First published Winter 2018


 

Mixing your own masalas and seasonings is a great way to use up random spices that may be lurking at the back of your cupboards, as well as to save money and add some flavour to winter warmers. Hannah Maryse Robinson writes

 

If you’re anything like me, you have a cupboard full of herbs and spices, but still find yourself buying pre-mixed seasoning. Now the chilly evenings have set in, and soups and curries become ever more appealing, I felt the urge to get more creative. And once I ‘mustard’ up the courage to start mixing things up myself, I realised the infinite flavourful possibilities of my spice collection. It also encouraged me to add a wider variety of herbs and spices to my diet. For centuries they have been used to treat a host of ailments: from anti-inflammatory turmeric to digestion-aiding rosemary, and to sage, which has been used to treat everything from tummy issues to depression. It can’t hurt to get more of this into my system.

A good trick to get you started is mixing herbs and spices according to colour. Red/yellow spices such as paprika, saffron and cumin are more likely to complement each other, while brown spices such as cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg work together beautifully. This is a great hack if you want to learn certain cuisines. Want to learn how to cook Italian? Then start experimenting with green herbs. Oregano, rosemary and thyme mixed up together in equal quantities is a great base. From there you can add basil, sage, dill or anything you desire. While fresh herbs may have a brighter flavour, dried can be beautiful, and the drying process can concentrate their protective polyphenols (plant compounds that lend herbs their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory powers). 

If you’ve got a spicier palate, then have fun with curries. The foundation to almost any curry is turmeric, cumin, chilli and coriander (which goes well with pretty much every exotic spice). Once you’ve got this down, you can get playful. Want it spicier? Add paprika, cayenne pepper and a thumb of minced ginger. If you fancy something more fragrant, you could add fennel, caraway, nutmeg and cloves. You don’t need to keep this for curries, of course. Try spicing up a salad by mixing it with a bit of oil and a dash of lemon juice for a tasty dressing. Another delicious combination I’ve been playing with is allspice and chilli peppers: all you need to start making your own jerk seasoning! You can add almost anything to this, and it’s going to taste great. I like to throw in some garlic, cloves, ginger, brown sugar, lime zest, salt and pepper. I find myself putting this on everything from scrambled eggs to fish to cheese on toast. 

Be as experimental as you like — it’s hard to go wrong (especially if you taste as you go) and if you do, happy accidents can occur. I tried to make a jerk spice without the allspice and pepper, using just a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. It didn’t turn out quite as I had planned, but I did create what would become the base to my now perfect pumpkin spice mix. All I do now is add just a little bit of allspice for that extra little kick. It’s particularly beautiful stirred into some warm milk or hot chocolate. So, next time you find yourself in a cookery rut, try getting artistic with the contents of your spice rack.

 


 

DEGLAZING FOR SOME TASTY HOME ECONOMICS

When making gravy, many of us rely on big brand granules. Easy to use, these store-cupboard favourites are handy for getting us out of a dinner-time hole, especially in a time-limited kitchen. But for a simple and delicious (gluten-free) gravy, all we need are three ingredients: meat juices from the pan or roasting dish (freed up in a process called ‘deglazing), water, and cornflour (seasonings can be added to taste).

It sounds technical, but deglazing is just a short way of saying ‘using a liquid such as water to loosen up caramelised juices from the bottom of a pan’. When we cook meat on the stove or in the oven, the juices become brown and thick. In the case of a roast, if we leave the juices to go cold, we will usually end up with a kind of jelly topped with fat.

Before bread and dripping went out of fashion, these browned juices — along with prized ‘crispy bits’ — would be spread on bread and sprinkled with salt. In gravy, they make great home economics sense, saving money and reducing waste.

These days, however, as many of us have reduced our fat consumption and lost confidence in cooking, these flavourful meat juices often end up in the bin. If you don’t want to use the fat, simply pour the juices into a dish and leave them to cool. The fat can be easily removed once it goes solid. Yet from a chicken or lean cut, the little fat it produces will simply add to the flavour. (Most instant gravy granules contain palm, rape or sunflower oil, so we are just substituting one fat for another.)

To make your gravy, remove the meat from the roasting tray and, placing the roasting tray on a low heat, use a little water to deglaze the browned juices. A blend of plain cornflour (about one heaped teaspoon) and cold water can then be added to cook and thicken the gravy. If a roasting tray is too tricky to handle, once the juices have been deglazed, pour them into a small pan and then add your water/cornflour blend.

Or if you are cooking meat in a frying pan, use a little butter to loosen up the browned juices to drizzle on the final dish. Experiment by adding onions, mushrooms and herbs to the initial frying, and you may never buy packet sauces ever again! But even if you do, it is good to have the confidence to make a choice, especially for those times when you want to make something a little bit special.

Maggie Charlesworth

   

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