A Handy Guide to Winter Warming Spices
With winter well and truly settling in, the time for staying warm and toasty indoors is upon us. With that, what better way to fend off the chills with something hearty and warmly spiced? We’re loving slow cooked meals this time of year, especially if they’re made with our favourite spices. Here’s a look at the spices we’ll be using all winter, complete with some of our favourite recipes.
Turmeric is a health powerhouse. If ever you’re feeling poorly, like with ginger, you can add it to a cup of hot water to give your immunity a boost. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory too, so take it for any aches and pains that often come with flu. The flavour of turmeric is a curious one, with a rich, heady earthiness that’s so subtle, blink and you miss it. The best way to take in lots of healthy turmeric is in a curry, dhal or by enjoying a turmeric lattte. We love this Tomato and Coriander Curried Dhal and this Turmeric Latte and plan to be fortifying ourselves with this spice all winter long.
Not just for delicious desserts or baked goods, cinnamon is actually surprisingly good for you. It’s known to decrease blood sugar levels and is good for diabetics specifically for this reason. It’s also an anti-inflammatory, loaded with antioxidants, which may help lower the risk of disease. When looking to add cinnamon to your diet, you won’t struggle to find a recipe that includes it. This hardworking spice works well in savoury dishes, desserts and even tea. Chai tea is laden with cinnamon and a wonderful way to warm yourself up this winter, try our White Chai Hot Chocolate and Vanilla Chai Tea Smoothie recipe.
With similar health benefits (and appearances), cassia is mighty close to its more well-known cousin cinnamon. Though you may not know the name cassia, chances are you’ve eaten it before, as it’s often ground and sold as cinnamon because it’s cheaper than cinnamon. It’s also a main ingredient in Chinese 5-Spice. There is nothing wrong with cassia though, in fact, if you’re making a full-bodied, spicy dish, then whole cassia has better flavour and is more economical. Cassia’s flavour is more robust and untamed, and won’t be lost after a long cooking process. In this hearty dish of Oxtail with a Chocolate and Chai Tea Sauce, you can very easily sub out the cinnamon quills for cassia.
The paprika spice is the result of ground, dried red peppers (or technically any of the capsicum family including the hotter varieties of peppers). It adds a rich, fiery, pungent flavour to dishes. The smoked variety is just that, but using smoked peppers that are then dried and ground. Funnily though, paprika is ridiculously good for you. So good that you should be adding it to everything. One teaspoon of the spice contains 37% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, the vitamin responsible for good skin and eye health. It also contains lots of vitamin B and E, along with loads of iron. Kick start your smoked paprika love affair with the marinade for this Pineapple BBQ Ribs recipe, or how about a classic Spanish seafood paella recipe.
Black pepper is one of the most important spices in food. It really is used in everything for the wonderful spicy and rounded notes it gives to food. Its lesser-known and potentially lesser-understood step-sibling, pink peppercorn, is just as tasty, although not technically from the same plant. Pink peppercorns are the dried berries from the shrub known as the Peruvian Peppertree, and are actually closer related to cashew nuts than they are black peppercorns! We love the delicate citrussy and sweet flavour it gives to food. It has a kick but a much milder one, we love it in this pretty (in pink) Pomegranate Salt.
Is there anything more warming than a curry on a cold winter’s night? We think not. It may seem hypocritical of us, a source of numerous recipes, to advocate using bought curry powder when you find a good one, there is no comparison. We get ours from Bo-Kaap neighbours, Atlas, and trust us when we say this one is the best. Some curry powder mixes are kept secret, and we’re sure Atlas’ is too, but most of them include coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and chilli peppers. But mixes can vary, and have anything from fennel seeds, ginger and black pepper added, to cinnamon, green cardamom and mustard seeds too. You probably don’t need a curry recipe, but here is a Simple Chicken Curry and a One Pot Lamb Curry that we love.
You either love or hate star anise; it’s a dividing spice. At face value, it has a strong anise (obviously), liquorice-like flavour. Interestingly, the spice is actually quite good for you. Its antibacterial and antifungal properties are useful in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis and dry cough. Hence why some cough mixtures contain star anise extract. It is most widely used in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, where it forms part of aromatic sauces, seasonings and, especially, broths. Even if you aren’t a huge aniseed flavour fan, you’ll love the gentle herby note it adds to this Chinese Braised Pork Belly. The perfect pairing for star anise and perfect for warming you up this winter.
Garam masala is a blend of spices used in South Asian cuisines and, as with curry powder, the recipe can be vary depending on which region in India, or even country, it is made in. Mostly though, a traditional Indian garam masala will contain black and white peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, black and green cardamom pods, bay leaf and cumin. It’s widely used in pilafs, Rogan Josh and many curry recipes. This is due to the varying ingredients all adding a different flavour component, that can elevate any spiced dish. We love using garam masala in a curry, like this Lamb Shank Rogan Josh, but why not go that one step further and make these Chicken Korma Bunny Chows. Need we say more?
It’s almost appropriate that the last three letters of this spice spell “mom”, because if moms were a spice they could well be cardamom. With its gentle, warming lemony, camphorous notes, it’s like a hug in spice form. As an addition to most savoury curries or pilaus, it’s also very popular in Scandi-style cuisine too. It’s very versatile and offers a wonderful fragrant flavour to baked goods. In this Lemon Yoghurt Cake recipe, the cardamom forms part of the syrup’s flavour, with the lemon and orange echoing the spice’s own citrus notes perfectly. For something on the savoury side thru this North Indian Lamb Curry.
Sumac, native to the Middle East, is a berry that is dried and ground to form the powder we know. The flavour is quite an interesting zingy, citrus flavour that in Arab and Middle Eastern cuisine is used in everything from salads to meat. It forms part of the popular Za’atar mix, which usually tops the traditional fattoush salad. It’s believed to be a useful remedy for upset stomachs when made into a tea. You can use sumac in lots of different recipes but let it really shine with this recipe for Grilled Lamb Fillets, dusted in sumac.
A vanilla pod is the fruit of the vanilla orchid, and is probably one of the ubiquitous flavours in the world, probably because it’s so easy to synthesise. This flavour is incomparable however to fresh, real vanilla, from actual pods. The intake of vanilla is actually quite good for you too, it’s believed to have a few cancer-killing qualities and can help cure depression. People are most familiar with vanilla in desserts or sweet things but it’s starting to pop up in a number of savoury dishes too. Vanilla has a perfumed aroma with a slightly smoky or woody palate and works paired with lobster, poached fish and added to dressings or even mayonnaise! If this is too weird though, stick to sweet things and make these delicious recipes and see just how exciting vanilla can be.
This one is exactly what it says on the packet, simply dried chilli flakes that have been crushed to form a chunky mixture. Confusingly though, not only chilli peppers are used in this condiment, as it can be a mix of bell, jalapeño and cayenne peppers. Dried chilli flakes are often chosen over regular chilli powders for the way that their heat builds. If you add them at the beginning of the cooking process they offer a slow, careful heat (depending on how much you add). If you add them at the end of cooking or for serving (say sprinkled over pizza), they’ll add zingy pops of heat. You can essentially add chilli flakes to any of your favourite dishes, but we especially love them in this recipe for Crispy Lemon and Chilli Squid, complete with a rich aioli. Finish off with this decadent chocolate and chilli brownie.
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