A new year mean’s new resolutions. Often these include eating better and losing weight. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is to incorporate more spices into your cooking. Here are my top spice tips to help you spice up your new year:
1) Make sure your spices are fresh. Spices should be kept for no longer than a year in an airtight container, away from sunlight, in a cool, dry place. Make sure you get your spices from a legitimate resource where you know the spices are fresh when you get them. Spices bought in the store cannot be relied upon for freshness as you don’t know how long they have been sitting on the shelf prior to purchase. I get mine from www.zamourispices.com, a fantastic Moroccan import store with amazing, affordable, fresh spices. You can buy small quantities and larger ones, although I don’t recommend buying in bulk unless you are a restaurant. Never refrigerate spices.
2) Take a hint from other cultures and use sweet spices for savory applications and savory spices for sweet applications. Many countries like Morocco, Greece and even Asian countries like Thailand use spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves for their meat and vegetables. It can be a great way to add interest to soups or stews and certainly pumps up the flavor of sauces. Alternately, spices like smoked sea salts, smoked paprika and chili peppers of various kinds are all the rage for sweet items like truffles and chocolates. The savory actually accentuates the sweet, making it more interesting and more satiating so you can eat fewer and still feel like you got a sweet treat.
3) Be aware of using heat in cooking. I am one of those people who has come to appreciate spicy in my food, but I wasn’t always that way. I am mindful of this when I cook. Heat in food should accentuate flavor, not de-sensitize your taste buds. The point isn’t to make it as spicy as you can tolerate it, but to make it as spicy as it needs to be to add warmth and complement the other spices and flavors you are using in the dish.
4) When substituting dried herbs for fresh ones, use half as much. The dried herbs tend to be more concentrated in flavor. I also never substitute certain herbs as I feel the dried simply don’t provide much flavor. This includes parsley, cilantro and chives. My favorite dried herb blend is Herbes de Provence, which is a blend that comes from the Provence region of France and often contains a combination of thyme, savory, chervil, tarragon, lavender, rosemary and marjoram. This specific blend is fantastic for soups and stews. I also use it on my roasts, like prime rib and pork loin, for a boost of flavor.
5) Paprika isn’t just a garnish for deviled eggs. It is one of the most widely used and most useful spices on the planet. I prefer Hungarian paprika, not just because I am Hungarian by heritage, but because Hungary has a unique micro-climate that is perfectly suited for the production of superior quality paprika. There are numerous different types from sweet to hot paprikas and both smoked and non smoked. I like them all but tend to keep one sweet and one smoked hot on hand for my daily use. It should be a bright red color, smell slightly smoky and it should deliver a great flavor and color to your soups and stews.
6) Take advantage of spice blends. There are many out there that are commercially available. Do not buy blends that have salt as a primary ingredient. Look for ethnic blends that are salt free or low in salt like Ras el Hanout, Curry, Garam Masala, Chinese Five Spice, etc. These are mixes that are used by those in their indigenous cultures to quickly provide great flavor without any knowledge or fuss with individual spices.
7) Always grind your pepper fresh and use the multiple colored peppercorn blend as opposed to just black peppercorns. The blend has a unique layered flavor and grinding fresh insures it has a kick.
8) Salt isn’t the only spice in the world and while it can give great flavor, it should be used sparingly. Rely on other spices for boost of flavor and use salt more like a garnish. Try different kinds of sea salt like Himalayan Pink Salt or Fleur du Sel for unique flavor.
9) Think of spices for their medicinal purposes and incorporate them with that in mind. Turmeric, for example, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and is great in soups/stews, and cinnamon/cumin are super for digestion and versatile in both sweet and savory applications.
10) Saffron is the stamen of a specific type of crocus flower. It is the quintessential ingredient in Paella among other dishes. It provides lovely color and subtle flavor that cannot be substituted. By weight, it is the most expensive spice on the planet because it has to be harvested by hand very delicately.