Monday, August 14, 2006

Basic Spices

Now every culture has different basic "must have" spices and herbs. So I'm just going to start with my own favorites - especially for days I can't think and need something quick and handy to add to quick sautes or grills. I'll keep a running list for any you want to add. See the end of the post to find out how you can contributeyour favorite spice and what dishes you use it in and I'll add it to our list.

Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums is my first contributor with some great additions to my own favorites. So what are YOU waiting for? Send me yours.

Let's just get started (again, the link is to Wikipedia for more detailed info). All other spices will be in alphabetical order, but like in my house garlic is the star, and comes first...

Garlic - because life would be so bland without it. My father used to say I put it in everything, but I don't use it in desserts! It's great with any meat, chicken, fish, seafood dish you can think of. It burns quickly and tastes bitter when that happens so don't cook it on high heat or for very long on it's own. As soon as you can smell it, it's time to add more ingredients.

Chilli peppers - from jalapeno which become chipotle when smoked and tinned in adobo sauce (a great staple. I puree the peppers with the sauce and add some to egg dishes, and stews etc. that I want to give a Mexican feel to. I have red pepper flakes on hand to add to shrimp and pasta dishes. Also see peppers below

Cinnamon - Sticks - add to stews for a Mexican or Moroccan feel (depending on what else you add) You remove them after they've added flavor to the dish
Powdered - most coffee cakes, cooked apple desserts, just to name a few. Rosa puts it in fruit compote (plum, apple or apricot), cakes of course, tarts (apple, apricot, plum, pumpkin), rice pudding, porrige or ground meat...

Cumin common in Mexican and Indian dishes, powdered and whole seeds that you either grind or toast first to bring out the flavor. Used in soups and slow cooked stewed dishes. Some things Rosa uses it for -meatballs, ground meat, salads (chickpea salads) or any vegetable stir-fries

Ginger - Fresh is my favorite for quick sautees and dressings. Just grate some into whatever the sauce or saute along with garlic before adding vegetables and meat or fish/seafood.
Powdered adds a real punch to rubs. I love to mix powdered mustard and ginger before roasting chickens or capons.

Onions - so many kinds, all of them wonderful. I use them almost as much as garlic. They're a base for sauces, stir fries, roasts, soups....the list is endless and they're wonderful raw in salads and as a garnish for burgers and hot dogs/sausages on a bun.
Spanish & Vidallia are sweeter, Red onions are hot and colorful.

Green onions or scallions are long and skinny. The green parts are thinly sliced and added as garnish for Chinese & Thai soups. The white "bulb" is used in salads, salsas, garnishes for Mexican dishes to name just a few. Shallots are a cross between garlic and onions and are often used in French cooking.

Mustard - Powdered like Coleman's or Keen's are great as part of a rub for roasts or added to white sauces.

Seeds - come dark, and light colors and are used in dishes like my cauliflower dish. Very common in Indian dishes
Prepared - from mild to very hot, tangy to sweet - my favorites are Kozlik's but any blend of Dijon will do. Nothing makes a vinaigrette distinctive like changing up the mustard you add. It's the mustard than keeps the oil and vinegar from separating.

Paprika - I keep three different kinds on hand - smoked (very strong and distinctive flavor, so only use a little or it will be overpowering), sweet (Spanish or Hungarian) spicy They color and season rice, soups, stews and roasts like chicken. Any dark reddish sausages like Merguez that you buy has lots of paprika in them. Rosa uses it like cumin and adds it to a bell pepper stir-fry with onions, garlic, dark balsamic vinegar, sweet soy sauce, pepper and sugar

Peppers come in all shapes, colors and sizes and heat levels. Rule of thumb - the larger the pepper the sweeter they are. Big bell peppers can be found in red, green, yellow, orange and purple. I use them raw with dips, and in salads and sandwiches. I also roast them, marinate them and serve as part of antipasto plates, to say nothing of my smoky hummus which also has chipotle chilies that actually are smoked jalepeno peppers - hot, medium sized green peppers used in lots of Tex Mex dishes. And how could I talk about peppers without mentioning the tiny "knock the top of your head, burn your tongue" kind like scotch peppers, red & green chili peppers just to name a few. Lots of Caribbean, Indian, Mexican ....cultures use them to add punch to their dishes.

Pepper - Black peppercorns (I like to use a pepper mill/grinder for fresher flavor) There are a wide variety of colors in peppercorns, each with a distinct flavor, some more subtle than others.
white pepper for pale dishes like mashed potatoes, creamy soups
cayenne pepper - much hotter than black. I love it on hummus and chicken, chick pea, crab or tuna salad, to name a few.

Saffron little threads that color and flavor rice dishes. Used for Paella, mussel dishes to name a few. You don't need much, which is a good thing because it is expensive. Great for shrimp stir fry/sautees.

Turmeric often called "Poor man's saffron" very common in Indian dishes. Again provides much color to rice dishes.

Chinese five spice powder
: Originating in China centuries ago, the first recipe was lost, but the idea is a blend of spices that touch all the taste sensations. It's usually a blend of star anise, cinnamon sticks, whole black or Szechuan peppercorns, fennel seeds and cloves, but you can buy it already prepared in most grocery stores. I did find a recipe here, if you prefer to try to make your own. Rosa uses this one in many dishes whether they are salty or sugary. For example, it goes very well with stir-fried eggplants, onions with a dash of soy sauce and sugar. Then, I also love that spice when used in a fruit compote (plums, apples especially)...

Curry Powders - Indian and Jamacian are the most commonly found here in North America, but even these really cover a multitude of varieties. In fact, if you do a google search "curry powder" + recipe, you'll get an awesome selection to make yourself. Or let your nose do the walking through different store bought blends for your favorite combo. Rosa adds to stir-fried vegetables, and use that in my salad sauce and curry mayonnaise to accompany my meat when we eat "Fondue Bourgignonne" (a fondue with individual cubes of meat, deep-fried in oil), in a curry sauce with meatballs, sweet mustard and cream...

Moroccan Ras-el Hanout (Moroccan Seasoning) suggested by Rosa and used in stews and tagines. Here's the recipe from ochef


4 whole nutmegs
10 rosebuds (dried)
12 cinnamon sticks
12 blades of mace
1 tsp aniseed
8 pieces of turmeric
2 small pieces orrisroot
2 dried cayenne peppers
1/2 tsp lavender
1 Tbsp white peppercorns
2 pieces galingale
2 Tbsp whole gingerroot
6 cloves
24 allspice berries
20 white or green cardamom pods
4 wild (black) cardamom pods

Grind all the ingredients in a blender until you obtain a fine mix, and pass it through a strainer.

Let's see what spices you come up with. Please share them in the comments or send me an email . I'll keep a running addition of all our wonderful choices.

Please email me any of your questions, and if I don't have the answer, I'll certainly try find it for you.

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