Exotic Seasonings Show Up In Our Own Backyard
Here are 10 21st century seasonings to know.
Named for a city in northern Syria famous for its chiles, Aleppo pepper is a
coarse, rust-colored pepper, moderately spicy, earthy, rich and deeply fruity.
It will last longer if refrigerated.
-- CONTEMPORARY IDEAS: Sprinkle on poached eggs, steamed cabbage or Italian bean
and pasta soup. Add to tomato sauce for pasta, to gazpacho or to eggplant-
and-tomato dishes, to pizza.
Also known as galanga or galangale, this knobby rhizome resembles a pale,
thin-skinned ginger and is, in fact, a relative. It is drier and woodier than
ginger, however, with a pungent bite and a sharp, piney aroma. It usually is
sliced very thinly, slivered or minced; unless the skin is rough, it doesn't
need to be peeled.
Southeast Asian markets typically carry two types, known as lesser and greater
galangal. Lesser galangal is smaller but more pungent; greater galangal is
preferred for Thai cooking.
Europeans used galangal in the Middle Ages, both as a spice and a medicinal
plant to aid digestion, banish nausea and minimize flatulence. Now, it is
primarily associated with Southeast Asia. In dried form, it is a component of
Moroccan ras el hanout.
-- CONTEMPORARY IDEAS: At Citizen Cake, Elizabeth Faulkner uses it in a
Thai-inspired coconut sorbet. At Rubicon, Dennis Leary occasionally uses it in
crab soup. Slices of galangal add a Southeast Asian accent to chicken soup or
fish stock, to court bouillon for salmon, to pork brine.
North Indian cooks rely on garam masala (literally, a hot spice blend) to give
their dishes warmth and aromatic complexity. There is no single recipe for it,
but a typical blend might include cinnamon, clove, cumin, cardamom, coriander,
black pepper and nutmeg. Usually the spices are dry-roasted to enhance their
flavor, then cooled and ground.
Although you can buy the blend at Indian markets, a homemade version will be
fresher. It keeps well in an airtight container in a cool place for up to three
-- CONTEMPORARY IDEAS: Add a pinch to stewed okra, lentils, split pea soup, lamb
stew. Season a beef brisket with it, then sear and braise slowly with lots of
The spicy, red-pepper paste condiment of Tunisia, harissa differs in proportions
from cook to cook. You can buy it ready-made in tubes, but it's much better when
Fresh harissa is a thick paste. It should be covered with olive oil to protect
it from air and then refrigerated. To use it as a condiment for couscous or a
dressing for salads, thin it with water, lemon juice and more olive oil.
-- CONTEMPORARY IDEAS: Add a spoonful to dressings for hearty vegetable salads.
Stir into soups, especially fish or bean soups, and stews. Add a spoonful to the
pot when steaming mussels or clams.
NAM PRIK PAO
Thailand's roasted chile paste is an irresistible blend of dried red chiles
roasted in soybean oil with dried shrimp, fish sauce, tamarind, sugar, shallots
and garlic. It is reddish-brown and thick, with a rich, roasted- garlic aroma
and caramelized shallot taste. Thai cookbook author Kasma Loha- unchit
recommends the widely available Pantainorasingh brand and suggests buying at
least the medium-hot version.
-- CONTEMPORARY IDEAS: Add to a barbecue sauce for spareribs or chicken, or to
braised short ribs. Stir into chicken rice soup or fried rice. Add a dollop to a
shrimp stir-fry or to stir-fried broccoli or Asian greens. Stir into mayonnaise
to make a dip for crab or fried calamari, or put a spoonful in the pot when
PIMENTON DE LA VERA
The Spanish pimenton de la Vera is a name-controlled paprika, meaning the
Spanish government regulates the kinds of peppers used, the process and the
peppers' place of origin.
La Vera is a district in the Extremadura region of western Spain. The peppers
grown there are roasted over an oak fire for at least 10 days before being
ground, resulting in a seductive, smoky aroma.
The paprika may be sweet, bittersweet or hot.
-- CONTEMPORARY IDEAS: Heidi Krahling at Insalata puts it in piperade (the
Basque mixture of tomatoes, peppers and onions). At Citizen Cake, Jennifer Cox
adds it to rouille (Provencal roasted red pepper sauce) and romesco (Spanish red
pepper sauce). Try it in a shrimp stir-fry with sliced garlic, or on yogurt
salads, fried potatoes, baked fish, omelets.
RAS EL HANOUT
A North African spice blend that varies widely. Depending on the maker, ras el
hanout typically contains 20 or more ingredients, sometimes as many as 80 or 90.
The name means "head of the shop," possibly referring to the custom of each
merchant making his own blend. The actual recipes are closely guarded secrets.
Although many Moroccans buy the merchant's ground blend, knowledgeable cooks buy
their ras el hanout "brut," meaning the spices are whole. At home, depending on
the dish, cooks remove the appropriate spices and grind them as needed.
Warm spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, allspice and cardamom are common
components, along with exotics like orris root and grains of paradise, and
aphrodisiacs such as Spanish fly. For American cooks who want to grind their
own, Paula Wolfert has a 16-ingredient ras el hanout recipe in her book
"Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco," (Harper & Row, 1973).
-- CONTEMPORARY USES: Krahling fries it in olive oil, cools it, then whips it
into butter as a seasoning for green beans. Mourad Lahlou at Aziza uses it as a
dry rub on red meat and chicken breasts before grilling; with chicken, he thins
it with olive oil to make it less pungent.
Fresh and dried rose petals and the aromatic water distilled from roses are
fundamental to Persian and some North African dishes. If using fresh roses, be
sure they come from an unsprayed source. With dried rosebuds, use the petals
only, removing any bits of tough stem.
-- CONTEMPORARY USES: Rose petal creme brulee is a signature dessert at Citizen
Cake, where Elizabeth Falkner also slips rose water into her Mayan- spiced
chocolate ganache tart. Rose water makes a delightful addition to poached fruit
and fruit compotes. At Chez Panisse, rose petals are steeped in the cream used
to make ice cream.
The sumac bush (Rhus coriaria) grows wild throughout the Middle East. Its red
berries are harvested just before they ripen, then they are dried and sold whole
or ground. Ground sumac is brick-red, with little aroma but with a fruity and
pleasantly lemony tang.
-- CONTEMPORARY IDEAS: Marinate meaty white fish in olive oil, sumac and garlic
before cooking; sprinkle it on swordfish, halibut or lamb after grilling. Use it
to season roasted beets or steamed carrots. Stir it into lentil soup. Sprinkle
on cucumber-yogurt salad or green salads. Add to vinaigrettes.
In the Middle East, its home ground, za'atar has two meanings. It refers to an
herb or family of herbs, as well as to a popular seasoning blend made with that
herb. Most written recipes for the blend call for mixing dried thyme or oregano
with ground sumac and toasted sesame seeds. In shops, you can find a variety of
za'atar blends, some brick-red with sumac, some green with herbs.
-- CONTEMPORARY IDEAS: As an hors d'oeuvre, serve triangles of warm pita bread
or sliced focaccia with bowls of extra virgin olive oil and za'atar for dipping.
At Rubicon, Dennis Leary adds za'atar to a chicken salad with pine nuts and
Razzle Dazzle Recipes
Copyright ©2002 - 2012