Wednesday, December 7, 2011

the spice man

on saturday morning a good samaritan covered my table at the seaport market and i was able to sneak away for a few minutes. i headed over to the brewery market to explore. i had two main destinations: hutten family farm & the spice man - purveyor of epices de cru shipped in from montreal.

the spice man is officially costas halavresos, former cbc host, and a great guy to chat with. i'm no spice guru but i do have have a decent knowledge of all things spicy, however i was completely blown away by the selection he had and his knowledge of each of his wares. 

i could have spent a good couple of hours hanging out and chatting - talking about food is one of my favourite things to do... can ya tell? anyway, what i really enjoyed were the samples of each of the spices & blends to smell and taste before purchasing. i had never even heard of a few of them & i'm a bit of a food nerd so it was nice to chat and learn about new treasures from the far reaches of the world. 

after careful consideration, i made my purchases & i'm pretty pleased with my decisions.

from left to right: a tonka bean, zaatar spice blend, andaliman wild pepper, ethiopian berbere spices & pasilla peppers.

first up is the tonka bean.

i had often heard of them but never actually seen or smelled one. the spice man keeps them in a little jar & encouraged me to open it up and smell the 'bouquet'. it sort of felt a bit like a wine tasting. when asked what i smelled, the answer was 'i can't put my finger on it, but it smells warm & fuzzy.' he laughed and explained that the notes of vanilla, almond, cinnamon & cloves make it well-suited for any application where nutmeg would also do the trick - spice cakes, custards, an extra special holiday eggnog... 

just like nutmeg, it's best just lightly grated using a microplane.

and given the price, i'm going to make sure this bad boy lasts.

then there's the zataar. i haven't seen too much zaatar around nova scotia, but no trip to the middle east store in ottawa was complete without some freshly baked flatbread with olive oil & zaatar.

 it's sort of an odd combination of middle eastern herbs (unique varieties of oregano, thyme, basil & savoury), sumac, sesame & salt. it has a very citrusy & herbaceous flavour that is great for bread and would work nicely with pork, chicken or a firm-fleshed white fish. it's very distinct and adds a certain 'je ne sais quoi' to dishes, just an interesting flavour that's hard to pinpoint. 

then there's the andaliman wild pepper. i had never heard of this & i'm so glad to have found it. it is the most amazing spice i've ever smelled. it's not a hot pepper but more citrusy & fresh.

it's grown in sumatra, indonesia on the shores of lake toba - the largest volcanic lake in the world. what's funny, is that the scent is very reminiscent of something that grows here - i'm not sure exactly what is is but it's a familiar smell from when i'm out hiking... weird, because sumatra could not be farther away. needless to say, this new discovery with be making it's way into most of my cooking from here on out.

ethiopian berbere spices are all the rage these days & the bestseller at epices de cru. 

it's sort of a kicked up version of paprika with lots of spices, cardamom, ginger, fenugreek, allspice & pepper. the scent is incredibly aromatic & the uses are wide ranging - beef, pork, chicken, and i plan on adding some to upcoming curries & chillies.

another 'it' product these days are pasilla peppers. they are dried chilaca peppers and have a wonderful, smokey flavour. they will definitely be making an appearance in my bbq sauces & will add a great southwestern flare to so many dishes.

they can either be ground in a mortar & pestle, stirred whole into a soup, broth or sauce (remove before serving) or rehydrated, minced & stirred into recipes. i feel that rehydration increases the bang for your buck - not only can you use the pepper itself, but the liquid used to rehydrate will be full of rich chilli flavour that can be used as well.

all of the information may seem a little overwhelming but the spice man includes some info & recipes for suggested uses for each purchase. the selection itself can also be overwhelming but there are lots of kits with complimentary flavours or a theme (great gift ideas... nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and can help demystify the expansive world of spices. 

time to go play...

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