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Monday, November 14, 2011

The fall of spices

Since I grew up in a place were it never snowed during the winter, and the heat was never unbearable in the summer, I also thought the beautiful shades of autumn only existed in books. And here I am now in New York City, right in the middle of November finding yellow, brown, orange, and red leaves all over the sidewalk, and when I look up, I see the trees balding. There's a crispy chill on the air, but the sun is still warming up our faces.
I feel like sipping spiced hot apple cider all day long.
When I lived in Mexico, I never found myself craving any specific foods due to the weather, and here, where the seasons are so clearly defined, so are the things I want to eat. I need sweets, chocolate, tea, molasses, sweet potatoes, soups, anything robust, steamy and fragrant, sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or ginger. 
There's something innately warming in those spices. Their flavors and their scents are very comforting. Just like a thick wool sweater, an old pair of slippers or a "bear" hug.

A spice is technically any seasoning derived from a bark, bud, fruit, root, seed or stem of a plant or tree (herbs are the ones obtained from the leaves).
Spices have been coveted since the beginning of history. They are often mentioned in the the Old Testament. They were used in antiquity to crown emperors, make perfumes, heal sickness, and to perform religious rituals. The spice trade was perhaps one of the first global activities in the world when the Arabs controlled the commercialization of those rare seasonings and brought them all the way from the Orient and India. In the Middle Ages they were such precious commodities, that they lead to the discovery of the New World.
Now, we can just buy them with a click of a button (some of my favorite sites are: http://wholespice.com/ , http://www.penzeys.com/ or http://kalustyans.com/**) and even if they are so easy to get, we still leave them abandoned and forgotten in an obscure corner of the kitchen counter. A tradition that we should avoid now for many reasons:
1. Food tastes much happier and interesting with them on.
2. Everything smells delicious when they are used.
3. They are versatile, intense and have no fat, cholesterol, sugar nor sodium.
4. The can be mixed and matched to taste
5. Despite not even being awarded the requirement of nutrition information labels from the FDA, spices are compressed forms of nutrients, think of them as the USB drives of the food world. They are highly concentrated in antioxidants and other chemicals that help fight disease and inflammation. Just as an example, cinnamon helps control blood sugar levels and turmeric is thought to help prevent cancer and depression. Many spices can help boost immunity and work as antiseptics, and can help protect ourselves against chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.Not convinced yet? Some act as aphrodisiacs!

A pinch goes a long way. From breakfast to dinner, throw some allspice, annato (awsome in poultry), cardamom, carob, celery seed, chile, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, garlic, hyssop, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, peppers, saffron, sumac, turmeric, vanilla, and/or wasabe onto any dish. It's worth experimenting!
Just a note: freshly ground spices are the best (that's why I love Wholespice.com), and if possible, keep them frozen to preserve of their nutritional properties for longer periods.

SPICED GRANOLA
This is a great breakfast or snack and is charged with healthy ingredients and lots of texture, fiber, protein, complex carbs, omegas and antioxidants. Of course, I'm recycling last week's post using those delicious green lentils. Add it to yogurt, the milk of your choice and/or fresh fruit or just much directly from the bowl.

INGREDIENTS
  • Vegan (if made with maple syrup)
  • Dairy, gluten free (if made with gf rolled oats), soy, nut (if only seeds are used), and egg free
  • Super ingredients: Oats, green lentils, buckwheat, chia, cinnamon, mesquite flour, turmeric, dried berries, seeds and/or nuts

1 cup rolled oats (gf if needed)
3/4 cup green lentils, cooked
1/4 cup creamy buckwheat or quinoa flakes
1/4 cup pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds, or sliced almonds or pecans
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup or honey
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
2 tablespoons puffed amaranth or puffed millet
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons mesquite flour
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup dried fruit (I used cranberries and cherries, but dates, apricots, raisins pair nicely too)

METHOD
Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl mix oats, cooked lentils, buckwheat, seeds, nuts (if using), amaranth, olive oil, maple syrup, amaranth, cinnamon, mesquite, turmeric, and sea salt. Stir well, making sure everything is well combined. Spread mix in an even layer all over the cookie sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes, until oats are lightly colored. Remove from oven and let cool a couple of minutes. Add the dried fruits and mix.
Serve or store in an airtight container.




**If you are concerned about kosher certification, wholespice.com's products are under supervision, and here's a link to a list of dried spices that don't need official certification: http://www.crcweb.org/spice_list.php

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