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Make your recipes pop with spices, not salt

May 20, 2020 | Kristina Lindgren
Mango Chicken Chicken Curry Salad

Too much salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, which is linked to heart disease, kidney failure and stroke. Trouble is, we've become so accustomed to salt that we often sprinkle it on our food before we even take a bite.

But you don't have to sacrifice flavor when reducing or eliminating extra salt. There is a wonderful world of herbs and spices out there that can turn a ho-hum dish into a taste extravaganza — and deliver myriad health benefits.

Curry and turmeric are spices renowned for their anti-inflammatory properties, says Katie Rankell, director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program. In fact turmeric, which is one of the primary spices in most curry powder blends, contains curcumin, which helps regulate inflammation. It has been shown to relieve symptoms of  rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Cumin, which adds an earthy flavor to many Mexican and Indian dishes, is a rich source of iron and a powerful antioxidant that also has been found to aid in digestion, lower cholesterol and improve blood sugar control. Ginger is another remarkable plant that has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and contains many bioactive compounds that have been shown to reduce nausea, lower blood sugar and cholesterol.

These and many more tantalizing herb-and-spice blends are incorporated into the following recipes created by Chef Jessica Van Roo, assistant director of Culinary Recreation & Experiential Programs at UC Irvine. Besides being low in sodium and calories, these budget-friendly these dishes will please palates and introduce you to new ways of punching up your cooking.


Spinach and tomato egg bake

Spinach and Tomato Baked Egg

Serves 4 (Total cost: $5.02/ $1.26 per serving)

Spinach is a dark green super food that is high in fiber and an excellent source of iron, vitamins and minerals. Tomatoes are also packed with nutrients, including the powerful antioxidant lycopene, says Rankell. Add eggs, which contain all the essential amino acids our bodies need, and you have an inexpensive, filling low-calorie meal.

What makes this dish truly enticing, though, are the flavors of cumin, marjoram, paprika and chili, all of which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, along with many other health benefits.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno chili, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves or 1 teaspoon dry oregano
  • 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes, including juice
  • 3 cups baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (optional)


Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet and saute onion, garlic and jalapeno over medium-high heat until softened.

Stir in cumin and red chili flakes, cook 1 minute to release flavors. Stir in tomatoes with juice and salt, cook for 5-7 more minutes.

With the back of a wooden spoon, smash tomatoes to break them apart, Reduce heat to medium, add spinach leaves and marjoram (or oregano) and simmer until slightly thickened and spinach is tender, about 10-12 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a medium-sized baking dish. Crack eggs into the sauce and sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

Place in preheated oven, bake until egg whites become opaque, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Let rest a few minutes then serve with crusty bread.

Calories per serving: 232 (236 with cheese)


Curried mango chicken salad

Curried Chicken and Mango Salad

Serves 3-4 (Total cost: $13.59/$3.40 per serving)

Curry, tumeric, cumin and ginger are flavorful spices renowned for their anti-inflammatory properties, says Rankell. Mangoes are rich in vitamin C, offering 70% of the recommended daily intake. Greek yogurt is an excellent source of protein, calcium and probiotics. Add boneless, skinless chicken breast and you have a lean source of protein.


  • 1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups chicken broth or water
  • 2 teaspoons dry herb mix (typically includes basil, thyme, marjoram, oregano, sage and rosemary)
  • 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 5 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon agave or honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • 3/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1 firm, ripe mango (3/4 lb), peeled, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
  • Lettuce or other leafy greens to serve


Combine chicken with broth or water and dry herb seasoning mix in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Simmer with lid partially covering the pot for 6 minutes.

Turn off heat, cover completely, set aside for 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through, to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Remove chicken from liquid, cool for 10 minutes then chop into bite-size pieces.

In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add chicken and mix gently to thoroughly coat chicken pieces.

Serve on a bed of greens.

Calories per serving: 527


Miso Soba Noodle Soup

Miso Soba Noodle Soup

Serves 4 (Total cost: $14.63/ $3.66 per serving

This flavorful meal combines tofu, a plant-based, heart healthy protein, and soba noodles, which are made of high-fiber buckwheat and therefore more filling than regular white noodles, says Rankell. Adding kale, one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, packs in vitamins A, K and C.

But it is the savory, yet delicate flavors of miso, shitake mushrooms, black sesame oil, garlic, ginger and the Japanese soup stock, dashi, that transforms this dish into a satisfying delight.


  • 1 tablespoon black sesame oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped leeks
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
  • 2/3 cup fresh shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup (packed) kale leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 4 cups (32 oz) dashi, chicken or vegetable broth
  • 12 oz soft tofu, diced
  • 1/2 cup pea shoots or other tender greens (like baby spinach)
  • 1/4 cup red miso
  • 8 oz soba (buckwheat) noodles, cooked and drained
  • 1/2 cup scallions, chopped
  • sesame seeds and/or chili flakes for garnish


Cook soba noodles according to directions, drain and set aside.

To make broth, heat sesame or vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a pot.

Add leeks, garlic and ginger and cook just until leeks have softened. Try not to brown garlic.

Add shitake mushrooms and cook until they have softened, then add in kale and cook for 1 minute or just until kale begins to wilt.

Add soy sauce and dashi or broth to the pot. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes.

Remove 1/4 to 1/2 cup of hot stock to a bowl, mix with miso and set aside.

Stir diced tofu and pea shoots into the pot and cook 1 minute to heat through. Turn off heat and add the reserved miso mix.

Place soba noodles in four bowls and sprinkle with scallions. Pour hot broth mixture over the top, garnish with sesame seeds and chili flakes, if desired.

Calories per serving: 232