The Autumn Equinox brings many things around the Pacific Northwest: our infamous drizzle begins anew, the few maples and oaks color aflame in between the miles of evergreen, the oysters are firm and plump again, garden kale stems grow thick and tough in preparation for wintering over, and, perhaps less famously but no less excitingly– my spice cabinet gets its quarterly makeover! Fall is when my cooking gets hearty, and I rely the heaviest of blended spices to warm my belly and my soul through the short, grey days, and the long, cold nights. It should come as little surprise to anyone who follows my blog-y musings that I delight in the unexpected, so here I’ll share a few of my top, must-have-on-hand blends that add cheer, color, and interest to my standby fall dishes.
The man who shares my life also shares with me an almost unnatural love of Harissa. At once familiar and unexpected, Harissa adds such depth and warmth to everything it touches. Instead of the traditional thyme and rosemary, I rub harissa on a chuck roast before sealing it in my dutch oven and slow-roasting it overnight. The juices from the meat mingle with the exotic spice, and makes the most sumptuous little pan sauce- after you’ve pulled your tender roast, just reduce the liquid by half, and add a pat of butter. Our cous cous with roasted vegetables and Harissa sauce is a year-round classic in my house, too.
My family is a bit “leftovers-challenged,” which is a nice way of saying that even the meals that get raves on night one, die slow deaths in the refrigerator if not re-imagined in to other things. When I make our Turkey Mole, the first night I’ll use the meat to make enchiladas or tacos, while the second, I’ll thin the sauce with chicken stock until it’s just thicker than broth consistency, and add chopped tomatoes, white beans, corn, and onion, and simmer for half an hour to make the world’s fastest and most delicious chili. Soul satisfying, and infinitely more interesting that your traditional “bowl of red.”
Acorn, Butternut, Delicata, Hubbard, Kabocha, Spaghetti, Turban… Gardens and markets abound with scores of winter squashes — to say nothing of the dozens of pumpkin varieties — all delicious, nutritious, inexpensive, and begging for a roasting. A dash of cinnamon, a grate of nutmeg- fine, I suppose, but who settles for “fine” when “amazing” is available? I stock Kashmiri Curry and Besar for just these occasions. Both have the toasty, sweet spices that bring out the inherent sweetness of the squash, but add so much more, whether you’re roasting whole to mash, or cubing and caramelizing your gourds.
The easiest side dish at this time of year is roasted root vegetables. Heat a sheet pan in a 450 degree oven, toss a sampling of carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, and onions in a bit of oil, spread in an even layer on your hot pan, and roast until tender and golden. It may be natural to reach again for the rosemary, or even the Italian Herbs, but I prefer the savory crunch of Svaneti Seasoned Salt. This eastern European blend is so versatile that I find it pairs no matter how I’ve seasoned the main dish — European, north African, Middle Eastern, or Indian. I go through quarts of the stuff, I just can’t get enough.
I have to preface all of this by saying that I do not consider myself a baker. I usually find the excessive measuring and strict orders of operations stifling, and too math-like to be enjoyable to my free spirit. However, creatively spicing puts the joy back in. Pumpkin pies abound at every gathering this time of year, and though I love them, I do grow weary. I prefer this pie, adapted from a very traditional Southern recipe, using sweet potatoes and Sri Lankan curry. Deeply toasted and just a bit spicy, this warm, sweet blend has all but replaced Pumpkin Pie Spice in my kitchen, for sweet potato and pumpkin pies.
This Apple-Carrot pie has also become a standby in my kitchen. When I first posted it, great Seattle food blogger cook.can.read commented that “Cinnamon is the gateway drug. Chinese Five Spice is the destination.” I couldn’t agree more! Try using Chinese Five Spice anywhere your autumn baking calls for cinnamon- I’m talking pumpkin or zucchini breads, muffins- even toss it with sugar to coat the outside of your snickerdoodles!
So, if you’re open to any advice from your humble spice merchant, although nature may be hunkering down for the chilly months ahead, use this time to re-awaken your spice stash. Grab a few unfamiliar and exotic blends, and turn over those spices that have been languishing for six months or longer. The bright flavors of fresh spices will all but erase the dreary skies from your psyche. We’ve got an entire display dedicated to these blends and a few other fall staff favorites, (as well as a bunch of new books!) so drop by for a sniff and a chat!
Tart, sweet and dramatically red, rhubarb never tasted so good as in this rustic Lemon Thyme Rhubarb cake. The cake is moist and fluffy on the inside with a slight crisp on the outside edge. The sharpness of the rhubarb combined with the delicate pungency of the lemon thyme make this a most wonderful way to take advantage of an abundant rhubarb harvest.
Imagine a perfect summer tomato. Vine ripened, deep red, full of flavor. The kind of tomato you you just want to bite into. And why not? Tomato with a pinch of salt is a tasty and refreshing snack for the summer time. Does anything compare?
The perfect summer avocado, perhaps. There’s another delicious summer fruit that begs to be eaten plain, with a bit of salt and pepper to enhance the flavor.
Now’s the tricky part. What salt should you use? At World Spice, we’ve created a tantalizing array of and seasoning salt blends. Here, for your snacking convenience, is our top three seasoned salt blends, and the best snacks to accompany them. Be warned, if you decide to do what I did and have a salt tasting exravaganza, be prepared for a very thirsty afternoon and no regrets.
Our seasoned salt blends:
Provencal: This blend has that unmistakable taste of green in every pinch. Probably due to the tarragon and chervil, a French herb related to parsley. More subtle flavors of lavender, tomato, garlic, and lemon leap out of this blend when paired with the right snack. While it’s good on tomatoes, this blend really shines with green veggies like roasted zucchini, broccoli, and is delightful on a slice of soft French Brie.
Svaneti: This blend has lively and versatile flavors. Coriander, caraway, Tellicherry black pepper, chile, garlic, and fenugreek on a base of sea salt compose this superbly seasoned salt. It will enhance your red meats and potatoes marvelously, and is a great choice to accompany that perfect summer tomato.
Voodoo: What gift do you get the salt blend that has everything? Whole mustard seeds are probably the most endearing member of the Voodoo blend, lending a satisfying texture and flavor, but the red Aleppo pepper, thyme, and peppercorns might be the real stars of the show. Garlic, onion, and allspice round out the flavor. This is the boldest blend of the trio, which goes well with anything that could use a kick, from eggs to broccoli to popcorn. After trying this with avocado, I won’t be having avocado any other way any time soon.
What are your favorite summer snacks? Hit us with ‘em in the comments and we’ll hit you back with the right blend for you.
By now most bagel lovers in Seattle have discovered Eltana and as an ex-pat from the East Coast, I can tell you it is about time. The perfect crust on their bagels comes from being boiled in honey water and then baked in a wood burning oven; yielding a hint of sweetness with a very light smokiness that is out of this world. Of course, they use our spices in many of their dips, spreads & salads too which always makes for a superior schmear.
With a recent spice delivery, I found Daniel, one of the founders of Eltana, working on something new that was too good not to share. He was making tuna salad using our Kharcho blend. This rare mixture of spices is typically associated with the hearty stews of the former Soviet state Georgia, and its unusual flavor profile often leaves folks wondering what to do with it. When I tasted this Kharcho Tuna Salad, I was sold. This is no ordinary tuna salad. Daniel starts with high grade albacore tuna which is cooked in house before getting mixed with all kinds of delicious goodies, including our Kharcho. I haven’t been able to pry the secret recipe from him yet, but if he does share it, we will pass it along. Until then, we’ll see you at Eltana!
Zucchini season has officially begun in the Pacific Northwest, and boy is it a successful one this year. The markets are full of this fine summer squash and I was recently gifted a zucchini from the family garden which is about the size of my torso. I needed to find something delicious to do with my bounty, and stuffed zucchini was just the thing.
This Turkish influenced recipe looks and tastes impressive but requires little effort to make aside from tossing a few things together and leaving it to cook. Of course, since this is a Turkish recipe, my favorite spice blend to pair it with is Turkish Baharat- the peppermint and savory are a refreshing addition on warm summer days. For a more complex filling you can move slightly farther north in influence and use the Black Sea regional spice Khmeli Suneli. A filling dinner for three or a starter for 6, all you need is three medium sized zucchinis (or one monster one).
Mustard is easy to make, but it also requires a little patience. If you let the mustard sit for a few days for the flavors to meld together, you will be rewarded with a fine, flavorful mustard to make your sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs extra special.