When I was getting into cooking, one of the few things I found really intimidating was working with spices. I’m not sure what caused my ‘spice phobia’ but I do remember only using spices if the recipe called for them. I’d always use exactly the types and amounts listed.
Talk about restrictive.
Over the years, with a lot of trial and a little bit of error, I’ve adopted a more liberated approach to cooking with spices.
Why Use Spices?
If you’re ever short on time or short on space in your pantry, spices can be an absolute life saver when it comes to making food taste amazing.
Not only that, using different spices is by far the quickest and easiest way to make a boring old dish taste new and exciting.
What’s not to love about spice?
I specifically wanted to share my 3 favourite spice blends because these days I find I’m far more likely to reach for a blend than faff around with adding a heap of different single spices.
Using spice blends means you get the complexity of flavour of loads of different spices all in the one little packet. Love it!
My 3 Favourite Spice Blends.
1. RAS EL HANOUT
This is a Moroccan spice blend that translates as ‘top of the shop’. It’s traditionally the best spice blend a Moroccan spice merchant will sell. The ingredients lists can be lengthy, with as many as 23 different spices. And as you can imagine the flavour is exotic and complex without being too ‘out there’.
It’s my favourite blend for the tajine recipe below and it works really well with fish and chicken and vegetables like eggplant (aubergine).
Best substitute for Ras el Hanout: Equal parts paprika, coriander, ginger and a pinch of saffron OR just ground coriander.
A Lebanese blend of 7 spices including paprika, pepper, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg. It’s a bit darker and more intense than Ras el Hanout but still works well with meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables.
Best substitute for Baharat: Equal parts paprika, cumin and cinnamon OR ground cumin.
3. GARAM MASALA
I always spell this Indian spice blend wrong but think I’ve got it right today! For some reason garam masala is my ‘go-to’ Indian spice if I’m in the mood for a bit of curry. I tend to reach for garam masala over a generic curry powder.
I think this is because garam masala tends to be more laid back than some in your face curry powders. Which tends to suit my cooking style better.
Best substitute for Garam Masala: Mild curry powder OR loads of black pepper.
What about you?
Do you have a ‘spice phobia’? What are your favourite spices or blends? I’d love to hear in the comments below :)
Moroccan Meatball Tajine
This is a dish I’ve been making for years and am kinda surprised I haven’t ever written about it on Stonesoup. About time! It’s a brilliant example of how using spices can transform a boring old dish (Italian meatballs) into something exotic and super tasty.
enough for 2-3
1 onion, peeled & chopped
450g (1lb) minced (ground) beef
125g (5oz) almond meal
2 teaspoons ras el hanout, baharat or ground coriander
1 jar tomato passata or puree (700g / 24oz / 2.5 cups)
4 tablespoons butter
1 bunch coriander (cilantro), leaves picked
cauliflower rice or cooked couscous to serve
1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Place onion in a small pan on a medium heat with a little oil and cook until soft but not browned. About 5 minutes or a little longer.
2. Combine cooked onion, beef, almond meal and your chosen spice in a large bowl. Season generously with salt. Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls and place in an ovenproof dish.
3. Pour over the tomato passata or puree and top with butter. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or longer until the meatballs are browned on top and cooked through.
4. Serve meatballs on a bed of cauliflower rice or couscous with coriander leaves on top.
to serve with couscous – cook couscous according to the packet but add some extra butter.
to serve with cauli rice – grate 1/2 small cauliflower using your food processor or a box grater and serve meatballs on top. No need to cook or warm it.
different accompaniments – great wrapped in lebanese bread, tortillas or other flat bread. Could be served with your favourite pasta.
short on time – skip the onion and simmer the tajine on the stovetop until the meatballs are just cooked through. You might also like to skip the meatball rolling and just cook the meat more like a bolognese sauce.
different meat – beef is a favourite but lamb is also great. Pork, chicken, turkey or buffalo could all be used.
vegetarian – try adding the spice above to these lentil balls.
nut-free – replace almond meal with soft bread crumbs or cooked quinoa.
dairy-free – replace butter with lots of extra virgin olive oil.
different herbs – mint, basil, parsley or baby spinach are all great.
italian meatballs – just skip the spice and serve with basil instead of the coriander.
indian meatballs – use garam masala as your spice and serve with a dollop of natural yoghurt.