Cooking with spices can be one great adventure that transports you to any part of the world that takes your fancy! Even before you taste the food the evocative aroma of spices can stimulate the appetite. Don't be afaid of using spices in cooking as there is a number of ways in which spices and their aromatic flavour can really enhance all types of dishes.
There are many different spices, these are a few of my favourites...
ALLSPICE ~ Allspice has a taste and aroma similar to that of several spices all rolled into one - cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and black pepper. Great used as marinade mixtures to flavour pork and chicken. It is also used in baking- christmas puddings, cakes and biscuits.
CLOVES ~ Have a sweet pungent and strong aromatic flavour. They are used in many spice mixs, such as curry and chinese powders. Whole cloves are used to flavour liquids when cooking fish, poultry, meats & rice. Cloves go wonderful with apples, so try adding a few to your apple pies.
CARDAMOMS ~ Have a warm, slightly lemon flavour. Cardamoms can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. It is essential in Indian dishes - curries, pilaus, and desserts. Crush the cardamom pods to release the seeds.
CINNAMON ~ The aroma of cinnamon is quite exotic, warm, sweet and fragrant. Cinnamon sticks can be added to casseroles, rice dishes, mulled wines and when poaching fruits in syrup. They are also great added to mugs of hot chocolate. Ground cinnamon is used in cakes pastries and biscuits.
CUMIN ~ Has a strong spicy, sweet aroma with a slightly bitter and pungent taste, the black cumin seeds have a more sweeter and delicate flavour than the white seeds, and is the essential ingredient in most Indian curry powders. Cumin can be added to soups, stews, moroccan lamb dishes, and curries.
GARAM MASALA ~ Is a blend of spices such as coriander seeds, black peppercorns, cumin seeds, green cardamoms, bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon and mace. It is often used to sprinkle over a finished dish to enhance the flavours, but it can be used in cooking as well.
MUSTARD SEEDS ~ The seeds have little or no smell, the hot taste which gives the mustard its "bite" is only released when the seeds are crushed and mixed with water. Mustard is great ingredient in cooking. The white seeds are used in pickling and the brown seeds in indian curry powders. The seeds can be cooked in hot oil until they pop, and then stirred into a variety of vegetable or dhal dishes.
TURMERIC ~ Has a peppery aroma and a warm musky flavour. It is often used as an alternative to saffron which is quite expensive. Turmeric is often used in Indian dishes which adds flavour and well as a yellow colour to curries, rice dishes, chutneys and pickles, and especially to piccalilli.
PAPRIKA ~ Is mild to pungent and sweet with a hint of bitterness, and is a rich red colour, great added to goulashes, stews and chicken dishes.
CORIANDER SEEDS ~ Dry-frying the seeds really enhances their flavour, they have a slightly " burnt orange" aroma which is quite nice. The ground seeds give a pleasing mild sweet taste. Very popular in Indian cooking. The ground coriander is found in curry powders and garam masalas. Whole or ground coriander can be used in chutneys, especially those that contain green tomatoes. Try using whole coriander in chicken or pork casseroles.
CORIANDER ~ This versatile plant has been used as a medicine and flavouring since ancient times. Coriander is a member of the carrot and parsley family (it has a similar appearance to flat leaf parsley) its also called Chinese parsley and Cilantro.
I like this herb, as both the leaves and seeds of the plant are used in cooking but they have very different flavours and are used in different ways. The leavesm and roots have a strong pungent flavour and an earthy taste. Coriander loses its flavour very quickly once cooked, so add it just before serving to maintain the maximum taste. The fresh or dried corainder is good to use in salsas, dips, tomato dishes and salads, also very good with chicken and pork dishes.
Coriander Seeds ~ after the coriander plant flowers, seed heads form - the seeds are tiny creamy brown-coloured globes, about the size of peppercorns. They have a mild, sweet taste. The seeds are either used whole or ground. The seeds are used extensively in Indian cookery, often dry-fried with cumin seeds and then ground. Whole seeds are used in pork and chicken casseroles, also in pickles and chutneys.
To gain the maximum flavour from coriander seeds it is best to dry-fry them. Heat a heavy-based frying pan (without any oil), add the seeds and fry them over a medium heat, stirring frequently.
Ground Coriander has a distinctive aroma and is popular in both sweet and savoury dishes. In cakes, biscuits and lightly spiced savoury dishes and curries, especially good in soups made from root vegetables such as Carrots, Parsnips, Swede and Pumpkin.
STAR ANISE ~ Has a liquorice-like aroma and flavour. Star anise is one of the most important spices in chinese cooking, its one of the main flavours in the Chinese five spice powder. Try putting a whole star anise in the cavity of duck or chicken along with an onion before roasting, really gives an oriental-style flavour to a meal.
FENNEL SEEDS ~ Has a sweet and warm aroma and a mild flavour of anise. Ground fennel is used in alot of curry powders and chinese five spice powder. It goes well with oily fish like salmon, mackerel also with pork and lamb, the crushed seeds are used in savoury and sweet baking.
NUTMEG ~ smells gloriously aromatic, sweet and warm. It is used for flavouring cakes, and milk puddings, try a little grated or ground nutmeg added to your apple or cherry pies. Also great added to sauces for cauilflower cheese or sauces for fish. Mulled wine and egg nog is delicious with a little sprinkle of nutmeg too.
GINGER ~ Fresh root ginger, has a hint of lemon and a refreshing sharpness, when it is cut into. Can be grated ,chopped, crushed and used in many dishes like Indian and oriental. Ground ginger is used in baking, and also in chutneys and jams.
CHILLIES ~ Chillies have a chemical effect on our bodies, the flavour is addictive and pleasurable, some people enjoy it more than others. They are rich in vit C, they stimulate the appetite and cool the body by making a person sweat. There are many different kinds of chillies all varying in heat strenghs. Chillies are used in many recipes, curries, mexican and many other dishes.
SAFFRON ~ comes from the Crocus Sativus an autumn - flowering perennial of the iris family.The flowers have three bright orange-red stigmas which are the true saffron. These are then toasted, or dried, in sieves over a very low heat.
Saffron is very expensive to buy. Just consider that 200,000 flowers have to be harvested by hand to obtain 450g/1lb Saffron, so no little wonder at the cost. Saffron is appreciated in culinary use for its delicate, yet distinctive flavour and its striking colour. Can be used in sweet or savoury dishes. It should be used sparingly though to avoid a medicinal flavour. As it is hugely expensive, some folk will use Turmeric in its place as an everyday alternative to saffron. Turmeric will give you the colour, but not that flavour of saffron.
Saffron strands can be infused in a little warm water or milk until the colour of the liquid is even. Add the liquid and the strands to your dish, usually towards the end of cooking. The powdered Saffron can be added direct to the food without the need for soaking.
CARAWAY~ is one of the worlds oldest culinary spices. It can be used in sweet or savoury dishes, including, cabbage soups, coleslaw, goulash, Potato and cheese-based dishes, also its long been used to flavour cheeses. Caraway also flavours breads and cakes like the old-fashioned British seed cake and biscuits. Caraway seeds have a warm, sweet and slightly peppery aroma. and their flavour has a hint of fennel or aniseed.
VANILLA ~ is great used in sweet cooking, added to cakes, biscuits, puddings and desserts.
Make some Vanilla sugar - add a vanilla pod to a jar of caster sugar, and allow three or four weeks for the flavours to develop, then just keep topping your jar up with sugar as you go. This gloriously fragrant vanilla sugar is marvelous used in cakes, ice-creams, sweet pies and milk puddings. A good-quality pod which has plenty of vanillin crystals, will remain potent for as long as four years.
Did you know Vanilla is the seed pod of a tropical climbing orchid, which is a native of Mexico. The flowers only open for one day and are naturally pollinated by the melipona bee and a particular long-beaked hummingbird, both of which are native to Mexico. Which explains the lack of success in propagation of this plant elsewhere.
NIGELLA ~ The Nigella seeds are from a plant which is the same family as the "love in a mist" flower. The seeds are held in a seed head similar to that of a poppy head, and used as a spice. The seeds are also known by other names, black caraway, black cumin and black onion seeds. The seeds have little aroma but if rubbed in the fingers they will give off a kind of peppery smell and they have a herb like taste that is similar to Oregano. Nigella is one of the five spices in Bengali five spice (panch phoron) and is used alot in Indian cooking usually in vegetable and dhal dishes as well as pickles and chutneys, quite often the seeds are scattered on naan breads to give them that peppery flavour.
FENUGREEK ~ Is used both as a herb from the leaves, and as a spice from the seeds. Fenugreek is very aromatic, smelling of curry, it has a tangy flavour, a little like burnt sugar.The leaves are used fresh or dried and used to flavour Indian dishes and combined with vegetables like spinach, potatoes and yams. The seeds are used in curry powders and pastes and in vegetable curries, and is another one of the bengali five spices.
TAMARIND ~ has been used as a food ingredient for thousands of years.
It has little smell - maybe a hint of sweet and sour to its aroma. Its flavour makes up for this, which is quite sour, yet fruity and refreshing - kind of resembling sour prunes. Tamarind is also one of the ingredients in the famous Worcestershire Sauce. It is also a standard ingredient throughout India and south-east Asia in curries, chutneys, lentil and bean dishes as well as hot and sour soups. Tamarind wood is used as timber, firewood and for charcoal. Other uses of the species include medicines, dyes and for planting as an ornamental.
PEPPER ~ Is the KING of spices, one of the oldest and the most popular, making it one of the most versatile of all spices. Black peppercorns has that earthy, rich aroma, the white peppercorns are not as rich and have a cleaner taste, these tastes great added to creamy sauces. Black pepper can be used in virtually all savoury cooking and can even be added to sweet cooking, like fruitcakes and gingerbreads, even fruit such as strawberries and juicy figs taste delicious with a little sprinkling of pepper.
~ SPICE TIPS ~
If you have made a curry and it is much .....
TOO SPICY ~ then add some tomatoes or lemon / lime juice or even a pinch of sugar to calm down the heat and make it a little more milder.
TOO MILD ~ Don't add any chilli straight into your curry. First fry a little chilli in a pan, then add some of your curry sauce to it, and cook for few mins then return it to your main curry.
TOO SALTY ~ Add a few pieces of raw potato to the curry, then remove from heat and leave to stand for 15 mins. Remove the potato and check the curry taste.
* Experiment when making curry, use the correct quantities the first time, then add more or less spices to your own taste the next time you make a curry.
* The Authentic Indian way to cook onions is to cook gently in oil with a sprinkling of salt, once they are tender then increase the heat to help them caramelise.
* If you prefer less heat then next time don't add the seeds of the chilli to the curry.
* Whole spices will last longer than ground spices, so grind them yourself when you need them. If you have a coffee bean grinder use this for grinding up your spices.