Guest contributor, Sarah Leung

Many people use onion and garlic to add flavour to their cooking. But very few people know to use other herbs and spices to increase the depth of that flavour. In many traditional diets, herbs and spices are the essential ingredients that add complexity and unique flavours.

As a culinary food, herbs and spices have long been used as natural flavour enhancers. They are an important part of many traditional cuisines. For example, in Indian cooking, expect to find cumin, curry, turmeric, cardamon, cloves, pepper, nutmeg and mustard seeds in many dishes. In Chinese cooking you will often find five spice, coriander, star anise and Szechuan peppers. By adding even just one herb or spice it can take a dish to a different level, and therefore improve the taste and our eating experience of the meal.

Besides making food taste good, herbs and spices are also a very powerful natural medicine. Many herbs and spices are sources of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, essential oils and other phytochemicals (chemicals in plants that give it smell, colour and health benefits for human). Most of them have synergistic effects and work better when used together. While you don’t eat herbs and spices by the kilo, using them regularly as part of your dietary pattern may help to improve your health a little bit at a time. Next time when you cook a meal, I encourage you to think of at least two herbs and spices to use in your next cooking.

In Vietnamese cooking, herbs and spices give the dish punch and makes the food healthy and delicious. In the Star Ingredientseries, I will talk about different herbs and spices as well as other most common ingredients that are used in Vietnamese foods. Today, let’s start with coriander, ginger, lemongrass and chilli.

Coriander

While the seed (roasted) is widely used in Indian cooking, the leaves are more commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking including Vietnamese food. You will find coriander in pretty much in every dish such as bun and banh mi. Traditionally, coriander seed combined with cardamon, anise, caraway and fennel are used for indigestion and other gastrointestinal problems. Unfortunately, the strong grassy flavour of coriander is not everybody’s cup of tea. It is a love it or hate it kind of herb.

How to use

•   Chop up a small bunch as garnish for a stir fry

•   Add a bunch into soup

•   Chop up a bunch and mix in to a toss salad

How to store

•   Rinse and dry the herb using a salad/herb spinner and kitchen towel

•   Place in a tall jar and fill the bottom with inch of water

•   Use a plastic bag or zip lock bag to cover the herb from the top so that the herb is not exposed to too much air

•   Keep it refrigerated and it can last for 1-1.5 weeks

Ginger

Apparently in 13th-14th Century England, one pound of ginger cost the same as a sheep!! Ginger is widely used in Asian cooking and is a very popular herbal medicine in traditional Chinese medicine. The heating nature of the herb is used to help with stimulating circulation, treating gastrointestinal conditions and very popularly used as an anti-nausea agent.

How to use

•   Cut into slices and cook in soups i.e. soup base for pho

•   Cut into strips and put into stir fry

•   Grating and use in marinade for beef, pork, prawns, lamb and chicken

How to store

•   Place whole ginger root in a zip lock bag and push all the air out

•   Keep refrigerated

Chilli

Chilli is a zest and heat adding spice that puts fire on your tongue. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chilli and topical capsaicin has been researched and found to have a role in pain relief, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting. Chilli is part of the capsicum pepper family and one of the most concentrated vitamin C vegetables. Just four average sized chillies contain more vitamin C than a medium sized orange.

How to use

•   Chop and add into stir fry, stews or saute vegetables

•   Add minced chilli as a condiment in yoghurt for a dip

•   Make chilli paste by combining with ginger, garlic and coriander

How to store

•   Fresh chilli can be stored in the fridge. If you buy it in bulk, place them in the freezer and use as you needed

Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a widely used culinary herb in Asian cooking and a herbal medicine in India. The citrus fragrance makes it perfect in soups, teas and curries. You can use lemongrass dried, fresh or in powder form as a marinade for chicken, beef, pork or seafoods. It is also a natural insect repellent offering some protection from lice, ticks, fleas and mosquitoes.

How to use

•   Mince lemongrass, garlic, shallots to marinate pork, beef, chicken or prawns

•   Whole lemongrass with vegetables to make a soup base

•   Dried lemongrass with lemon and honey in tea

How to store

•   Wash lemongrass thoroughly, trim and chop it into small pieces

•   Place in zip lock bag and store in the fridge or freezer


About Sarah

Sarah is a holistic nutritionist and dietitian. She is an advocate for food as medicine and values traditional cooking and cuisines. As a busy owner of an award winning wellness centre, Healthy Energy in Glen Waverley, her mission is to inspire people to look after their health starting in the kitchen. Her philosophy for food and nutrition is to eat nourishing foods, enjoy and be grateful for every bite.

As a Vietnamese food fanatic, Sarah’s favourite Rolld dish is lemongrass beef bun. To find out more about Sarah, find her on Instagram @capturingyumminess and @healthyenergy_nutrition.

website: www.healthyenergy.net.au

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  • Just found Rolld in Parramatta!! It’s about time you guys put the Vietnamese Cuisine out there amongst the others. Hope it is a huge success for you all.