Saturday, January 8, 2011

Spice It Up!!

When my first child was about a year old, I made an Indian curry feast for dinner one night. He had already had everything I was serving - chicken, rice, vegetables, and legumes - but not the flavourful curry spice blends I had used in that night’s meal.  

I looked at my husband and asked, “What should I feed the baby?”

Referring to the two months I spent in India, he asked, “What do Indian women feed their babies?”

“Right... curry.” I answered.


Variety is the spice of life, but think of all the possibilities of variety when spices are added!

Generally speaking, why do we not use more spice in North America? I am not talking spice as in picante or hot, but spice as in fragrant, flavourful, and savory on the palette? 

What spices are in your cupboard? How often do you use them? When you do use them, how much do you add? How much should you add? 

How long do spices last? Typically, they loose their punch after about a year, so only buy what you will use in that time. Write on your spice jars the month and year you bought them; this takes some of the guesswork out.

I frequent a few Asian and Indian markets near where I live that have an excellent variety of spices and the prices are unbeatable - look for one in your home town. The Asian aisle at Canadian Superstore is also excellent for these gems.

Whole or ground spices? I have quite a few whole and ground spices, the question is, do you have a use for both? I use whole and ground cumin and coriander extensively, so I have both ground and whole of each. The other question is freshness. Once a spice is ground, it starts to loose its freshness and flavour. If you can grind your own whole spices, then why not? Your spices will stay fresher longer. All you need is a $10 coffee grinder that you only use for grinding spices and you are on your way!

Herbs are not spices.  Herbs are typically green and are so much better than their dried counterparts. Typically, herbs are the leaves of plants and spices are the seeds, bark, or roots of plants. See if you can find fresh herbs for your recipe next time instead of using dried. 

Here are a few herbs I buy fresh frequently and use in a multitude of ways:
parsley (flat or curly)

Oregano is one herb that keeps its flavour when dried; sage and thyme do as well. Though this may be, try using fresh herbs instead of dried next time - you will be amazed at the flavour punch delivered by fresh!! 

IDEA: Add the leaves of one herb into a green salad and taste the difference.

What’s on my spice shelf?
black pepper corns (whole)
black ground pepper
white pepper corns (whole)
ground ginger
ground garlic
red chili flakes
whole coriander seed
ground coriander seed
whole onion seed
ground turmeric
yellow mustard seeds
sea salt
kosher salt
montreal steak spice
ground chipotle peppers
whole dried chipotle peppers
whole dried red chili peppers
ground chili powder
more turmeric (a different kind)
whole fennel seed
dill weed
whole allspice
ground sage
large bay leaves
whole nutmeg nuts
whole black cumin seeds
whole cumin seeds
ground cumin seeds
black mustard seeds
green cardamom pods
black cardamom pods
curry leaves
south Indian curry blend
ground cinnamon
cinnamon bark sticks
whole cloves
whole star anise flowers
pumpkin pie spice (my blend)

IDEA: is to get one new spice (or two) every few weeks and start incorporating it into your recipes. 

If you have ANY spice questions please feel free to ask and I will do my best to find the answer.

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