Spice up your life with these superfoods

Spring is just around the corner — a perfect time to spruce up your spice rack and fortify your pantry with superfoods. 

1. Walnuts: These banana bread staples are filled with heart- and brain-boosting compounds. A single serving provides a day’s worth of alpha-linoleic acid, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease and dementia. Walnuts also have high levels of vitamin E, fiber and healthy fats.

2. Turmeric: Besides delivering an exotic floral aroma to dishes like hummus and chicken tagine, this yellow-orange spice is chock-full of antioxidants and helps fight inflammation.

3. Black rice: Also known as “forbidden rice,” black rice can be used in any recipe calling for white or brown rice. It contains high levels of antioxidants, fiber, vitamin E and natural compounds called anthocyanins, which can help lower cholesterol.

4. Cardamom: This ancient Indian spice gives chai tea its unique flavor and has a host of health benefits: It’s anti-inflammatory and contains oils with antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties. 

5. Hemp seeds: With plenty of protein in each serving (10 grams per ounce) and all 10 essential amino acids (including the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are difficult for vegans to find in whole-food form), mildly flavored hemp seeds can add nutritional oomph to smoothies, salads and baked goods.

6. Seaweed: Boasting a bevvy of minerals and vitamins including B12 and iodine (both important for metabolic and nerve cell health), kelp — a common type of seaweed — is one of the most sustainable crops in existence. Enjoy it in its dried form (nori) for a savory snack.

7. Lentils: These low-cost legumes are high in fiber and protein, fat-free, and take on the flavors of any herbs and spices added during cooking. 

Celebrate Shavuot With Spring Harvest

When I was growing up, two types of food were usually associated with the holiday of Shavuot. There were the dairy dishes — blintzes, knishes, noodle kugels and, of course, cheesecake. Most of us remember them from our childhood, but they were always laden with cream, butter and cheese, and may not appeal to our diet today.

The second group reminds us of the harvest, and includes wheat, barley, lentils, spring vegetables, honey and the traditional first fruits of the season.

This year I have planned a menu for my family Shavuot dinner using many of the foods in the second category. The recipes are designed for six, but may be doubled, and can be prepared in advance.

I always include Harvest Wheat Rolls for the holiday. They carry out the harvest theme and are a perfect accompaniment for the Lentil Soup, that is accented with rich vegetable flavors and topped with olive oil. Don’t forget to serve a bowl of honey to spoon on the rolls.

Harvest Wheat Rolls

2 cups whole wheat flour

3 cups unbleached flour

1 package active dry yeast

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup warm water

1/4 cup olive oil or safflower oil

2 tablespoons honey

1 cup peeled, grated carrots

2 eggs

1/4 cup yellow corn meal

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Combine the flours. Place 2 cups of flour mixture, yeast and salt in bowl of an electric mixer. Heat water, oil and honey in a saucepan until very warm, 115 F to 120 F. Add water mixture to flour mixture, beating until well blended. Beat in one egg, carrots and 2 cups of flour mixture to make a soft dough. Turn dough onto floured board and knead for 5-10 minutes, adding remaining flour to make a smooth and elastic dough. Place dough in an oiled bowl and oil the top. Cover with towel and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours.

Line baking sheet with foil; brush with oil and sprinkle with corn meal. Break off small pieces of dough (about 30) forming each piece into a long rope, twist into a knot and place on prepared baking sheet. Cover with towel and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Beat remaining egg and brush the top of rolls. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake at 350 F for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes about 30 rolls.

Lentil Soup

1 1/2 cups lentils

2 bay leaves, crumbled

1/4 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, finely chopped

1 parsnip, peeled, finely chopped

4 carrots, peeled, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely sliced

1/2 cup minced parsley

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried

4 tomatoes, peeled, finely diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon each, minced parsley, green onions and basil leaves

Olive Oil for garnish

Soak lentils in 4 cups water six hours or overnight. Drain lentils and place in large pot with 8 cups warm water and bay leaves. Bring to boil, then simmer 20-25 minutes or until tender.

Heat butter and olive oil in large saucepan. Add garlic, onion, parsnip, carrots, celery and parsley. Saute 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add rosemary and tomatoes. Simmer 10 minutes.

Drain lentils, returning liquid to large pot. Remove bay leaves. Add 2 cups drained lentils to garlic mixture and mix well.

Place remaining drained lentils in food processor or blender with 1/2 cup reserved liquid and puree. Add pureed lentils and lentils with garlic mixture to pot with reserved liquid. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring to boil and simmer until soup thickens, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Ladle into serving bowl. Sprinkle parsley, green onions and basil and drizzle with olive oil.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (William Morrow & Co, 1999) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (William Morrow & Co, 1999). Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.