Friday, July 30, 2010

My Top Ten Favorite Spices

Spices bring depth and personality to any bland dish. Cooking with spices gives any dish a pulse, a rhythm, and a beat. They make food sing. Here are my Top 10 favorite spices to cook with:

10. Saffron is a powerful and expensive spice so I use it sparingly. I add it to my Saffron ice cream, classic Spanish paella, Tunisian lemonade and Moroccan Lamb Tagine.

9. Hungarian paprika is great for Chicken Paprikash and regular California paprika is a major ingredient in my Southern BBQ rub. But smoked paprika adds a unique smokey flavor and richness to some of our favorite dishes. The "smoke" in this sweet paprika is the wow factor. It makes Mexican carnitas and tacos and Spanish Paella more flavorful. We also love it sprinkled on top of hummus and home fries.

8. Vietnamese Pho won't be the same without this spice. It also gives Thai Iced Tea its distinctive flavor. I also like to add this to my Vietnamese Style beef stew. For my husband's birthday party this year, I made homemade bread with star anise and figs.

7. I use both black and green cardamom seeds in savory Indian and Tibetan dishes and the green ones exclusively in sweet desserts. One of these days, I would like to make one of my favorite Ethiopian dishes using berbere sauce and cardamom. Sometimes, I add ground cardamom to my blueberry muffins to give them an added flare.

6. Nutmeg is an easy choice. It's versatile and not just for baking anymore. With my microplane, I grate a dash into bechamel sauce to give it dimension and flavor. I also like to dunk and soak corn cobs in milk, butter and yes, freshly ground nutmeg.

5. Thanks to Penzeys, I learned that there are many different types of cinnamon depending on their country of origin. I use this sweet spice in lots of things including my homemade cinnamon buns, korma masala and countless other applications.

4. Turkish Bay Leaves are the best bay leaves I've ever cooked with. Mild and earthy, Turkish Bay leaves are an important ingredient to many of our homemade stews and soups.

3. Once I saw women selling freshly picked allspice in little plastic bags during a trip to the Caribbean. Allspice gives many popular Caribbean dishes their great flavor. If you want to make authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Pork, you'll need allspice. Ground Allspice along with really good cinnamon take hot chocolate to a whole new level.

2. Pepper is the most popular spice in the world. I cook with many different types of pepper ( Szechuan, pink, green and so on). Tellicherry peppercorns from India are the most aromatic black peppercorns I know. They enhance any dish and they are the ONLY peppercorns I use when I make my Philippine adobo. For me, this knocks any peppercorn out of the park.

1. The second most popular spice in the world is #1 in my book! Cumin is found in kitchens all over the world -- from North and South America to India to the Middle East. It is intense and robust in flavor. I lightly roast Cumin seeds in a pan and then pulse them in a coffee grinder to transform them into a powdery power spice. Biting into roasted whole cumin seeds are my version of grown-up pop rocks candy. :)

I get my spices everywhere -- from Penzeys, local ethnic stores and some of our travels. Most of my spices are stored in tightly seeled jars. We have a lot of spices and some of them are in this plastic and durable organizer. Where did I get this fancy contraption? Home Depot! This was my hubby's brilliant idea and I do believe it's in the nuts and bolts section.

What spices do you like to cook with? :)


Unknown said...

oh, my god, I so admire you, Jen! Look at that organizer, it must have a million spices in there, you should be a real chef!! Half of your top ten are also my favorite :-)

Jen said...

Thanks Yijie! Our spices were not always organized like that. The spice organizer helps us find our spices more quickly and efficiently.