I cannot seem to just let ingredients BE. For example, tonight I had a pack of minced beef and a pack of minced lamb, with the aim of making burgers. Could I be happy with adding just a little sea salt and pepper and cooking them? No. I added some Ras el Hanout powder, onion salt and cinnamon. They were very tasty, slow cooked on a ridged griddle pan, but I couldn’t not add spices of some kind.
Now, if it had been prime, aged beef then I’d not have had any problem leaving it be, as the whole point of that is the flavour of the meat itself, but the usual, everyday stuff from the Co-op? Spice it up!
If I had a spice cupboard the size of one wall of my kitchen, I’d fill it. Along with pots of fresh herbs. I love having the little flashes of tasty colour to add in to dishes. A straight tomato salad? Perhaps a little finely shredded basil in there. Glass noodles with a sesame oil dressing? Hmm, needs a touch of coriander, or maybe some chives.
I just cannot let it lie can I?
I love the pile of emerald bright, fresh parsley, and the aroma as you chop it together with lemon zest and garlic. Basil torn into small pieces and scattered through a salad, the heady, wood musk smell of cumin added to a burger mix, or a vat of chilli. I remember making okra in mustard seeds for my mum and step-dad, not just because they loved it but because I adored the spicy, nutty scent of the seeds as they popped in hot oil. Mix those same popped seeds, along with their oil, into grated carrot and there’s a side dish fit for a king.
Opening my cupboard doors is like stepping into a mini spice market. I have so many in there, and they all vy for attention.
Sharp, zesty, acidic sumac begs to be added to an onion salad or rubbed into lamb. Herbes de Provence fair clamours to be mixed into butter and slathered onto a free range chicken. Shy, earthy celery salt doesn’t really stand out until you add it into flour with some smoked sea salt and coat chicken pieces with it. Fry that off and the scent hits you in no time.
Ras el Hanout, bejewelled with plush red rose petals, scented with cloves and nutmeg and warm cinnamon – oh she is a girl alright. Spicy, sensuous, reaching out with brown, bangled arms to tempt you into the world of Middle Eastern food. Dark eyed, luscious but with a hidden heat. Perfect melted into warm olive oil and brushed onto bread to be toasted.
Cinnamon. Where would I be without cinnamon? Neither sweet nor savoury, he adapts well to both types of dish. Mixed into softened butter with a crushed clove of garlic then spread under the skin of a chicken, or added to a rich, earthy red wine and beef stew to take it just that bit further.
Mixed with sugar to coat cookies, or sprinkle on a bagel before toasting. Such a heady, foreign scent, yet so familiar to me. Just a touch added to a moussaka or bolognese sauce will lift it, but not too much because he can be overpowering and pushy. A perfect bedfellow for apples and sultanas, the quintessential aroma of Christmas.
I’m going to need a bigger cupboard.