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What are your favorite unique herbs and spices?


treestarfae
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The two newest exotic spices I've tried are fennel pollen and grains of paradise.   The fennel pollen is powerful and best added in tiny amounts at the end of cooking. It adds a fennel/licorice taste that is great with pork in particular, I think.  The grains of paradise I use in place of black pepper when I think the recipe would benefit -- the flavor is sort of a combination between black pepper, cardamom and citrus. 

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Shichimi togorashi (Japanese seven spice) is my current favorite. I love it on roasted vegetables.

 

This sounds tempting. Where do you get it? We don't have many Asian markets around here.

 

I like garlic, ginger, thyme, curry, paprika, sage, chive, basil (especially on tomato dishes) rosemary and celtic sea salt. There are probably more I cannot remember right now.

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I've been wanting to try black salt. I read that it can be used to add an eggy note to things.

 

Due to the sulfur. 

 

If you like it, I'd recommend trying "Asafoetida" (known as "Hing" in Hindi and in the Indian markets where one can find it exclusively).

 

Latinists will immediately recognize the name "Asafoetida" strongly suggests this item has a fetid odor, and that is certainly true. It is sometimes known as Devil's Dung.

 

Believed to be a staple of classical Roman cooking it is now mainly used in Indian cuisines and is especially prized in communities that don't eat onions or garlic for religious reasons. Asafoetida has a strong smell (obviously) and needs to be kept sealed to avoid stinking up a kitchen.

 

But when dropped into hot oil the smell is modulated and the taste profile adds something unique to dishes. If you'd had Papadams in an Indian restaurant you will likely recognize the taste. There is nothing like it.

 

It comes both powdered and as chunks of resin. The latter is far superior and will last forever sealed in a metal tin (which is how it comes).

 

It does need to be pulverized (which is easy to do with a knife blade or any blunt force instrument) and used SPARINGLY.

 

Devil's Dung may not be for everyone, but is still one of those great culinary items looking to have its breakout moment in the USA.

 

Enjoy! :D

 

Bill

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This sounds tempting. Where do you get it? We don't have many Asian markets around here.

 

I like garlic, ginger, thyme, curry, paprika, sage, chive, basil (especially on tomato dishes) rosemary and celtic sea salt. There are probably more I cannot remember right now.

I buy it from Amazon or The Spice House.

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Juniper berries.

 

Those who have tasted Gin will recognize the distinct taste and aromatic qualities juniper berries give this spirit.

 

When used (subtly) in stews it brings a game-like quality of the outdoors that transforms ordinary stews into "hunter's stews."

 

A case in point is the classic Polish hunter's stew called Bigos, which is traditionally flavored with Juniper berries.

 

Just a little Juniper berry associates the senses with pine forests and nature and a complexity of flavors often found only in game.

 

Too much is overpowering and unpleasant IMO, but used subtly juniper berry is extraordinary. Underused IMO.

 

Bill

Edited by Spy Car
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Smoked paprika--a little sprinkle of this on cheese biscuits gives them a remarkably complex flavor.

 

Lavender--this is fantastic in shortbread, or sprinkled on vanilla bean ice cream with chocolate sauce, or in vinaigrettes.

 

Fresh ginger--I make tea out of this.  It's very strong and peppery, and wonderfully healing (I tend to have GERD and this has antiinflammatory properties that really help.)

 

 

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The two newest exotic spices I've tried are fennel pollen and grains of paradise.   The fennel pollen is powerful and best added in tiny amounts at the end of cooking. It adds a fennel/licorice taste that is great with pork in particular, I think.  The grains of paradise I use in place of black pepper when I think the recipe would benefit -- the flavor is sort of a combination between black pepper, cardamom and citrus. 

 

ooo that sounds good...I love fennel

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Juniper berries.

 

Those who have tasted Gin will recognize the distinct taste and aromatic qualities juniper berries give this spirit.

 

When used (subtly) in stews it brings a game-like quality of the outdoors that transforms ordinary stews into "hunter's stews."

 

A case in point is the classic Polish hunter's stew called Bigos, which is traditionally flavored with Juniper berries.

 

Just a little Juniper berry associates the senses with pine forests and nature and a complexity of flavors often found only in game.

 

Too much is overpowering and unpleasant IMO, but used subtly juniper berry is extraordinary. Underused IMO.

 

Bill

 

Bigos is my absolute favorite food! 

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Galangal (also known as Laos) is a rhizome that resembles ginger (same family) but has a very different taste.

 

Galangal has an almost eucalyptus-type quality that pairs very well with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, and coconut.

 

Galangal is a featured taste in many authentic Thai soups. 

 

Bill

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Juniper berries.

 

Those who have tasted Gin will recognize the distinct taste and aromatic qualities juniper berries give this spirit.

 

When used (subtly) in stews it brings a game-like quality of the outdoors that transforms ordinary stews into "hunter's stews."

 

A case in point is the classic Polish hunter's stew called Bigos, which is traditionally flavored with Juniper berries.

 

Just a little Juniper berry associates the senses with pine forests and nature and a complexity of flavors often found only in game.

 

Too much is overpowering and unpleasant IMO, but used subtly juniper berry is extraordinary. Underused IMO.

 

Bill

My mother used to do ham steaks with a juniper berry sauce.

 

Also they are a specific for menstrual cramps. They can be chewed or taken in the form of a Dutch gin, such as Bokma.

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I like berbere, an Ethiopian spice mixture. I get mine from Penzey's, but I saw a video from Allrecipes on making it from scratch. Berbere is rather hot, but, used sparingly (dc do like super hot spices), it adds liveliness to to bland greens such as spinach or collards.

 

Sumac is used in the Middle East. It's a pretty bright red and lends a tangy flavor -- I add it to lentil soup. )There are several species of sumac in U.S. -- the berries of some can be made into a sort of lemonade, fwiw.)

Edited by Alessandra
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I currently have a smoked salt problem.  I think it goes on everything (not really).  Not everyone cares for it, but it's so niiiiiiice.  I'm also a huge fan if dill.  I like to put a ton of it in potatoes.  There's always cumin.  I goes in everything too (not really).  I also need to buy some fenugreek.  I've been just leaving it out of recipes because I never remember to buy it, but it's time to make it a priority.  I feel it's probably important.

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I like berbere, an Ethiopian spice mixture. I get mine from Penzey's, but I saw a video from Allrecipes on making it from scratch. Berbere is rather hot, but, used sparingly (dc do like super hot spices), it adds liveliness to to bland greens such as spinach or collards.

 

Sumac is used in the Middle East. It's a pretty bright red and lends a tangy flavor -- I add it to lentil soup. )There are several species of sumac in U.S. -- the berries of some can be made into a sort of lemonade, fwiw.)

 

By coincidence, I just re-upped my Berbere supply last week during a visit to Little Ethiopia where some old acquaintances own a market. Sadly they were not working.

 

But I got some of the wife's fresh injera bread (which, as you know, is a somewhat sour spongy pancake-like bread that has lots of small holes due to fermentation).

 

Sumac was on my list of things to mention.

 

Here in LA we have a vibrant Persian community and they love sumac. One use they have is to sprinkle it on buttered soft flat-breads like lavash, which is often eaten with plates of feta and an assortment of herbs like Persian chives, mint, walnuts, and onions (called Sabzi Khordan).

 

A favorite use of sumac for me is to apply it very liberally with salt to a whole chicken prior to roasting. The sumac gives the chicken a great red color, a pleasantly sour taste (roughly equivalent to lemon), and (to top it off) a very nice texture to the skin. Folks I serve sumac chicken for the first time always love it.

 

Bill

Edited by Spy Car
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 I'd recommend trying "Asafoetida" (known as "Hing" in Hindi and in the Indian markets where one can find it exclusively).

 

OH MY GOODNESS I LOVE THAT STUFF!  :drool5:  :drool5:  :drool5:  :drool5:  :drool5:  :drool5:

 

 

 

Yes, it is worth shouting about.

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I see some favorites already listed. 

 

My mom just gave me a baby curry tree. I'm not sure what the english name for it is. She brought some large branches from one of her big trees as well, so I've just dried and stored the leaves away. I add it to dhal, and things like that. Saffron is good in dhal too. Where has mine gone???

 

My epazote plant has died down, hopefully it'll come back in spring... It makes a big difference in my tortilla soup.

 

I've almost finished building my herb garden. All I need now are the rocks for the path way. I have some plants doing well already and I plan to get some exciting new herbs in spring. My main focus though will be on Roman and German Chamomile. I'm also on the hunt for holy basil. 

 

 

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Cardamom.  It is so good.  I put it in my coffee grounds before I make coffee, and also add it to cakes, breads, and cookies.

 

I first had it when my dh and I lived in the Middle East, in Jordan.  It was always mixed in with their coffee grounds.  That's when I first learned to enjoy coffee.

 

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I see some favorites already listed. 

 

My mom just gave me a baby curry tree. I'm not sure what the english name for it is. She brought some large branches from one of her big trees as well, so I've just dried and stored the leaves away. I add it to dhal, and things like that. Saffron is good in dhal too. Where has mine gone???

 

My epazote plant has died down, hopefully it'll come back in spring... It makes a big difference in my tortilla soup.

 

I've almost finished building my herb garden. All I need now are the rocks for the path way. I have some plants doing well already and I plan to get some exciting new herbs in spring. My main focus though will be on Roman and German Chamomile. I'm also on the hunt for holy basil. 

 

Curry leaf is an amazing taste. Envious. I'm able to get it at a local Sri Lankan market (and some Indian ones) fresh locally and I'll freeze for future use. Not quite as good as fresh, but close.

 

Epazote, once impossible to get fresh, is now available in many markets here in LA.

 

Bill 

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Cardamom.  It is so good.  I put it in my coffee grounds before I make coffee, and also add it to cakes, breads, and cookies.

 

I first had it when my dh and I lived in the Middle East, in Jordan.  It was always mixed in with their coffee grounds.  That's when I first learned to enjoy coffee.

 

Yes, the Jordanians love cardamom in their coffee, which they will keep pouring for guests until the latter will have no hopes of ever sleeping unless they learn the word "hallas" in Arabic (roughly: finished/done/enough) or—better yet—the guest learns to give a subtle shake of the cup that signals the host one is done.

 

Then comes the fortune reading with the grounds, yes?

 

Bill

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I've seen those "eggs" at the store and wondered about them. I'll need to give them a try!

 

Very few culinary items make me queazy. This is one.

 

Follow Your Heart is in my neck-of-the-woods and I have fond memories of going to this classic health-food store/restaurant since childhood. It is always 1973 at Follow Your Heart.

 

For any romantic feelings I have toward the place, their "eggs" would be an item I'd only consume if I was a pretty hard-core vegan. 

 

Bill

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Very few culinary items make me queazy. This is one.

 

Follow Your Heart is in my neck-of-the-woods and I have fond memories of going to this classic health-food store/restaurant since childhood. It is always 1973 at Follow Your Heart.

 

For any romantic feelings I have toward the place, their "eggs" would be an item I'd only consume if I was a pretty hard-core vegan. 

 

Bill

Yeah... that describes my kids. Hard Core Vegan. Haha!!

 

Can you believe they don't want me to get a few chickens?? Friggin vegans. Such a buzzkill with their rubber eggs! 

I do admit, they're not bad. Especially when it's not me cooking them. :)

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Curry leaf is an amazing taste. Envious. I'm able to get it at a local Sri Lankan market (and some Indian ones) fresh locally and I'll freeze for future use. Not quite as good as fresh, but close.

 

Epazote, once impossible to get fresh, is now available in many markets here in LA.

 

Bill 

You know, the original tree was probably brought from Sri Lanka. My mom has them growing at her work along with banana trees. It's pretty cool. My little tree is looking pathetic in this weather. :/

 

Do you like Sri Lankan food? 

Have you had string hoppers?? It's my favorite dish. We now have a restaurant that sells them in Anaheim. Score!!

http://www.infolanka.com/recipes/mess1/89.html

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Za'atar was one of the first things that jumped into my mind. I once felt za'atar was virtually like my own personal secret, one I endeavored to share, but was something no one seemed to know.

 

I was introduced to za'atar about 1980 when I was a student at Cal by an extraordinary woman who was from Jordan who was studying at near-by Mills College. She also introduced me to the music of the great Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum (transliterated variously) who I first called "Sono Cairo" after her record label.  

 

The late great Umm Kulthum (aka Oum Kalthoum, Om Kalsoum, Om Koulsum, Om Kalthoum, Umm Kolthoum) was the greatest singer of either gender in the history of recorded music in my estimation. It took a while for my ear to adjust, but al-Atal is a recording that never fails to stir my soul.

 

Back to food. I had the great pleasure to cook huge feasts with my friend's mother an auntie when they'd visit. Both were outstanding cooks and they enjoyed having the improbable help of an American boy who peppered them with questions, wrote it all down, and who enjoyed what for some would have been laborious work.

 

 

We would eat za'atar with either khobz (pita) or make fresh flat-breads that were brushed with oil and sprinkled liberally with za'atar. With khubz, one would dip the bread in good olive oil or labne (rare then in American markets) and then in the za'atar.

 

My friend knew I loved za'atar so much, and she was so dear, that after college she would send me packages from Jordan for many years knowing I could not get it elsewhere.

 

I, in turn, was inspired to do some post-graduate study in Arabic, because if one is going to eat za'atar (the great soul-food item of the people of al-Shams it just seemed right.

 

Today that good friend is the UN Ambassador from Jordan. She's been honored with the French Legion of Honor, and Knighted by the Pope as a Lady of the Cross (St Gregory). She is the first Arab woman to ever chair the UN Security Council and spends her energies trying to better the situation for Syrian refugees.

 

When I enjoy za'atar I always think of this very extraordinary person who blessed my life with her friendship. 

 

Bill

Edited by Spy Car
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Yeah... that describes my kids. Hard Core Vegan. Haha!!

 

Can you believe they don't want me to get a few chickens?? Friggin vegans. Such a buzzkill with their rubber eggs! 

I do admit, they're not bad. Especially when it's not me cooking them. :)

 

I have an old friend and roommate from Chile (who texted me yesterday to see who enjoys living in a [deleted to avoid breaking board rules] now? :D

 

His job, before he fled the Pinochet regime, was working in air traffic control. But when planes started flying out loaded with people and returning empty (with no stops in between) he knew it was time to go. And he lived with me in LA.

 

Anyway, he's gone vegan and from Chile (where he returned when democracy was restored) he ordered the FYH "eggs" sent to my home so I could give them a review. 

 

He seems to like them. I'd have to be desperate.

 

Bill

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You know, the original tree was probably brought from Sri Lanka. My mom has them growing at her work along with banana trees. It's pretty cool. My little tree is looking pathetic in this weather. :/

 

Do you like Sri Lankan food? 

Have you had string hoppers?? It's my favorite dish. We now have a restaurant that sells them in Anaheim. Score!!

http://www.infolanka.com/recipes/mess1/89.html

 

I do like Sri Lankan food. One item I especially like is a condiment they call Maldive fish.

 

It comes as both a dried mix that includes chips of dried fish and a myriad of spices that needs to be reconstituted by frying it with onions in oil or as a prepared paste that comes in a jar. I like both, but the jarred version is worth the convenience and tastes as good or better (different).

 

 

I also enjoy Sri Lankan Samba rice, which has an overwhelming smell when cooking (vaguely like manure) but is positively delicious when completed. Very unique.

 

The first time I made this rice I was worried something had gone terribly wrong. Nothing natural (certainly not rice of all things) could smell so bad. Delicious! 

 

Bill 

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As common as it is, I love Rosemary. If I could chose only one herb, it would be Rosemary.

 

Rosemary grows beautifully here in Southern California, thriving on very little water, and is useful for both beautifying the garden and in the kitchen.

 

Bill

 

It grows well in Central Florida too. Even though we have a rainy season we also have a long dry season (roughly November to mid-May). It's one of the few herbs I can grow without having to baby it. I love to walk by it and catch a whiff of that wonderful aroma. And fresh rosemary in a dish is wonderful.

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