One of the single most pleasurable aspects of Mediterranean cuisine is the intense use of spices of all kinds. I often am asked if Moroccan or Greek or Spanish cuisine is spicy. While occasional peppers and spicy elements, like Harissa paste and Spicy Paprika, are added, most of the flavors aren’t blatantly hot as much as they are highly spiced. The combinations you find in these cultures are unconventional to the western palatte. Meats are often paired with what we perceive to be sweet spices, like cinnamon and ginger, while vegetables are often paired with strong spices like paprika, rosemary, cumin and fennel. What the use of spices achieves ultimately is creating incredibly flavorful food with minimal effort and minimal fat or sodium. Yet, there is another reason why these cultures rely so heavily on spices. Unlike most of us who look toward pharmeceuticals to cure our ailments and keep us healthy, people in these cultures have a unique knowledge of what spices they should eat to aid them in maintaining health or healing their woes.
Perhaps the most profound example of this I can give is the visit I paid to a spice shop in the souks of Fez in Morocco. I was there to purchase spices for use in my cooking but got so much more in the process. The shop, perhaps the size of two large bedrooms put together, was filled from floor to ceiling with jars of every kind of spice you can think of and some you have never heard of. The shopkeeper sat us down and for the next 2 hours or so proceeded to give us an educational seminar on not only how to use various spices for cooking, but what medicinal purposes they fulfilled as well. It was mind boggling. Here are just a few examples of what I learned.
Cumin, while being integral in particularly mexican and north african cuisine for both meats and vegetables is also a wonderful cure for a stomach ache. Take a teaspoon full or so and dissolve in a glass of water and drink. It settles your stomach like a charm.
Ginger, which has a spicy quality that is delicious in both asian cuisine and for baking, is often considered to be good for concentration and energy. It also is a powerful digestive aid. A ginger tea is often consumed after a large meal to assist in processing the meal.