Tag Archives: spices

A quick and easy healthy bowl of fabulous…

Sometimes when you want a lovely tasty healthy meal but it’s the end of the week and you’re down to store cupboard options, all you need is some passata and spices to create a yummy thick kind of soup!

I emptied a carton of passata (sieved tomatoes) into a pan, added garlic powder, onion powder, roasted ground cumin, ground paprika, chilli powder and Mexican oregano, and a good glug of olive oil. I let it simmer and bubble (well covered as it spit everywhere!) for 10 minutes to develop the flavours.

I then served it up with a topping of chopped spring onions, grated cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Fast, healthy and tasty! It worked perfectly 🙂

Happy weekend!

Sourdough naan breads…

There’s been a lot of sourdough action in my kitchen recently, and I mean a HUGE amount, of which I will have exciting news to share with you all soon. In the meantime, a thrown together meal from the weekend that worked very nicely…

I had some bubbly active starter readily available, and someone on Facebook mentioned sourdough naan breads, and that was that…I decided to see what I could create…luckily I took some notes…

Makes 4 small breads

Ingredients

50g active sourdough starter

100g natural yoghurt

150g plain/all purpose flour

20g olive oil

1/2tsp salt

Method

Mix everything together well, knead it briefly then cover and set aside. Let it prove for an hour or so.

Next, split the dough into 4, make the portions into balls, flatten and on a floured surface, roll them out into rounds about 5mm thick – my rounds were very very rough as you can see!

Heat a tawa or large wide pan over a medium heat. Place the breads into the dry pan and cook for several minutes until the surface starts to brown in places.

Turn the breads, sprinkle the surface with olive oil to keep it moist, and cook the underside until cooked through.

Once cooked, stack the breads onto a plate lined with a tea towel and wrap them to keep them warm.

Eat at will!

I served mine with some za’atar mixed with olive oil; some tahini, buttermilk and lemon juice dressing; and a dip made of chickpeas and spinach cooked with green harissa, cooled and blended with tahini, lemon juice and water.

A very nice dinner indeed 🙂

Have a great week…

What does ‘spicy’ mean to you…?

This weekend I spent Saturday at the BBC Good Food Show manning the stand of my lovely friend Sanjay (Sanjay and I bottom right, above) and his even lovelier business Spice Kitchen UK, along with Sanjay himself and his lovely Mum, aka Mamma Spice…

Above: Sanjay and his Mum, and examples of their beautiful spice tins covered with beautiful wraps made from saris, handmade by Mamma Spice.

What a great way to spend a day, surrounded by such beautiful products, supporting lovely people and talking about spices. It made me realise just how much I know about spices, and food history, and ways to use spices, and the various spice mixes, it was a revelation to myself if no one else!

It also made me realise that the people I was talking to seemed to fall into 3 groups:

Those who love spices, and are comfortable and confident using them, and loved finding spices available of such great quality;

Those who are venturing into the world of spice and would like to learn how to use spices more in their cooking*;

And those who totally disregard spices and tell you that ‘they don’t like spicy food’.

And it’s this word ‘spicy’ that made me want to write this post.

When I talked more to this group of people, if they stopped long enough to chat, what I discovered is that most of them viewed ‘spicy’ food as hot, as in chilli hot. They’re experience has often only been hot curry and they haven’t been impressed and have therefore written off ‘spicy’ food as a result.

To me, food cooked with spices is full of flavour and aroma and warmth and layers. The decision to add chilli remains with the cook, although using spices is not a prerequisite for including chilli. I often use collections of slices in dishes where no chilli is included.

One lady told me specifically, and quite disdainfully, that she didn’t like spicy food and didn’t use spices, but her son did and she bought him a spice tin as a gift. Before she walked away, I couldn’t help myself and asked her if she makes Christmas cake; she answered that she does. So I asked if she puts spices in it; and she answered that she does, listing cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. And so, I said….you DO cook with spices 🙂

So, what does spicy food mean to you? Is it a description that has become synonymous with chilli hot food? Is a better description for food full of flavour developed from spices, but not chilli, ‘spiced’ food? What do you think?

*By the way, to those people who want to know more about cooking with spices, I highly suggest that you take time to read recipes and see how cooks and chefs put spices together. I would cook exactly to recipes for a while whilst building your confidence, then start ditching the measuring spoon and going with your gut. And remember that there is no right or wrong here, just degrees of flavour.

Uses for spice mixes…

Picture the scene: you’ve got a selection of spices mixes in your cupboard that you’ve made or bought for a particular recipe and never used again…or someone has bought you a great set of spice mixes from the lovely people at Spice Kitchen, for example, and you don’t know what to do with them, here’s some ideas for you. In fact, this is why I love making spice mixes because you can use them so easily.

Whatever the spice mix, whatever the origin, these ideas will work with whatever you’ve got to hand..

An easy dip

Stir a teaspoon of any spice mix into a small bowlful of natural yoghurt, ideally Greek yoghurt, or a mix of half yoghurt/half mayonnaise. Allow at least an hour for the flavour and colour to develop before serving. Stir again before serving. 

Pimp your homous:

Add a teaspoon of any spice mix to a pot of shop bought homous, or a small bowl of homemade homous. Allow at least an hour for the flavour and colour to develop before serving, it will be even better the next day. Stir again before serving. I particularly like using my Moroccan spice mix or harissa spice to do this. 

Eggs:

Sprinkle a pinch of spice mix over cooked eggs prior to eating.

Stir half a teaspoon of spice mix into scrambled eggs or an egg mixture prior to making an omelette. Try a Mexican spice mix for starters. 

Eggs and tomato sauce in one!

Tomato sauce:

Make an easy tomato sauce and add any of the spice mixes as it cooks.

Soups:

Add a teaspoon of the spice mix to any premade soup, or add several teaspoons to your own homemade soups as you cook the base ingredients.

I’ve made a lot of soups recently, for example, this soup above is made of olive oil, onions, garlic, carrots, water and baharat spice mix. I’ve made similar in the past with Mexican and Indian spice mixes. 

Whereas this soup is made with cauliflower and a Japanese curry powder. 

Roasted chickpeas:

Drain a can or jar of chickpeas and toss with a tablespoon of oil and a couple of teaspoons of spice mix and roast in a single layer at 180C until the chickpeas look roasted and tasty, and before they start exploding in your oven.


Roasted nuts
:

Pretty much the same as above, more details on my post here. 


Rice/grains
:

Stir some spice mix through any cooked rice or grains prior to serving.


Salads
:

Mix a pinch of spice mix with homemade or shop bought salad dressing, or just sprinkle some spice mix over a salad just before serving.

Salsas:

Finely chop fresh mixed herbs, garlic, maybe a chilli, with olive oil, lemon juice/your choice of vinegar, and add some spice mix.


For marinading
:

Cut 2 your choice of vegetables or meat into chunks, put them into a plastic bag (preferably one without any holes) in it, add 2 heaped teaspoons of spice mix and shake the bag to mix it round and cover all of the chicken. Leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour, maximum 24 hours before cooking. 

Alternatively, mix a couple of teaspoonfuls of spice mix with a couple of tablespoons of oil and create a paste. Add you choice of veg/meat and thoroughly stir it through the paste. Leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour, maximum 24 hours before cooking. 

Or, add a couple of tablespoons of spice mix to a couple of tablespoonfuls of natural yoghurt, below, and marinade as above. 


These work well if you are then grilling/broiling or barbecuing the vegetables/meat.


Roasting vegetables

Toss prepared vegetables in a drizzle of oil and a couple of teaspoons spice mix and roast until ready. More details here

OR…..throw some spice mix into your bread dough! 

I’m taking my spice mix ideas along to this week’s Fiesta Friday, co hosted this week by the lovely Ginger and Suzanne

Spices: where to begin…with whole spices…

Following on from my last post about where to begin cooking with spices, using the same collection of spices from the masala dubba (spice tin) from Spice Kitchen UK that I based that post on, this time I’ll refer to the ‘whole spices’ in the collection..

If you are just venturing into the world of using spices, I would, personally, suggest that you start with some good quality ground spices first; these are spices that have already been ground for you. Whole spices may seem even more daunting than the ground versions, and may be something to come onto later..that’s what I did! 


In this tin, we have brown mustard seeds, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Used whole, these are often utilised in India cooking to flavour the oil and add extra layers of flavour to any number of savoury dishes; the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon are also used widely in baking worldwide, and it may be that usage that you are more acquainted with; any whiff of cloves and cinnamon take me straight to Christmas time! And cardamom is often used in cakes and biscuits and buns. 

I am focussing on their savoury uses for boosting the health and flavour of meals. 

Whole spices are used sparingly, a little goes a long way.

Brown mustard seeds
: the tiny seeds in the bottom right of the above picture, are actually dark yellow in colour, and have a pungent acrid flavour on their own; they are used to make Dijon mustard, however, that does not mean that your dish will therefore taste of mustard. They are typically heated carefully in oil until they start to sizzle at the start of cooking, before having more ingredients then added to them; if you leave them for too long in the hot oil, they will start to pop and fly round your kitchen…I have learnt this the hard way…! 

Alternatively you can throw a few uncooked seeds over a salad.


Cardamom pods
: if you’ve ever eaten a curry and suddenly bitten into a strange little green pod, that’s a cardamom pod; again, they add to the flavour of a dish, but aren’t particularly nice to eat themselves. Cardamon is very strong and aromatic. It has a spicy, herbal, citrusy character and goes very well with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, and other aromatic spices. Also with citrus such as preserved lemons, lemon or orange zest, etc, hence being used in sweet baking. 

One or two may be added to the oil along with the mustard seeds. Always remember to count how many you put in, in case you prefer to fish them out before serving. 

Alternatively, you can crack open the pods and remove the inner little black seed and grind to a powder and add the powder to a dish later on in the cook. 


Cloves
: the little brown sticks with ‘buds’ on the end, are the unopened pink flower buds of the evergreen clove tree, synonymous with so much at Yuletide, that give a warm, sweet, aromatic flavour to ginger bread and pumpkin spice. In savoury dishes they provide the same flavour in a new way. 

Again, they can add flavour to your oil, or you could grind them and use the ground spice later in a dish, but be warned, a little goes a long way! Start carefully and build it up. 


Cinnamon sticks
: come from the inner bark of Cinnamomum verum or cassia and again work well is savoury and sweet dishes, providing a lovely warm flavour and aroma. Cinnamon can also be a great way of adding sweetness for food in place of sugar. 

To use the actual sticks, again use sparingly and try adding them to the pan at the start of your cooking and heat for a little while until you start to smell the aroma, before adding your next ingredients. 

Or again, try grinding them to add to your dish.

All of these spices can be used in the same way, together or individually. Again, I would recommend trying them each individually in dishes that you know well to gauge their flavour, then start to play with them. It’s a great time of year for soups and stews, and adding any of these four, in whatever mix you like or on their own, can add a wonderful extra flavour and warmth to your soup. 

Cooking with spices does not mean that you suddenly have to embrace Indian cooking, these spices can be used to create many flavours and cuisines, as well as Indian. It’s all about how you put the ingredients together, which is all part of the magic. 

I add cardamom, cinnamon and cloves to my porridge each morning, along with turmeric, nutmeg and ginger, which brings wonderful flavour and warmth and goodness to the start of each day. 

My suggestion..

Going back to the idea in my previous post, try making a simple tomato sauce: heat some flavourless oil in a pan over a medium heat; add half a teaspoon of the mustard seeds, 2 cardamom pods, 2 cloves, and a finger length stick of cinnamon to the oil; heat them on their own for a minute, then add a tin of chopped tomatoes or a jar of passata. Cook it all together on a low heat for a few minutes and see how they whole spices add flavour to the tomatoes. 

You could then chuck in some of the curry leaves from the spice tin and see what they do to the flavour too – because the only way to understand what they bring to a dish, frankly, is to try them! It’s too hard to describe the flavour!! 

I hope this has been useful, I will continue into the world of spices again next time…until then, let’s join Quinn and Monika and everyone else at this week’s Fiesta Friday

Spices: where to begin..

This post is the result of 3 different friends of mine saying individually to me recently how they’d like to cook with spices, but wouldn’t know where to start…so I thought I’d try and provide some ideas from my experiences.

I use spices daily, but I was not brought up with a knowledge of spices; I have taught myself over the last few years, through trial and error, and from reading lots and lots of recipes. Reading recipes shows how spices can be used individually or how to use selections of spices together, and in what quatities, I find it very educational. 

I fully believe that spices are your friend. 

Spices are health enhancing, food enhancing, gifts from nature. 

Spices can take a meal from bland to tasty, from being just okay, to being truly amazing. 

If…you like the full on flavour you get from food you eat out and you’d like to recreate it at home, spices are your answer.

If…you’re making changes to your eating habits, and you have any concerns about healthy food being bland, spices are your answer. 

If…you’d like to enhance your eating habits by adding health boosting and immunity strengthening properties, spices are your answer.

BUT….if the thought of cooking with spices makes you nervous and you don’t know where to start, I am here to help; consider this a starting guide to cooking with spices….

It’s too easy to get carried away when buying spices, so for my purpose, I am basing this post on a typical Indian housewife’s ‘masala dubba’, or spice tin, using the photos from my lovely friends at Spice Kitchen UK (I am not being paid or sponsored or strong armed to do so, I just like the company and their products) as I think this provides a good beginners introduction to spices. The quality of the spices is wonderful, and the quantities are small enough not to be overwhelming, whilst being large enough for lots of cooking.  And to save you from buying large quantities of spices you might never use! 

This collection includes ground coriander, ground turmeric, ground chilli powder, cumin seeds, garam masala spice mix and mustard seeds, as well as a few whole spices: cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon sticks and curry leaves. 

I am not suggesting that cooking Indian food is your only option with spices, or even with this selection, it’s just a case of starting somewhere!

Let’s start with the ground spices and cumin seeds…


Ground coriander:
don’t confuse this with fresh leaf coriander; even if you hate fresh coriander, you won’t therefore dislike ground coriander. Ground coriander has a light citrus flavour, providing a lovely flavour to, rather than overpowering, a dish.

Ground turmeric: turmeric is a root, its very distinctly coloured, and will turn anything and everything yellow if you’re not careful. It’s packed full of goodness, and is a real health booster. It’s flavour on its own it’s not particularly nice, but once cooked into a dish, it’s good. And adds a golden tint to everything. If you can add 1/2-1 teaspoon to as many meals as possible, it will only do you good 😉

Ground chilli powder: chilli powder adds the heat to your dish. You need to experiment with chilli powder/s to gain an understanding of what level of heat you  like. Build it up gently, don’t go all maverick and pile it in in the first instance.

Cumin seeds: this is one of my favourite spices; the flavour is difficult to describe, they bring a warmth to cooking, although they’re bitter if you tried to eat them raw. They add a lovely flavour to roasted vegetables, or to an oil (cook them gently though, burnt cumin seeeds aren’t nice), they’re even better lightly roasted. You can leave them whole, or grind them yourself and use them as a powder.

Garam masala: this is an Indian spice mix, used widely in Indian cooking. ‘Masala’ means ‘mix’ so whenever you see masala against an Indian spice name, you known it’s a ready prepared spice mix. Garam masala typically includes black peppercorns, mace, cinnamon, cloves, brown cardamom, nutmeg, and green cardamom, adding a warmth rather than heat to a dish.

If you want to test the flavours of each spice and gain an idea of how it can flavour foods, try adding half a teaspoon (maybe just a quarter of the chilli powder) of one each at a time to some of your typical meals/dishes: try them in your soup, in your baked beans, in scrambled eggs, something that you’ll be able to detect a change of flavour in. 

Then, try making or using a standard tomato sauce, or maybe just a small saucepan of passata, and add a teaspoon of the coriander, cumin seeds and garam masala, and half a teaspoon of the turmeric and chilli powder, cook it briefly and allow the flavours to infuse, and you’ll already be creating a curry flavour. The aroma will be amazing! And if you leave it to eat the next day, the flavours will have developed further – I highly recommend doing this.

Rest assured, that you can’t really get it wrong with spices, the flavours just chop and change, the key is to play; just give it a go on a small portion of something and build from there. 

Hopefully this will show you how easy it is to add spices to your cooking and take out some of the fear factor.

In my next post I’ll talk about the whole spices in this tin, then I’ll move onto some different spices, then making spice mixes, and on and on with more ideas…in the meantime, I hope this has been helpful, have fun experimenting..and Happy New Year!

(PS If you’d like more inspiration, check out Sanjay and his lovely Mum with the Hairy Bikers in their new series ‘Home Comforts’ on 3rd January at 3.45pm, the episode is called ‘Spice it up’ – I’ll be watching!) 

I’m taking my spice tips to the last Fiesta Friday of the year, co hosted this week by the lovely Jhuls and Ginger

Spiced nuts..

 Whilst I’m on the theme of spices, I thought I’d share my recent spiced nut adventures..

This week I made roasted nuts with my rose harissa spice mix, some with the Mexican spice mix from www.spicekitchenuk.com,  some with garam masala, and finally some cashews with chilli powder.. 

To make your own spiced nuts, start with raw nuts; 

Heat the oven to 190C and spread the nuts on a baking tray in a single layer;

Roast until they start to brown;

Keep checking them and move the nuts from the outside edges into the middle and around the tray so that none of them get overdone; 

Whilst they roast, pour 1 tablespoon of olive or rapeseed oil into a bowl and stir a tablespoon of your chosen spice mix into the oil – of course, this may vary depending how may nuts you’re roasting, you need to gauge it yourself; resist the temptation to use any more oil, the oil is only to help the spices stick to the nuts and too much will make the nuts greasy;

Once they start to brown, take the tray out;

Mix the nuts with the oil and spices then put them back on the baking tray and back in the oven for another 10 – 15 minutes or until you feel they are sufficiently done. 

Depending on your tastes, you may wish to add a sprinkle of salt. 

* Don’t put the spices in right from the start of roasting the nuts or you could burn the spices and they will become bitter. 

Mexican spiced 

Chilli cashews 

Garam masala spiced 

Rose harissa spiced 

    
  I thought I was making these rose harissa spiced nuts below for me when I first made them and suddenly my boys had eaten the lot! That’s success in my book 🙂  

Enjoy!

Happy Sunday x