Friday, July 22, 2011

Magical Spice Blend

I decided this needed its own post, as it will come up over and over again. It has its origins in a "Cajun" blend I ground up at one point to use with some catfish. I had leftover and found myself throwing it onto damn near everything**, partially because I liked it, but also because it conveniently contained many of the spices I find myself reaching for all the time. So when I ran out, I made more. It's evolved somewhat since then, and changes occasionally due to lack of ingredient, but it continues to have a combination of cumin, fennel, thyme, and black and red pepper at its core, with some kind of smoky-flavored element.

As I mentioned, I use it all over the place, but it's particularly good on anything that would go in a burrito, though that may not be very descriptive coming from me: I'll stick just about anything in a burrito.
    Grind together in a spice grinder***:
  • 1 Tblsp whole cumin seed
  • 1 Tblsp whole fennel seed
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp whole black pepper
  • 1 tsp red pepper flake OR 1 dry chipotle (not the kind that comes in sauce)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika*
  • 1 large or 2 small dried shiitake mushroom*
*I know not everyone keeps these around, and I've put this together without them, but each adds a lot, and are worth digging up. Smoked paprika, which adds a richly smoky, lightly sweet flavor that I'm in love with, can be found at reasonable prices online if you can't find it locally. Dried shiitake mushrooms are a stellar source of natural glutamates, bringing out the savory flavors in even the simplest ingredients. If you have an Asian grocery nearby, you can pick them up there, but otherwise, check online.

**I once had a student who decided to sprinkle some on each and every element of his lunch one day. He declared it particularly good on the apple.

***We keep two separate coffee grinders: one for coffee and one for spices. When I was living on my own, I used the same grinder for coffee and spices, rarely minding a little bleed-over between the two. For those who want their coffee to taste like coffee and their spices to taste like spices, though, you can try a quick wipe with a dry towel or grinding a small amount of something cheap and neutral-flavored (I use a tablespoon or two of oats when I need to do this) to clear the grinder's palette.

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