People who have always lived in western cultures have not had a broad knowledge and respect for the pairing food and spices. Living in London, which is so culturally diverse, there are restaurants of many different ethnicities. It’s probably not a secret not many people have marveled at the wonders of British food. However in London some of the most popular restaurants are Indian, and perhaps no culture is more in-tune to spices as the Indian culture. As the world grows smaller, more of us will get to know the advantages of using a variety of spices in our cooking.
When purchasing and before using spices, keep these things in mind:
• By from an ethnic supplier rather than the supermarket
• Buy in small quantities, as they are best used within three months of purchase.
• Try grinding your spices. As with coffee, shelf life decreases when in ground form.
• Toasting spices before grinding gives them optimum flavor.
• Store in airtight containers out of direct sunlight.
Spices and herbs make up important ingredients of the foods in Mediterranean diet recipes. Some of the most important are:
• Garlic. Used sliced, crushed or sometimes whole, it is often used in long slow-cooked meals, or raw in salads and sauces.
• Capers. These are the pickled buds of a shrub native to this region. They are used on salads and sauces, and sometimes with lamb.
• Basil. Another of those crucial spices in Mediterranean cooking, it goes great with tomatoes, peppers and cheeses.
• Parsley. Mixed with garlic, or as a garnish for tomato and rice dishes.
• Rosemary. Used mainly in meat dishes, especially roast chicken or lamb, it too pairs up nicely with garlic.
• Sage. It has a strong, distinctive flavor and is used predominantly with meat, but use this sparingly.
• Pepper. There are several types, but black peppercorns have the strongest flavor.
• Saffron. Used throughout the Mediterranean but grown predominantly in Northern Spain, in France it is used in fish stews, in Spain with chicken and rice, and in Italy in risottos.
When pairing spices and herbs with food, some of the things to remember to really enhance the flavors of foods are to not use too many seasonings in one dish, as it will overwhelm the food itself. Rather than using two very strong spices or herbs together, pair one strong flavor and one mild one to best compliment the food. Add spices and herbs to cold dishes early in the preparation so they can better blend with the food, and slow cook hot food to let them meld. That’s why chili that’s been cooking for a while always tastes better.
Dry herbs and spices carry more flavor than fresh, so in recipes the ratios should be one part powder would equal three parts dried and eight parts fresh. If you are doubling a recipe, do not double the amount of spice or herb, but use only 50% more. As you have probably noticed, we always try to answer the question: what is Mediterranean food? But with its health benefits and being a delight to eat, we think it is worth promoting.