Like a kid in a candy shop the visual and aromatic assault of a spice market makes me glaze over in awe. Packets redolent with scents from the sublime to the exceedingly pungent. All in muted shades of brown, yellow, red, white, and black, in shapes from the expected to the extra-terrestrial. Yes, just like a child I can never make up my mind for I want them all. Of course, there are the staples to always have on-hand: whole black pepper, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, coriander, star anise, cardamom, clove, nutmeg and cinnamon to name but a few. Though for me it cannot stop there, I also must have: black cardamom for its intense smokiness; dried tamarind when a little pucker is required; annatto seed when all you need is a flush of color, or, fenugreek for its ability to maintain its identity in the most extreme conditions.
It is best to buy spices whole whenever possible, and invest in a $15 coffee grinder – dedicated to spices (otherwise, you’ll be making a rare international blend come morning). Clean the spice grinder out with raw rice – processing it to flour. But save the scented rice flour, and make a fabulous porridge.
Store your spices in an opaque to dark container, or ideally, in the freezer. Light and heat release the aromatics that should be going into the dish. If storing in the freezer you will get years off the spices. However, if you store them at room temperature be prepared to replace them yearly. Try to buy them in small parcels of 1 ounce or less – they have bulk but not much weight.
Don’t be afraid to add a pinch of cinnamon to a tomato sauce or let turmeric stain your rice an orangey-gold.
Spiced Chicken and Rice– yields 6 servings
2-tablespoons sesame oil
1 onion – diced
2 garlic cloves – diced
1 red Thai chili – diced
1-teaspoon minced ginger
1/4-teaspoon whole cumin seed
1/4-teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2-teaspoon ground coriander
1-1/2cups basmati rice
1/4-cup sliced almonds
2 whole skinless and boneless chicken breasts – sliced into quarters
1 can (13.5 ounces) chopped tomatoes
1/2-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4-cup cilantro leaves – roughly chopped
Heat a 6-quart sauce pan over a medium high flame, and add the oil and onions. Cook the onions for a few minutes until they start to brown. Then add in the garlic, chilies, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, turmeric and rice. Keep the mixture moving for a few minutes to coat the rice well, and activate the fragrances of the spices. Mix in the almonds, chicken pieces, tomato, salt and pepper as well as 1-1/2 cups of water. Turn the flame down to low, and place a lid on the sauce pan. Cook the mixture for about 30minutes. Remove from the heat allow the rice to rest for 10 minutes.
Mix in the cilantro just prior to serving.
Moroccan Spice Blend
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
3/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried lavender buds
1 tablespoon dried Rose petals - roughly crashed
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon sumac
Mix all ingredients together to thoroughly combine.
Use this mix in a lamb stew or rubed on a roast chicken.