Hot and Spicy Ingredients

Hot and Spicy Ingredients

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 cooking.

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 fibrous texture.

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 water.

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 dishes.

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