|What spice can´t you do without in your cooking?|
There is nothing new about the fact that fresh spices give that all too important boost to a bland curry, or pepper up a simple dish of rice or beans and magic it into a "HOT" pot. Certain spices of the more exotic variety remind me of my travels.A tin of something exotic hints at a well-travelled individual doesn´t it? Cardamom and peppercorns for instance bring to mind a trip to Zanzibar,while ginger powder, nutmeg and mace remind me of childhood and my mother.
If someone were to ask me what spice I use the most often in my cooking, I would hesitate. - it´s such a tough question to come up with a quick answer: there are so many contenders.
In my larder there is a hodgepodge of little unmatched jars and sealed foil packets some of them known brands, some of them old re-cycled anchovy jars, well-washed and filled with spices from more serious specialist catering outlets. I try and contain them with some modicum of regiment in a deep plastic tray but they inevitably spill out onto the shelf in a very eclectic mishmash of colours, sizes and shapes.
Does this sound like your spice store, or do you have a different approach?
In my cupboard there are also a few of those tiny jam jars that look like elements of a room service breakfast, filled with different strains of paprika and various samples I have been given as well as the occasional interestingly shaped vintage jar I've found here and there.
Do you have one particular spice that always needs replacing? And more alarmingly do you have spices that have been sitting at the back of your cupboard that have never seen the light of the kitchen worktop? Spices are generally the most neglected items in the store cupboard. Full brownie points if you have cleaned out your spice rack, drawer or jars lurking in the back of the cupboard in the past year.A word of re-assurance here,you are not alone.It is that time of year again,resolutions to be made and undone.Nothing is more deserving of good old pantrification than the spice drawer or rack.I have to constantly monitor my spice reserves because of their shelf life.
The first thing to chuck out is glass jars(and as you have seen above I for one raise my hand in shame here). These are the worst possible containers, being exposed to light and fluctuating temperatures on the kitchen shelf. (Tins or foil packets are far better, especially when stored in a cool, dark, dry place.)I am starting to sound like some terrible pantry aesthete. Really my life is far from being in an ordered state. Moreover, anything older than a few months will have already begun to deteriorate, and not just in terms of flavour. The goodness of spices and their benefits can only be derived when they are fresh,so this is why new year or even twice yearly spice scarifying is essential.
From our spice troves - an image can be assembled of who we are and what we like to cook.Among this half ordered turmoil of containers in my larder you'll find several kinds of chili powder, chilli flakes, dried whole chillies and some spices that have never seen the inside of a supermarket, which I believe spells adventurous cooking! On closer inspection, while I was doing my spice inventory, I found five jars of chinese 5 spice.How could this happen? The words busy or perhaps scatty come to mind.This I assume means I am a cook who does not check their store before going to the market or am I an impulse shopper who constantly forgets whats back home.
Specific categories of spices spill the beans on our culinary cultural upbringings: Curry mixes, Garam masala, Ras al hanout, Thai, the all fashionable za'atar or cinnamon and cardamon.You will notice I have not mentioned things like Italian seasoning or dried herbs.I consider these in a different category completely,not what I would classify as spicesHow about you? What sort of spice girl are you? Are you hodge-podge or uniform spice? Well-labeled spice or lucky dip spice ? How do you spice up your wife and what is your reason to season? Or are you just lost in spice?I leave you with this thought from comedian Jack Whitehall "Piri piri is a blend of spices brought to fruition by the tears of Portuguese fishermens wives".
My top ten of most used spices (in no particular order)
Piri piri flakes
Chinese five spice
A Moroccan cinnamon spice blend
Makes 1/4 cup (60 mL)
Very aromatic without being overpoweringly hot, this spice blend is versatile for tagine dishes that include fruit and can even be used in small amounts in sweet dishes and beverages.
What you will need:
small tagine, wok or cast-iron skillet
pestle and mortar or spice grinder
1 piece(5 cm /2 inches) cinnamon, crushed
2 tbsp cardamom seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1 star anise
1/4 tsp ground nutmegIn the bottom of a small tagine, spice wok or skillet, combine cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cloves and star anise. Toast over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly colored and fragrant.
Remove from direct heat just as the seeds pop; do not let the spices smoke and burn. Let cool.In a mortar (using pestle) or small electric grinder, pound or grind toasted spices until coarse or finely ground. Add nutmeg to ground spices and mix well.
Store in an airtight (preferably dark) glass jar with lid in a cool place for up to 3 months.