serving.)

Ground dry spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and mace, add a rich counterpoint to the sweet, beta-carotene-packed flesh of acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkins, yams and sweet potatoes. Sweeten the pot with a few drops of honey or maple syrup, or a more subtle sprinkling of raisins, craisins (dried cranberries) or dried cherries.

Commercial salt substitutes
Finally, if you find yourself in a time crunch, you rely on salt substitutes like Mrs. Dash, McCormick and others. Every supermarket spice rack features brand-name spice mixtures that are salt-free. Fortunately, most of their ingredient lists contain food – not chemicals – but you should always check to make sure you’re getting natural ingredients. These mixes are available in a variety of flavors to suit your palate. Keep a few jars on your spice shelf for flavor enhancement … in a pinch.

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