Around the World in Seven Spice Blends
As technology makes the world grow smaller, the advances in communication only help to further expand our knowledge of each other's cultures, helping to further enrich our knowledge of our human family. Along with the various languages, music, art, our cuisines also form the fabric of who we are. Every country has its own diverse array of aromas and tastes and even within a larger country, each particular region can have its own twist in how they make the same dish. The same set of common ingredients and products can still produce hugely varied outputs simply based on its method of cooking and especially with the spices used. Spice blends are like the fingerprint of each culture, or if we treat each culture or regional cuisine like its own person then spices are like the DNA of that cuisine. Over centuries and with countless permutations and mutations, cultures manage to distill their specific spice uses into distinct blends that become intimately connected with that culture. With this in mind let us take a small trip around the world and get an intimate look at seven spice blends that have become card carriers for the countries and regions that they come from.
We will begin our journey in the East of Asia and continue westwards. Chinese Five Spice is the name, but it does not necessarily have to contain five spices. Rather what it is meant to convey is the five tastes; sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami. There can be many variants, but a common blend is Star anise, Cloves, Chinese, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper,
Fennel seeds. Other recipes may contain anise seed, ginger root, nutmeg, turmeric, Mandarin orange peel, or galangal. The Sichuan pepper is particularly notable as it may not be commonly known in much of the West. Despite its name, Sichuan pepper is not closely related to either black pepper or the chili pepper. It has a unique aroma and flavor that is neither hot like chili peppers nor pungent like black pepper. Instead, it has slight lemony overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth due to the presence of certain chemicals.
Now off to South Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. The term " masala" in Sanskrit means "mixture" or in this case, "spice blend" and the term " garam" means "heat" (not in terms of the heat of chilis, but warmth), so the individual spice ingredients in a " garam masala" tend to be those which exude feelings of warmth. Although, there is a certain base mixture composed of certain spices, each region, or even each cook can add various other spices and ingredients to create a unique blend thus no two garam masala brands are alike. Still, endless varieties notwithstanding, the vast majority of garam masala blends will contain at least these items, cumin, peppercorns( whiteor black), cardamom(black or green), cloves, bay leaves, coriander seeds, and cinnamon (most will contain at least 5 of these 7 spices). Additional ingredients that may be considered are fennel, nutmeg, mace, star anise, etc.
Baharat is an aromatic, warm, and sweet spice blend used in Middle Eastern, Turkish, and Greek cuisines to season everything from lentils to meat. Bahārāt is simply the Arabic word for 'spices'. The mixture of finely ground spices is often used to season lamb, fish, chicken, beef, and soups and may be used as a condiment. The blend is typically made with a combination of black peppercorns, coriander, cumin, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, and nutmeg. Turkish Baharat includes mint in the largest proportion. In Tunisia, Baharat refers to a simple mixture of dried rosebuds and ground cinnamon, often combined with black pepper. In the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, loomi (dried black lime) and saffron may also be used.
Herbes de Provence is an essential component of French and Mediterranean cooking used to imbue a distinctive flavor to dishes such as chicken, roasted vegetables, grilled fish, salads, tomato-based soups, and stews.
Originating in South-Eastern France, where the climate allows summertime herbes to grow plentiful, they are now quite familiar to the American palate thanks to renowned chefs like Julia Child, and others who introduced French cooking and the herb blend to American kitchens.
There are many herbs (and spices) that can collectively be called herbes de Provence, but the basic recipe includes fennel, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, and thyme. Other recipes include (or omit) basil, bay leaves, savory, chervil, sage, oregano, mint, and lavender. Our blend is composed of the following: Basil, Lavender, Savory, Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Tarragon, Fennel Seed, Marjoram, Parsley.
This North African spice blend's name translates from the Arabic as "head of the shop" implying that it is the mix of the best spices in store thus creating a unique, vibrant, earthy, and aromatic blend. Ras el Hanout is used in many savory dishes, sometimes rubbed on meat or fish, or stirred into couscous, pasta, or rice. Commonly used ingredients include cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dry ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn, sweet and hot paprika, fenugreek, and dry turmeric. Some spices may be particular to the region, such as ash berries, chufa, grains of paradise, orris root, monk's pepper, cubebs, dried rosebud, fennel seed or aniseed, galangal, long pepper.
Not to be confused with ground chili pepper powder, the " chili powder" we are referring to here is a blend of the spices most commonly found in Tex-Mex and Latin-American cooking. The base spices are usually are ancho chili powder, paprika, cumin, and Mexican oregano. Other spices like coriander, cayenne, and garlic powder round out individual blends. It makes the perfect seasoning base for chili con carne, tacos, fajitas, and all kinds of beans.
The adobo (from the Spanish adobar - marinating) was more a way to preserve food before the days of refrigeration than a spice mixture, but it remains a seasoning that, coming from the Iberian Peninsula, has become typical of Latin American cultures. Food such as meats, fish, and poultry are "pickled" with a marinade of vinegar, garlic, and spices, but it is also available as a dry spice blend. The common base ingredients are paprika (sometimes mixed with hot pepper), oreganoand cumin, and garlic, fresh peppers, if a marinade is needed then oil and vinegar are added to make a paste. You can use this mixture (powder) to season guacamole, or baked potatoes, or mixed with coarse salt, as a rub for chicken or pork before roasting.
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When talking about food with bold flavors the cuisines of Africa, India, and Latin America really stand out. From their curries to their salsas, and harissa, if there is one ingredient that we can really point to that really put their food on the world map it is the humble chile pepper.
A chipotle Morita chili is a dried ripe chili pepper used for seasoning. It is a chili which is used in Mexico and southwestern in many dishes. Morita chili names come from the word chipotle which means smoked chili. A chipotle Morita chili heat is similar to another chili-like, Tabasco Hungarian wax guajillo.
Consumed for their therapeutic properties, as well as their relaxing and rejuvenating aromas, tisanes are infusions of aromatic herbs and plants. Served either hot or cold, they are a delicious alternative to caffeinated beverages. Most of the infusions that are known as "herbal teas" are not teas at all.