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Fight winter weight gain with fresh spices and this Mantel Wine Bar & Bistro recipe

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Brined chicken dish at The Mantel, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Brined chicken dish at The Mantel, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.

Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas can become a terrifying trifecta of calorie-heavy holidays. Add in weather that’s inhospitable for exercise to create a recipe for packing on pounds.

The answer to eating less also might make your food taste better, said Native Roots Market “spice cowboy” Doug Rader.

“Fast food is designed to make you want to keep eating; bland food does the same thing,” he said. “You keep eating, trying to get enough flavor to satisfy your craving.”

Rader spends his days grinding fresh batches of oregano, rosemary and exotic peppers and mixing them into proprietary blends for customers at Native Roots, 131 NE Second St.

Adding spice to home-cooked food intensifies the flavors so we need to eat less to be sated, Rader said.

But before reaching for the spice cabinet, there’s something you should know: Rader said the majority of spices in people’s kitchens are old.

“People are cooking with spices that have been in there for more than two years,” Rader said. “And they weren’t great quality to start with.”

Like any other food in refrigerators and pantries, he said, spices also have expiration dates. Spices lose potency over time. If the point of using spices is to give food more flavor, using old spices is a futile endeavor.

“People save up for really great ingredients, like a prime T-bone steak. Then they use a McCormick grill rub on it,” he said. “The flavor’s not going to be there.”

Prepackaged spices are usually lower-quality products to begin with, Rader said, and there’s no way to tell how long they sat in a warehouse or on a supermarket shelf.

Doug Rader makes a spice mix at Native Roots Market in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Doug Rader makes a spice mix at Native Roots Market in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.

Fresh matters

Savory Spice Shop co-owner Able Blakely said there’s no regulation on how long spices can sit unused after they are ground, which is when they start losing potency.

“A spice has a window of nine months to a year before it loses its flavor,” he said.

That’s why he brings in whole spices and grinds them fresh in-store, 4400 N. Western Ave. It also gives him the flexibility to make spice blends without ingredients customers try to avoid.

“We do blends without salt or sugar in them that cater to what you’re trying to stay away from,” Blakely said.

Fresh spices are just as important in restaurants, said The Mantel Wine Bar & Bistro executive chef Garrett Myers, who finds his spices at Native Roots Market.

“[The Mantel] is a scratch kitchen, so having fresh spices versus regular store-bought dry herbs makes a huge difference,” he said.

Rather than adding spices as a garnish at the end of cooking, Myers adds them in early to make sure the flavors permeate the dish.

“We do a lot of rubs for our meats, and we infuse spices into compound butters. I use a lot of specialty spices in brines for chicken and pork dishes,” he said.

(See the restaurant’s chicken brine recipe below.)

Using whole spices ensures better quality and convenience, Myers said.

“Getting whole spices lets us toast them on our own and either use them whole or get the right grind,” he said.

Expert advice

For the best results, Rader said people should spend time learning more about different spices.

“If a recipe calls for oregano, does it mean Mediterranean or Mexican oregano?” he said. “They have the same name, but they’re not even in the same family. Mexican oregano is closer to lemon verbena.”

Details like those make big differences in recipes, but he said they aren’t always obvious to consumers. Asking an expert like Rader or Blakely helps customers find the right products for what they’re making.

Cost might seem like a factor, but buying spices in smaller quantities can be cheaper and more satisfying, Rader said.

“Get just enough for a few recipes and you’ll really appreciate those spices,” he said. “Once you get used to a certain standard of flavor, you’ll never go back.”

Visit nativerootsmarket.com and savoryspiceshop.com.

Print Headline: Flavor season, Fight winter weight gain by incorporating fresh spices in your recipes.

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