secret spice

Ok so it’s not secret that I’m a big spice fan and love dabbling with them, but my friends, I do have a confession to make. Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t grind my own spices. Shocking that someone like me who has read countless times just how flavourful and amazing freshly ground spices can be has never bothered to actually try it out for herself…. I know…I know…Herbie would not be proud.

To be truthful, there have been times when I’ve attempted to grind my own both in my trusty motar and pestle and in the small attachment on my food processor. But neither has lead to success. The former method tended to have the spices flying out of the bowl at each strike leaving me with a very much reduced yield. While the latter has resulted in the spices being mostly whole at the end of the process: not exactly a ground powder.

My resistance to accumulating an excess of kitchen gear, electrical appliances in particular has lead me to shy away. But it was Skye Gyngell who finally convinced me that I needed to invest in an electrical spice (aka coffee) grinder. In her ‘toolbox‘ that I mentioned last week is a gorgeous photo of whole spices being roasted in a pan. This did pique my interest initially but it was the image of her beetroot puree that really sealed the deal and found me heading to the shops with visions of a shiny new grinder.

After trying out my new spice blending and grinding skills, I felt they were ready to be shared. So on a recent weekend up the coast at my wine merchant mate Rhys’s shack on an inlet just a stone’s throw from Macmasters beach, I put together a menu that starred my new spice mix in three separate items.

The salt baked lamb was a winner with it’s very subtly spiced moistness, although the pyromaniac in me was a little disappointed that the rain forced us to cook in the oven rather than in the coals of a BBQ. The beet puree also turned out well. But the surprise success of the evening was a humble brown rice salad, taken to a new level with a touch of secret spice and dished up as leftovers then next day to a fresh round of compliments….all good things….

a relaxing beach shack saturday night dinner
salt baked leg of lamb with spiced beetroot puree
brown rice salad
store bought chocolate icecream & tim tams

secret spice blend
makes approx 1/2C
Adapted from Skye Gyngell’s  A year in my kitchen.

Feel free to play around with this depending on what you happen to have in your spice stash. I’m sure that it will still taste pretty special if there are one or 2 spices missing. If you don’t have access to a spice grinder by all means go crazy with your mortar and pestle but don’t expect good results from your food processor which will just whirl your spices around without actually doing any damage that will remotely resemble crushing.

The other option is to sub in pre ground spices. And while I’m now a convert of the fresh grinding method, I do understand if you can’t be assed going through the whole process.

1 cinnamon stick, halved
25g coriander seeds, whole
25g cumin seeds, whole
25g fennel seeds, whole
25g mustard seeds, whole
25g fenugreek seeds, whole
5 cardamom pods
1 star anise
2 cloves

Place spices in a frying pan and place over a medium heat. Stir regularly for a few minutes until they start to smell good. Always better to err on the side of under toasting rather than burning. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then grind in a spice grinder in batches until you have a coarse powder. Store in an airtight container until you’re ready to use.
salt baked leg of lamb with spiced beetroot puree
serves 8

Salt baking a big hunk of meat or a whole fish is a great way to feed a crowd. Not only do you have the theatre of revealing the meat from it’s personal cocoon, there’s always the fun of watching people recoil at the saltiness of the dough after you’ve warned them that it’s half salt and not really meant to be eaten. But the real joy comes from super moist meat/fish that is perfectly seasoned. Just don’t be tempted to drizzle the cooking juices over. Speaking from experience, as good as they look, they are saline enough to compete with the dead sea.

This beet puree is a world apart from the beetroot pesto I wrote about recently. While I still love the pesto, it is much richer and chunkier. The beet puree has the freshness of the herbs and flavour kick from the chilli and spices which makes for a lovely sauce.

1.8kg easy carve* leg of lamb
8 sprigs rosemary
3 cloves garlic
1T secret spice mix
1T olive oil
for the salt dough:
1kg plain flour
1kg fine ground salt
for the beetroot puree:
3 large beets, approx 550g
1T extra virgin olive oil
1 small clove, smashed
1 large red chilli, deseeded if you can’t take the heat
½ bunch coriander, leaves picked
3 sprigs mint, leaves picked
2t secret spice mix
1T balsamic vinegar
1T extra virgin olive oil
3T natural yoghurt

Remove your lamb from the fridge at least 3 hours before you’re ready to cook to make sure it is at room temp. Preheat oven to 180C. Meanwhile for the puree, wash and trim beets and wrap each in foil. Bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours or until beets are tender. Allow to cool then place in a food processor with remaining puree ingredients and whiz until you have a smooth puree.

Increase oven temp to 200C. For the dough mix, combine salt and flour together in a large bowl. Add 2½ cups water and stir to form a dough, adding a little more water if your mixture seems dry. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly until you have a smoothish dough. Allow to rest while you prepare your lamb.

Stuff rosemary and garlic into the cavity of the lamb. Combine spices and oil and rub over the outside of the lamb. Season with pepper. Roll out dough until it is large enough to encase the lamb. Place lamb in the center and then wrap snugly with the dough, pushing edges together to seal well and patching any holes with extra dough. Place your lamb parcel on a baking tray with the seal side down. Bake 1hr until dough is golden brown and hard. Slide a skewer into the center of the meat and let it sit for a few seconds then remove and check the temp on your lip. It should feel warm but not too hot to touch. If it feels cool continue cooking for another 10mins.

Allow lamb to rest for a least 45mins. To serve cut around the base of the dough to remove the lid. Carve lamb thickly leaving it in place in it’s dough tray. Cover with the dough lid and take to the table to allow everyone to help themselves. Pass puree separately.

*note: An easy carve leg of lamb has been tunnel boned to remove the main bone with the shank left attached. It has the triple bonus of reducing your cooking time, allowing a stuffing of rosemary and simplifying the carving process. I haven’t yet tried a bone in leg but imagine you’d just need to lengthen the cooking time.

brown rice salad
serves 8 – 10

This is one of those things that started life as something else but evolved. I had originally envisaged a brown rice tabouli based on Karen Martinis barley almond tabouli. First most of the pack of rice jumped into the pot when I had only been planning to add a touch and then I realised I had forgotten to buy watercress, so we ended up with the starch-to-greens ratio being reversed. Not such a bad thing as it turned out.

2C (600g) brown rice
1 stick cinnamon
3 lemons, zested & juiced
1/2C (125mL) extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
1T secret spice
1 punnet tiny cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch coriander, leaves picked
1 bunch mint, leaves picked and torn roughly
100g almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add rice and cinnamon stick and simmer for 30-40 minutes until rice is tender but still chewy. Drain well and transfer to a large salad bowl. Toss through lemon juice, zest, olive oil, onion, tomato and spice and season well. Allow to stand for at least 15mins.  Toss through remaining ingredients and serve warm or at room temp. Or better yet refrigerate overnight and allow to come back to room temp before serving.

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  • Thank God, I’ve been checking all day waiting for something new!

    Thankyou so much for your site – so much inspiration , so many recipes copied word for word!!!!

    We are the dinner party hosts who are never invited back to our guests houses thanks to you – is intimidation a good thing?…..

  • Jules, I gave up grinding coffee after a week drinking espresso in NYC left me shaking like a wino. So what was I supposed to do with the electric coffee grinder then… I set about grinding things in it. Mostly spices, sometimes granulated sugar when I really needed caster. Once or twice I’ve thrown in rice grains to make a gritty rice flour, and one summer I threw in a handful of wheat seeds to make cracked wheat for the top of some home made bread. Not a good idea, it just went dusty. So good luck with your new grinding adventures, and I’m looking forward to trying your latest creations.


  • I have been enjoying your food thoughts for a while. And like the spices you had not ground…I had yet to leave a comment. So—I enjoyed your post. I plan on doing some spice grinding soon. I bought a coffee grinder specifically for that a while back and just have yet to do it. This was just the kick I needed. Thanks. R.

  • Starting to toast and grind my own spices has been a revelation. I don’t know why I resisted doing it for so long.
    A very satisfying post on many levels,

  • Good spice mix. Here is another that is warm, north african and very tasty for kebabs or cheese pies:

    Le Tabil mix (from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, Paula Wolfert)

    1 tbsp coriander seed
    0.5 tsp caraway seed
    1/8 tsp cayenne
    1/8 tsp fennel/anise
    1/8 tsp ground cumin
    1/8 tsp black pepper
    1/8 tsp turmeric
    1/8 tsp cloves

    I usually multiple by 10X
    Grind all together and enjoy…..

  • hey gordon
    am going to ignore the plaragism accusation as tempting as it is to delete.
    as far as I’m concerned intimidation is never a good thing and the fact that you need to ask that question makes me suspect that there are many reasons why your guests don’t invite you to their homes.

    thanks so much for your suggestions on alternate uses for a coffee grinder…if I had have known they were so versatile I would have invested ages ago

    thanks for commenting. good luck with the spice grinding

    yeah skye is a gem… am definitely plotting a meal at petersham nurseries next time i’m in london town

    glad to hear i’m not the only one who has been slow to cotton onto this spice things

    thanks for the tabil mix. am a fan of paula wolferts so am keen to give this a go. have you thought about starting your own blog? oh and you’ll be pleased to know I’m now growing my own french tarragon thanks to you

  • I could be wrong, but I think Gordon might have meant that HE copies YOUR recipes word for word because he likes them so much, and that his friends are too intimidated to cook for him because it won’t measure up to his own cooking of your recipes? (A fate you yourself suffer I believe! :))
    That’s how I’d read it anyway!
    Look forward to catching up with you tonight x

  • I’m glad you liked the French tarragon. It really is more perfumed than the Russian variety.

    Goodness! A food blog….. I truly haven’t thought of it, preferring to look at other people’s recipes for inspiration. Some people talk about the philosophy of why they started their blogs in some entries: I guess there needs to be a reason to give it life.

    We may be leaving Sydney for a year or two next year, so perhaps it could be a food diary……..

    I’ll let you know if I start and add a link to your blog……

    by the way, just on the off chance you or any people reading know a good recipe, I have been trying to re-create the Brutti ma Buoni Biscuits from Brunetti in Melbourne (they wouldn’t release the recipe). After 5 recipe failures, ready to give up!



  • The spice blend sounds great. I love the addition of the fenugreek seeds. I have some that I was not sure what to do with. But I have a question. So you grind the cardamom, pod and all? Or the seeds from 5 pods?

  • hey fel,
    thanks for pointing out the other view…isn’t it bad how easy it is to assume the worst.

    great to see you the other night…definitely need to catch up soon

    do keep me posted if you decide to start a food diary…hope your travels lead you somewhere fun

    good question. this time I ground the cardamom pods and all with no apparent ill effects..although you could just grind the seeds if you wanted

    thanks lamagadellespezie

  • I used my coffee grinder for spices for a while, till I ran out of ground coffee and only had beans in the cupboard. Don’t ever be tempted to try it – totally revolting.
    Crushing roast spices in a well-worn stone mortar and pestle is one of life’s great pleasures, I reckon. It doesn’t crush as finely as the grinder, but lumps are good.

  • I knew there was a reason why I had you listed in my foodporn site – your photographs just get better and more inspiring everyday

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