What makes each country’s food taste unique? What gives it life? All chefs and cooks think about how dishes taste and appear, but do they consider how the food makes people feel and have they been transported to really experience the unique flavors of a region? I have learned that cuisines feel rich and are full of flavor because of the artful use of spices and herbs.
My food voice journey started with my grandmother. She was a simple country cook. She never measured anything, but her food was fresh and rich in flavor. As she would cook, smelling the ingredients and spices as they were added, I could “taste” the food in my imagination as I watched her through each step. Over time I found that I could read a recipe and in my head either knew what spices were not enough or too much and what could be added to enhance the flavor of the dish. This led me to look for more and different spices that I was able to find in my local grocery.
If you were to look in my spice drawer and cabinet in Los Angeles or the Hamptons (yes, I do have that many – over 100), you would see a large array of spices. The spices range from those that most people recognize and use frequently to a variety of Hungarian and Spanish paprikas (each with their own unique sweet or smoky taste) to seeds called “Grains of Paradise” which is used as a substitute for pepper, but has a much deeper range of flavor and really enhances the taste of North African dishes. Amazingly enough, I actually use all of them! The real advantage of having such a large variety is that when you are inspired to try something new and different, you will usually have what you need on hand.
So why do I have so many unique and different spices? One day I stumbled on a website, www.thespicehouse.com that deepened my understanding of spices and piqued my interest to broaden my own spice collection to experiment with. The Spice House is an excellent resource if you are looking for hard to find spices, such as those used in indian cuisine (a future blog) and some that are just down right curious. They sell them in 4 oz. jars or in bulk, so you can buy as little or as much as you like. Also, their website has great recipes associated with each spice that they sell so you can get ideas to experiment with them on your own.
Just recently, I was reordering some black Tellicherry peppercorns (a definate must – you will never buy peppercorns in the grocery store again!), I saw something that I had never seen before and I had to try it – “Vulcan Fire Salt”. If you are one who likes spicy and smoky flavors, this is a salt for you! It is a blend of Salt, Louisiana Chile Mash, Garlic, Habanero Chile, Shallots, Tellicherry Pepper, Lime Peel, Pimenton de La Vera, Picane, Cumin, allspice and Vinegar – best of all the sodium content is only 671 mg per teaspoon or 25.13% sodium. So for those who need to watch their sodium intake, this is a great alternative with the added benefit of real spice! My favorite use is when cooking salmon, the immediate taste is of the heat, but the citrus taste come sneaking through. If you decide to investigate this for your own cooking adventure, the website had a wealth of ideas of how to use spices in dishes you may never consider. Count The Spice House as one of my favorite web “traps”.
So, next time you think that all you need is a little salt and pepper, let your imagination take over and spice it up!