Spice up your meals

Recipe: Spice-crusted pork chops with balsamic-thyme reduction

June 24, 2011|Melissa Tewes and Joe Fleischman | Your Health Matters
  • Adding spices to an everyday cut of meat, such as this spice-crusted pork chops with balsamic-thyme jus, is one way to liven-up flavor without adding fat. See Joe Fleischman's recipe at right.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Everyone enjoys eating flavorful foods. Did you know by using herbs and spices, you can perk up the flavor without adding unwanted fat, sugar, calories and sodium?

Experimenting with herbs and spices is an easy way to turn a bland meal into a colorful and flavorful dish that is not only appealing to the taste, but also offers a meal that looks great and offers a hearty aroma.  

Herbs and spices are full of flavor, yet contain no calories and are often loaded with disease-fighting nutrients called phytochemicals. They certainly come in handy when you are on a therapeutic diet that calls for cutting the fat, sugar and sodium from your diet.  

By adding different seasonings to food, people are often more likely to try new foods and might even increase their intake of healthful items such as fish, poultry and vegetables.  

Pairing herbs and spices with food is not an exact science; try experimenting. If you want to stay on the safe side to start, try the following:

  •  Basil added to vegetables, Italian dishes and anything with tomatoes.
  •  Bay leaves can be added to soups and stews or anything that cooks for a long period of time.
  •  Cilantro adds zing to Mexican and Spanish cuisine.
  •  Fresh dill is a great compliment to seafood, chicken, yogurt, cucumbers and tomatoes.
  •  Sage and thyme are great to flavor poultry.
  •  Add tarragon to chicken, fish or eggs.
  •  Chives and parsley mix well with salads and cold dishes.
  •  If cooking chicken, fish, lamb, pork, potatoes or stew, try tossing in some rosemary.
  •  Add tumeric to Southeast Asian recipes such as curries, soups, rice and lentil dishes.
  •  Cinnamon is not only used for sweet dishes and fancy coffee drinks but also adds a different flavor to chicken, seafood and lamb.
  • Try the following tips when experimenting with herbs and spices:
  •  Add fresh herbs at the end of the cooking process. They can also be added after savory foods are cooked, just before serving.
  •  When using fresh herbs, be sure to chop them very finely to maximize flavor potential.
  •  Add dried herbs in the beginning of the cooking process

 The amount of herbs and spices a recipes calls for is referring to dried herbs/spices, unless otherwise specified. If you choose to use powdered or fresh herbs or spices, use the following rule of thumb: 1/4 teaspoon powder equals 3/4 teaspoon dried or 2 teaspoons fresh herbs or spices.

 Avoid overwhelming a dish by combining too many strong flavored herbs and spices. Try combining one stronger flavored herb with one mildly flavored herb.

 Fresh herbs should be stored in the refrigerator, in a glass of water as you would store fresh flowers

 Dried herbs should be stored in a cool, dry and dark place. Although the most convenient place to store them, above a stove or oven is not the best location to preserve flavor and freshness.

  Replace dried herbs after about a year. If you rub the herbs between your fingertips and cannot smell them, it is time to replace them. You may try dating them when you purchase to remind yourself to renew your supply.

 Try using a small amount of herbs and spices with more lightly flavored foods such as seafood, eggs and white sauces. Heartier foods such as beef and pork usually require more herbs and spices, since they tend to be stronger in flavor.

 Try combining your favorite herbs and spices and adding them to a bottle of olive oil to create a flavored oil.

 Combine various herbs and spices to create all kinds of great rubs such as lemon peel with minced garlic and cracked pepper for a citrus rub or cumin, brown sugar, garlic powder and onion powder for a barbecue rub. You don't need a recipe, instead  try combining flavors that compliment each other.

Melissa Tewes is the clinical nutrition manager at Meritus Medical Center. She has 16 years of experience as a registered dietitian and is also a certified personal trainer.

Spicing up the chops

For thousands of years, societies have traded, bartered, worshipped and even gone to war over spices.  
Not only did the spice trade help develop shipping routes and colonize the New World, it was one of the most dominant forces behind the economic success of most civilizations throughout history.  
As important as spices are to world history, they are equally as important in your kitchen. The wide variety available in any supermarket can transform the ordinary weeknight dinner into a trip around the world with just a few shakes of the container.  

 Joe Fleischman is executive chef at Meritus Medical Center. He has 20 years of experience as a professional chef, culinary instructor and speaker.

Spice-crusted pork chops with balsamic-thyme reduction
For the pork chops:
1/4 cup Meritus Mix spice blend (See recipe below)
4 bone-in pork chops
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the balsamic-thyme reduction:
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped shallots
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place pork chops on flat work surface, sprinkle liberally with spice blend. Place oil in nonstick skillet, heat until almost smoking. Place chops in skillet and sear on both sides for approximately 3 minutes or until well-browned. Transfer chops to oven safe dish and bake until chops reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Keep warm.
Drain oil from chop skillet and add garlic and shallots, sauté over medium heat until aromatic and cooked through. Add balsamic vinegar and chicken stock, reduce by half. Add thyme and cook for 1 minute longer, add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer chops to serving platter and spoon sauce over chops. Serve.
Serves 4.

Meritus Mix
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup sea salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup curry powder
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup ground cumin
2 tablespoons black pepper, ground
1/4 cup granulated garlic
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons onion powder

Mix spices well and store in air tight container for up to 3 months. Makes 2 cups

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