One of the first steps towards cooking healthier at home starts with keeping a well-stocked arsenal of spices. First things first: this does not refer to the jars that have been sitting at the back of your cupboard for the past decade. Spices will last for a few years when stored securely in a cool, dry place (check the packaging for an expiration date), but if they are older than that they lose their flavor and do little more than take up space in your pantry.
Once your spring-cleaning is complete and you’ve tossed your age-old spices, head to the grocery store to stock up on a fresh supply. There is no need to buy every item in the spice aisle; instead, there are a few essentials that will become your new go-to weapons in the kitchen. Our favorite ones - the essentials - fall under the category of “Moroccan spices,” which includes cinnamon, allspice, cumin, coriander, cardamom, ginger, paprika, turmeric and white pepper.
This collection of seasonings can be used, either in combination or individually, to bring big flavor into your kitchen. What’s more? They each boast a wealth of health benefits. This particular recipe for Moroccan Red Lentil Soup uses ginger, turmeric, cumin and paprika.
Related: Healthy packed lunch idea - Quinoa & Veggie Sweet Potato Salad
Ginger and turmeric, which come from the same family of flowering plants (Zingiberaceae) have a wide array of potential health benefits, such as aiding in digestion, providing anti-inflammatory properties and supporting a strong immune system to help fight colds and flus. You can use turmeric and ginger in either their powdered or fresh forms, but just remember the powdered type is more intense in flavor, so use less of it if fresh is called for, or conversely, more of the fresh flesh if powdered is called for.
In addition to turmeric and ginger, cumin and paprika bring some zest and heat to the soup, which help create a really tasty dish without an excessive use of salt. Also, a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice at the end of cooking helps brighten the soup and marry all of the ingredients together without the extra sodium.
In addition to all of these nutritious ingredients, fiber-packed lentils make the soup base, which are a good source of protein and make for a satisfying vegetarian meal.
Another delicious soup idea: Nourishing Ginger & Broccoli Soup
Play around with the combination of spices in this soup, adding ground coriander to the mix or swapping back pepper for white pepper (which packs more heat). Once you become more familiar with these flavor profiles, you’ll see their potential use is nearly endless.
Serve the soup alongside a fresh green salad and some lightly toasted pita for a crowd-pleasing dinner, or simply eat on its own for a light but satiating meal.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 cups red lentils, rinsed and drained
6 cups water
Juice of 2 lemons
In a large stockpot over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add onion, garlic and carrot; sauté 5 minutes. Stir in salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric, paprika and ginger; cook another minute. To pot, add water and lentils; bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are fully cooked, 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove soup from heat, squeeze in the lemon juice and serve immediately. Alternatively, allow soup to cool, store in an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days.
Serves 6-8 (and makes for fantastic leftovers!)