Thursday, August 27, 2009

Spice blends 1 – or how to add pizzaz to everyday cooking.

I have been fascinated by spice blends all of last week. Living the Mumbai life as I do, juggling many roles, pasta can be a lifesaver at times. Especially at the end of a long day when chasing kids to eat a good meal (thereby preventing midnight milk requests that interrupt your sleep) seems a task.

Both my kids love pasta and they like their pasta fuss free. They can put away a fair amount of the stuff but I only buy the good stuff (not maida based brands ones that cook to limp noodles or stodgy messes) I don’t mind them ODing on it occasionally. Most days I just toss it with good EVOO, salt and pepper, adding a little grated Parmesan to dress it up when mom and dad are dining fine.

One night last week I had a lot of cooked pasta on hand but was too exhausted to think of balance, flavour, nutrition and all the other concerns that beset us moms. (I’d been cooking pasta all day as part of recipe trials for a restaurant I am designing dishes for.) So I added a generous glug of some fabulous Organic Spanish EVOO my friend Shrey sent me and sprinkled in some of this new seasoning I had picked up from Natures Basket and served it up trying to hide my surreptiousness under nonchalance. 10 mins, cleaned plates, second and even THIRD helpings later I concluded it was a hit.

Now the entire range of Keya seasonings is proudly lined up on my shelf, the extensive variety of flavours; an all purpose blend, a salad blend and cuisine specific flavours like Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Thai have made plain old salt boring around these parts! I'm going through them SO fast it isn't funny (and at Rs 75 a piece they’re not too painful on the pocket either)!

They have brought variety with convenience to my kitchen. Just add a different one to regular dishes like salads, stirfries, soups, pastas for unusual new flavours to your speciality dishes.

Some ideas that have worked for me

- Toss alfalfa sprouts with Thai or Japanese seasoning and toasted sesame oil and roll in rice paper rolls for a quick snack or a light lunch.
- Add to a good homemade stock for a flavourful quick soup.
- Toss with cooked steamed vegetables and a smidgen of oil for easy side dishes themed to cuisines you are serving.

Its also got me thinking. Every cuisine I have ever cooked has an all-important signature spice blend. They can even define a cuisine (think Panch Phoron, Bottle Masala, Malvani Masalla, Chinese five spice). A small amount of one of these added at the right moment can contribute characteristic flavor to the dish!
India being home to spices is a powerhouse of spice blends of course. But our addictive masallas and popular world blends such as the ubiquitous curry powder of Britain and France’s herbes de Provence notwithstanding I want to explore some of the lesser known Spice mixes of the world. Watch this space for more as I explore the wonderful world of spice blends...

GYAN and links
The Keya range is ready-to-use and comes in convenient re-usable flip top bottles (hopefully this is because the company intends to introduce refills so they can be eco friendly). They are avialble at Natures basket outlets round the city.

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