The celebrity chef divulges her seasoned secrets.
Akasha Richmond has made a career out of creating culinary masterpieces with the help of herbs and spices, which can be sampled at her namesake Los Angeles restaurant AKASHA, favored by who’s-who of the health conscious Hollywood elite. The self-taught chef and baker, who got her professional start as Michael Jackson’s personal chef, offers up some tips on how to incorporate her favorite five healthy herbs and spices into your culinary life.
“Turmeric is probably my favorite. I use it a lot,” says Richmond. The chef, who is in the process of opening an Indian-inspired restaurant near her popular namesake eatery, reveals that the eastern spice’s known health benefits include easing heartburn and upset stomach, curbing joint pain with its anti-inflammatory properties, potentially warding off heart attacks and delaying diabetes. “Almost every day I drink a turmeric, ginger, pineapple and cucumber juice, which we make at the restaurant.” In addition to adding fresh turmeric, which can be found at Asian markets, to her famous Balinese, Thai and Indian dishes, she grates and blends it into rice, makes it into turmeric butter and puts it on fish. She also makes it into tea. “You can definitely add too much, because it is strong and overpowering, so be careful,” she advises.
Another one of her favorites is ginger, which can be used to treat everything from stomach problems like morning sickness, nausea and diarrhea to pain relief from sore muscles and arthritis. “I grate it and make it into tea with black peppercorns, which is great when you aren’t feeling well in the winter.” She also dices the root and sautés it with butter or olive oil for her sweet potato puree with short ribs, cuts it into matchsticks to sauté straight into any stir-fry and grates it then squeezes out the juice to add to soy sauce marinades and salad dressings.
Chili in all forms and varieties—fresh, dried, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika just to name a few—are also in her spice closet. High in vitamins A and C, chili is known to boost immunity, lower cholesterol, reduce pain and clear congestion. “Chili is great because you can add it to almost everything and spike it up a notch—soup, marinade, stir-fry, canned beans, and especially Italian food, because it cuts through all the cheese and makes it easier to digest.”
Lemongrass, which is known to treat digestive issues, high blood pressure, the common cold and even pain, is also one of her go-tos. “I love it! I’ve read that it’s a mood enhancer. You can make tea out of it, and it’s great for sore throats. It’s really amazing to add to chicken stock, and you could even start with packaged broth and just add ginger, black peppercorns, and lemongrass,” Richmond says. “In the restaurant we use it in many of our Thai and Vietnamese dishes, adding it to chicken and tofu marinades.”
Last but not least, high in fiber and famous for aiding in indigestion and helping curb the body’s response to insulin, cinnamon is an easy way to get a daily fill of manganese with just a sprinkle. “There are so many things you can do with it,” she explains. “I love sprinkling cinnamon powder on coffee, drinks, oatmeal and deserts.” The chef cautions that for sauces, it’s better to use cinnamon sticks versus powder. “If you are making a sauce or soup stock and you add cinnamon powder, it gets gummy and thickens it in a weird way. So even with my braised shortribs and rice, I always use the sticks.”