Monday, 6 January 2014

Put a Little Spice Into Your Life

Chinese Five Spice, Pumpkin Spice, Mixed Spice, Curry Powders. They add variety and flavour to your food dishes, whatever the cuisine.

These assorted spice mixes can also be quite costly at the shop so the temptation to buy in bulk when they're on sale might be high.

Don't do it!

Long before you can use that jar up, the spice mixture will have gone stale and lost its flavour.

Instead, buy smaller amounts of the individual spices and make your own spice mixes at home. You'll save money, and benefit from the enhanced flavours.

My spice gear

Mortar and pestle with spice book

A good reference book, and an even better grinder are what I have to hand. A small coffee grinder works perfectly for grinding harder spices. I have a separate one for grinding coffee beans. 

When I want to do things by hand, I have good, heavy duty mortar and pestle. I use it for grinding small mixtures as I need them. Right now, it gets its most use when I am making a bolognese sauce as I use it to grind the fennel seeds and dried herbs.

Chinese Five-Spice Powder

Different recipes will have different spices in a 5-spice mix. This is the one I've found that I like best. 
  • 3 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 6 star anise (or 2 teaspoons aniseed)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole Szechuan peppers, or whole black peppers
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves 
Place ingredients in a food processor or a coffee grinder. Cover and process to a fine powder.

Store it in a tightly covered container in a cool, dark place.

This makes 1/3 cup.

Recipe using five-spice powder

Several years back, I was eating lunch at a small pub in West Sussex. I had a duck in plum sauce that was absolutely delicious and on a whim I asked the landlady if the chef would be willing to give me the recipe for the plum sauce. He did, sending the recipe out on a small sticky note. I made it. The recipe filled one pint jar and lasted for several months in the fridge.
Plum sauce

Plum Sauce

  • 1 kg plums
  • 400 grams sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Five-spice powder
  • Small amount of water

Wash and quarter the plums, removing the stones. Combine with the other ingredients in a large saucepan. Simmer over a low heat until it starts to gel. Keep in a clean covered jar in the fridge.

This condiment goes very well served with duck, chicken, and pork. I like it served alongside cooked sausages as well.

Cajun Spice Mix

 I use this mix for making jambalaya, but have also found that it is good mixed with olive oil as a marinade for chicken.

  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon barbecue seasoning powder 
Mix these ingredients together thoroughly. Store them in a tightly covered container in a cool, dark place.

Recipe using Cajun spice

Cajun Chicken Strips with swede chips

Swede (rutabaga) makes good chips
This is a quick, easy, and healthy meal.

Chicken strips

For 2 adults and 2 children, you'll need 3 large chicken fillets.

Cut the chicken fillets into strips, about 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches long.

Put those into a bowl with 1 - 2 heaped teaspoons of cajun spice mix plus about 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Mix it all around so the chicken is completely coated.

Let it sit for 10 - 20 minutes.

Heat a large skillet. Add half the chicken strips. Cook through. Remove from the pan and cook the remaining chicken. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Swede chips

The swede is also called a rutabaga.

Peel the swede and cut it into wedges, 1/2 inch wide by 1/4 inch thick by 2 inch long.

Put into a steamer, and steam for 10 minutes.

Remove from the steamer and dry thoroughly.

Heat 1/4 inch olive oil in a skillet.

Lay the swede in the skillet in a single layer. Cook until 1 side is lightly browned then turn over and cook the other side.

Remove from the skillet and place on kitchen paper to drain.

Keep warm until ready to serve.

For a dipping sauce, mix 2 tablespoons mayonnaise with 1 tablespoon tomato paste. Add a few dashes of tabasco sauce to taste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Or, mix a teaspoon chipotle in adobo sauce with a cup of mayonnaise for a smoky, spicy flavour.

Curry Powder

Curry powder spices roasting
The word curry is a corruption of the Tamil word kahri. This word evolved over time to mean any Indian food that was cooked in a sauce. Merchants and soldiers who visited India were keen to introduce these flavours to their foods when they returned home and the demand for commercial curry powders developed.

Curry powder is a blend of different spices and will vary depending on the region it comes from. It is not a traditional, authentic ingredient in Indian cooking.

The basic recipe below can be adapted and adjusted to suit your personal taste and the main ingredients for any particular dish. It makes 16 tablespoons. Store any unused in a covered jar in a cool, dark place.

  • 6 - 8 dried red chillies
  • 8 Tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 4 Tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
  • 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1 tabespoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger 
1. Remove the stalks and seeds from the chillies unless you like a fiery mixture, in which case leave a few seeds in the pods.

2. Roast or dry-fry the chillies, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, mustard seeds, and black peppercorns in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat until they give off a rich aroma. Shake the pan constantly so that the spices are evenly roasted and don't burn.

3. Grind the roasted spices to a powder in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder, then stir in the ginger and turmeric.


Dry-fry 4 curry leaves and add them to the ground mixture; remove from the cooked dish before it is served as the curry leaves are not eaten.

For a milder result, halve the number of chillies, then add 1 cinnamon stick, 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds, and 6 whole cloves to the spice

Recipe using curry powder

Pork Curry
Pork curry

1 large onion, sliced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 pound cooked pork, cut into cubes
1 Tablespoon flour
1 - 2 heaped Tablespoons curry powder
1/2 pint chicken broth
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin diced pineapple, drained
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
cooked rice

Saute the onion in olive oil until softened. Add the cubed pork.

Add the flour and curry powder. Stir and cook for a couple minutes.

Add the chicken broth. The tin of tomatoes, tin of pineapple, and tomato paste.

Season to taste. Let cook at a low simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, until it's thickened.

Serve over rice.

Mixed Spice

Mixed spice
This is a typically British spice that can be bought ready ground. It can be used in a variety of cakes and puddings as well as in cooked breakfast porridge or muesli. The usual components are allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger but some cooks like to add some cardamon and coriander seeds as well.

This recipe makes 2 Tablespoons.
  • 1 teaspoon allspice berries
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger 
 Grind the allspice, cinnamon and cloves to a fine powder and mix well with the nutmeg and ginger. Use at once or store in an airtight jar away from strong light.

Recipe using mixed spice


Mixed spice is best known for its use in puddings and cakes, but in our house it is most used when making that most basic of breakfast foods, porridge.

For one person:

Put in a small saucepan:

  • 150 ml milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 very small handful sultanas
  • 1/2 apple, diced

Heat in a small pan until near boiling.

  • 2 heaped tablespoons porridge oats

Stir until oats are fully cooked. 4 - 5 minutes.

If you like your porridge thicker as I do, just add a bit more oats.