A New Year is seen by many as the perfect time for change. At this time of year, we look back on the past and into the future, and make promises to ourselves that, this time, we will strive to make ourselves and our lives better, if only by introducing into both of them new and interesting activities.
One of the best ways we can do this is by looking at what we eat and what we cook, in relation to our health and also, just as importantly, how to explore and enjoy the enormous range of different ingredients and methods of cooking available to us nowadays. The sheer range of ingredients which we can obtain now can be bewildering and intimidating, but many are simply variations upon a theme with which we are already familiar. It is not so much a journey into the unknown, more a voyage of discovery into things we didn’t know we didn’t know.
Probably the best example to use in relation to spices is curry. Most people like it, and most people who cook can cook a basic curry. But there are literally hundreds of variations, from different countries and cultures, utilising a vast range of spices and flavourings. And of course we can also simply add a ‘curry’ element to our everyday cooking, giving a tasty twist to our favourite foods.
For example, you may be a great fan of the basic Chicken Madras, that old restaurant favourite. You have made it many times with a prepared curry powder, and there is nothing wrong with that. But wouldn’t it be so much more interesting (and also more fun) to make that spice blend yourself? All of the spices in a Madras blend are easily available, and further than that all you need is either a pestle and mortar (the old-fashioned way!) or a spice grinder. Your first adventure will be identifying the spices the blend contains, your second will be discovering how much more aroma those spices give when you gently toast them, then grind them. And the third will be how the finished dish tastes. Yes, it is the same thing you have been cooking for years, but see how much more vibrant and exotic those flavours are now! Also you will have learnt what the spices in there are, what they do, what each of them smells and tastes like – and what to do with them. When you serve your dish, you will be able to say, ‘I did that! All by myself!’
Once you have prepared your blend, you can of course make other things rather than your Chicken Madras. These January nights are cold, gloomy and damp… what could be better than a hearty, steaming hot bowl of Lentil Soup? This recipe gives your soup a delicious twist, and makes it so much more warming! It can be made with either your own prepared blend, or Spice Mountain Mild Madras Curry Powder.
SPICE MOUNTAIN LENTIL SOUP
Ingredients: 150g red lentils; 1 large onion, finely chopped; 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped; 2 carrots, cut into medium chunks; 2 litres vegetable or chicken stock; 1tbs tomato puree; 3 tsp Madras curry powder; generous squeeze of lemon juice; chopped fresh coriander leaf or flatleaf parsley, to garnish
Method: Sautee the chopped onion, garlic and carrot in a little olive oil until the onion and garlic are softened and translucent. Add the lentils, and continue sauteeing for a minute before adding the curry powder and tomato puree, then sautee for a few moments. Add the stock, bring to the boil and then simmer gently for an hour or so, until the lentils have completely broken down and thickened. Now add the lemon juice, check the seasoning, and serve with hot buttered toast (or if you’re seriously hungry, this goes so well with a fish finger sandwich!)
And there you have it! A traditional family favourite, given a real boost and difference simply by adding spices.
Another thing that can be done to bring new flavours into your kitchen is to adapt and develop existing dishes (basically, reinventing them!) with the use of new and unfamiliar spices. There is no need to be afraid of deviating from recipes to give them your own twist, so long as you think about whether the flavours will work together. (Have a look at our product descriptions, many of them will give you information on what ingredients work best with them.) Say you like roasting chicken Mediterranean style, with all those delicious herbs and spices scattered over the chicken. This simple recipe can be twisted pretty much any way you want it; bring some Aleppo Chilli Flakes to the party, for example, and add a little Sumac too. Your Mediterranean Chicken is now transformed by the flavours of the Middle East.
Cook a Chilli con Carne using diced beef instead of mince, and try using some of the more unusual chillies in there such as Ancho, Pasilla or even the Peruvian Amarillo. You can combine different chillies, giving your dish different heat levels and different flavours – the range of chillies available today is unbelievable, and each has its own unique character. Yes, a dish as simple as Chilli can be given a dozen different twists, all using the same basic method.
In fact, Chilli is really just a beef stew, and by using your imagination a beef stew can be taken right around the world, East to West, North to South, simply by using different spices and herbs. And when your family or flatmates ask what is for dinner, even if you make beef stew every week it can be a different dish every time! As a genuinely tasty and different example, try this recipe.
SPICE MOUNTAIN ‘EASY & EXOTIC’ BEEF STEW
Ingredients; 500g stewing steak (cut into 6 large chunks – this is very important, as small pieces will not work), ½ bottle red wine, 1 litre beef stock, 2 tbs Spice Mountain tomato powder, 2tsp Spice Mountain garlic powder, 1tbs Spice Mountain Baharat blend, 2tbs Spice Mountain Gormeh Sabzi blend, 2tbs olive oil.
Method; Place all ingredients in a large stewpan – you don’t need to brown the meat in this dish. Bring slowly to a rolling boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer, and cook for 2-3 hours. Keep an eye on the liquid, which will thicken as the stew cooks. And that’s it, as easy as it gets!
Finally, by introducing spices into your cooking you can gain immense health benefits too. Many spices have incredibly powerful effects on your health – find out more about this by visiting our ‘Spices Beneficial to Health’ page on this site, which goes into detail about what spices bring which benefits.
We have many more recipes available on this site to help introduce you to the wonderful world of spices, so why not bring something new, fun and flavourful to your cooking throughout 2015? Dinner time need never be the same again!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!