Spice up your life (+recipes)

By Amanda Laird

Freshly ground spices add zing to dishes. Photo / Babiche Martens
Freshly ground spices add zing to dishes. Photo / Babiche Martens

How different the foods of the world would be without the involvement of the aromatic seeds, berries, roots and barks we commonly refer to as spices. I could hardly imagine a world without the heat of pepper and chilli or the fragrance of cinnamon and cardamom, and that's just the tip of the spiceberg. So many different spices exist and with that comes a certain amount of mystery as to how to use them, especially when you are confronted with the spices in their whole form.

How much to use ... how to blend them together... It all seems so much easier to pluck a packet of ready-made off the shelf.

But the important thing is freshness. How long have those dusty boxes been lurking in the dark recesses of the pantry and why does food cooked with spices at a good restaurant always taste so much better than what has been attempted at home? Freshly ground spices: there is your answer.

The wonderful heady aromas filling the kitchen combined with the fresh and pungent flavours when cooked will have you vowing to whizz up your own blends and pastes from now on.

Today we'll look at how whole spices can be used in different ways. Cardamom and white pepper make a delicious addition to traditional shortbread, perfect with a cuppa.

It is easy to make your own garam masala. This useful, authentic spice mix will keep for six months and can be used with vegetables, eggs, seafood and meats.

Chai or Indian masala chai, or spiced tea, is infinitely more delicious made from scratch than buying pre-made powders and syrups at your local cafe. There is no single recipe for this sweet, warming beverage: the key is to taste and add flavours to suit yourself.

Don't forget to allow the flavours to steep though; your patience will be rewarded with a more satisfying experience.

- NZ Herald

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