Spices are what make a kitchen interesting and meals delicious. They can be as simple as just dried oregano or as complex as za'atar. Whatever they are, they are fun to use and can jazz up any recipe. They can add zest and excitement, making meal time unique and different from the everyday..
Surprisingly enough spices can also cause fear in many home chefs.They feel that using just a pinch of any one can be too much. The result is a bland dish that usually makes family and guests reach for the salt and pepper shakers. If any home chefs have qualms don't. Start off with the less "scary" ones. such as garlic or onion powder. The first is great for subbing in chopped or minced garlic. A small pinch can do a lot for home made tomato sauces and to liven up cream cheese. Onion powder can be used for the real thing. It gives some sweetness to guacamole along with some chilis and sauces. Oregano and rosemary are the backbones of Italian cooking. They give sauces, from pizza to pasta ones body and complex layers. They also work well as dry rubs for chicken, steaks and fish.Cinnamon, so often used for desserts and cappuccinos, can also be used for savory dishes too. Try it in a lamb tagine or sprinkled on roasted butternut squash.It can also be used in a classic Bolognese sauce for depth.Nutmeg and mace, closely related spices, are great in fall dishes such as squash soups and Indian inspired shrimp kabobs.
Once home chefs have mastered cooking with simple spices they can move onto more complex blends. One blend was highlighted in Wednesday's New York Times' A City Kitchen column, David Tanis used Lebanese spices, a mix called baharat, the Arab word for spice. This is a seven spice blend consisting of one tablespoon each of black pepper,allspice, coriander,cumin, cloves, cinnamon and grated nutmeg.Mr. Tanis rubs it on both sides of a butterflied leg of lamb.They are massaged along with olive oil into the meat. The spice offers a warm sweetness that also works in tabbouleh and grilled kofta,lamb meatballs.Zing up chicken kebobs with it too. Once baharat is mastered it's time to move on to za'atar. The Israeli spice combo is a hot trend right now and pretty easy to make. It is fresh oregano mixed with cumin and sesame seeds. Fresh ground pepper and Kosher salt is used along with sumac. Some may freak out at the last. but this is the non poisonous kind found primarily in the Middle East.It can be bought at some grocery stores , online at spice sellers or on Amazon.One of the best ways to enjoy it is with bagels.,the true Israeli kind that are more ropy than plump.It's also good rubbed on chicken before roasting or even chicken and lamb kabobs.
Spices are not only the variety of life but also the extra oomph dishes need. They can be as simple as just a pinch of oregano or as complex as a teaspoon of baharat or za'atar. Add them to any recipe for some zest and zing!