Penzey’s 6 Spices

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Mom just came back from a trip visiting her best friend in Connecticut. They stopped by a spice shop called Penzey’s Spices where Mom when a little crazy. She bought me these 6 spices (can then some) because she thought they sounded “funky”. That they do, Mom, that they do.

 

1. EPAZOTE 

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BASICS

AKA: pazote • pazoli • goosefoot • skunk weed • wormseed • Mexican tea

About: Epazote is an herb used in Latin-American cuisine. Give it a wiff and you’ll notice hints of oregano, citrus, and mint. Once added to your favorite Mexican dish, it tastes grassy and earthy. Many say fresh epazote is better, but it can be difficult to find. Its dried form is said to be less intense but still imparts plenty of flavor. When substituting dry Epazote for fresh, use half the amount of fresh leaves called for. Add to dishes near the end of cooking as it doesn’t stand up to heat very well.

Country of Origin: Mexico

Plant of Origin: Dysphania ambrosioides

Replaces: cilantro • oregano

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SHOP

Store: Mexican grocery stores • farmer’s market • spice merchants

Online: Amazon

Grow Your Own: Seed Savers

Other Products: Epazote Dried LeavesEpazote SeedsEpazote Extract

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EAT

Suggested Uses: soups • stews • chili • mushrooms dishes • corn dishes • quesadillas • tamales • egg dishes • potato dishes • enchiladas • green salsa • cooked with rice • black bean dishes

Recipes: 

Stuffed Rice Ball

Refried Beans (via Serious Eats)

Enfrijoladas (via NYTimes Cooking)

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FUN FACTS

  • Epazote spreads like a weed throughout North & South America (even into Europe and Asia!) where no one is aware of its uses.
  • Epazote has gas-relieving properties, which is why it’s often added to bean dishes.
  • For medicinal use, epazote tea is made from the plant’s fresh leaves and flowers.

 

2. GUMBO FILÉ

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BASICS

About: A staple ingredient in Creole cuisine, gumbo filé is the dried and powdered sassafras leaves. It’s sprinkled over gumbo as a seasoning or thickening agent. Generally added as a finishing garnish, filé adds a sweet, cooling smell and earthy flavor to dishes. It’s that little something extra that takes gumbo to the next level.

Country of Origin: Louisiana

Plant of Origin: Sassafras albidum

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SHOP

Store: Local grocery store • spice merchants

Online: Amazon • The Spice House

Make your Own (via The Spruce Eats)

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EAT

Suggested Uses: gumbo • other Creole soups & stews

Recipes: 

Stuffed Rice Ball

Seafood Gumbo (via Jaque Pèpin)

Chicken & Sausage Gumbo (via Bon Appetit)

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FUN FACTS

  • Native Americans from Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana were the first to use powered sassafras as a seasoning.
  • Filé comes from the French verb filer, meaning “to turn into threads” or “to become ropy”.

 

3. JUNIPER BERRIES

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BASICS

About: These hard, dried orbs (called cones) are used as a spice in European and Scandinavian cooking. Its tart, bitter and piney flavor is ideal for reducing the wild taste of game meats. It’s soft (not dried) variety can be sprinkled on food or added to drinks, smoothies, and desserts. CAUTION: Pregnant women should avoid juniper berries because it can cause uterine contractions.

Country of Origin: Albania

Plant of Origin: Juniperus communis

Replaces: rosemary

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SHOP

Store: local grocery • health food store

Online: Amazon • Spice Jungle

Other Products: Juniper Berry Tea

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EAT

Suggested Uses: season game meats • season wild birds • add to sauces & marinades • rubbed over meat and vegetables prior to roasting or grilling • cabbage dishes • stews & soups

Recipes: 

Goat Cheese Balls

Cranberry-Orange Jello (via NYTimes Cooking)

Juniper Panna Cotta (via Local Milk)

Chicken with Ale & Juniper Berries (via Food & Wine)

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FUN FACTS

  • Juniper berries are used to make gin!
  • There are 8 different species of juniper berry.
  • Juniper berries have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.
  • In ancient Greece, juniper berries were used as medicine, not food. They also used them in their Olympics events because they believed the berries increased physical stamina in athletes.

 

4. SUMAC

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BASICS

About: Sumac berries are bright red fruits used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine. You may have unknowingly tried it in Za’atar Seasoning. Once dried and ground, the berries add tart and fruity flavor to any dish.

Country of Origin: Turkey

Plant of Origin: Rhus coriaria

Replaces: lemon zest or juice

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SHOP

Store: health food stores • spice merchants • Middle Eastern market

Online: Amazon • The Spice House

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EAT

Suggested Uses: salad • garnish for hummus • add to rice, yogurt or potatoes • a rub or seasoning for meat, fish, or vegetables • syrup in desserts, jellies or drinks

Recipes: 

Goat Cheese Balls

Sumac & Mint Aioli (via Serious Eats)

Spiced Melons (via Bon Appetit)

Lamb Skewers (via NYTimes Cooking)

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FUN FACTS

  • Because it’s so similar to lemon in flavor, sumac is sometimes used to make “sumac-ade”.
  • Native Americans used sumac and tobacco as a smoking mixture.
  • Sumac is sometimes used to dye leather, making the material more flexible and lighter in weight and color.

 

5. TELLICHERRY PEPPER

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BASICS

About: Tellicherry Peppercorn is the holy grail of Indian pepper. It’s a larger, more mature black peppercorn that looses heat and gains aroma. They are SPICY, so use liberally. Some woodsy aromas and pops of citrus creep in after the heat subsides. Because of their complex flavor profile, they’ll improve any dish that uses black pepper. Just note that Tellicherry is more expensive than regular pepper, so you may want to save it for dishes where it will shine. If possible, buy whole so they retain potency and flavor.

Country of Origin: India

Plant of Origin: Piper nigrum

Replaces: black pepper

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SHOP

Store: spice merchants; Indian market; some local grocery stores

Online: Amazon • Williams Sonoma • Zingermans

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EAT

Suggested Uses: eggs • rice • steaks • fish • vegetables • add to spice blends • pasta dishes

Recipes:

Goat Cheese Balls

Tellicherry Buttermilk Biscuits (via Food52)

Tellicherry Steak Sirloin (via Woodland Foods)

Cacio e Pepe (via Bon Appetit)

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FUN FACTS

  • Christopher Columbus traveled through uncharted seas to try to find a better way to get Tellicherry Peppercorn (among other things).

 

6. VINDALOO SEASONING

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BASICS

About: Vindaloo is an Indian curry dish from the region of Goa, but the Portuguese were the true originators. Introduced as “carne de vine d’altos”, Vindaloo evolved over the years to accommodate Indian ingredients and tastes. It’s popularity has spread to Europe, The Middle East, Australia and The United States. While many vindaloo spice blends vary, this one is spicy but not overpowering.

Ingredients: coriander • garlic • cumin • ginger • cinnamon • crushed brown mustard • cayenne • jalapeño pepper • cardamom • turmeric • black pepper • cloves

Country of Origin: India

Replaces: curry powder

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SHOP

Store: Indian markets • local grocery store

Online: Amazon • Spice Jungle

Make Your Own (via The View from Great Island)

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EAT

Suggested Uses: Chicken Vindaloo • Beef Vindaloo • Pork Vindaloo • Vegetable Vindaloo • soups & stews • garnish greek yogurt • winter squash • chip and potato seasoning • meat rubs • popcorn

Recipes:

Stuffed Rice Ball

Chicken Vindaloo (via Saveur)

Pork Vindaloo (via NYTimes Cooking)

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