Hands up if you have cleaned out your spice rack, drawer or those lurking in the back of the cupboard in the past year. If you have you take a well-deserved pat on the back. If, however, your indifference for the little glass jars is older than your first born, then be assured you are not on your own as generally, spices are the most neglected item in the store cupboard. This is hardly surprising as here in Britain spice and food predominantly only ever come together in a curry, and thanks to ready-made sauces and pastes now rarely demand the purchase of fresh spice.
However, things are changing. Offer thanks to chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi with his restaurants, books and boldly flavoured foods drawn from many culinary traditions. Or, the talented food writers’ and their in-depth exploration of cuisine’s dependent upon the use of (note) fresh herbs and spices. Many of these foods come from the Middle and the Far East, Africa, Turkey and South America; in fact, almost everywhere except Northern Europe it seems.
Recipes are now ‘peppered’ with the need for Za’atar, Sebah Baharat, a sprinkling of Ras El Hanout or a pinch of Turkish pepper. Food has become noisy and lively with new (to us) aromas and flavours. It is not the time to toss out the Tikka mix just yet, though, Curry is far too embedded in our culture for that.
First thing though is to chuck out the glass jars. Anything older than a few months will have already begun to deteriorate and not just the flavour. Many spices are also good for us, but those benefits can only be derived from a reasonably fresh spice.
Glass jars are also the worse container being exposed to light and fluctuating temperatures on the kitchen shelf. Tins or foil packets are far better, especially when stored in a cool, dark, dry place.
Only buy spices when you need them which isn’t easy unless you are very lucky and live close to a real market or spice shop so look on-line. The Spice Shop is the famous spice shop on Portobello Road Market in London and has an incredible range of just about everything you will ever need online.
And to give another quick boost to the curry – in case you think it is poorly treated – Rafi’s Spice Box will assemble curry mixes using only fresh spices and each kit includes everything except the meat or veggies. The mixes also freeze well so retain their goodness.
So, no more excuses. Ditch the dead stuff in the cupboard, it is time to for a little more excitement in the kitchen.