Allspice - Available whole or
ground, allspice are small, dark brown berries similar in size to large
peppercorns. They can be used in sweet or savory dishes and have a
flavor of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove, hence the name.
Cardamom - These pods are green,
black and creamy beige, green being the most common. Whole pods are used
in rice and meat dishes to add flavor and should not be eaten. Black
seeds are used in desserts.
Chilies - Chilies are available
from greengrocers and supermarkets. They are grown in a dwarf bush with
small dense green leaves, white flowers and red or green finger shaped
fruit. In general, the green chili is less hot and has a rather earthy
heat; the red is usually hotter and is often very fiery.
To prepare chilies, remove the cap from
the stalk end and slit it from top to bottom with a small knife. Under
running water, scoop out the seeds with the knife point. The fire comes
from the seeds so leave them if you like food to be fiercely hot.
Chilies contain volatile oil that can irritate the skin and sting the
eyes, so it is best to use rubber gloves when preparing chilies, or wash
hands afterwards with soap and water.
There are many different varieties of
chilies. The small red and green fresh chilies are known as Thai or
bird's eye chilies and are extremely hot. One of the hottest varieties
is the fat and fiery Scotch Bonnet or habanero. It has a spicy
smell and flavor and can be red, green, yellow or brown. There are
numerable types of chilies that are i
ndigenous to Mexico. The most
commonly used fresh green chilies are serrano, jalapeno and
poblano. These varieties are all very hot.
Dried chilies are very popular and there
are numerous varieties available. The most commonly used dried chilies
are ancho, which is full-flavored and mild; chipotle. a very hot
variety; mulato, which is pungent, and the hot pasilla.
Chili Products - Cayenne pepper is
a pungent spicy powder made from a blend of small ripe red chilies.
Chili powder is made from dried, ground chilies and if often mixed with
other spices and herbs. Chili flakes are made from dried, crushed
chilies and are used in pickles and sauces. Chili oil is widely used in
Chinese cooking. Dried red chilies are heated with vegetable oil to make
this hot, pungent condiment. Chili paste is a convenient way of adding
fiery heat to sauces. Hot pepper sauce is made from red chilies and
vinegar and is used to sprinkle over many dishes.
Cinnamon - Available as bark or in
the ground form, cinnamon has a woody aroma with a fragrant and warm
flavor. The powdered form is widely used in the Middle East, especially
in Khoresh. Cinnamon is a versatile spice and is good in lamb dishes as
well as in spiced drinks, fruit compotes, chocolate cakes and desserts.
Cloves - Cloves are used in spice
mixtures such as faram masala and in many meat and rice dishes. They can
also be used to add spicy flavor to fruit and desserts.
Coriander - This spice is used
throughout the world. It is available as either whole seeds or ground
powder. The ripe seeds have a sweet, spicy aroma with a hint of orange
flavor. Coriander can be used in both sweet and savory dishes and is one
of the essential ingredients in curry powder. The flavor of coriander
can be accentuated by dry-frying. The leaves are essential in the
cooking of South-East Asia and India and the root is often used in Thai
Cumin - Cumin is available as small
brown ridged seeds or in the ground form. Both types have a
characteristic pungent, warm flavor. Cumin is also often dry-roasted to
bring out the flavor. This spice is popular in the Middle East; it is
used in spice mixtures such as garam marsala and is added to pickles and
salads. Cumin is one of the main ingredients of curry powder.
Curry Paste - Curry Paste are made
by pounding spices with red or green chilies. They are ferociously hot
and will keep for about 1 month in the fridge.
Fish Sauce - Known as nam pla, this
is a commonly used flavoring in Thai dishes in the same way that soy
sauce is used in Chinese cooking. Fish sauce is made from salted
anchovies and although not a spice, it contributes a depth of pungent
salty flavor to any dish.
Five-Spice Powder - This reddish
brown powder is a combination of five ground spices -
star anise seed,
fennel, clove, cinnamon and Szechuan pepper. Used sparingly, it has a
wonderful flavor, but it can be dominant if too much is added.
Galangal - This is a number of the
ginger family and looks rather similar to fresh root ginger. The root is
creamy colored, with a translucent skin that has rings, and may have
pink nodules rather like young ginger. It has a refreshing sharp, lemony
taste and is best used fresh, although it is available in dried or
poweder form. If you cannot find fresh galangal, use about 5ml / 1tsp of
the dried powder to replace each 2.5cm / 1inch fresh galangal.
To prepare, cut a piece of the required
size. Trim off any knobbly bits, then peel carefully, as the tough skin
has an unpleasant taste. Slice to use in a paste and use up as soon as
possible after peeling, to prevent loss of flavor. The flesh is much
more woody and fibrous than ginger and has a distinctive, pine-like
smell. Store galangal wrapped, in the salad drawer of the fridge.
Garam Masala - This spice mixture
is made from a variety of spices and can be a simple blend, consisting
of two or three spices and herbs, or a more complex masala, made from
twelve or more different spices. The dry spices and seeds are often
dry-roasted first and sometimes whole spices are used. Garam masala may
be added to the dish at different cooking stages.
Ginger - A root of Chinese and
Indian origin with a silvery brown skin, ginger is best used fresh, and
should be peeled and chopped or crushed before cooking. It is available
in supermarkets - looks for shiny smooth fat roots. Store in the salad
drawer of the fridge, wrapped in kitchen paper. Ginger is a good
alternative to galangal in Thai cooking.
Lemon Grass - This tropical grass
has a fresh, highly aromatic lemony taste and is a vital ingredient in
South-East Asian cooking. It combines well with garlic and chilies and
is pounded to a paste then added to curries. Unless it is finely
chopped, lemon grass is usually removed before serving as it has a very
Lime Leaves - These glossy, dark
green leaves come from the kaffir lime tree. They have a pleasing,
distinctive smell and can be torn of left whole. Lime leaves can be
frozen and used straight from the freezer in curries and sauces.
Nutmeg - Whole nutmegs are the hard
aromatic seeds of an evergreen tree. The spice, which has a sweet, nutty
flavor, is widely used all over the world. Whole nutmeg can be grated
for cooking, but the ground spice is often used, particularly in the
Middle East. Nutmeg can be used in both savory and sweet dishes.
Paprika - This is made from a
mixture of ground dried red peppers. Both mild and hot peppers are used,
but paprika is always milder than cayenne pepper. It is widely used in
the Middle East in soups, meat dishes, salad dressing and as a garnish.
Peppercorns - White, green and
black peppercorns are berries from the same plant, picked at different
stages of maturity, and are used whole and ground. Pepper has a pungent
flavor and can be used in either savory or sweet dishes. Peppercorns can
be used whole, crushed or ground. Szechuan pepper is also known as anise
pepper. The berries are red-brown in color and are prickly. They are
spicy with a rather numbing taste.
Saffron - Made from the dried
stamens of a type of crocus, saffron has a superb aroma and flavor. It
also adds a delicate yellow color to food. For the best results it
should be ground to a powder and diluted in a small amount of boiling
Tamarind - An acidic-tasting
tropical fruit that resembles a bean pod. It is added to curries to give
a sharp flavor. Tamarind is usually sold dried or pulped. To make
tamarind juice, soak a piece of tamarind pulp in warm water for about 10
minutes. Squeeze out as much tamarind juice as possible by pressing all
the liquid through a sieve.
Turmeric - Turmeric is anotehr
member of the ginger family. When the whole spice is peeled or scraped,
a rich golden root is revealed. Turmeric adds a distinctive flavor and
rich yellow color to meat and rice dishes. It is widely used throughout
the Middle East and India. Because of its strong, bitter flavor,
turmeric should be used sparingly.
Zereshk - This is a small sour
berry that comes from Iran. It is traditionally served with Persian rice