No one is saying you must become vegetarian, but the health benefits of a mostly plant-based diet have become increasingly clear. If you are devoted to eating meat, adding more meatless meals, beyond pasta and pizza, can be challenging. But using a wide variety of herbs, spices and other seasonings will boost flavors, making this idea more enjoyable.

Think of countries where little or no meat is used most of the time. In the Mediterranean, fresh and dried herbs are a natural part of everyday cooking, enlivening dishes from French onion soup seasoned with thyme to Moroccan vegetable tagines spiced with cumin and cinnamon. In Latin America, cumin, cilantro and epazote, a wild oregano, are as much mainstays as chile peppers. Indians, of course, use a wide array of spices and herbal seasonings, like curry leaf to enrich meatless curries or to dal, a legume dish eaten every day. Southeast Asian cooking is perfumed with cilantro, lemongrass and galangal, a knobby, more aromatic relative of ginger.

Through eating in ethnic restaurants and travelling broadly, Americans have become more aware of how much seasonings can enrich a meal, and we keep a well-stocked spice rack. However, we tend to use only some of its contents regularly. Here are ideas to make you comfortable using more spices and herbs, in ways that make meatless dishes exceptional.

First, remember the pepper. Its flowery, complex flavors enhance nearly every dish. Once it is ground, pepper loses much of its stimulating complexity, providing mainly heat. This makes it worthwhile to invest in a peppermill and a jar of black peppercorns. If this is not practical, look for a jar of whole pepper with a grinder built into the cap, a handy option now sold at many supermarkets.

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Second, try new combinations, as in this Spanish-style chickpea stew, with spicy not hot flavor, intensified by ground fennel, coriander and a touch of cocoa. It also contains noodles toasted in the oven until golden brown, adding an earthy flavor.

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Mediterranean Chickpea Stew with Toasted Noodles

Makes 8 servings.

  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 Spanish onion, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. ground fennel
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes
  • 1/4 lb. fideos or angel hair egg pasta
  • 1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 6 cups chopped fresh Swiss chard leaves (about 1 1/2 bunches), or 1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Over medium-high heat, heat the oil in a large pot that can be used stove-top and in the oven. Saute the onion and celery until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic. Cook 1 minute. Stir in chili powder, cocoa, coriander, fennel and bay leaf. Add tomatoes with their liquid.
  3. Add 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until celery is tender, about 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, on a non-stick baking sheet, break up pasta into 2-inch pieces. Spread evenly in pan. Bake 4 to 5 minutes, just until golden brown, watching carefully to avoid burning.
  5. Mix toasted noodles, chickpeas and greens into the stew. Cook until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes.
  6. Ladle into shallow, wide bowls, and serve.

Nutritional Info Per Serving:
143 calories,
3g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
25 g. carbohydrate,
5 g. protein,
4 g. dietary fiber, 368 mg. sodium

Diabetic Exchanges:
1 Starch/Bread, 2 Vegetable, 1/2 Fat