good stuff #7- spice blends

spices are the soul of cooking. they are deep and rich and complex, with the ability to infuse the simplest and blandest of ingredients with a deep and authentic taste-of-place. if you’ve never made your own spice blends before, it’s as easy as anything. think of chili powder and curry powder, or herbs de provence. these blends have become so familiar that you can buy them at every grocery store, but do you know what is in them? what if you like your blend a little spicier, or like to go easier on one spice or another? i accept i’m a tad weird but i adore the alchemy of making spice blends. i can taste and smell each component and know exactly what spice is adding a sweet or hot or earthy note.

making your own also guarantees a higher level of freshness, and if you have a mortar and pestle, or a small electric spice grinder, even better: you can keep the blends whole and grind as needed. i guarantee you will notice a big difference in flavour from pre-ground spices.

ras el hanout
1 broken up cinnamon stick  – 1 tsp sesame seeds 1 tbsp ground ginger  15 black peppercorns – 1 tsp. ground nutmeg – 1 tsp. fennel seeds – 1 tsp. coriander seeds – 8 whole cloves – 8 allspice berries – 8 cardamom pods – 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes – pinch of ground mace

 

this is the beautiful and aromatic blend from north africa that gives moroccan tagines their fragrance. the name translates to “top-shelf”, meaning these are the best spices the merchant has to offer. use in the aforementioned tagine, or stirred into couscous or rice. i especially love to make a moroccan-style salad of cucumber, tomato, mint, and ras el hanout.

 

 

berbere
5 tsp. chili flakes – 1 tsp. ground ginger – 4 cardamom pods – 1/4 cinnamon stick, broken up – 1/2 tsp. each fenugreek, ground nutmeg, black peppercorns, coriander seed, allspice berries, ajwain, and whole cloves – 5 cassia buds

similar to ras el hanout, baharat is used in turkish dishes and very often mixed with olive oil as a marinade. i like to rub it on tofu steaks or add a pinch to hummus, and it’s great with any eggplant dish.

 

 

berbere is one of the distinctive spice blends of ethiopian cuisine, a rich, dark-red blend that gives shera wat and other slow-cooked dishes their fire. also try it tossed with fried potatoes alongside your morning eggs, or mix up with olive oil and tumble some cauliflower before roasting.

 

 

baharat
1 tsp cardamom pods – 3 tsp allspice berries – 3 tsp whole cloves – 4 tsp. black peppercorns – 4 tsp. cassia buds – 3 tsp. coriander seeds – 4 tsp. cumin seeds – 3 tsp. ground nutmeg – 6 tsp. ground sweet paprika

 

 

similar to ras el hanout, baharat spice blends are used in turkish dishes and very often mixed with olive oil as a marinade. i like to rub it on tofu steaks or add a pinch to hummus, and it’s great with any eggplant dish.

 

 

 

 

andalusian spices
equal parts smoked paprika – fennel seed  cumin seed – coriander seed – granulated garlic – peppercorns – oregano leaves – crushed bay leaves – and a pinch of saffron threads

 

 

in spain, tapas-sized skewers of meat called pinchos are rubbed with this blend before grilling, but it’s also a wonderful seasoning for short grain rice, or rubbed with olive oil and lemon juice on peppers and tomatoes before roasting or grilling.

 

 

 

chinese 5-spice blend
equal parts cinnamon bark – star anise  sichuan peppercorns – cloves – fennel seed

 

 

it seemed that for a while there, 5-spice had a bit of a bad name. it had been over-used and the powdery blends at the grocery store were truly bad. but freshly made 5-spice is great, perfect for dusting on fried tofu or seasoning rice.

 

 

 

 

shichimi togarashi
equal parts red chili flakes – ground sancho (japanese red pepper) – dried orange peel  black sesame seeds – white sesame seeds  brown sesame seeds – hemp seed – ground ginger – dried nori

 

i use this japanese pepper blend everywhere. it’s used in this recipe for tofu with spicy salt, and i scatter it over rice and noodle bowls, or sprinkle it onto kale leaves massaged with olive oil and baked for kale chips. you can buy it, but it comes in such small little containers, it’s much more worthwhile to make your own.

 

 

 

 

 

panch phoron
equal parts fennel seed – nigella seed – fenugreek – black mustard seed – cumin seed celery seed

this spice blend is found in bangladeshi, bengali, and nepalese cooking. it’s always used in it’s whole form, and a common dish is simmered lentils made with this blend. it’s aromatic and distinct; i love opening the jar and freeing it’s lush aroma! one of my favourite things to do is heat some ghee, toast a teaspoon of these spices and cook until they “pop”, before adding peeled cubed potatoes and some coconut milk, and simmering until done. so good.

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