Golightly Gourmet: Spice up your life and your health

By Dana Zia

For as long as cooks have been putting food to flame, herbs and spices have been there adding flavors and aromas.  We take them for a grain of salt (pun intended) but spices are serious stuff. In their day, the spice trade was the world’s most vibrant industry. It established and destroyed empires, started wars, and led to the discovery of new continents. In their own little way, spices helped forge the modern world. We’re talking serious stuff.


Spices are easy and cheap to buy now but one time, long ago, nutmeg was worth more than gold. The spice trade began from the Middle East to Europe over 4,000 years ago with camels plodding through harsh conditions to get the precious cargo to buyers.  Whoever controlled the spice route were the powerful and rich. Consequently, all the countries of Europe were always scrambling to find new ways of reaching the Orient to tap into that lucrative spice trade.


Because of this drive to tantalize the taste buds of Europe, Christopher Columbus stumbled into America. Even though he was pleased to find a new country, he was disappointed not to find India, the land of the peppercorn. So along with the fruits and vegetables that he brought back to Spain, he also brought back chills and called them “peppers”  and to this day we call them chili peppers.


Spices not only excite our taste buds and international commerce but are composed of an impressive list of phyto-nutrients, essential oils, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that are essential for overall wellness. They were used since people walked the earth for healing and health.  They have been used for many a malady but some of the most well know uses are for anti-inflammation, digestive aid, cardiovascular health and to stimulate the immune system.


Not only are spices good for us but they add so much life to otherwise bland food. One of the best ways to keep yourself enthused about cooking and experimenting in the kitchen is to try a new spice. As far as I’m concerned, anything that keeps you out of the clutches of pizza or processed foods definitely counts as a health benefit.


I suggest mixing up a few spice blends and keeping them handy while cooking in the kitchen. It is as easy as falling off a slippery log and brings vibrancy to your cooking. (And will make you look like a “seasoned” chef)  I recommend getting your spices at Mother Nature’s in the bulk section. Their spices selection is impressive and inexpensive. Here are a few of my favorite spice blends that I keep on hand at all times. Remember this is fun and healthy, spice up your life!


My favorite spice mix, AKA Middle Eastern medley

I love love love this blend mixed with crushed garlic and olive oil then rubbed onto a whole chicken before you roast it. Amazing! Also crazy delicious on roast veggies.


1 TBLS of ground cumin

1 TBLS of curry powder

1 TBLS of smoked paprika

OR 1 TBLS of chili powder

1 TBLS of fennel seeds

1 tsp of ground black pepper

1/2 TBLS of ground allspice

1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon

Measure all the ingredients and put in a pint jar and shake up. Have fun with it.


Mexican Spice Blend

Need I say what this is good in?

2 TBLS of ground cumin

2 TBLS of ground chili powder

2 TBLS of sweet or smoked paprika

2 TBLS of dried oregano

1 TBLS of garlic powder

1 tsp of chipotle chili powder

Measure all the ingredients and put in a pint jar and shake up. Have fun with it.


Umami mushroom magic blend

This is my signature blend that is completely addicting. I make large batches of it and give it out for gifts and use it on everything. I like to make it with our very own dried king bolete mushrooms but any dried mushroom will do. Costco has large containers of them last time I checked. This is a salt substitute so remember that when you use it!


3 ounces of dried mushrooms or your choice

1 cup of kosher salt

3 TBLS of red pepper flakes

2 TBLS of dried thyme

2 TBLS of sesame seeds

1 TBLS of smoked or sweet paprika

1 TBLS of ground black pepper


Get ready to make mushroom powder! Measure out your dried mushrooms and dump them in the food processor or industrial blender (like a Vitamix) and pulse a few times to chop them up uniformly. (If the lid of your food processor isn’t on tight, a fine mist of mushroom dust will erupt from the crack, so check the seal before you continue blitzing.) Next, turn the processor on for 2 minutes or as long as it takes for the mushrooms to break down into a fine powder. (If you use a super-charged blender like a Vitamix, you’ll finish in less time.)


Warning: Do not open the container immediately after switching off your processor. A mushroom cloud will literally explode out of the top and you’ll find yourself coughing up Magic Mushroom Powder for the next few minutes. Instead, be patient and let the powder settle before you open it. Believe me. After everything settles down, open the lid of the processor and dump into a medium bowl and add the rest of the spices, herbs and salt then mix.