Spice, Spice Baby!

Greetings Healthy Ones!
Recently I've noticed a HUGE interest in spices and spice blends, rubs and flavor packets all over the place. From the new spice companies popping up to the availability of every flavor of Mrs. Dash you could ever imagine on the shelves at the local grocer. There are so many options from which to choose and this is a very good thing indeed however it might be a bit overwhelming and confusing as well. This is how one fan of the Leafy introduced the idea for a Nutri-mercial featuring simple spices and spice blends which work well in plant-based recipes. Great topic! Where to begin?? There was no way to tackle this very interesting and lengthy subject in five minutes or less (the goal of the Nutri-mercial) so here we are, filling in the blanks on the blog!

OK, so you are eating lots of whole plant foods and looking for ways to flavor up your veggies, jam your yams, and make your fruits festive. Starting simple is always best. If you do not wish to invest a great amount of your hard earned cash or precious time, I advise trying some of the many blends of herbs and spices already available on the market. I like the Frontier Organic Seasoning Blends because they are readily available and have a no-sodium option. Here is a link to the many blends Frontier offer to bring a little zest into your kitchen. Frontier offer everything from Cajun and Creole to Tandoori and Thai with TONS of information on how to use these blends. Granted all information is not plant-based but you can gather a lot of knowledge on this site.

A little more serious in the kitchen and want to make your own blends? Well have no fear, you need not own a kitchen the size of the whitehouse in order to have a few key spices on hand which will make many combinations. Here are some spices and herbs which I suggest you always have on hand as they overlap in many cuisines of the world.

Allspice, Coriander, Cumin, Cinnamon, Chili, Cloves, Fennel, Ginger, Nutmeg, Oregano, Paprika and Smoked Paprika, Pepper, Thyme, Turmeric.

It is fine to buy these as ground for a basic investment. Store in cool, dark, dry storage and buy in small quantities unless you will be using within 6 months.

Branching out even further you say? Add these to your list, if seeds grind with a spice grinder* or mortar and pestle when needed in the ground form: Cardamom seed, Cassia, Fenugreek seed, Mustard seed, Black Sesame seed, Seaweeds, Szechwan Pepper & Wasabi. And for the real aficionado, stock these sometimes difficult to find additions: Star Anise, Galangal, Kafir Lime Leaf, Lemongrass, Saffron, Tamarind & Curry Leaf. 

Now for some very basic guidance on which spices/herbs/flavors are used in the more popular or familiar ethnic cuisines. Amounts are descending in order, many combinations can be made:
Indian: Coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, oepper, chili, cloves, tamarind, cardamom, saffron.
Moroccan: coriander, turmeric, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, pepper, chili.
African: coriander, cumin, allspice, ginger, pepper, fenugreek.
Middle Eastern: paprika, pepper, cumin, coriander, sumac, thyme, cassia, cloves, cardamom.
Thai:coriander, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, green chili, garlic, galangal, ginger.
Mexican:paprika, cumin, oregano, chili, coriander leaf (aka cilantro).
Chinese: star anise, fennel, cassia, Szechwan pepper, cloves, ginger.
Japanese: Szechwan pepper, black sesame seed, mustard seed, wasabe, seaweeds.

For sources of other combinations and information, just refer to a good book such as Spice Notes  or one of the many others listed.  Check out this great new online source for organic herbs, spices and blends: http://www.sangredecristospice.com/ and READ this NYTimes article about the self described Spice Therapist - Lev Sercarz. These resources are not at all focused on plant-based cooking but there is a ton of information to propel you to "educated spice connoisseur" status!


And, in case you missed the Nutri-mercial on Spice:


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