Spice blends are up there on my list of “must haves.” They save time and they're inspiration for days when you're running on empty. Here I offer you two different blends to provide you with warm, full flavors on vegetables, meat or fish.
There is a trio of spices which easily crosses borders, from North Africa to the Middle East, to India, to Mexico: cumin, coriander and pepper. Make up this foundation blend, then alter where needed as you take it from cuisine to cuisine. For instance, Morocco might demand the addition of sweet paprika, while an Indian recipe could call for more coriander and black pepper and Mexico more cumin and the addition of chiles.
Rub or sprinkle the blend over vegetables and meats when roasting, sauté it into stews and soups, and use it as a finishing spice on salads and grains. Try mixing the blend with an equal amount of brown sugar and rubbing it into meats before placing them on the grill. That same mix brings a new take to grilled fresh pineapple.
Cook to Cook: You can tease even more flavor from Crossover Spices by fresh-grinding whole cumin and coriander seeds.
Makes about 3/4 cup. Keeps 3 to 4 months in a dark, cool cupboard.
Blend the spices together in a jar and seal. Store them away from heat and light.
Makes about 1/3 cup and keeps in a cool, dark place 3 to 4 months, and multiplies easily.
This blend has Caribbean written all over it and it practically radiates warmth with the allspice, ginger and cinnamon. If you want true heat, add chilies to taste.
In this mix you've got the meeting of Africa's Berber spice and the jerk seasonings of Jamaica. When you look at recipes for those two spice blends and consider how Africans were brought to the Caribbean, you have to speculate if the Berber may have been the long distance parent of the Jerk flavorings.
The flavors here are warm and gentle, add chilie only if you would like.
Cook to Cook: Flavors are best if whole spices are fresh ground (use a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle), but using pre-ground will not be a tragedy — the mix will still be fine.
1. Combine all the seasonings in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle and grind to a powder. If working with pre ground spices, merely blend together.
2. Put in an airtight jar, label with the date and name of the blend and store away from light and heat.
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.