If you have ever read any of my blog then you know that I love spices; these beautifully coloured aromatic powders have the power to not only nourish and heal our bodies, but to completely change any meal.
Just a teaspoon of the right spice can take a dish from bland to grand!
When it comes to embracing vegetables and learning to add more of them to your meals, I think spices are your secret weapon. You can bring all the flavours you love to your plate via your vegetables and make them sing.
Likewise you can use dried herbs, but for me, it’s all about spices, that’s where I would begin…and again, I know that lots of you use spices regularly and know far more than me about them, so please pass this onto to anyone you think might find it useful :)
Please keep in mind, this is a starting point for anyone looking for ways to pimp their vegetables. And of course, spices can boost any dish, for now, it’s just all about the veg!
You don’t need to have a huge library of spices immediately; my vast collection has grown over a number of years, but to begin with, I only bought those I needed for particular recipes; as I am not talking about anything so prescriptive, I would start with spice mixes. You don’t need to make your own like I do, (not to begin with anyway, you might fancy trying that later?) for starters I’d look at what is available in your local shops. All I would say is, for me, shop bought spice mixes usually have too much salt, but that’s just me and my tastes, try some and see what you think.
If you think of the flavours that you like, go with them:
If you like Indian flavours, buy spice mixes with names that you recognise – tandoori, korma, madras, rogan josh, tikka, garam masala (masala means mix). Think of dishes you’ve enjoyed and choose based on those flavours.
If you like Mexican or South American food, try taco/fajita mixes, or creole or cajun, or just smoked paprika. For me, a creole mix is really user friendly, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like it.
If you like Middle Eastern flavours, try baharat, ras el hanout, za’atar or harissa. Or try some lovely citrusy sumac. As a note…many Middle Eastern flavours include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and/or cloves, what we might consider Christmassy spices in the UK. If you try baharat or ras el hanout you’ll find these flavours, and they can be quite strong so don’t be heavy handed with these spice mixes until you get to know them .
If you like spicy food, try some chilli powder.
I would also pick up some cumin powder, it’s a lovely starting point, and some paprika, as it’s so useful.
Be drawn by flavours and names you recognise.
You will find lots of spices mixes in supermarkets, but I would also suggest visiting an Asian or Middle Eastern supermarket if you have one nearby, their spices are good quality and they have a fast turnaround, or look online at www.spicekitchenuk.com – they have perfect sized little sachets for an ideal introduction to spices (definitely try their Mexican blend!) and their fresh spices are lovely.
As a basic starting point for using spices, ignore the directions and recipes on the packets for now and go back to my post about roasting vegetables; once you’ve sprayed the vegetables with oil prior to roasting, sprinkle over a tablespoon of your spice mix and stir it through the vegetables then roast as before.
Alternatively, in large bowl, add a tablespoon or two (depending on your quantity of vegetables) of olive or rapeseed oil, stir in your spices, then add the prepared vegetables and toss them in the oil and spice mixture. Then roast as before.
I will come onto other ideas for marinating and seasoning vegetables, but for now, why not throw some spices over your vegetables this weekend and see what you think? Try it with vegetables you’ve never really liked and see how they become something wonderful – for example, try roasting brussel sprouts (outer leaves removed and each one cut in half) in one of the Indian spice mixes, they’re so good! Make sure you roast them until the edges get crispy ;)
These pics from my kitchen might also give you some ideas…
Above is kohlrabi, carrot, sweet potatoes and shallots roasted in my own Moroccan spice mix. Try it with cumin, paprika and a sprinkle of salt. Replace the kohlrabi with parsnip or swede (rutabaga) and see just how different they can taste. Above is mushrooms, red onion, leeks and kale roasted with olive oil, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Try a good sprinkle of sumac as something different (for sumac I’d sprinkle over a couple of tablespoonfuls). I threw this together the other day with our dinner..mushrooms, red peppers, red onions and garlic cloves with paprika. Nice with a sprinkle of chilli powder?
This butternut squash above it roasted with za’atar spice. Butternut squash and sweet potato are great with a Mexican spice mix, especially a creole or Cajun mix. If in doubt, just try a sprinkle of paprika or smoked paprika as a first step and see what you think.
Basically, be brave! A little makes a lot of difference and you can build it up as you get more confident. If in doubt, just ask ;)
Coming next in the series: getting crunchy!