As Middle and Far Eastern, Turkish, African and other cuisines increasingly influence our foods, so too do some lively and unusual spices, writes Elaine Lemm
Hands up if you have cleaned out your spice rack, drawer or jars lurking in the back of the cupboard in the past year. If you have, take a well-deserved pat on the back. If, however, your indifference to the little glass jars is older than your first-born, then be assured you are not on your own, as spices are generally the most neglected items in the store cupboard.
This is hardly surprising: here in Britain, spice and food predominantly only ever come together in a curry and, thanks to ready made sauces and pastes, one rarely needs to purchase fresh spice.
However, things are changing. And for that we should give thanks to such chefs as Yotam Ottolenghi, with his restaurants, books and boldly flavoured foods drawn from many culinary traditions. Or to some talented food writers and their in-depth exploration of cuisines dependent on the use of (note) fresh herbs and spices. Many of these foods come from the Middle and Far East, Africa, Turkey and South America; in fact, almost everywhere except Northern Europe, it seems.
Recipes are now peppered – sorry – with the need for Za’atar, Sebah Baharat, a sprinkling of Ras El Hanout or a pinch of Turkish pepper. And food has become noisy and lively with new (to us) aromas and flavours. But it’s not time to toss out the Tikka mix just yet; curry is far too embedded in our culture for that.
Still, the first thing to chuck out is the glass jars. These are the worst possible containers, being exposed to light and fluctuating temperatures on the kitchen shelf. (Tins or foil packets are far better, especially when stored in a cool, dark, dry place.)
Moreover, anything older than a few months will have already begun to deteriorate, and not just in terms of flavour. Many spices are also good for us, but their benefits can only be derived when they are fresh.
Your rule, then, must be ‘only buy spices when you need them’, which isn’t easy, unless you are very lucky and live close to a good market or spice shop. So look online. And there’s nowhere better to start than The Spice Shop. This famous emporium on Portobello Road in London has an amazing range of just about everything you will ever need.
To give another quick boost to the curry – in case you think it is being badly treated – Rafi’s Spice Box assembles curry mixes using only fresh spices, and each kit includes everything except the meat and veg. They also freeze well, retaining their goodness.
So, no more excuses. Ditch the dead stuff in the cupboard! It is time to for a little more excitement in the kitchen.
See a recipe for Spiced Red Lentil Köfte