i dig spicy food.
it doesn't have to always be hot spicy food, it can be mellow, complex and interesting. often food can be a little boring (particularly throughout the winter months) but spices can elevate flavours and make things funky and tasty. this weekend i made a couple of dishes that relied heavily on spices. my butter chicken was my fav batch yet and is what i'll be munching on for dinner tonight. as i continue to scour the shelves and explore the city i'm discovering places to source the spices i really love to cook with. and just remember, they are a great fat free way to add flavour - it doesn't always have to be butter and cream (but they're nice too...).
these are a few of my favs.
there's whole star anise and cardamom pods. they add really nice, mellow flavour like a chai tea but work really well in most asian or indian dishes. there's fennel seed, coriander seed, and dill seed. they are some of the ingredients that i like to use to make homemade montreal steak spice - i originally thought the dill a little strange but it is that mystical, magical ingredient that makes a world of difference. then there's yellow and brown mustard seeds. they add a great pop & crunch. i've become addicted to their texture - in rice or roasted veggies it's a really neat addition. and last but not least, there is the whole vanilla bean - yummers! vanilla beans don't come cheap, but do not be deterred, a little goes a long way and they are the spice that keeps on giving. once you've scraped the pulp from the pod, just chuck it in a bin of sugar and voila - vanilla sugar. great for baking or just in your coffee or tea. if you start to notice little black flecks in all of my baking, don't be alarmed, i didn't drop it on the floor, it's real vanilla!
it's always best to buy whole spices and toast and grind them yourself. i'm a slacker sometimes though and i just fire 'em in whole and rely on the strength of my blender to render them edible later on. if you don't want to deal with them you can always buy ground (i'm no preacher) if that's what it takes to get you to use them, you'll notice a marked improvement in your cooking. just remember spices go stale and their flavour can become muted and wacky, so use them up quickly or share them with your neighbours if you don't think you'll be able to get through them fast enough.
now onto the hot stuff.
chipotle peppers and smoked paprika. these are two major components in my chipotle lime bbq sauce. you get that great smokey flavour before you even hit the grill. chipotles are smoke-dried jalapenos packed in a piquant, tomatoey adobo (not adobe - one of my pet peeves!) sauce. they pack a powerful punch so use sparingly and sometimes i just spoon in the adobo sauce if i want to keep things on the mild side but still incorporate that great smokey flavour. and then there is spanish smoked paprika - this was a recent find and i was pretty stoked. it adds a great depth of flavour and i have a feeling i'll be purchasing lots of this one! it comes in different levels of heat too - so if spicy isn't your bag search out the mild version and i'm sure you won't be disappointed.
next there is the realm of thai cookery.
cilantro, lemongrass, fresh ginger and sriracha sauce - some of my most favourite flavours of all time. i'm going to make a new batch of thai-inspired chicken and rice soup this week and all of these will be heading into the pot. the roots of cilantro taste great too so don't waste them - however, they are a mecca for sand and grit so just make sure to wash them diligently before use. lemongrass adds great lemon flavour without any sourness and it so fragrant and lovely, i love it - now i just need to find some kaffir lime leaves too... then there's ginger, a staple in my kitchen. if you're a regular customer and have taken the time to read the ingredients in my food you'll notice that ginger is in pretty much everything i make... it just makes you feel good and healthy - some will also be making its way into another batch of carrot, apple, ginger soup this week too. and then there is sriracha - my most favouritest (cause that's totally a word) hot sauce ever. it's always on the table in thai, and vietnamese pho restaurants and i love it. sometimes i can get a little carried away with it so i've been adding sides of sriracha to dishes so people can spice it up as they see fit. i personally like to change the colour of all of my food to red by adding copious quantities. also, if you're ever feeling a little under the weather, just eat loads of it and scare the bug right out of your body!
this week i'll be braising beef shanks for osso buco and roasting chicken to go with risotto so the spices won't be as prevalent as last week - it will be mostly fresh herbs this week - but i have lots of frozen butter chicken and spiced lamb meatballs in the freezer if you're craving some heat...
see you on saturday and sunday.