Jazz up your food with own spice blend
Spice blends! You can make them exactly the way you want, depending on what you like or what they’re destined for. Plus, your blend will be fresher than anything you can pick up at most stores. Here are some tips to help you get blending with the best of them.
Use good spices. Spice experts, and many home cooks, will tell you that you get the best flavour by grinding whole spices yourself. But I’m a realist, and I realise you’re probably like me and have a bunch of ground spices in jars. If you have the whole ones, great. (Toast them in a dry skillet first over low heat for extra flavour.) If you don’t have whole spices, don’t worry. As long as your jars are not too old (a year is a good cutoff) and still smell strong - the volatile oils in spices gradually dissipate over time, especially once ground - you’re fine. Plus, a blend means even if one spice is slightly waning in flavour, it can be propped up by the others.
Pick a point of emphasis. The first thing you want to ask yourself is what you want the blend to taste like, says Linda Bernard, team manager at Washington’s Bazaar Spices. What do you want the primary
flavour to be? Spicy? Smoky? That can help you direct you to one initial spice that you can build the rest of your blend around. Or pick a particular type of cuisine that might drive your choice of spices, whether it’s an Indian masala or American barbecue.
Mix your flavours. Bernard likes to break the flavour options into a few main categories: sweet, spicy, salty and bitter. Try to hit on at least a few of those groups to achieve balance. Bernard does have some words of warning, though. “Don’t make it too spicy because the last thing you want to do is numb your mouth,” she says. Other spices can quickly overwhelm, including ginger and garlic. Salt can also wash everything else out. Bernard cautions to be especially careful with smoked salt. She prefers to keep blends in a savoury direction, so don’t get carried away with sugar, either. Add just enough to round out the flavour.
In her two-volume “Spices,” author Fabienne Gambrelle talks about another helpful way to classify spices, as described by botanist Michel Viard. First are “soft” spices, which can be almost sweet or “cosy,” Gambrelle writes. Those might include cinnamon, vanilla, cacao, anise, saffron and poppy seeds. Next are “heady,” which tend to be strong and aromatic. Think cardamom, star anise, nutmeg, caraway, cumin, coriander, turmeric and ginger. Last are “fiery,” the spices that can provoke “vigorous, even violent” reactions, according to Gambrelle. Chile peppers are the obvious suspects, in addition to allspice and mustard.
Keeping a mental note of these labels can help you mix and match a range of spices, without dumping too many in from one group. Think beyond typical spices. Spice blends don’t just have to include ground spices. “Don’t be afraid to add dried herbs,” Bernard says. “They really do help bring the flavour along.” She’s a particular fan of thyme, oregano and dill. You can get even more daring than that, though. Look at what else is in your pantry. You can play around with things including coffee beans, loose-leaf tea, nuts and dried citrus peel. Put it together and taste it. Bernard generally recommends working in tablespoon amounts. – Washington Post.
Home-blended spices are generally fresher than blends purchased.- Photos by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post