Spice up your life

Use spices to keep the chill away and fight off winter colds.

Granola 311 (photo credit: Courtesy/MCT)
Granola 311
(photo credit: Courtesy/MCT)
My daughter tells me that it snowed today in New York where she is visiting, and the weatherman is predicting zero degree temperatures. I told her to enjoy it because it’s even colder than her destination – Xenia, Ohio – where zero is just the average temperature in April. Fortunately I’m here in Tel Aviv, where save for a few quick showers, the weather is glorious – and it’s already autumn.
If you haven’t already done so, autumn is a good time to add cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger to your shopping list – and to your cooking. Recent studies show what the ancients knew instinctively that cinnamon (kinamon in Hebrew) contains powerful antioxidants that can help treat colds and congestion and help reduce the risk of chronic diseases. I add a whole quill to rice and grain dishes, cider, chicken and meat dishes, and the ground spice in baked goods and curries.
Cloves (tziporen) occupy dual places in my home – in the kitchen and the medicine cabinet. Studies have shown that cloves contain more antioxidants than most other foods and contain anti-inflammatory and anticlotting properties.
Use a pinch of the ground spice or a few whole cloves in conjunction with cinnamon and nutmeg in cider and spiced baked goods, as well as stewed pears. And if you have a toothache or your gums are bothering you, rub a little of the ground spice on the affected area to kill the pain and germs.
Nutmeg (egoz muskat) can be purchased as ground or whole nuts. Nutmeg helps the digestion of fat and is traditionally added to lamb dishes, but a scrape or two of the nut is enough to upgrade any dish such as Indian-style rice and is delicious in cider.
Many years ago I read that nutmeg can relax and promote sleep, especially when added to warm milk (or other calcium-containing drinks) and I have used the combination together with a little cinnamon and honey for flavor ever since, when either one of my girls or I have suffered from restless nights.
Ginger (zangvil) has been used by both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to alleviate nausea, and it is beneficial to the immune system, helping to cope with the onset of cold-weather ills and chills. Use the freshly grated root in vegetable dishes, soups, in tea with honey and to add an Asian flavor to most anything, especially stir-fries.
This week I’d like to share one of my favorite recipes with you – a granola that you can make in a frying pan. There are many ready-made granolas on the market, but like everything else (especially breakfast cereals) they are very expensive and offer little value for money. In addition, most of them are too sugarsweetened for my taste, contain heated oils, artificial flavor enhancers in the dried fruit and ingredients you may want to avoid.
On the other hand, the traditional way of making homemade granola is rather time-consuming. Preheating the oven is necessary as is frequent stirring or shaking the contents of the pan for even browning. I used to do it once in a while, but I never actually enjoyed the process until I invented “frying pan granola” with no added fat as an answer to a request to create a healthy super-breakfast muesli or granola-type dish for a TV show. The only catch was – no oven!
Since then, my maple syrup-sweetened frying pan granola is in high demand around my house, and I’ve created a far less expensive, healthier version of the commercial product that I can vary according to my daughters’ desires and what I have on hand in my pantry. It’s fun to make and even tastier.
For best results, use the largest, widest non-stick frying pan you have so the oats can toast in a thin, even layer. If not, you may have to do it in two batches.
You’ll may want to turn on some music while you stir the oats often so they just turn golden but don’t brown. Use medium-low heat and be patient. Once they are toasted, the rest of the process takes just a few minutes. You’ll love the results.
✔ 3 cups rolled oats ✔ 4-5 Tbsp. shredded coconut ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon ✔ 1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped pecans ✔ 1⁄4 cup almonds ✔ 3-4 Tbsp. real maple syrup or agave ✔ 1⁄3 cup raisins or mixed raisins and cranberries ✔ 1⁄4 – 1⁄3 cup wheat germ ✔ Options: sesame, sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds
Spread the oats in an even layer in a large non-stick frying pan and toast over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, till just golden and crispy.
Add the cinnamon, coconut, nuts and any seeds if desired, and toast, stirring about 2-3 minutes. Lower heat.
Pour in the maple syrup equally and continue stirring for 2-3 minutes till the oats are dry. Add the raisins and wheat germ. When fully cooled, store in an air-tight jar in the refrigerator.(If not adding wheat germ, granola may be stored at room temperature.)