Without the blazing rays of sun beating down on the garden for 8-plus hours a day my herbs, those that are still awake, are less than dynamic. By this time of year I am so bored by the lack of explosion of the herbaceous bundles in the market I have no choice by to rely on the spices I hoard. Yes, I have pestos in the freezer but they don’t always satisfy my needs. Next to those containers of pureed basil, mint, hyssop and mixed herbs is a gallon-sized plastic bag stuffed with smaller plastic bags filled with seeds, bark and buds of the spices I always have on hand. I keep my spices in this space more usually crowded with pints ice cream, containers of chicken soup and trays of cubes.
Heat and light release fragrance, and spices are all about their aromatic offering, so why store them in glass jars, perfectly aligned, in the warmest room of the house. For me spices stored in a more traditional manner tends to be dead with six months where as those kept in the dark, chill of the freezer gives olfactory stimulation for years – and of course, I buy them in their whole form and grind as needed.
This was the case the other night when I was in the mood to play – grab some of this; throw in a bit of that. However, the garden has dwindled down to broccoli leaves, kale and Swiss chard, and the herbs that are not dominant are making me yawn. In the market the basil is feeble and the tarragon gives just a hint of anise. My foods will not be dulled, so I just laid out my many little packets, and started to concoct. Seeing the yet to be open dried rose petals I had my moment of inspiration. The head of North Africa filled my nose, and dinner started to take form. This cuisine uses a blend of floral, spicy and earthy notes to bring their dishes to fruition – and since I have no cultural attachment to that part of the world I feel no compulsion about getting the feeling correct without worrying if I am following Grandma’s recipe exactly.
The blending of spices and herbs is alchemistic for me, and can immediately transport you into a whole other realm, but you need to be armed with more then the typical cumin, paparika, nutmeg and cinnamon. Expand the repertoire dare yourself with black cardamom, white poppy or annatto seeds, and see what happens. Of course, when the warmth of the sun returns always buy an herb you have never used before – granted, you should like the way it smells.
Moroccan inspired Roast Lamb – yields 4 to 6
1/2-teaspoon whole black peppercorns
5 cardamom pods
4 clove spikes
2-tablespoons dried rose petals
1-teaspoon lavender buds
2-inch cinnamon stick (broken up)
½-teaspoon anise seed
1-tablespoon coriander seed
¼-cup fresh lime juice
½-cup fresh orange juice
3-pounds lamb thigh – bone-in
1-large onion – thickly sliced
1-cup roughly chopped dried apricots
2- dried Asian chilies – minced
In a spice grinder place the black peppercorns, cardamom, cloves, rose petals, lavender, fenugreek, cinnamon, anise, coriander and turmeric blending until all is broken down.
In a small work bowl mix the lime and orange juice with the spice mix. Rub the spice mixture over the lamb, and then warp it tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2-days.
Remove from the lamb refrigerate about an hour prior to cooking, and let it sit on the kitchen counter.
Pre-heat the oven to 475-degrees.
Place the onions, apricots, chilies and lamb in a small roasting pan. Season the lamb with salt. Pour one cup of water into the pan. Place the lamb into the oven, and immediately lower the temperature to 325-degrees.
After about an hour and half cover the lamb, and add about ½-cup of additional water.
Cook for the lamb for another 1-1/2 to 2 hours.