How to Make Simple Meals with Spices
It’s been two years now since we started carrying spice blends from The Teeny Tiny Spice Company of Vermont. I’ve used them every week—it seems like every day. I love them.
Last night I opened a can of soup from the grocery store. It was bland. I solved that with Ras El Hanout. I fix scrambled eggs, often with meat, corn, or cheese added. I liven them up with a spice blend. I use the Mexican spices the most.
In our store, we have sample bottles, shaker bottles of each spice on the rack.
“Oh, this is one of my favorite spices,” I say as I shake a little into a customer’s hand. I encourage him or her taste it, not just smell it. She can brush the remains onto the floor–it makes the place smell better. We have a free spice recipe book with 95 recipes.
How Much Seasoning Should You Use?
That may be the question we get asked the most. It’s not as hard as it may seem. Start with less. In most cases, you can add more. You’ll use more with beef than you will with chicken and fish. Often you want the seasoning to be so light as to be simply a background flavor–complex
ity without competition.
Don’t overpower the dish. Chicken should always taste like chicken but a little spice will transform everyday cooking into extraordinary.
For a pound of ground beef, I’ll use a tablespoon of mild spice—though I may start with a teaspoon or two and add more to taste after it’s cooked.
Tastes are different; we have a friend that uses about twice as much spice as we do. As we get older, we lose taste buds and prefer more seasoning. Go a little mild if there are children in your home.
Flavor versus Heat
Often when we think spices, we think heat—hot spices. Heat’s okay, but usually I want flavor without a lot of heat. I want to transform the flavor of what I’m cooking without creating a lot of heat. So for most of my cooking, I choose spices with little heat.
Keep it Simple
Simple is usually better. Don’t try to mix a lot of flavors. The more you add, the harder it is to keep a balance. Instead of adding multiple spices, use a quality blend. A good spice blend has been balanced and tested and used in many recipes. The flavors meld together as one spice without creating a jumble.
Season it First or Season it Last
For larger pieces of food, like a roast, season first. That gives the food time to absorb the flavors as it cooks. Season liquids, such as soups, last.
Even with a roast, until I get to know the spice, I tend to under-season. And yes, I’m not shy about sprinkling more on after it’s cooked.
Quick Meat and Potato Dinner
I cook a version of this often, especially when I come home late and hungry. It makes a quick, hearty meal and the cut doesn’t have to be the best.
I love this with new red potatoes, onions and half a green bell pepper. You can make a quick meal from this.
- Slice the meat in 3/8 inch thick pieces. Cutting across the grain will be more tender.
- Slice a medium, sweet onion and the half bell pepper in 1/4 inch thick slices. Trim and slice the potatoes into thin slices. Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan. Dump the potatoes, meat, and veggies in the hot frying pan.
- Add a tablespoon of spice. If you are not familiar with the spice, start with just a teaspoon or two. Add salt.
- Using a spatula, stir for a couple minutes to start to brown the potatoes and sear the meat. Then add a quarter cup of water and set a loose fitting lid over the pan. The lid will capture enough steam to cook the potatoes.
- Add more water several times stirring with each addition. Add just enough water to make a little gravy for a meat, potato, and gravy dish.
The cooking should pull enough starch from the thinly sliced potatoes to thicken the gravy perfectly without adding flour or cornstarch. Adjust the seasoning at the end if needed.
With a tossed salad from a bag, you’ll have a good, hearty meal in less than 30 minutes.
Don’t let spices intimidate you, even new spices or blends. Remember, keep it simple and add a little at time, until you get it just right.
Your first venture should be a success, but as you gain experience with a spice, you’ll find more and more ways to use it and find the foods you like best with that particular spice.
With a palette of spices in the cupboard you can create magical meals. It’s easier than you might think.