Posts Tagged ‘dried herbs’

I just had to do it–the idea for the title to this post was too tempting to pass up.  Yes, we are going to talk about Turkey, but not the famous bird we all think of as representing Thanksgiving, bloating, belching, and tight pants.  We are going to talk about the spices/herbs used in the cooking of the country of Turkey.  Gotcha there, huh! 

I find the spices/herbs of Turkish cooking to be as complex as Moroccan and Indian and most Middle Eastern cooking.  They are aromatic, strong, lingering, sensual and delicious.  If  Dougray Scott was a Turkish spice mix I would rub him all over my body and never bath again.  Ikes, where did that come from.  I am so sick when it comes to Dougray Scott that I can’t mention his name without conjuring visions of that wonderful voice and those sexy lips.  The rest of him–nah.  But, those two parts–quite the hook for this fish!

Back to topic, hard as it is.  Turkish spice blends are as varied as the households in Turkey itself.  Like most Eastern cooking, each and every home has their favorite spices that they use.  This makes it easy to create your own recipe.  But, before you are able to do that you need to know the basic cooking spices used in Turkish cooking.  Many of the spices I will mention will be familiar to you from our other lessons.  For those spices that are new (and there aren’t many) I will leave a brief description.  What is really cool is that within the next few days I will list a simple recipe for a great beginners Turkish spice blend.  O.K. here we go!

The most used spices/herbs in Turkish cooking are:

1.  Allspice

2.  Bay Leaf

3.  Black Pepper

4.  Nutmeg

5.  Hot Red Pepper Flakes

6.  Rosemary

7.  Cardamom

8.  Anise

9.  Basil

10.  Ginger

11.  Fennel

12.  Marjoram

13.  Parsley

14.  Pine Nuts

15.  Sage

16.  Saffron

17.  Tarragon

18.  Turmeric

19.  Thyme

20.  White Pepper

21.  Cinnamon

22.  Cumin

23.  Cardamom

24.  Fenugreek

25.  Juniper

26.  Mint.  Ah, here is a new one.  Mint is an often used herb in Turkish cooking.  It is used with mutton, lamb and salads.

27.  Poppy Seeds

28.  Sesame.  Yes, another new one.  Sesame is a crushed oily seed of a small bush that grows in Sudan and China.  It is often used to make Tahini.  Ummmm.  Another great body rub!

29.  Cloves.  Have we seen this one before?  If not cloves are a dried flower that are often ground and used in cakes and cream sauces.  Cloves are also used whole to flavor soups and stews.

30.  Coriander

31.  Curry Powder

32.  Mustard Seeds.  Here is another new one.  Seeds are ground and used in spice blends and even the greens are used in salads.  It has a bit of a bitter flavor and should be used sparingly.

Well, now you can see why Turkish cooking is so complex and so wonderful.  There is a treasure chest of spices/herbs to choose from in making a Turkish spice mix.  But, not to worry I soon will be listing a Turkish spice blend recipe that you all can make and enjoy!  Well, I must be off  (literally and figuratively).  Goodnight all and be ready to tread the spice trails of Turkish cooking!


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Besides spices from India, I love Moroccan spices as well.  My Moroccan Madness, Moroccan Spice Blend by Adult Indulgences, has over 50 different spices and herbs.  In Morocco Ras El Hanout is the name given to the foundation spice blend.  And, as in India, almost every home  and region will use different spices, amounts of spices, herbs, etc.  So, Ras El Hanout can range from an extremely complex set of flavors to a blend that is rather simple.  Before I got into mixing my own blends, I had tried many different Moroccan blends and didn’t really feel “into” any of them.  Don’t get me wrong, Moroccan spices are fantastic, but I wanted more depth, warmth and end note that kept of giving.   And, I think I found it in my gourmet blend.  Just needed to toot my horn.

Anyhow, let’s take a look at a list of many of the spices used in Moroccan cooking.  Believe me, they are varied and when used in the correct amounts can cause your taste buds to stand at attention and ask for more, more, more!

1.  Bay Leaves.  Bay leaves come from an evergreen tree and can be very fragrant.  In Moroccan cooking they are generally used whole in soups, stews, sauces and tangines.  The leaves are not eaten but used only for their spice qualities.

2.  Anise.  As we have learned before, Anise seeds have a heavy licorice flavor.  Moroccan cooking uses both whole and ground anise, especially in their baking.

3.  Saffron.  Saffron threads are my favorite spice.  It is the world’s most expensive spice.  Saffron comes from the stigmas of the saffron crocus flower.  I love the beautiful yellow color they impart to rice and sauces and I adore its delicate flavor and scent.  Always remember that just a few threads of saffron can flavor an entire dish.  Overuse of saffron in a dish can completely overpower any other ingredients.

4.  Sweet Paprika.  Paprika is made from finely ground peppers.  Sweet Paprika is made from finely ground dried sweet red peppers.  In Morocco, paprika is used most often to season meats.  It is also often used in stews, cooked salads, and stews.

5.  Fenugreek.  Fenugreek seeds are widely used in the Arabic world.  They are golden brown in color and if used in excess can leave a dish quite bitter-tasting. 

6.  Black and White Pepper.  White and black pepper come from the same plant, but white pepper is ground only from the inside kernel.  Thus, the white pepper is milder than the black pepper and if often used in sweeter Moroccan dishes where it can complement the softness of saffron.

7.  Ginger.  We have also talked about Ginger before.  Ginger is a root and quite spicy in fragrance and taste.  Younger ginger is less fibrous and of a milder flavor.  Ginger is often used in tangines, stews and soups.  I don’t like using powdered ginger as you don’t know its origin or the age of the root used.  Powdered ginger can sometimes have very bitter flavor.

8.  Cinnamon.  Cinnamon is so wonderfully fragrant with a hit of sweetness.  Cinnamon is not spicy and comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree.  You can buy the sticks or rounds of bark or ground cinnamon.  Cinnamon is quite common in Moroccan sweets, pastries, and sweet dishes.

9.  Sesame Seeds.  One of my favorite ingredients for Middle Eastern cooking.  In the U.S. we are used to seeing the hulled sesame seed that is pale in color.  In Morocco and most Middle Eastern cooking you see the golden brown, un-hulled sesame seed.  I find sesame to be nutty in flavor with a wonderful after fragrance.

10. Turmeric.  Turmeric is often used to impart a yellow color to cooking and, sadly, as a spice that allows less saffron to be used.  Turmeric itself is a bit bitter and has a little bit of a fresh earth scent to it.  Turmeric comes from the ground root of the Curcuma longa.  Moroccan’s often use Turmeric for its yellow color alone.  In Morocco itself a yellow powder can be found in the markets to turn dishes a beautiful yellow/orange color.  I’ve never seen it in the U.S. and have only read about its use.

11.  Cumin.  Cumin comes from the dried and powdered fruit of a plant in the parsley family.  Cumin has a wonderful scent and a very slight bitter flavor when left on the tongue.  As in many cultures, Moroccan families use Cumin on eggs, stews, tangines, meats. salads, and beans.

12.  Nutmeg.  Nutmeg comes from the same fruit that gives us the spice, mace.  It is both sweet and spicy and is an ingredient used in the famous Ras El Hanout.

13.  Gum Acacia. Gum Acacia comes from the sap of the Acacia tree.  The sap becomes hard and is ground to be used as a stabilizer in many dishes.  Gum Acacia is widely used throughout Africa.

14.  Ras El Hanout.  Ras El Hanout, as mentioned above, is a spice blend used in most Moroccan cooking.  Generally, recipes for Ras El Hanout will include:  cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, anise, mace, and sea salt or Kosher salt, a number of different peppers and turmeric.

On that note, let me reveal that within the next few days I will be blogging about a simple Ras El Hanout Recipe.  Get ready to enjoy Moroccan cooking and the diverse and delicious dishes you can create for friends and family!  Now that you have a list of the basic spices used in Moroccan cooking you can get ready to mix and match as you see fit and try all those Moroccan dishes that have made such beautiful pictures in gourmet magazines!

And, keep an eye out on my etsy sellers promotion page, as the sellers will be changing soon!

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Good evening everyone.  Imagine my delight late last night when I was just about ready to enter this post and BAM!  Yes, BAM!  I found out that an old episode of Desperate Housewives was on featuring guess who?   Who?  Say it!  Yes.  BAM!  Dougray Scott.  Needless to say all thoughts of my favorite Indian spices went out of my head and I became glued to the television.  Dear God, how could she choose a plumber over Dougray Scott.  Sigh.  Now that I have those feelings out the way, its down to business!

Indian cooking is one of my favorites.  The flavors are so varied by region and even by cooks within regions that I believe Indian cooking is some of the most interesting in the world and the spices used, some of the most complex.  Here’s a list of the most common Indian spices.  Most of these can be found in grocery stores in larger cities.  If you, like me, are unlucky enough to live away from such an urban area, there are plenty of Indian groceries on the net to satisfy your spice searching.

1.  Green Hot Chillies.  Don’t touch your fingers to your eyes when handling green hot chillies.  Indian green chillies are about 2-4 inches long and filled with white seeds.  It is the white seeds that cause all that burn.  So, if you don’t want the burn, use latex gloves and remove as many seeds as you can. Indians call these chillies Hari Mirch.

2.  Red Hot Chillies.  Again, a warning about the heat.  These are really  interesting chillies.  When you place them in boiling oil they will puff up and the skin will darken.  It is believed that even the darkened skin lends a special flavor to Indian cooking.  The Indian name for these red chillies is Sabut lal mirch.

3.  Fresh grated Coconut and Coconut Milk.  Coconut milk is made by grating coconut, placing it in water and then squeezing out the juice.  Ummmmm.  Fresh grated coconut meat freezes and unfreezes easily so it is an easy item to keep for future use.  Fresh grated coconut is referred to in India as Nariyal.

4.  Coriander Seeds.  Coriander seeds are used often in Indian cooking.  They are usually freshly ground before used in any recipe.  The Coriander plant itself is also used in Indian cooking as a herb as opposed to a spice.  Coriander leaf is used much like we use parsley in Italy.  In order to flavor wet dishes the leaves are often tossed in and cooked for the addition of their aroma.  Indians call Coriander greens Kothmir.  Coriander seeds are often called Dhania or Sabut.

5.  Cinnamon.  Cinnamon sticks are most often used in rice and meat dishes.  The Cinnamon sticks are used for flavor and are not eaten. Their Indian name is Dar Cheeni.

6.  Whole Cloves.  Again, whole cloves are often used in meat and rice dishes for its aroma.  Indians refer to cloves as Long (as opposed to short–just kidding).

7.  Cayenne Pepper.  Hey this is one we all know about, huh!  It’s Indian name is Pisi hui lal mirch.

8.  Cardamom.  Cardamon seeds come from the Cardamom pod and are black and highly aromatic.  If you are using the pod with seeds included you should not eat it only use it for its aroma.  The seeds can be eaten and ground.  Cardamom seeds are referred to as Elaichi.

9.  Green Mango Powder.  Green Mango Powder is just as it says–a green mango that has not ripened.  The unripened mango is sliced and dried in the sun.  Both whole slices and powdered slices are sold in Indian groceries. I’ve only used the powder and can not speak to the use of the sliced Amchoor.  Amchoor is extremely sour and tastes somewhat like lime.  It is referred to as Amchoor Powder.

10.  Asafetida.  This is a resin with a strong odor that is usually found in Kashmir.  Someone in a cooking class once told me it smelled like truffles.  Ummmmm.  I’d say earthy is right, but to me it smelled closer to really old manure that no longer smelled like excrement but was once excrement.  Again, my palate can’t be trusted.  Since that class I have never used it even when a recipe has called for it. 

11.  Fennel Seeds.  Ah, another one I use often.  Fennel seeds have a liquorice-like flavor–not as heavy as anise but the taste is definitely there.  Fennel seeds are often roasted and placed on the last course in a meal as a breath freshener.  At an Indian grocery ask for Sonf.

12.  Fenugreek Seeds.  Many of you have used Fenugreek seeds in Mediterranean cooking.  They are a squarish, brownish-yellow seed that have a definitely mushroomy or earthy flavor (without the excrement included ; ) ).  Indians refer to these seeds as Methi.

13.  Cumin Seeds.  Indians usually roast their seeds in a pan and use them whole or grind them. 

There we have it.  These are the very basic spices used in Indian cooking.  Tomorrow we will look at another basic spice mixture used as a “base” (or a beginning) in Indian cooking–Gram Masala.  It is easy to make at home and is delicious by itself or after more spices/herbs are added to further enhance the flavor of a recipe. 

Alas, I must leave you for this evening.  Like Dougray Scott I am here, but not really here–I’m in the ether.  Goodnight and good eating!

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Ah, my friends, the final group in the categorization of spices.   And, drum roll please, that category would be amalgamating.  I know, big words are difficult, but this is one you really should know.  Anything that is amalgamating is something that brings other things together.  No, Dougray Scott’s lips are not amalgamating unless they are drawing my lips towards his, then……maybe they are amalgamating.  At least mating, anyway! ; ) 

From this simple definition we can see that amalgamating spices play a critical role in spice mixing.  In essence, amalgamating spices are gentle spices and their flavors bring together  other more strong spices.  It’s much like a romantic dance between lovers–the strong partner may lead, but the weaker, more gentle partner can actually make the dance sing.  A short list of amalgamating spices include:

1.  Sesame Seeds.  Sesame seeds can be black, which means they still have their hulls on.  Or, they can be light colored, which simply means the shells have been removed.   Most often we see dark sesame seeds used in Japanese cooking and light seeds used in all kinds of baking.  I love the light note sesame lends to my Moroccan Madness Moroccan spice blend.  Yummm.

2.  Paprika.  Again, paprika can come in a number of subtly different  flavors, depending on the plant it is harvested from.  The paprika plant is a member of the chili family and as a spice it usually comes in powdered form.  Paprika can range from sweet to hot and the color can vary from a brown red to a brighter crimson.  The fresher the paprika the brighter the color and better the flavor.

3.  Coriander.  Coriander seed is often used in Asian cooking and is quite mild, holds a beautiful bouquet, and is gentle on the palate.  Coriander is one of my favorite spices and I use it often in my blends. 

4.  Poppy Seed.  We are all familiar with poppy seeds being used for baking purposes.  We are used to seeing the beautiful blue colored varieties in many pastries and breads.  We are less used to seeing the lighter colored poppy seeds which can be ground and used as a thickener.  The blue seeds have a slightly nutty flavor when cooked and they lend a gentle undercurrent to baked goodies.

5.  Fennel Seed.  Fennel seeds (like the fennel bulb) tastes a bit like anise, except that it is noticeably sweet to the palate.  I grew up watching my Italian grandmother and mother cook with fennel seeds and bulbs.  I have learned to love the flavor of the vegetable or the seed.  Fennel is a staple of mediterranean cooking. 

6.  Tumeric.    Tumeric comes from a tropical plant root and has a wonderful earthy flavor that mixes well with many other spices and herbs.  Tumeric is a large component in my Moroccan Madness, Moroccan spice blend as well as some of my Middle Eastern blends.  Curry would not be the same, well blended, aromatic delicacy without the use of Tumeric to unite the other ingredients.

See?  Amalgamating wasn’t so bad, was it?  I didn’t think so.  Without even realizing it you are beginning to understand the basics of spice mixing.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to those of you interested in spices that you obtain samples of as many spices as you can.  Take a pinch, close your eyes and apply to your tongue.  Roll the flavor around your tongue, breath out through your nose and get acquainted.  You’ll find you soon fall in love with spice mixing!  I do know that My Spice Sage (on-line) has sample packets that you can purchase for trial.  They are reasonably priced and their selection is good.

Goodnight!  Don’t forget the etsy page to see fine artisans from around the world.  Let’s all buy handmade and make the world a better place!

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Ah, spices.  How sweet they can be.  We often don’t think of the spices that lace our desserts and sweeter dishes.  A great thing to remember is that adding sweet spices to many savory recipes can up the ante of flavor and calm the heaviness of hot spices.  While many folks don’t normally see spices as sweet, just smelling them can tell you if they are. 

Let’s look at some examples of sweet spices.

1.  Cinnamon.  Cinnamon came originally from Sri Lanka from the under-layer of the bark of the cinnamon tree.  Fresh cinnamon is wonderful, with a mild scent and infuses curries, cakes, cookies, and fruits with a truly unique and delicious flavor.

Many people think of the cassia tree as the source of cinnamon.  While there may be some similarity in odor, cassia bark is sharper and carries a hot aftertaste.  So, don’t make the mistake of confusing cinnamon bark with cassia bark.

2.  Vanilla.  No doubt all of you know about the spice vanilla.  Vanilla comes from the vanilla bean, which is an odorless bean from an orchid.  Only once it is cured for a few months does it become the vanilla bean that we all know and love.  Always make sure if you are using fresh vanilla bean that it is not brittle, but very soft and pliable.  You can use the whole bean, but I often split is lengthwise and scrape out the gooey innards for my sweet baking.

3.  Allspice.  Allspice got its name as folks thought is tasted like a combination of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.  Allspice is a berry which is picked green and dried until it is a deep, dark brown.  It is often used in sauces like barbecue, tomato sauces, and pickling blends.

4.  Nutmeg.  Nutmeg comes from an Indonesian tree and resembles a dried fruit pit.  It is often used in deserts, eggnog and pumpkin spices.

Well, Episode III is off the press.  Hopefully, you will have the opportunity to get a whiff of these wonderful, sweet spices.  If you are lucky enough to live in an area where a fresh spice store exists, take a visit and let your senses soar!

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Hello spice and herb lovers!  Let’s get to it, shall we?

As was mentioned in my last post spices come in 5 flavor groupings:  sweet, hot, tangy, pungent and amalgamating.  Tonight we’ll take a look at pungent spices.  Pungent spices usually pack a punch and not much is needed to add flavoring to a dish or spice blend.  I once read that spice mixes that dare to contain pungent spices make the difference between mass production spices and gourmet spices.  Try them and I think you will like the bang pungent spices add to any dish.

So, you are asking, what spices are considered pungent spices.  Well, let’s just settle that and take a look at a few.

Ginger:  Ginger is a well-known spice that packs a burst of flavor.  Believe it or not the punch of ginger root can vary by how old the root is when harvested.  Older roots have a heavier flavor than young roots.    You find ginger in used in Asian dishes and some Indian dishes.  We’ve all tasted deserts that have ginger in them, drinks with ginger ale, and savory dishes with ginger.

Star Anise:  Star Anise is not only my shop logo, but it is considered a pungent spice.  Star Anise tastes like licorice and is obtained from the Chinese Magnolia tree.  Anise is used most often in Chinese cooking, but my Italian family uses anise for many deserts and even savory dishes!

Juniper:  For those of you who haven’t tried Juniper berries, I have one work for you–pucker, pucker, pucker.  Juniper berries are quite astringent and most of you know it from the ads on television stating that it is the major ingredient in gin.  Without a doubt, this piney flavored black/blue berry is a pungent spice and only a very small amount is need as a flavoring.  As the stories of old go, juniper berries were a favorite of trappers for flavoring their wild meats. 

Cumin:  Cumin is a pungent spice, but I often don’t consider it as such.  I love its earthy flavor in curries of all sorts.  Cumin was used early Egyptians and originally it came from Africa.  Many of you know that Cumin is used in Mexican cooking, but Cumin is not native to Mexico.  It was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards.

Saffron:  Saffron is a beautiful, light, but pungent spice.  If you don’t think it is pungent, just use a bit too much.  Saffron is the most expensive spice available as it consists of the tiny stigmas of the crocus flower.  These stigmas are hand-picked and each flower has a very limited number of stigmas.  Pickingy saffron is a labor intensive activity and thus, its expensive nature.  I personally don’t use powdered saffron, as it can lose a lot of its punch.  I like using the whole stigmas and soak them in some warmed water prior to use.  We see saffron used in many cuisines from Indian Cooking, to Spanish Cooking, to Middle Eastern cooking.  Yum!

Other pungent spices can include:  Lemon Myrtle, Cardamom, Celery Seed, Cloves, Caraway Seeds, Nigella Seeds, and Fenugreek.

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OMG.  Just got finished watching Dougray Scott’s movie, Perfect Creature.  Lord Jesus be still my thumping, tumbling heart.  His lips and accent in this film are–WOW.  Dougray Scott as a vampire and a decent one at that.  Can you ask for more.  Well, other than his sitting right here beside me I think not.   Will definitely watch this one again.  Really, really soon. 

Now that I’ve gathered my thoughts and wiped the drool from my shaking chin, I can semi-concentrate on our discussion this evening–the five basic categories of spices.  No, Dougray Scott should not be considered a spice, even though my food would taste oh so much better with him slathered all over it.  Concentrate, Linda.  Concentrate!

We’re going to handle this topic in several different parts.  Why?  Well, it has been pointed out to me that I am long-winded.  No!  Yes!  So, in an effort to shorten up my blog entries I will try to keep them shorter.  The five basic categories in which spices can be grouped are:  sweet, tangy, hot, pungent,  and amalgamating.

How was that for short?  Yeah!  Stay tuned for the next blog entry when I will try to explain the groups above and list some spices that fall into each grouping.  In the meantime, check out the growing number of listings on my etsy page (see right bar).  I still can’t believe that there are so many artists in this world!  You can find these shops at:  http://www.etsy.com.

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