Enhance your Vegetarian Meals with Spices

By Marcus Samuelsson

There are many ways to incorporate more vegetarian dishes into your diet. Last week I shared ways to eat better according to the US Department of Health's Dietary Guidelines.

Check out last week's post for hearty whole-grain and vegetable combinations for filling yet low-calorie dinners. A great way to mix up the flavors of your regular week night meal is to use spices.

In order to build great flavor in a vegetarian dish, I use African, Middle Eastern, and Indian spices. Berbere from Ethiopia, za'atar from the Middle East, and garam masala from India all bring unique and special flavors to vegetarian food. Vegetarian food can try to approximate the taste of meat, but I think these spices work best when they emphasize the great qualities of the vegetables themselves. Draw out the sweetness and bitterness of root vegetables with a little chili; highlight the wonderful nutty aromas of wild grains with green herbs like cilantro.

In my Warm Cabbage and Green Beans dish, the spices are the star of the show. The spices enhance two vegetables we often over look for a winning, Ethiopian-inspired meal.

The nutrition guidelines suggest that "vegetarian-style eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes"-eating vegetarian is linked with lower risks for heart disease in particular. Sometimes, I just need a brief break from meat eating and seek refuge in a vegetarian night-off. Vegetarian dinners certainly don't have to be flavorless though. Creating original combinations of spices and using ingredients like peanuts to add protein and texture make vegetarian dishes exciting and fun.