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Garam Masala

30 Apr

garam masala

I know I post a lot of spice mix recipes, but they’re really an easy way to get the most flavorful food out of your kitchen. The same basic spices (which will stay good for years when stored whole) can be recombined into many distinct mixes. Garam masala is one of my favorites. A staple of North Indian cuisine, the recipes can vary widely from one household to the next, but always involve some “warming” spices (such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper). So this is a great mix to adjust exactly to your liking, whether its changing the proportions, omitting some ingredients, or adding others (allspice, star anise, or a couple bay leaves would all fit nicely here); I like mine a little heavy on the cumin and chili peppers. The resulting mix can elevate a simple stew, help to recreate authentic North Indian dishes, or even be added to cookies or hot chocolate for an unusual twist.

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Ethiopian Berbere

27 Feb

ethiopian berbere

Growing up in DC (home to the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia), I’ve gotten used to a city with a plethora of cheap and delicious Ethiopian restaurants. My favorite place is a mere half mile from me and offers up a vegetarian platter big enough for two or three people for ten dollars. So it’s understandably difficult for me to motivate myself to try cooking Ethiopian food. But I might not be in this city forever, and the flavorful filling stews and spongy sour bread has become somewhat of a comfort food for me so I recently decided to try my hand at making them. The very first step in cooking delicious Ethiopian food is the spicy and fragrant spice mix known as berbere. This deep red mixture is vaguely reminiscent of Indian garam masala with warm sweeter spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg playing a role on top of spicy chiles, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, and coriander. Berbere adds a large amount of paprika to these spices for a unique and unmistakable flavor that serves as the base for many different Ethiopian stews.

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Madras Curry Powder

20 Feb

madras curry powder

The more I cook, the more I love customizing the dishes I make. And one of my favorite ways to customize my food is by making my own spice mixes. Madras curry powder is the perfect example for this. No two versions of this South Indian blend are alike; every brand, every family, every person adjusts the spices to their liking. Making your own curry powder gives you the opportunity to get exactly the combination of flavors you want (not to mention the amazing difference using freshly ground spices makes). My personal blend is heavy on coriander and cumin with warmth from curry leaves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. But everything here can be easily adjusted, so soon you can have your own perfect curry powder. And after you have your own blend, come back to see the two simple recipes I’ll be posting on Wednesday and Friday that really showcase the curry powder’s flavor.

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Cajun Spice Mix

23 Jan

cajun spice mix

I’ve mentioned my love of smoked paprika before, so when I realized that this cajun spice mix was mostly smoked paprika, I knew I had to make it. Besides the paprika, there are a lot of different flavors going on here, including basil, oregano, and a good dose of cayenne pepper, and together they’re the perfect combination for any gumbos, jambalayas, or other cajun dishes you might wish to make. I’ll be posting two recipes of my own using this mix on Wednesday and Friday.

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Homemade Zaatar

16 Jan

homemade zaatar

Food has always resonated with me, in part because of its amazing cultural weight. Growing up in America with a Lebanese father and a Polish mother, I’ve long felt most connected to my heritage through food. Eating pizza and hamburgers makes me feel like a true American, while pierogies and kielbasa are standard inclusions for special occasions, and my dad almost always manages to sneak hummus, tabouleh, fattoush, or kibbe into our meals. And DC is a truly global city so I’ve been peering into other cultures through their food for my whole life. So I feel excited to post this recipe for zaatar, a simple Lebanese spice mix, and share a little bit of my culture with you. This is the most basic version of zaatar, but some variations include additional spices such as oregano, marjoram, and savory, so feel free to play around a bit. I’ll be posting two great recipes using this mix on Wednesday and Friday, but it’s incredibly versatile and easy to use. You can mix it with olive oil and/or yogurt for a simple dip, sprinkle it on vegetables before roasting, use it to flavor eggs, or add it to soups and stews.

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Herbs de Provence

9 Jan

herbs de provence

Herbs de provence is one of my favorite spice mixes to have on hand. This traditional French mixture is an easy way to flavor vegetable stews, eggs, and meats. The various brands of herbs de provence don’t always use the same herbs in the same amounts; you’ll often see fennel and basil, neither of which I’ve included here, instead of, or in addition to, the herbs I’ve chosen to use (thyme, rosemary, savory, marjoram, and lavender), so consider this recipe more of a template. Once you’ve put together your perfect mix, you’ll find yourself reaching for it time and time again.

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Chinese Five-Spice

2 Jan

chinese five-spice

Chinese five-spice is a strange beast; many of the flavors here are usually associated with sweet applications, but the resulting spice mix is traditionally used in savory dishes to amazing result. The five spices referenced in the name are usually star anise, fennel, cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, and cloves, but some variants include ginger root, anise seed, cumin, and white pepper. I stick with the traditional here, but the amounts used are flexible and can be adjusted to your tastes. This is a great mix to have on hand for adding to stir fried vegetables, upping the flavor in soups, or including in dry rubs for chicken, pork, or duck. And, although desserts aren’t the typical use, I’ve even come across recipes for five-spice cookies and cakes, and I think the spicy licorice-like flavor would be well-suited to sweets. On Wednesday and Friday, I’ll be posting two of my favorite recipes using this unique spice mix.

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Chili Powder

5 Dec

chili powder

I’ve found that making fresh spice mixes is surprisingly easy and yields incredible flavor – much more than with store-bought mixes. This recipe for chili powder can be adapted to your tastes; it currently uses equal amounts of three dried chiles: guajillo, ancho, and arbol. Like your chili powder a little smokier? Add more ancho chiles, toss in some dried chipotles, and/or add extra smoked paprika. Like your chili powder on the milder side? Use more ancho and guajillo chiles and less arbol chiles, and discard the seeds before toasting. Or, conversely, like your chili powder extra spicy? Up the number of arbol chiles.

I would highly recommend making a double batch of this recipe; a single batch makes enough for about four regular batches of chili (about 4 servings each) or two extra-large batches of chili (about 8 servings each) – I love making extra-large batches and having lots of delicious hearty leftovers. If you make a single batch of this recipe, you’ll have just enough chili powder for the two amazing extra-large batch chili recipes I’ll be posting on Wednesday and Friday: a delicious vegetarian chili packed with lots of different beans and grains on Wednesday, then a mouth-watering pot of chile con carne with all the special touches on Friday.

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Sri Lankan Curry Powder

31 Oct

sri lankan curry powder

In honor of Halloween, let me regale you with a tale of cooking horror: It was a (dark and stormy) Wednesday night, and after a long and stressful day at work, I was determined to make a Sri Lankan curry that night for dinner. I stopped by an Indian grocery store to pick up some curry leaves (an ingredient for which there is really no substitute – if you buy fresh leaves, any leftover leaves will freeze quite well), and by the time I made it back to my empty house (none of my roommates were home – and have I mentioned that my house is over 100 years old?), my stomach was already rumbling. The first step to a flavorful curry is fresh and flavorful curry powder, so I immediately set to roasting spices. I was finding grinding the spices in my mortar and pestle to be very therapeutic when I leaned down to get a good look at how close I was to being done – and was treated to a hefty portion of curry powder flying straight into my right eye (don’t try this at home, folks)!

After lots of cursing, running water, and wild thoughts of going blind, my eye slowly recovered as I set to finishing my curry. Despite the setback (after which I decided the curry powder was done, fully ground or not), this curry powder turned out to be the perfect start to a delicious lotus root curry (recipe coming Wednesday). The spices here are very similar to many Indian curries, but the curry leaves bring their own blend of sweet warmth to the picture, and the spices are roasted just a bit more than usual, flirting with the line between golden brown and burnt.

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Thai Red Curry Paste

17 Oct

Thai Red Curry Paste

Anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog has probably figured out that I cook quite a lot of Asian food. I’ve long been a lover of the flavors found in Asian cuisine, and I somewhat recently began doing most of my shopping at an Asian supermarket (H&A Supermarket in Langley Park for anyone who’s in the area) and thus have easy access to many rarer ingredients for ridiculously cheap prices. When I discovered this store, I knew immediately what I had to make first: Thai curry. Thai food plays around a lot with mixing salty, sweet, and sour, and this curry paste is the first step in building a delicious curry with those flavors. For those of you who’ve cooked with fish sauce before, you know how intensely pungent it can be – but be prepared for the shrimp paste used here as it is even stronger. Trust me though, the flavor it adds is necessary.

This recipe makes enough curry paste for six or more curries, and I like to freeze it for later use – to make it easy on yourself, freeze it into 3 – 4 Tbsp chunks (enough for a 4-serving curry recipe) as you can then just grab a chunk out of the freezer the next time you’re ready to make curry. Come back on Wednesday for my recipe for Thai red curry using this paste!

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