Raw spices don't do much for uncooked dishes. They're more harsh than come-hither. But give them a minute or two in good-tasting oil in a pan on the stove or in the microwave, and fragrance and flavor let loose. A classy and unexpected way of giving a twist to many dishes, this puts the ubiquitous dipping oil of pseudo-Italian restaurants to shame. Spoon it into baked potatoes, over pasta, raw or cooked vegetables and all kinds of seafood. Popcorn goes through a paradigm shift with Allspice-Pepper-Garlic Oil.
Cook to Cook: Use this oil immediately. When you want more, make another batch. Homemade flavored oils can become toxic. This isn't an overstatement; it is fact. Do some research on botulism and you will find that storing anything from an herb, to an olive, to a sun-dried tomato, to a clove of garlic in an airless environment (as in oil) is the perfect way to grow a harmful substance such as botulism. When I asked food scientist Shirley Corriher what happens to us if we eat activated botulism spores, she said simply, "You die." This doesn't leave much room for debate. Make small batches and enjoy them immediately.
1. Combine everything in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Cover with a paper towel and microwave on high for 1 minute. Or warm the mixture in a saucepan over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Let cool for a moment, and add to Pinto Bean "Pâté" with Warmed Spices, or set it out as a dipping sauce.
Basil-Onion Dipping Oil: Substitute 5 to 6 torn basil leaves for the allspice, and a tablespoon of chopped onion for the garlic.
Orange Dipping Oil: Instead of the allspice, use 2 fresh bay leaves, the shredded zest of one quarter of an orange, and keep the garlic and oil.
Oregano-Lemon-Garlic Dipping Oil: Substitute 1/2 teaspoon dry oregano for the allspice, keep the garlic, and add a few strips of lemon peel. After cooking, squeeze a little lemon juice into the oil. Lamb, salads, feta cheese, and grilled vegetables marry beautifully with this oil.
Black Pepper-Lemon Dipping Oil: Let 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper stand in for the allspice, along with the grated zest of one eighth of a lemon.
Cumin-Paprika Dipping Oil: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika stand in for the allspice and garlic.
This recipe appears in Eating In with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Issue 1, which is available as an e-book.
Darra Goldstein is editor in chief of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, an 888-page reference guide to all things sweet. "The book is really a compendium of human desires, a cultural history of desire for things that are sweet and what it has caused in the world, in both the realm of pleasure and also of pain," she says.