A world of flavor

Triplicate Staff

If your vision of a complete spice cupboard is a shaker of black pepper and a cardboard cylinder of iodized salt, you may want to think of adding a little spice to your life - literally.

While salt and pepper are great staples, there are hundreds of other spices awaiting adventurous cooks, and they offer a world tour in the process. In a single day, you can have Madagascar vanilla in your morning latte, South American chilies in your fajitas for lunch and Indian curry for dinner.

History in the making

Spices have a long history, and their first recorded use dates back

2,600 years to Egypt, according to Matt Perry, owner of Bend, Ore.'s

Savory Spice Shop. He says not only were spices used for cooking, but

they also had a major presence at funerals and were actually used in the

embalming process. In 1000 B.C., spices began to be used as a trading

commodity between Arabian countries and Europe.

Grammar expert Richard Nordquist points out that the phrase "worth

your salt" originated because salt once was used to pay military

personnel. In the 15th and 16th centuries, wars were fought over the

control of the spice trade, according to the Food History website.

Columbus is credited with introducing spices to the New World, and

some that were grown in America began to be exported to Europe and Asia,

according to Perry.

Coming to terms

The terms herbs and spices are often used interchangeably, but

technically "spice" refers to the flower, seed, bark or root of a plant

used for seasoning - it can be fresh or dried.

According to the American Spice Trade Association, spices are defined

more generally as "any dried plant product used primarily for seasoning

purposes." This also includes herbs, defined elsewhere as the dried

leafy portions of the plant.

Extracts refer to liquid flavorings of three types: pure, natural and

imitation. The flavorings are usually mixed with alcohol to create a

liquid. Perhaps the best known pure extract is vanilla. Natural

extracts, such as rum, may be mixed with other flavorings to enhance the

taste. Imitation extracts are synthesized from chemicals and contain

none of the namesake flavoring agent.

Like other produce, spices can be grown conventionally or

organically, so be sure to read labels to get what you're looking for.

Spice basics

While you are likely to have more than just salt and pepper in your

kitchen cabinet, what else do you need? The answer, of course, depends

on the type of cooking you do (or don't do).

When asked to suggest five spices every kitchen should have (besides

salt and pepper), Perry suggests the following: Italian blend (which

offers multiple spices in one), cinnamon, Parmesan-pesto blend, fajita

seasoning and paprika. Purchasing spices fresh and in bulk allows

individuals to buy just a small amount to sample or use for a single

recipe.

The optimum spice experience is to grind your own from the whole

spice. Grinding can be done with a simple mortar and pestle, a spice

grinder or by using a dedicated coffee grinder. Grinding your own spices

releases the flavors and oils as they're ready to be added to the food.

Some spices can be dry roasted before grinding to release even more

flavor. For spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, use a sharp grater instead

of a grinder.

Storage smart

Whole spices have a longer shelf life than ground ones. Once any

spice is ground, it begins to lose its flavor. Though spices do not

actually go bad, the flavor diminishes over time. A lifespan of one year

is typical for most spices, though Perry recommends a "smell test" to

determine how strong the spice is after prolonged storage.

Light, air, heat and moisture are spice enemies. Spices should be

stored in a sealed glass jar in a dark place, such as a cabinet.

Showcasing spices in the light, and especially sun, will cause them to

deteriorate rapidly.

Although some spices can be refrigerated without harm, others, like the vanilla bean, will spoil if subjected to the cold.

Some spices have a longer shelf life than one year. For example,

Perry notes that saffron can be kept for seven years, and vanilla beans

last around two years.

Drying actually helps create the flavor in many spices, and the

process concentrates flavor as well. So, when using dried spices, use

less than you would if using fresh. Perry suggests using about one-third

the amount of a dried spice as a fresh version of the same, and notes

that in some recipes the substitution isn't recommended. Cilantro is an

example where dried may not be as good to use as fresh, such as in

guacamole or salsa.

While most people welcome the savory smell and flavor of spices, some

people have dietary restrictions that limit the spices and blends they

choose.

Perry's advice for learning more about spices is: "Experiment! Cook

with real food and don't be afraid to try new spices. They offer a tour

of the world's flavors without leaving your kitchen."

Roasted Cauliflower and Chard with Chickpeas and Dukka

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Created by Bend Savory Spice Shop owners Matt and Betsy Perry, this vegetable entree is perfect for trying your hand at grinding your own spices. Dukka is an Egyptian blend of spices.

andfrac34; lb cauliflower, cored and cut into florets

1 lg sweet onion, cut into

1-inch pieces

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

5 TBS olive oil (divided 3 TBS and 2 TBS)

andfrac34; tsp kosher salt

andfrac12; lb Swiss chard, stems and ribs sliced and leaves chopped

1 can (15 oz) chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

andfrac12; C Dukka (see note)

Note: To make the Dukka: Toast 1andfrac12; tsp coriander seed and 1andfrac12; tsp cumin

seed in a small frying pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally,

until aromatic (about 1 minute). Let cool. Whirl toasted spices with andfrac12;

tsp kosher salt and pepper, andfrac14; tsp dried thyme and andfrac14; cup hazelnuts,

sunflower seeds or toasted sesame seeds until coarsely chopped.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a roasting pan, toss the first three

ingredients with 3 TBS olive oil. Roast, stirring occasionally, until

golden brown, about 20 minutes. Add the chard stems, toss to coat, and

roast until tender, about 7 minutes. Stir in the chard leaves,

chickpeas, Dukka and remaining 2 TBS of olive oil. Roast until the chard

is wilted, about 8 minutes. Stir, season to taste with more Dukka and

salt.

- From Mike and Betsy Perry, Bend Savory Spice Shop owners

Vanilla Bean Sugar Cubes

Makes 256 cubes.

Perfect for adding to coffee or tea, these flavored sugar cubes are a great gift, too.

3 C white sugar

4 Madagascar vanilla beans

andfrac14; C pure Madagascar vanilla extract

Heat oven to 275 degrees.

Cut 4 vanilla beans into andfrac12;-inch pieces and grind to a coarse powder.

In a large bowl, mix the sugar, beans and extract until thoroughly

combined (when the extract is completely incorporated the mixture will

look a bit like dough).

Pour the sugar mixture into an 8-inch by 8-inch pan, spread out

evenly to andfrac12;-inch thickness and press it down lightly. Use a knife to

score out andfrac12;-inch square cubes by running the knife the length of the pan

every andfrac12; inch and the width of the pan every andfrac12; inch. Bake for 1andfrac12; hours.

Remove from oven and let cool. Once cooled, carefully flip the pan

onto a cookie sheet to remove the sugar. Gently break into cubes along

the scored lines. To round the cube edges, gently pour them into a big

pot with a cover and lightly shake. Check and repeat if necessary. Pour

the cubes from the pot into a small-holed colander or sifter to gather

the cubes and sift off any sugar particles that can be reserved as

granulated vanilla bean sugar.

- From Janet Johnston, Savory Spice Shop founder and host of Food Network show "Spice and Easy"

Cathy's Gingerbread Cookies

Makes 1 dozen cookies.

1 C butter

1andfrac12; C sugar

1 egg

4 tsp orange zest

2 TBS dark corn syrup

3 C flour

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

andfrac12; tsp ground cloves

andfrac12; tsp salt

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg and beat until fluffy. Add

orange zest and syrup and mix well. In a separate bowl, sift together

dry ingredients. Mix wet and dry ingredients. Form into a ball of dough

and chill for at least 2 hours. Roll out and cut dough using cookie

cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for

8-10 minutes. Cool 1 minute before removing from pan.

- From Cathy Schwartz, Savory Spice Shop customer

14028561
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