Tag Archives: spice

Ginger Masala Chai Worthy of a New York Winter

chai-tea-e-liquidI recently moved to New York City from California and am (ahem) “enjoying” my first real winter here. Let the wuss jokes begin!

It’s alright. I’m laughing at myself, too. Born and raised in California, used to being fairly tan, gets cold easily, loves sunshine so much she’s basically part lizard… Yep, that’s me. Now instead of donning a windbreaker for misty San Francisco mornings or wearing a hat for fun in the 60 degree Los Angeles winter sun, I’m learning the art of boots, down coats, ear muffs, long johns and mittens. Endless mittens. See you next April, world, because I am officially 75% clothing right now, and I can barely see over my scarf.

It’s going to be a long winter.

In all honesty, though, I love autumn and winter. I love the snow; I love the holidays; I love the feeling of warming up after being cold. It probably has something to do with a nesting instinct. One of the most beloved memories I have from childhood is making nests with my big sister on rainy days and sick days. When it was miserable, grey and raining outside, or when we were stuck in the house with colds and fevers, my sister would orchestrate a grand “nesting.” We’d pile tons of blankets and pillows on the ground, arranged in little cup-shaped seats like an egg carton. And then we’d hop inside the nest with a box of Nilla wafers and tea and watch a Disney movie to pass the time. Pure joy.

I still make nests of sorts, as does she, both literally and figuratively. Sans actual blankets and pillows, I just love making people feel warm, comfortable, and cared for. In any kind of weather, there’s little I love more than bringing people together around a table for delicious food and loving company. But this is a particularly important practice during the cold and dark months when our souls really need that extra swaddling. And many traditional winter recipes do the trick of warming us inside out.

Case in point, spice-infused recipes. This season you’re undoubtedly enjoying foods flavored with all kinds of spices, whether you know it or not. Butternut squash soup, gingerbread cookies, curries and stews, applesauce, etc. Winter recipes tend to incorporate many different spices, for several reasons. In Ayurveda, the winter season is associated with exacerbated Vata qualities, which are best assuaged through warming foods. This can be literally hot foods (like soup, hot cereal and warm drinks) and/or through warm-ing foods, made invigorating through the use of spice.

Even outside of Ayurveda, there’s a very practical reason to eat more spice during the winter. It’s cold, there’s a bug going around, you’re sniffly and sick…Voilà, spices curb cold and flu symptoms! Ginger, for instance, is an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial. It can help boost your immune system, loosen mucus, open your sinuses, and relieve sore throats. That’s a lot for one little root!

Keeping the health benefits in mind, as well as the essential need for warming and nesting that we all experience during this season, I offer you chai.

“Masala chai” is the Hindi term for a drink made with black tea, milk, and lots of spice. It is a drink that has been consumed in South Asia for centuries and is traditionally much less sweet and much more spicy than what you’d get at your local coffee shop. I can’t necessarily vouch for the total authenticity of my recipe, as I’ve never been to India, but I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Ginger Masala Chai

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

2 cups of milk (I like organic whole milk, but soy, almond, or oat work as well)

2 cups of water

3 tablespoons of loose leaf, unflavored black tea (the stronger the better; I like Darjeeling)

1/4 teaspoon Wakaya Perfection ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of saffron

2 whole, crushed up cardamom cloves

3 teaspoons of Turbinado sugar (or Agave, honey, etc)

Instructions:

Get two saucepans going on the stove on medium heat. Pour the milk in one and the water in the other. You’ll need to work in both pots simultaneously. As the milk begins to warm, add the pinch of saffron, pressing it between your fingertips gently before dropping it in the saucepan.

Once the water in the other pot begins to boil, add the loose tea leaves and reduce to a low simmer. Let steep 3-5 minutes. While you’re waiting, add the sugar to the milk and stir until it dissolves. Once the tea is ready, place a strainer over the milk and strain the tea water into the milk saucepan. Now you’re working in just one pot.

Start building the spice. Add the ginger, cinnamon and any other spices you want to the pot, saving the cardamon to the side for the end. You can try the chai to see if it has the right spice/sugar ratio, and adjust until it’s just right. Bring the pot to a boil, and as it begins to bubble up, throw the cardamon in and turn the heat off right away. The chai will stew for a second, cooling down slightly, and the cardamon will infuse the drink just enough without overpowering it.

Serve in two mugs and enjoy! Stay warm, everyone!

The Benefits of Turmeric: Salvation from the Spice Rack

Turmeric_main_0127Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme may be most famous for their uses as flavorings (and musical inspiration), but herbs and spices do much, much more than kick our food up a notch. Many common plants that we use to flavor and season—coriander and cardamom, basil and bay, cayenne and caraway, saffron and sassafras—actually have properties that do far more than tantalize our taste buds. Turmeric, a peppery spice belonging to the ginger family that makes frequent appearances in earthy Indian and Southeast Asian
cooking, is renowned for its myriad benefits beyond the stove top. Formore than four thousand years, it’s been used in cosmetics, textiles, and medicines. In India, women rub bright yellow turmeric powder on their faces and bodies to achieve a golden glow. It’s a common coloring agent in mustard, cheese, and butter. And thanks to a host of new studies and clinical observations, scientists are discovering that turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, with some astounding effects:

  • Studies at the University of Texas found that curcumin (the active compound in turmeric) inhibited the growth of melanoma and slowed the spread of breast cancer.
  • Since turmeric is an important component of curry, some doctors theorize that increased consumption of the spice is one reason why the rate of Alzheimer’s disease is so low in India—about one-quarter that of the United States.
  • Research in Italy determined that osteoarthritis sufferers who supplemented their medication with a turmeric-based compound saw a 58 percent decrease in pain and stiffness.
  • According to the University of Maryland, turmeric helped patients with ulcerative colitis remain in remission.
  • Animal studies have found that turmeric caused test subjects’ blood sugar and cholesterol levels to drop.
  • In patients with the eye disease uveitis, treatment with curcumin was as effective as standard steroid treatment in reducing the inflammation.
  • In Chinese and ayurvedic medicine, turmeric has been used to aid digestion, cleanse the liver, and even regulate the menstrual cycle.
  • Research at the University of South Dakota determined that cancer cells that were exposed to curcumin were later more responsive to chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Turmeric may stall the progress of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis. In countries such as India and China, where turmeric consumption is high, these diseases are very rare. Tests at Vanderbilt University Medical Center determined that when mice with the disease were injected with a dose of curcumin equivalent to a moderate human dose, their symptoms went away.
  • In many traditional medicines, a paste made from turmeric powder is applied to the skin in order to soothe and heal discomfort from eczema, psoriasis, and allergies.
  • Turmeric is a thermogenic spice, which can help with weight loss. Spicy plants (like ginger, cayenne, and peppers) incite the body to boost metabolism and thereby burn calories.

If you’re not a curry lover, fear not—most health-food stores sell turmeric powder in capsule form. Loose turmeric powder or liquid forms of the spice can be included in earthy soups and sauces, steeped like a tea, or added to milk or rice.

Of course, no responsible doctor suggests discontinuing a prescribed course of medication in favor of a turmeric-only regimen. Always employ natural or complementary methods in conjunction with a doctor’s planned course of treatment, and always discuss any additional nutritional supplements with your own physician before taking them.

More studies are needed to confirm whether turmeric really is a wonder spice, but much anecdotal evidence points to what traditional medicine has suggested for years: that when ingested regularly, turmeric can keep the doctor—as well as a wide variety of other problems—far, far away.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Carol Mitchell

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