Variety in your tummy

spices

You know that thing about how variety is the spice of life? It’s kind of true, but do you know what I think is really the spice of life? Spice is the spice of life. And herbs, too. Just take a look in my spice cabinet and you’ll know what I’m talking about. You’ll be like “Damn, that girl has a lot of spice(s).” And you’ll be right. Many of them you  might not recognize. That’s okay – it takes me a minute, too.

Well, recently I added a few more to my collection of esoteric seasonings. I thought I’d share with you these new additions to the family, and how they’ve livened up my life. Throughout, you’ll find links to the Epicentre Encyclopedia of Spices, which sounds like it knows what it’s talking about.

First off, up there on the left, we have some gumbo filé. It’s ground sassafras leaves–an essential ingredient if you want to achieve true Cajun flavor in a dish.  To me, it smells and looks a lot like ground sage. But I read that some think it smells like eucalyptus and tastes like root beer. Maybe mine is just old. To cook with it, mix up your gumbo and add the filé once you’ve removed the dish from the heat, lest it become stringy with cooking.

Next over, you see a jar of zatar, a.k.a. za’atar, a.k.a. zahtar. This is a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean spice mix that combines sesame seeds with salt, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and/or cumin. Sometimes it has ground sumac berries, but since mine isn’t red, I’m guessing this is not one of those times. It does have a nice tartness, which I’ll bet is dried lemon peel. I could put zatar on anything. It’s especially good mixed with olive oil to form a tasty dip for crusty bread.

Toward the back, you’ll see the beige ground fenugreek. The whole golden seeds make a nice tea with healing properties, but ground up they’re best suited for Indian curries and other Indian dishes.

Then on the right are Szechuan peppers. Although that region of China is known for scorchingly spicy food, the peppers do not bite with heat. Instead, they numb your tongue. If you’ve read or seen the movie of “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” you may recall how the main character uses clove oil as local anesthesia so she can pierce her own ear. These things do the same thing (numb you, that is — not pierce your ear). I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in the same family as cloves and allspice, in fact. Since my tongue is already pierced, I feel no need to lose all feeling in it. I’m thinking it could be good thrown into mulled cider, though, or ground with spices for pumpkin pie.

Got any spices you love or are curious about?

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