This Everyday Spice Is The Secret To Delicious Dinners

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Carolina Santos-Neves, mbg’s contributing food editor, is the former chef at Comodo, Colonia Verde, and Comparti Catering. She’s a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Chef’s Training program and a Brussels sprout fanatic. In this series, we’ll be exploring all her tricks for plant-based cooking. Get ready for your greens to get a major upgrade. 

Cinnamon is one of those spices that reminds me of childhood, especially come holiday time. While growing up, my mom always rolled out any leftover pie dough and topped it with sugar and cinnamon, which, of course, always left the house smelling dreamlike.

I like adding this spice to pretty much everything! I love it on any cookie, any fruit crumble, and most definitely when it's in ice cream and cake. You can't really go wrong.

But, it wasn't until a few years ago that I really started adding it to my repertoire of savory foods.

I'd have to credit my love of Moroccan tagine for this revelation. I have a recipe that I love to make, which uses cinnamon along with several other spices, and the cinnamon is what hugs all the flavors together, balancing out the sweetness from the honey, the earthiness from the almonds, and the heartiness from the root veggies and couscous.

Cinnamon, which comes from the inner bark of the tree cinnamomum, is full of antioxidants, it's anti-inflammatory, and it helps lower the risk of heart disease. Just think, even when you're eating a fall dessert, you're engaging in preventive medicine. At least that's what I tell myself!

So, cinnamon, thank you for teaching me how to expand my culinary horizons and getting me to try using you in more ways than one. I'll always use you in desserts, but now I have new ways to use you too.

Here are five ideas for using cinnamon in savory dishes:

Stir-fries

This idea came from using the spices from the tagine I mentioned above and adding them to a stir fry.

In a wok or sauté pan add olive oil, then add a diced shallot or white onion; add a dash of salt, and then 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of turmeric and a pinch of powdered ginger.

Let the onion cook and become translucent. Then add any veggie you want to the mix—or pretty much anything that's in your fridge!

Then I like to add a cooked grain. (I'm really into the ancient grain freekeh right now), chopped dried fruit (I'd recommend medjool dates), and once cooked, top with chopped toasted almonds.

I first made this almost five years ago, and I've been making it once a week ever since.

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Squash

One of my favorite ways to eat squash is to sprinkle some cinnamon on top along with a touch of ghee or coconut oil and salt. Roast at 400°F for 15 to 20 minutes, then top it with toasted pumpkin seeds and a tiny drizzle of honey.

Eggs

I know this may seem weird, but I kind of love it. Whether you like your eggs scrambled or fried, a touch of cinnamon just elevates the flavor. Eat this with a slice of toast and voilà! It's essentially a deconstructed piece of cinnamon toast but with an egg on top of it. What's not to love?

Cauliflower

Whether you eat meat or not, shawarma dry seasoning is one of a kind, a spice mix that is multilayered and multipurpose. It's a combination of Middle Eastern flavors, in which cinnamon often plays a prominent role.

Even if you find a shawarma recipe and it doesn't call for cinnamon, toss it in there anyway. I recommend multiplying the recipe by four so that you always have a little extra hanging around.

My favorite is:

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ turmeric
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Lentil Soup

Lentil soup is how I manage to survive the cold winter months. Without it, I'm not sure what would happen. Even though I like lentil soup just about any way, I like it even better when I add, guess what? Cinnamon!

Add it when you begin to sauté your onion, carrot, and celery combo to bring out the flavor.

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