I confess: Most of the cookbooks that sit on my shelves get used about as much as the exercise videos my mom gave me back in the 1990s. But once in a while a book comes along with pages I know will soon be stained with olive oil and creased with repeated use.

Spices of Life by Nina Simonds (Knopf, 2005) is such a book. Peruse it, and you’ll find yourself flagging dozens of inviting, practical recipes to try tonight. No fancy tricks, no impossible-to-find ingredients—just creative and healthy combinations (often inspired by Asian flavors) that seamlessly blend good taste with good nutrition.

Looking for kid-friendly fare? Try Jesse’s Spicy Grilled Chicken Breasts or Crispy-Baked Potato Pancakes, both favorites of Simonds’ teenage son. Need nurturing? Whip up the immune-enhancing Soothing Miso Soup with Shiitakes. Want a sweet that won’t burden your conscience? The beautiful Gingery Peach-a-Berry Cobbler is for you. Simonds also provides margin notes detailing ingredients’ good-for-you properties, as well as interviews with health gurus (including James Duke, PhD, and Andrew Weil, MD); advice on menu planning for busy families; healthy staples to keep on hand; and a list of foods to fight common illnesses.

healthy food facts

  • Asparagus has long been recognized as an effective diuretic.
  • Cinnamon harmonizes the flow of circulation in the body, aids digestion, and reduces nausea, according to Ayurvedic doctors.
  • Coconut oil is especially nourishing for hair, and extracts of coconut are sometimes prescribed by Ayurvedic doctors to help treat yeast infections.
  • Fennel bulb aids digestion and is rich in potassium, which prevents and reduces high blood pressure.
  • Green beans strengthen the spleen and pancreas.
  • Mangoes contain ample amounts of vitamin C and beta-carotene.
  • Pineapples are an excellent source of vitamin C; aid digestion; and help heal ulcers, arthritis, and tissue damage from disease or surgery.
  • Water chestnuts clear heat from the body and nourish the kidneys, according to Chinese doctors.

Source: Spices of Life by Nina Simonds (Knopf, 2005).