March 3, 2022

Uncommon Spices You Should Add to Your Pantry

Show Notes

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Shanthi Appelö, registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Together, they discuss what uncommon spices you should consider adding to your pantry.

In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:

  • Shanthi’s method for discovering new spices
  • Experimenting with spices in your dishes
  • Shanthi’s top spices to try that aren’t common
  • Unusual food pairings that work really well together

Transcript

Chuck Gaidica:
This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast Episode 101. Coming up, we explore uncommon spices you may want to consider adding to your pantry.

Chuck Gaidica:
Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast, the podcast dedicated to navigating how we can improve our health and wellbeing through small healthy habits we can start right now. I’m your host Chuck Gaidica, and every other week we’ll sit down with a certified expert and discuss topics that cover nutrition and fitness and a whole lot more. On this episode, we’re going to dive into the deep end into spices and even herbs. You may have heard of why you should consider adding some of this stuff into your cooking regimen, but we want to really find out what’s going on. We know it’s going to taste good, but what’s the point. With us today is registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Shanthi Appelo. Good to have you back, Shanthi.

Shanthi Appelö:
Good morning. Good to be back.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, I know you’ve got such deep experience in nutrition and even behavior and public health, but this is a personal thing for you because I know you enjoy cooking as well. Do you enjoy flavoring foods? Are you one of those people that puts in things and you love what comes out the other side, even if you don’t quite know where you were starting?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. I’m one of those people who just finds cooking, regardless if I’m by myself, romantic. I’m like, ah, I just want to smell the spices and touch all of it.

Chuck Gaidica:
Interesting.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, and it’s a good way for us to kick off this month because March is National Nutrition Month and the theme is, Celebrate a World of Flavors. So this embraces global cultures, cuisines inclusion, and it gives every culture kind of a place at the table, which it sounds delightful just on the face of it, right? So we want to celebrate exploring spices from different regions and why they are worthwhile having in our pantry. So explain the romance to us, educate us.

Shanthi Appelö:
Well, I think when you start exploring so many different spices, and when you kind of experiment in using them in different ways rather than just the ground spice, it just brings this element of excitement to cooking. So I recently went to Italy and I went to this cooking class, and I actually found out it’s called bruschetta and not bruschetta, mind blown number one. But something that the teacher did was that she put some oregano in her hand and rubbed it into kind of the dish of the tomatoes. There’s something about that act that just puts you kind of in deeper contact with the food. It’s kind of that act of romance even if you’re by yourself. So really enjoyed that, and she did that just to bring out more of those flavors of the oregano. I think that’s something we can apply to cooking in so many different ways. If we can just add one or two minutes of our time to bringing out more flavors out of something, it can be not only tasty, but it can also just be really fun.

Chuck Gaidica:
Was this fresh oregano, by the way? Was this something that you could actually smell it as this person was doing this?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. So she did have some fresh oregano, but you could do it with dried too, because it does still have those essential oils that are brought out. They’re kind of activated by the act of rubbing there.

Chuck Gaidica:
But you know, when you talk about spices for some of us, we will go out of our way to find fresh herbs or spices and use them, or closer to fresh. Then, for others, this is something they got as a Christmas gift in a spice rack five years ago, and they’re just shaking it in because the recipe calls for it. But the love that you’re talking about this, I guess it’s almost like creating the masterpiece, which by itself is probably helpful, right? That you are creating something that’s not just spaghetti dinner or whatever it is.

Shanthi Appelö:
Right. Right. Well, you make a good point with the spices that you got five years ago. Something important to note with spices and making them taste the best is that they do have an expiration date, especially with ground spices. When they are in their ground form, of course, they’re going to have more surface area than if they’re in their full form, like a seed, for example. So having that exposure just kind of can decrease the potency, they lose a lot of those essential oils. You can also tell by the color sometimes, for example, paprika is known for its super bright color, but if it’s been in your pantry for a few years, it might lose some of that red color and then be more brown. So that’s when you know, it might not be as potent as it once was.

Chuck Gaidica:
So do you have a trick, a personal trick for keeping track of that? I mean, do you literally mark on something that you know what the date was? Or do you just kind of go by memory and look then that it’s cool to use it?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. I think something that I’ve started doing actually is switching to seeds rather than ground spices. You can buy as much as you need because at a lot of stores you can buy them in bulk. So I actually don’t like to have too many spices on hand because when that surface area is exposed to air, that those oils evaporate really rapidly. So I don’t want to have something sitting in there and go to waste. So if you do buy whole seeds rather than a ground spice, you are going to, not only get more flavor, but there’s less surface area exposed. A trick to using this, this is kind of what I talked about in the beginning there is roasting them first or toasting them first. So the heat is going to draw out some of those oils.

Shanthi Appelö:
So for example, you’ve got like a cumin seed, right? Cumins are really common spice in a lot of Mexican, a lot of Indian cooking, things like that. So all you do is just put it in a non, or you don’t even have to do a non-stick skillet, they’re not going to stick. But a non-greased skillet and let them toast for a couple minutes until you start smelling it, and then you just throw it in a mortar and pestle and grind it up. It’s just an explosion of flavors.

Chuck Gaidica:
That’s awesome. Well, and you’re kind of getting the bonus then of not only interacting with it front, but then you’ve got your mortar and pestle, which is, I mean, that sounds something that’s old school pharmacy, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
But it is kind of cool to have one of those in the house, because I brought one out and people will walk into the kitchen and say, “Well, what is that thing? What are you doing?”

Shanthi Appelö:
Right.

Chuck Gaidica:
It’s kind of a fun deal to talk about.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, and it just brings the excitement because you’re getting to smell the spices, and kind of imagine what they’re going to be like in the food too. So I love that.

Chuck Gaidica:
So is your method of discovery trying to keep things as fresh as possible? Do you like to surprise yourself with a new flavor? Talk about your personal interaction with these spices and herbs.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. So some of the ways that I like to discover them in general is traveling, definitely, but sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to do that. So going to different restaurants from different cultures is great. But I think talking to people from different cultures about food is going to be one of the best ways, because you can hear kind of the passion, you can hear about how they incorporate them. Then finally, something that I really enjoy doing is taking the master classes on cooking. So they have people from all kinds of different cultures that cook on there. I recently took a class on Middle Eastern cooking, and that was so exciting because I just got introduced to a whole new world of spices and flavors. So I think just talking to people is the best, and then you can learn little tidbits around the way. You can also just go to different types of stores that have kind of different spice. Oftentimes if you go to an Indian store or an Asian store, grocery store that is, they’ll have a lot of spices in bulk that you can buy too.

Chuck Gaidica:
I’ve got a friend who is in the travel business and of course they’ve come through quite a time in the past couple of years, but that’s all changing now. One of the biggest hits, he told me that they have, you mentioned Italy. If you go on a trip with them that they’ve planned to Italy, they purposefully for the idea of experiential travel. You don’t just go to a great restaurant one of the nights that you’re in Italy, you actually go behind the scenes and you help make pasta, or you help make the sauce, or you go with the Italian grandma and you’re making something. Then, you come back out the other side of the restaurant and you’re having your meal with everybody who’s on the tour or the trip. I thought, what a cool thing. He said, this is one of the number one reflective things on the trip tours that they get reflections back from, that people just love this idea that they immerse themselves in the cooking experience, and I’m thinking, well, sure. It sounds so great.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, and I think what you’re saying too, can just kind of awaken the passion for cooking yourself. Because you’re like, wow, this is actually really fun. Because I think oftentimes we can look at it as a task we have to do once we’re done with work, we’ve got to get all these things done at night. But if we kind of switch that mindset to this can be really exciting and kind of an experiment, then it makes it a little more fun.

Chuck Gaidica:
So you mentioned Middle Eastern foods and couple others, but is there anything you are currently experimenting with in your kitchen in addition to that?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yes. Okay. So one of the things that I’ve found in one of the master classes is called dukkah. So it is kind of an Egyptian nut seed spice mix. So it’s used for different things. It’s used for topping like different meats and fish and vegetables, and it can also be incorporated with oil as a dip. So essentially it includes a couple different nuts. You could do like hazelnuts and cashews. It also has some seeds, so white and black sesame seeds usually, and then the spices as well. So coriander and cumin are really common in the spice mixture, and part of that is toasting them first to bring out those flavors and then kind of all incorporating them in a mortar and pestle. It not only adds a lot of great flavor, but it’s also some nice crunch and texture. I’ve been adding that to so many things. I made some brocollini the other day and I’m like, this is kind of boring on its own, let’s spread some dukkah on it.

Chuck Gaidica:
Interesting.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. So you can kind to add it to everything and it just adds some fun flavor.

Chuck Gaidica:
Are you literally just taking the nuts and everything in the mortar and pestle? So you’re just grinding them by hand until you get to a point where they’re at a consistency that you can do physically?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. So you kind of want to chop up the nuts first on a cutting board, the mortar and pestle aren’t going to be able to break them up as much as you’d like, probably. But you want to start with some of the spices to make sure that they get enough contact with the mortar and pestle, and then kind of incorporate it all and let the flavors marry.

Chuck Gaidica:
See there’s a bit of courage and bravery involved in this experimentation, right? I mean, that is a fun way to experiment. Have you had an instance where you’ve tried something or sprinkled dukkah on something else and you’re like, oops, fail. I don’t know. The flavors just don’t quite jive?

Shanthi Appelö:
I feel like that happens, definitely. But it’s a learning experience, right? I feel like there’s always something you can do to fix it. The way that I like to kind of approach what flavors work together has developed over time. But something I really recommend for people who are thinking about experimenting with new recipes and stuff is a book called The Flavor Bible. So this book takes you through all kinds of different foods, flavors, spices, and it lists things that go well with those foods. So for example, if I were to say, basil, I want to use basil. I have it in my garden. I have too much of it. Then, I would go to that page and list it underneath it would be all the things that go well with it. The things that taste particularly well with that food would be in bold and capital letters. So you can kind of see what the most beautiful combination is.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, how cool.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. I also like to think about just balance in general, right? Thinking about the sensory characteristics of spices. For example, cinnamon, if you’re using that in cooking, we know that it’s kind of sweet. It’s kind of earthy. Cumin, it’s got more of like a smokey kind of flavor. Ginger can be kind sweet. So if we’re considering that and thinking about what kind of balance we want in our food. Do we want something salty and sweet? Do we want something sweet and sour? That’s something good to consider. Then also, if we think about balance, this is something that is used a lot in Asian cooking with like yin and yang, if you will. But thinking about the fat acid, heat and salt and the food, because salt is what enhances flavor, fat is what delivers the flavor and some texture too. Then, acid kind of balances everything.

Shanthi Appelö:
So if we’re thinking about how to incorporate those elements, we can kind of figure out what’s missing too. We’re like, okay, I’ve got this pasta sauce and I’ve added some tomatoes for, that’s very acidic. I’ve added salt, which is a necessity. I’ve added some olive oil, which adds the fat and brings out some of that flavor. But what am I missing? Maybe a little bit of chili flakes because it’s missing that heat element.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Very intriguing. This Bible you’re referencing, does it go as far as referencing any kind of alcohol or wine pairings? Because oftentimes you’ll find that there could be something that throws your pallet off. You could even be drinking a diet drink or something and it just throws off everything.

Shanthi Appelö:
That is really interesting. It does not have that, but I believe that they have some kind of similar book out there for that that is related to alcohol. But I know what you mean, because I remember like, oh, okay, I’m just going to pair this white wine with this fish, and it just brought out the fishy flavors in the wine and it was gross.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
So there’s definitely a lot to that too.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, my kind of experimentation, I’m known in my household, my wife loves to cook as I do and I’m the closer, right? She will start the pasta sauce, and then she’ll say to… The kids are over and grandkids, and she’ll say, “All right, bring dad in,” because I’m the old fashioned and I’ve got to taste it with a spoon, sorry, and I’ve got to go in and oh, it needs a little more salt. It needs a little more oregano. It needs a little more olive oil. So that’s been my function. One of the ways I’ve gotten there, and I guess it’s more intuition than sometimes following a recipe. I do experiment. I was thinking about this before we started chatting today, I’ve had two fails and both have been kind of fun. One was putting turmeric in my coffee because somebody said, oh, turmeric was the big health and wellness thing. You got to have it. So try this in your coffee.

Chuck Gaidica:
I was like, oh man, I wanted to do a spit take like, oh, I couldn’t do it. So that was kind of a fail. The other one, which was an astounding fun thing was my wife and I were driving through Pennsylvania. We see the sign. It says Hershey, Pennsylvania, and we both look at each other like, that means that’s the capital of Hershey Chocolate Land. She Googles it while we’re driving. Sure enough there’s a tour. We get off the expressway. We put on the old fashioned nets on our head, like Lucy and Ethel in I Love Lucy. We sat there making chocolates and they give you all these ingredients, sea salt, and you make your own little plate of chocolates. In one of them I put chili pepper flakes.

Chuck Gaidica:
Now, I thought this is going to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I just thought I’ll do it. Then, they let it settle and you try your own product. It was fantastic because it was that interesting flavor with the chocolate that kicked it up a notch. So for me, I just love the idea of the experimentation and sometimes it doesn’t work.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. I love that. Yeah. I think I’ve tried like, especially in some Mexican desserts, there can be a little hint of spice with chocolate and it is really interesting. Lavender too with chocolate can be really good. So that sounds really fun though. I would love to do a tour like that.

Chuck Gaidica:
You would like it. Yeah. It is basically like the museum of science and industry for chocolate. It’s really pretty wild. It was a lot of fun. So you’ve also wanted to talk about herbs because we sometimes use the word spice or spices as kind of a generic, like Xerox or something. But it’s really there are so many things that we can grow ourselves once we get to the season, and there are a lot of herbs available now, many more than before at a lot of grocery stores.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. Definitely. I have really been loving using Thai basil lately. Have you used that much before?

Chuck Gaidica:
No. How different is that than basil-basil?

Shanthi Appelö:
It’s crazy because they’re like, I don’t want to say a number here, but I know that there are at least five different types of basil. But it’s different than sweet basil, because it’s kind of a little more liquorish alike.

Chuck Gaidica:
Interesting.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. So I almost want to say it’s a little minty sometimes too.

Chuck Gaidica:
Is it like anise? Is it that kind of liquorishy?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yes. Yes, it is. So it’s really interesting because it’s like a little more sturdy if you will, than other their basil. So it can handle some cooking as well, because a lot of times with basil we’ll add it at the end just to make sure it stays fresh and things like that. But it can be fresh or cooked, but it’s really interesting over a lot of Thai dishes in particular, I’ve just kind of transform my Thai cooking with Thai basil.

Chuck Gaidica:
Wow.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. Another very Thai spice or I don’t even know plant, lemon grass. I love buying lemon grass paste. Have you used that?

Chuck Gaidica:
No, I’ve seen it, but I’ve never had an occasion to use it. How do you use it?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. So lemon grass, it’s kind of definitely has that lemony scent as it hints at with a name, but it’s got like some hints of ginger in it almost. It’s like a little bit floral, little bit minty sometimes, anyways, it’s really complex. But I love using this in sauces. So in any kind of Asian sauce. If I am making some kind of dip for gyoza or something, love adding some lemon grass to the mix with soy sauce, something spicy, something acidic, things like that. Also, love adding it to any kind of soup. So lemon grass goes great with coconut milk. So if you’re making any kind of coconut milk soup, it goes great with that too.

Chuck Gaidica:
What you’re pointing out with lemon grass in particular, there’s a complexity to it that’s different than just squeezing a quarter of a lemon into something, right? I mean, there’s an appropriateness to that, I know in cooking and it could be in soup as well or over fish or something. But this is a different kind of, you’re giving me three or four, maybe half a dozen different complex flavors that are coming out of cutting this up and putting it in a dish. That’s a little different than just putting in lemon juice for the sake of lemon. So that’s pretty cool.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. I think you make a good point there because there’s so many different flavors you can bring out of citrus in general, by just using the peel instead of the juice. It’s got this potency, it’s got more of those essential oil. So whether you’re using a lemon, lime, yuzu even, or lemon grass, it’s great because you can just get more of those flavors.

Chuck Gaidica:
I think that over time, I won’t speak for everybody because I can’t, but over time I have pushed myself when I see a rind, to your point of a lemon rind or an orange rind being used. Oftentimes it’s either in a cake or it could even be if you got a drink and it comes with a little swizzle stick or something, and there it is. I don’t drink that often, but it’s just, you’ll get to see somebody order an old fashion and they’ll get a piece of orange and a cherry or something. I look at those flavors and I guess maybe it’s just me, but my mind starts to race like, why is it that that’s the only time I see that in use when I could push myself to another place and actually wind up using it another food. So you’re encouraging me to really step off the edge of the diving board here in other ways and just kind of ask, how can I use this in something else? Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. A couple tips with that. You want to, usually, if you’re adding it to cooking, you want to add it towards the end. So you want the zest to be the very last part, because cooking it can make it taste more bitter. You also just want to do the zest of the very bright part of the lime or lemon, because that white part is kind of more bitter.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. You know what else I like about this entire conversation is there aren’t a lot of equipment costs here. This isn’t like you’ve got to buy a brand new pasta maker or an air fryer. I mean, you’re talking about a mortar and pestle and a little thing to great your lemon zest. So changing your routine and adding a couple of new tricks and tools to the trade, it’s not going to break the bank.

Shanthi Appelö:
Exactly. Yes. That’s a huge benefit. So many of these things like a grater, for example, use it for zest, use it for grating cheese, even use it to grate some zucchini into your baking. So many different things there, and of course that mortar and pestle can be use for so many different things and you can even make salsa in a mortar and pestle.

Chuck Gaidica:
I never thought of that one. That’s an interesting idea. Is there anything else that’s unusual or a big discovery for you that you’re actually experimenting with? I know we kind of raced through several of those already, but is there anything else that’s kind of a standout that you would highly recommend?

Shanthi Appelö:
Oh man, I don’t know if that this one is super uncommon, but something that I love is keeping truffle salt on hand. Because truffles they have such a unique flavor, they are incredibly expensive, they’re delicious on their own, right? So they sell a lot of truffle oils which have this kind of chemical that kind of reflects the taste of truffles, but it’s not the real truffle. I it does have the real truffle in it, it loses its flavor really quickly. So I love keeping truffle salt because it really holds on to that flavor, super potent flavor. Of course, we don’t want to add too much salt to things for health reasons, but it makes a really great substitute for other kinds of salts, especially in kind of meaty dishes.

Chuck Gaidica:
I’ve never used that. Is it coarse, or are there different varieties?

Shanthi Appelö:
Different varieties. There are definitely coarse and more fine grate options too. You’ll see the little black pieces in there.

Chuck Gaidica:
So you’ve mentioned kind of the health and wellness aspect of salt. I suspect that if we did a study or read some of the studies, and you probably know of these far more than I do. A large part of the sodium we get in our diet, isn’t really the stuff we’re making from scratch or sprinkling on our or eggs in the morning or something. It’s really the stuff that gets baked into a lot of, a can of pasta sauce or something, read the label and you’ll see it’s got a thousand milligrams of sodium for your serving. So you’ve got to be careful there. But what about the health benefits of herbs and spices, literally the upside for us using these things that give us this romance in our cooking and take us to a different level of experimenting. There’s an upside there that I think we often forget about.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, definitely. So you’re right. First of all, we consume probably about 75% of our salt from processed foods, 90% of Americans are consuming more the recommended amount. So it is something that we need to think about, and a great way to cut down on that salt is to use spices, is to use things like the juices of citrus fruits and play around with herbs. Because they add so much flavor, even though salt does bring out that flavor. It’s a great way to kind of go around that. But one of the spices I really like is cardamom. So I grew up in Sweden and it’s really common in a lot of baked goods, but my mom was adopted from India. It’s really common in India to have cardamom in tea, in a lot of different curries, like garam masala has cardamom in it. But it does have quite a few health benefits too.

Shanthi Appelö:
So mostly they’ve been looked at in animal studies, I will say that. A lot of these herbs and spices have only been looked at in mice or rat studies, but cardamom, for example, along with a lot of other spices are going to have a lot of antioxidants. So they’re going to have these kind of anti-inflammatory powers, cardamom along with coriander too, they are said to act a little bit like a diuretic, so they could be potentially good for blood pressure control.

Chuck Gaidica:
Interesting. Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, yeah. Some of them have antimicrobial properties. So there’s kind of more of a focus on some of these plant based oils to offer antimicrobial benefits and cleaning and things like that. Cardamom appears to have some of those benefits too.

Chuck Gaidica:
That’s fascinating you say that because it just makes me think about this idea of the blue zones across the world, and where do you see people living to be centegenarians. Where they’re going over a hundred years old and somehow there are a lot of them and they seem to be as healthy as you can be for 101 or whatever it is. I think without exaggerating that a lot of those places would be literally picking herbs from Sardinia, Okinawa. I mean, there’s a lot of fish and there’s the Mediterranean diet part I get. But I think there’s a lot of fresh cooking with ingredients that come from farm to table, right? That’s kind of what I’m being encouraged about thinking here is what can I use that I didn’t even think about the benefits of cutting back on disease, or cutting down on being a diuretic and losing water, which is helpful if I’ve got high blood pressure. How cool is this idea?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, I think it’s really cool. Part of the reason for that too is just that picking these fresh herbs, putting it into a fresh pot of whatever you’re making, it’s a lot less processed too. We’re seeing that these ultra processed foods are affecting lifespan and chronic illness. So you’re definitely right there. I think there are so many different benefits I did when I point out another herb that I really love to use tarragon. Only two grams of dried tarragon, which it does equal how to be a lot, but if you’re using it in a dressing or a sauce, it’s easy to consume that amount. So it’s going to actually have quite a bit of iron for the amount that it has. So it’s good for blood function, cell function, things like that.

Shanthi Appelö:
It’s also got a lot of manganese, so brain health, metabolism, and it can also help reduce that oxidative stress in the body. Then finally, it does also have some of those antimicrobial properties. So tarragon can be used in, it tastes really great with fatty things. So it can be a way to preserve cheese a little bit longer if you add that.

Chuck Gaidica:
Really? Explain the flavor of tarragon. How would you describe it?

Shanthi Appelö:
Oh goodness. I love tarragon. I added to a lot of my dressings, but it’s a little bit kind of liquorish, it’s a little bit tart, but it really goes well. It’s in Bearnaise sauce. It’s kind of the foundation of that French sauce, but it’s great just to add flavor to any kind of dressing or sauce you’re making. It’s great with eggs. It’s great with chicken. It’s great with fish. So just a fun herb to find at the store, but also grow yourself.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Yeah. So I gave you this story about this big discovery for me with chili pepper flakes in chocolate. If you had to pick one, what has your mind is blown by something you’ve tried and it just jumps off the map. Is it one you’ve talked about already? Or was there any big surprise where you’re like, oh?

Shanthi Appelö:
I have a few.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, go ahead. What are they? Yeah. Anything you haven’t mentioned already.

Shanthi Appelö:
Okay. So balsamic vinegar with vanilla ice cream and pine nuts.

Chuck Gaidica:
Stop it. What?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. Yeah. Oh my goodness. So first of all, you want a good balsamic vinegar here, because the longer you age them, the more sweetness is going to be brought out, the less vinegar is going to be in them. You can also make your own reduction and pour over some vanilla ice cream. It’s so magnificent. I love it. We went to Italy and we went to Modena, and we brought some balsamic and, I mean, I pour a teaspoon of this stuff because it’s not cheap.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
But you don’t need a lot. So it’s got a lot of potent flavors. So that’s one of them.

Chuck Gaidica:
Are you talking about the actual vinegar or a reduction so that it’s thick enough to kind of drizzle, replaces the chocolate we’ve all come to know on our ice cream?

Shanthi Appelö:
Right. So if you age balsamic vinegar long enough, it actually… So, well, sorry, it’s the juice from the grapes. So if you age them long enough in these barrels, they actually reduced where they do become really thick. So if you’ve aged one for 25 years, for example, that is going to be extremely thick, just like chocolate sauce. But you can make your own reduction too. Just put some balsamic vinegar in a pot, let it reduce until it’s the thickness you like. So that’s pretty easy.

Chuck Gaidica:
That sounds wild. That’s a new experiment. I can’t wait.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, and then one that I love is using fish sauce in unexpected places. So it’s very traditional of Asian cuisine, but recently I added it to a bolognese, any kind of pasta sauce. It goes really well in it. It has that punch of umami in it and just kind of this savory kind of flavor. You don’t eat a lot. It’s just a couple drops and it can transform your dish.

Chuck Gaidica:
It’s going to of add, right, it’s a little salty?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. Yeah. It’ll definitely add that kind of like salty note too. Okay. Then finally, Chuck, one last one, one last one. Okay. So I don’t know, celery is one of those things that not a lot of people like, you love it or you hate it. I don’t know. It’s the one thing that gets on these party trays of veggie dishes, right? But I love using celery leaves. It is kind of this treasure that comes on the celery that I’m like, oh man, I just want to use this in so many different things. It’s like a mild flavor of celery without the texture of it, if you will.

Chuck Gaidica:
Using it in soups or what are you using it in?

Shanthi Appelö:
I mean, you can definitely save it for your stocks. I tend to save all of my scraps whenever I’m cooking all of my veggie scraps and peels in a freezer bag and just use it for a stock after it’s large enough. But you can use it instead of parsley on anything. I’ve used it in tartar or, this sounds, I’m not really that fancy of a cooker, but in a lobster roll, even if you made it with shrimp and didn’t use lobster. But anywhere where you would use parsley, celery leaves can be a really exciting addition.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, and they would be large enough, I don’t know about after freezing, but probably they’re large enough so are getting some texture, flavor and there’s a visual to it that’s a little different, right? It’s not the usual thing you’d see rolled up with a lobster roll or lobster sandwich or something, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, exactly.

Chuck Gaidica:
Very cool. You mentioned celery, it is kind of the Switzerland of little vegetables, right? It’s kind of right in the middle and you peel all that stuff off, that’s a huge takeaway for me by itself. Don’t just peel that off to create the celery sticks for the Super Bowl party we just had. Save that stuff for the future. To be honest, would never have thought about shaving off the celery and just saving it to use in a stock down the road. I don’t know why. This is a huge idea for me now. This is great. All right. So some final takeaways for all of us. We’ve talked about so much great stuff, speaking of texture, but what would be some major takeaways about herbs and spices?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. Well, experiment, let the process be fun, taste and smell things along the way, but maybe approach spices in a different way. Maybe buy them in the seed form instead of in the ground, just to see what that feels like. Then, just start buying them in smaller amounts so you can get more freshness out of them.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Great stuff. Well, Shanthi, it’s always wonderful to have you with us. I’m so glad we talked about this today because I’ve got more notes than you can imagine. So I don’t know if my family will appreciate the new experimentation that’s coming, but it’s coming just so they know.

Shanthi Appelö:
I’m ready for some chocolate and chili myself.

Chuck Gaidica:
All right. Good deal. Well, take good care of yourself. That’s Shanthi Appelo, who’s been with us. She’s a registered dietitian from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She’s also a spokesperson on Health and wellness matters. So, and obviously it sounds like she didn’t give herself enough credit, a really great cook. So we can’t wait to join her for a meal as well. We’re glad you’ve been here listening to A Healthier Michigan Podcast, brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you like our show, you want to know more, check us out at ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast. Or you can leave a reviewer rating on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. To get new episodes on your smartphone or tablet, be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. I’m Chuck Gaidica. Be well.