Spice up your life

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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Last week we talked about herbs and I promised to follow up with spices, so here we are.

You already know the difference between them, but just to tidy this up for you, herbs are the leaves of the plant and spices are the dried seeds, roots, stems, and even bark. A continuing argument among cooks has any dried plant material classified as a spice, but I don’t think it’s worth fighting over.

Spices, just about all of which come from tropical climates, are more pungent than herbs and call for a lighter hand. Adding too much can so easily ruin the final dish, so it pays to follow the recipe until you are comfortable with the flavours and what they contribute.

In this province, we have been enjoying exotic ingredients for centuries, trading with European seafaring nations — our fish for the spices they acquired in trade around the world. Even today, salt fish is a component of traditional dishes in Spain, Portugal, the West Indies and Mexico.

When you make your holiday fruitcakes this year, think about how the cinnamon, ginger, mace, allspice and nutmeg came to be common ingredients in your kitchen.

Add to that how we have embraced other cultures so enthusiastically, and it’s no wonder our local grocery stores stock most ingredients that characterize Indian, Mexican, Jamaican, Thai and dozens of other food cultures.

I suppose I could try and compile an exhaustive list, but I doubt you would make it to the end without crying in boredom. So, instead, how about a couple of recipes to showcase some of my favourite spices?

 

Oven-Baked Spicy Barbecue-Style Chicken

The heady aroma from your oven will make you forget the plunging temperature outside. The star in this dish is allspice, but it is supported beautifully by cinnamon, ginger and dry mustard.

Legs and thighs, still in one piece, are best in this recipe because they stay tender and juicy, but you can substitute breasts if you prefer. This amount will serve 6 to 8 people, but leftovers are terrific.

Use any bottled barbecue sauce you like and the results will be delicious, but try mine and the spicy mixture will elevate the dish to company status.

8 serving-size chicken pieces

1 tsp. each salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. each cinnamon, ginger and dry mustard

1/4 tsp. each garlic and onion powder

2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced

Mango Honey-Mustard Barbecue Sauce:

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 tbsp. each vegetable oil and butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 to 6 small hot fresh peppers — variety and quantity to your taste

1 cup chopped sweet bell pepper—green, red or a mixture

1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. each ground allspice, coriander, chipotle chili, and smoked paprika

2 fresh mangos, peeled and diced

1/4 cup each lemon and lime juice, fresh if possible

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tbsp. grainy, spicy or Dijon mustard

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Dry the chicken pieces with paper towels. Combine salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, dry mustard, garlic powder and onion powder and rub briskly all over the chicken. If you plan to remove the skin before serving, lift it up now and rub the spices underneath. This method will not work for skinless chicken.

Place on a greased or foil-lined baking sheet and roast at 375 F for 20 minutes, turning once. Sprinkle on the thyme and bake another 15 minutes. Slather barbecue sauce on the serving side of each piece and bake another 10 minutes; flip and repeat for the bottom. Turn over one more time and spoon more sauce over the top. If you like especially brown skin, broil a couple of minutes. Serve remaining sauce on the side.

Just a note about using sauce on uncooked chicken — be sure to set aside what you will serve later at the table to prevent cross-contamination with what gets brushed on during the cooking. If you make the mistake and realize too late, bring the sauce to a full boil and simmer for 5 minutes before serving.

For the barbecue sauce, fry onion in a heavy bottomed pot in oil and butter until soft and starting to brown. Add garlic, hot peppers, bell peppers and ginger and cook until fragrant — about 2 minutes. Add salt, pepper, allspice, coriander, chili powder and paprika and cook another minute. Add mangos, lemon juice, lime juice, honey, brown sugar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce and simmer together 30 minutes, stirring often, until thickened and soft. If you don’t want chunky sauce then blend it; for a medium consistency, take a potato masher to it. Taste and add salt if needed. Mangos vary widely, especially here because they can be quite green and sour, so you may need a little more honey if the mixture is too tart.

 

Ginger and Cardamom Pecan Streusel Spice Cake

When I discovered cardamom, I thought I had uncovered the secret of the universe. I’m not sure I was wrong, but in this case too much of a good thing will truly ruin a magnificent cake.

Streusel:

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. each ground cardamom and cinnamon

3 tbsp. melted unsalted butter (no other)

Cake:

1 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/4 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. each ground cardamom and cinnamon

1 cup full-fat sour cream

For the streusel, combine all ingredients thoroughly; set aside. For the cake, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time; add vanilla. Sift together flour, soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Add dry ingredients in three lots, alternating with two additions of the sour cream, mixing after each just enough to combine — start and end with dry. Spoon half the batter into a greased and floured

8-inch springform or high-sided cake pan. Sprinkle half the streusel mixture over the top, then spoon in the remaining batter and finish with an even layer of streusel. Bake at 350 F for 50 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean.

 

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in

St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her

c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Spain, Portugal, West Indies

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