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Strange Spices and How to Use Them

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by Melbournefreelancer (subscribe)
I look I see I write what I see. Fortunately that works out just fine because I'm a freelance writer and darned good at that. For more of my writing do visit my blog at melbournefreelancer.blogspot.com.au/; it's desperately seeking readers.
Published December 14th 2012
Find your way around spice from Morocco, Africa, and Turkey
Not long ago seasoning meant salt and pepper and the herbs from Scarborough fair—parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. And then world cuisine introduced strange flavours and senses in the form of coriander, lemon grass, chilli, turmeric, masala, and more. And now these have become de rigueur and are no longer even considered exotic.

There's more where these came from and from other parts of the world that we're ever so slowly becoming aware of. Most of them are blends of some familiar and strange elements that somehow combine to give different tastes and aromas. An introduction might be in order seeing as how they are beginning to appear in supermarket shelves and other ethnic groceries.

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Berbere
Ethiopian mixed pepper consisting of coriander, cloves, chilli, ginger, allspice and others. It can be used to cook lentil dishes or added to meat soups. The deeper the colour the greater the heat.

Rouille
Rouille is a French concoction made of bread crumbs, chilli peppers, saffron, and garlic blended in olive oil to form a sauce. It may resemble mayonnaise, but does contain more fancy ingredients. It is best served with fish dishes. A Mediterranean version holds the egg and uses capsicum, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper in addition to the bread crumbs and olive oil to make a less bland rouille.

Sumac
Sumac is sour and zesty like lemon and comes from the Middle East and Morrocco. It has a vibrant crimson to purple colour. Can be used to grill meat or sprinkle on salad or to spice up hummus. Besides the taste it also adds a nice colour to salads. In fact you can sprinkle this over anything that you would add lemon to.

Zahtar
It's a Middle Eastern spice made of a blend of sumac, sesame seed, hyssop, oregano, and thyme. Zahtar can be used as a paste with olive oil to marinade chicken or to dip flat bread. It is also used to season salads or pretty much anything. It is used extensively and imaginatively in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine and no two blends may be identical.

Ambergris
Well, don't call me Ishmael yet, but after learning about ambergris I'm pretty tempted to go whale hunting like Ahab went after Moby Dick. You'll never guess where this spice comes from or how valuable this stuff is. You can get all the scientific facts here. If you've managed to overcome the nausea and are back here reading, you might be interested to know that once aged it transforms into a fragrant aphrodisiac or spice with healing properties. It is also sold as fragrant oil in the Middle East. But being extremely expensive it's not likely that McCormick is going to bottle it and place it along side the Cajun. Next time you're at St Kilda beach keep an eye out for dark rocky stuff and sneak a sniff to make sure it's actually a whale that did it. Image: ambergris.co.nz

Fennel
Fennel looks a lot like cumin, but is larger and more fragrant. It is found in Northern India, Europe, and Asia. Used in cooking meat, pastries, and confectionaries. It is said to help with digestion.

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Mbongo Spice aka Alligator Pepper
It's a North African spice related to the ginger family that comes in a pod with the seeds inside. It is a mysterious mix of pungent heat and a nutty, buttery flavour with citrus overtones. It is used sparingly and in combination with black pepper mainly because it is expensive and a little goes a long way where flavour is concerned.

Amchoor
This fragrant spice is dried green mango in powdered form. It has a sour yet sweet flavour and is the secret ingredient in most Indian curries and chutneys. Amchoor can be sprinkled on salads and used in sandwich fillings.

Asafoetida
This spice is integral to vegetarian cooking in the Indian subcontinent. It has a distinct smell that may come across as quite strong and overpowering but when cooked it imparts an appetising fragrance to lentils and vegetables like cauliflower. This spice has to be cooked and is not sprinkled on after cooking.

Chervil
This French spice is best sprinkled on soups and salads when serving. It has a lovely green colour that makes for a great presentation and a delicate flavour to boot. It belongs to the parsley family and therefore has a parsley flavour with a slight nutty edge. They are usually sold in broken leaf form.

Ras El Hanout
The name translates to "top of the shop" and refers to the unique blend concocted by the shopkeeper's ingenuity. The closest it comes to is the Indian garam masala and may contain varying amounts of clove, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, salt, turmeric, nutmeg, saffron, ginger, and more. It goes well with meat and vegetable dishes and brings a zest to salads.

Wasabi
Wasabi is a Chinese spice that could give Dijon mustard a run for its money. It's belongs to the horseradish family and has a sharp heat that will seem overpowering if taken in indiscriminate quantities. Unlike chilli, however, the heat from wasabi dissipates quickly with just your teary eyes as proof of what just happened. It's great mixed into mash potatoes and sandwiches.

Annato
This Caribbean spice is the seed of the Annato tree and has a deep yellow colour when ground into a powder. It imparts the same colour to the food it is used to season. It is also boiled in oil which then turns a beautiful golden colour and is used to cook with. Besides the colour it has a distinct flavour.

Urfa Biber
This variety of pepper is integral to Turkish cuisine and is much sought after for its rich, raisiny heat that has to be experienced to be known. When dried and powdered it has a rich almost black purple colour that adds to its attractions. It goes well with meat and vegetables and is also used for baking.

Fenugreek
These little golden seeds are used in curries in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine. It's an integral ingredient in South Indian fish curry dishes. It is usually roasted and powdered before adding to dishes. It has healing properties and was highly respected in ancient Egyptian and Arabic lore.

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Bavarian Seasoning
This is an incredible mix of crushed mustard, rosemary, sage, garlic, thyme, and bay leaves that is a German brain wave. It does a great job of roasting meat and works well on slow roasts. You can also use it on roast potatoes to good effect.

Tamarind
This is the fruit of the tamarind tree found in parts of India and Africa. It has a sour tart taste with a hint of sweet when taken by itself, but goes well to impart a distinct flavour to curries. It is used in Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine as well as in some Asian and West Indian cooking. It comes in soft and hard paste form or even as a liquid. Where this spice is concerned less is definitely more.

Duqqa
This is an exquisite blend of spices that include herbs, spices, and nuts used extensively in Middle Eastern and Egyptian cuisine. Ingredients may include coriander, cumin, pepper, sesame, marjoram, mint, chickpeas, pistachio, hazel nut, and others. The ingredients are usually dry roasted and then ground to a fragrant mix.

Rose Water
Though not essentially a spice, I simply had to add this to the list because what it does to food is just mind-blowing. Rose water imparts that distinct rich flowery flavour to Mediterranean and Indian desserts that you simply cannot get elsewhere. Only those in the know will be able to pinpoint the source of the delectable fragrance that rose water lends to dishes. You might be able to detect it in a traditionally made baklava. It can also be used to flavour icing sugar.
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Why? Nice to know
When: When you want to try something different
Where: Ethnic groceries and online shops
Your Comment
Wow, some of the spices you mention I had never heard of.
by Ms. Samantha (score: 2|362) 2128 days ago
Alagappa, tamarind lime and chilli, outback steak seasoning, ras el hanout, moroccan baharat, tagine, bombay blend, butter chicken, sumac, za'atar, a taste of sicily, pistachio hazelnut dukkah, aussie nutter dukkah,.....and many many more...you name it...check out binahm spices on facebook or visit our stall at the local markets on the sunny coast...mooloolaba twilight, kawana, peregian beach, bulcock street caloundra :-)
by betti (score: 0|2) 2129 days ago
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