Monday, November 30, 2009

Spice Mixes

When I cook, I often prepare my spices ahead of time and have them mixed in a bowl, waiting. I don't prepare jars of mixed spices as my cooking tends to be somewhat improvisational from day to day and sometimes I like to go wild, and use extra cumin or something. Still, for people that don't cook every day, and don't have two kitchen cabinets devoted to spices, a jar of mixed spices can be a thoughtful holiday gift.

I tend to buy my spices in small, ethnic markets where they are less expensive and move off the shelves regularly. That isn't to say I'm above grabbing a jar of mustard seeds at Hy Vee, in a pinch, but I do pay a premium for doing so. As I said, cooking all our meals at home, I tend to go through spices before they lose their strength. If a large bag of ground coriander is more than you'll use in a year, why not find someone to share with, or turn the excess spices into a thoughtful gift-provided you put some thought into it. A jar of curry spice isn't much of a gift if the recipient does not make curries.

The measurements I'll give here should make mixes that will fill a jar with between 2-4 ounces of mixture. Baby food jars are perfect, but so are empty jars from salad cherries, olives, and the like. Ball Jars are nice, but expensive and they tend to take up quite a bit of room in a cabinet, so unless you are making something in a quantity, stick to smaller, easier to handle jars. Fabric remnants and ribbon make an attractive decoration. If you're feeling inspired, print out a few recipes using the spices to go along with the gift.

Here are some ideas:

Madras-Style Curry Powder:

4 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fenugreek
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon dill seed
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch cinnamon

Garam Masala:

1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
16 whole cloves
6 whole cardamom pods
1 piece cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon small black cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

Grind everything together. I have a dedicated electric coffee grinder I use for Indian spices and another for chillies. You can pick up electric coffee milks, often unused for a couple dollars at the Goodwill and other thrift stores. Don't buy a new one for this sort of thing.

Refried Beans/Chili Mix:

You can make this hotter if you prefer by adding more red pepper flakes. When getting ready to grind whole chilies, heat a dry frying pan (cast iron works well) until quite hot. Toss the dried chilies onto it and cook until they puff a bit. Remove, cool slightly and then cut open and remove seeds. Grind well. Obviously, you don't need to remove the seeds, but it does tend to make for very hot seasoning if you don't, depending on the variety you use.

4 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
4 tablespoons mild chili powder (I like Ancho chillies)
2 teaspoons dried epazote
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoons sweet (not smoked) paprika

Let me know how you like them.


Raymond said...

I love that idea!
If people flavored their food more with herbs & spices, maybe they wouldn't rely so much on salt and fat for any taste. Fatty Americans!

Goody said...

It hasn't cut down on my use of oil around here.

I don't know, I keep telling myself that not eating meat balances out pumpkin cheesecake, but really I think that might be a stretch...