The theme and central focus of my blog has always been to cook with spices. I have used a variety of spice blends , spices and herbs in my food and would like to talk a bit more about my top spice blends in a two part blog post, which are a must have in every kitchen. They will make your food more flavorful, aromatic and spices are good for your health from a nutritional perspective. Interestingly enough the flavor emanated from spices and herbs are actually a defense mechanism of the plant or the tree against bugs!
We start off with one of my favorite and most used seasonings Berbere. Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend which consists of cayenne, paprika, onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cardamom,cumin, black pepper, cloves, fenugreek, coriander, allspice and nutmeg .I credit it’s usage to chef Marcus Samuelsson who was born in Ethiopia but grew up in Sweden and now lives in the States. Tracing back to his roots he uses the spice quite a fair bit and it is one of the most robust spice blends you will come across. I have had different blends but by and large it is on the hotter side. Ethipioans use it to make their traditional “Wats” or stews such as the Doro Wat. I have found it to be quite versatile. You can use it to season meat and fish or even veggies for grilling. One example would be to season meat for burgers and sliders, here’s a recommended recipe for a Lamb Slider. It is also perfect in stews , you can check my Lamb Stew recipe for a recommended usage. Additionally, it also goes well with dips and spreads, the possibilities with berbere are endless! Chef Samuelsson in his Red Rooster restaurant even uses it in cocktails!
If you do not have access to Bebere , you can always make your own. I would recommend Chef Samuelsson’s recipe . I have have had different blends, my experience is that it usually is a bit hotter than the suggested recipe so adjust the level of chiis to your own tastes!
When you think of French cuisine normally spice doesn’t come to your mind at first. There is a greater emphasis on herbs and a hot spice blend isn’t what you expect, however that is exactly what the French settlers to the new world popularized. French settlers in Acadia in Canada were deported by the British to Louisiana. Climatically there was a huge difference and much similar to other parts of the world which have a hot wet climate, the new settlers started adapting their food styles to more spicier versions than classic French cooking. It is quite unclear what the original food of the settlers was, but my best guess it it wasn’t as spice as modern Cajun food!
Cajun seasoning typically consists of cayenne pepper and garlic as the prime ingredients and the spice blends vary depending upon the manufacturer. However , you will come across most spice blends having bell pepper, parsley, sweet paprika, onion commonly, and caraway , celery , mace and oregano aren’t unheard off either . Cajun seasoning is perfect for slow cooked meats, bbq rubs, grilling and of course braised meat dishes. A perfect dish would be to season chops and throw them on the grill However, some of the best seafood dishes I have had were from Louisiana, especially the Gumbo. Gumbo is a perfect marriage of West African and new world French cooking and is on my to-do list for the blog, it isn’t a pretty looking dish but quite hardy and delicious!
If you would like to make your own Cajun seasoning I would recommend this recipe.
3. Garam Masala
“Garam Masala” literally translates to “hot spice mix”. Chef Vikram Vij , Vancouver owner of Vij’s and Dragon’s Den fame , notorious for his “no reservations” restaurant once explained an interesting theory at an expo I was attending at Toronto. His theory was closer you are to the equator, the spicier is your cuisine in order to make you sweat and cool down your body. Whereas further you move towards the poles the usage of heat trapping fatty foods are more to counter the cold. This theory perhaps explains the name “Garam Masala” as by definition it’s supposed to make you sweat. But fear not contrary to the name it’s not a hot spice blend but rather more “Christmas-y” in flavor due to the use of cinnamon and nutmeg. Definitely its a much milder spice blend than both Berbere and Cajun. The flavors are more subtle hence best suited for curries , braised meats and deserts. It can however be used as a rub to to roast poultry , you can check out a recipe for roast duck using garam masala for more details. The typical Garam Masala that you get in the grocery stores has a mix of black peppercorns, mace, cinnamon, cloves, brown cardamom, nutmeg, and green cardamom. The flavors emanate a unique aroma which jacks up the flavor of your dishes. This is an absolute must have in every kitchen!
So which of these spice blends have got you excited ? Please let me know in the comments below!