Having launched our new set of spice pots, I wanted to share some really simple ways of using your spice blends to create tasty, healthy dishes that anyone (I mean anyone) can do. Even the most novice of cooks!
There are 4 essential things to do to start with.
1. You need to understand the blends. Read the ingredients, open them, smell them and taste them (careful of the harissa as its very hot). Understanding the different flavours and ingredients in each one will start helping you understand what they are going to taste with at the end, and they will start to help you understand in the longer term what they will pair with.
2. Stop worrying! Cooking is simple, fun and its ALL about experimenting. Its not a defined science, even though lots of cookbooks and chefs may make it seem that way with complicated recipes and hundreds of ingredients. There is no right or wrong way and as long as you enjoy the taste (and hopefully the people around you) then you have just created something great. Feel free to mix the blends, add in random other bits from your kitchen, play, go wild and enjoy, just dont poison yourself and you will be just fine.
3. Spices are dry and therefore they will burn. Therefore they need oil to stop this, stop your food burning and also to help release all the oils out the spices. I could have called this your spice oil, but have referred to it as oily spice as its more fun.
4. Apart from reading this list, check out the amazing food blogger Elaine @ foodbod who has already written her guide here (and she knows her spices!)
OK so some ideas. I have not really used proper weights and measures here - it all depends on the ingredients and how spicy you like it - as mentioned get experimenting and you will soon work it out. Also just pick one you like, do it, and come back to this guide, dont try and digest (sorry) this all in one go.
1. Popcorn - ok lets start small, but an excellent way to start to understand your blends and a way we use to taste test new blends. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan with half teaspoon of a spice blend. Possibly add a little salt also. Add in a handful of popcorn kernels, turn the heat up and get stirring them around the pan. They should change colour and go lighter. As soon as the first kernel pops turn the heat right down, put a lid on and wait. They should all start to pop. Give the pan a shake holding down the lid every so often. When the popping stops turn the heat off and eat!
2. Nuts - one of the best ways to experience your spices and a real crowd pleaser if you have guests round. Similar to popcorn - take a tablespoon of cooking oil (rapeseed or sunflower) and heat with half teaspoon of a spice blend. Add your nuts and keep moving around a pan. Get the extractor on as the pan may smoke. When the nuts start to brown then turn off the heat and tip them into a bowl. Let them cool for an hour and they will then crisp up. Grind salt on to taste.
3. Roasting potato wedges - ok easy peasy. Oven on 180 degrees.Get some good potatoes for wedges (Yukon Gold but Maris Piper are great also). Best to use the smaller potatoes, leave the skin on and cut them into wedge shapes. Wash them in a bowl with cold water after being cut and then thoroughly dry them in a tea towel. In a bowl add a tablespoon of oil and then a teaspoon of spice. Mix well together, add the spuds and thoroughly coat. Onto baking trays and into the oven. You want to turn them every 8-10 minutes, best with a fish slice, helps them to stop sticking and makes sure they get an even roasting. They will probably need 20-30 minutes, it depends. Poke a knife through some and check they are crispy on outside and soft and cooked on the inside. You can then add salt, pepper or more chilli / harissa to taste after also. Another tip is I also move the wedges around the oven depending on how they are cooking - start on middle shelf and then possibly top shelf for last 5 minutes to really brown up. A final tip is add some honey or brown sugar to your oily spice at the start
4. Roasting sweet potato / butternut squash - ok now we are dancing! Exactly the same as wedges here. Sweet potato will cook even quicker, and you can also leave the wedges much bigger (I sometimes just quarter a sweet potato lengthways, coat in oily spice and then roast). Butternut squash does not need peeling, the peel taste really nice also and is nutritious. Just halve the whole thing, scoop out the seeds and stringy gunk, half again and maybe half again into wedges depending on size. Ras El Hanout is ideal for squash and then into the oven.
5. Soup - ok I cant recommend making your own soups enough. And spices will make them amazing! Boil up some vegetables, either in water or stock with a teaspoon of spice. Blitz, season. Come on! Ras el hanout will make amazing Moroccan soups. And if your feeling adventurous add in some tinned lentils or wash and add in some dry red lentils and watch them work their magic. Super healthy and a great way to understand how the flavours of the blends will work.
6. Chicken - ok BBQ or oven on. 180 degrees. Tablespoon of oil, half teaspoon of spice per breast / per leg / per 2 thighs / per 3 drumsticks (very rough approx). Massage. Yes massage the spices into the meat. If you can let it marinate even better. And if you want to add in some finely diced ginger / garlic / onions / fresh chilli into your oily spice then even better! Into a roasting pan / baking tray and into the oven for 10 minutes. Flip after 10 minutes for another 10 minutes. After 20 mins total check, they should be cooked through, not pink in the middle and the juices should be running clear. Serve with whatever you fancy, into a wrap with some salad or alongside steamed vegetables, rice, cous cous. For the BBQ method, BBQ it. Sorry if you bought one, I am sure you can use it!
Ok I thought its time to curate some really simple one pot meals. This is a super simple recipe from the BBC using garam masala, but you can use any of the spices (except harissa as its too hot!). Just brown the chicken in the pan with the oily spice, add some ingredients, stock and let is cook. Then add cous cous, water and lid on. Done! Link again here.
8. Keema (Indian spices minced meat)
A lovely Indian minced meat recipe, ideal served with rice and yoghurt. So so simple, its just frying the minced meat with spices and a few bits. Super quick and tasty. Link here.
Seeing as we are onto Indian food and simple and quick dishes, this is an ever so simple curry recipe using tinned chickpeas. Just replace all the spices though with a tablespoon of garam masala and see what happens. So so simple. Salt and chilli to taste and fresh coriander at the end if you like the stuff. Again rice and yoghurt to serve. Link here.
As mentioned check out Elaine @foodbod for her guide here also.