A dish can go from good to great with the right spice. I thought this week we could step away from the plate and enter the spice cabinet.
When you cook, you tend to get great spices as gifts and I have some treasures in my cabinet. My friend Emily lives in New Zealand and she sent me some Kelp Pepper and Smoked Sea Salt. Then my friend Carol got me a gift certificate for an Italian market in Florida and I treated myself to a decadent bottle of balsamic vinegar. And for my birthday last year I got a huge box of Penzey Spices.
I cringed every time I use a smear of chili paste I got in Thailand, half the bottle is gone- it is sooo good.
I think my go to spices are salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. So let’s talk salt first. Most people are familiar with Morton’s Salt- which is iodized. Salt is either mined from the ground or dried out from the sea. There is a great book called Salt: A World History. Many moons ago, salt was used as trade and it seems like today it is considered by many as the “mother-spice.” I was a little traumatized at NGI by how much salt the teachers used, but my goodness, did it make a huge difference in the taste. My preference is sea salt over a standard product like “Morton’s.” There are additives in this salt to prevent it from caking, so I opt for a non-processed salt. There are many brands of sea salt on the market from all over the world. I’ve had good luck with La Baleine from France. It comes in fine and coarse and runs about $3.50 for a pound.
Pepper…nothing beats freshly ground pepper. There are so many types of peppercorns available- black, white, green, pink. Most popular is the Tellicherry Pepper from India. But first you must get a decent pepper mill. And the Cadillac version is the Magnum Plus by Unicorn. Got that one on my list for next Christmas! White pepper is used a lot in Thai cooking and a little goes a long way.
And oils, so many out there. Nothing beats a really delicious extra virgin olive oil. And as much as I love everything Italian, I favor the Spanish olive oils. One brand I always lean to is Zoe. It is very well balanced that you can use it to cook and in a vinegarette. Make sure you get Extra Virgin- this is from the first pressing and all the good stuff is in it.
Some other oils I have used are the La Tourangelle brand. These are wonderful drizzled on a salad or over pasta. They are a little pricey, but worth the splurge as you only use a little amount. This brand has roasted hazlenut, pumpkin seed, avacado, white/black truffle and on and on..
Want something different- try Mas Portell Smoked Paprika- This spice is made from roasted red peppers dried in an oak wood oven. When I want that smokey taste added to any of my soups, I add a teaspoon and it really brings some depth to the flavors. This spice is from Spain and retails for about $4-6. It comes in sweet, bitter-sweet, and hot.
I encourage all you readers to try one new thing this week, be it a salt, pepper or olive oil. And if you have a favorite brand, let me know so we pass the condiment- love along.
Should you ever decide to try dark chocolate with sea salt and just so happen to have $100 in your hands, then order 10 bars from here. You will seriously thank me. (hopefully with finder’s fee of a chocolate bar)
Mom and I still laugh about Mother’s Day in ’01. I bought her salt and pepper!
Life is short, so spice it up!