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Mad About Spices

Fresh spices and herbs make all the difference.

  • Photo Contest Finalists: Who Should Win?

    February's contestants submitted some very mouthwatering photos — including a green dragon cake! — for the chance to win a 12-jar gift set from Whole Spice. Continue reading

  • Potatoes and Spices: Made for Each Other

    Among the most versatile foods we know is the humble potato. This accommodating vegetable, along with its cousins in the sweet potato family, can be prepared in just about any manner you wish. Grilled, roasted, fried, mashed, hashed, baked — the possibilities are virtually endless.

    Potatoes of all varieties also take spicing very well. Their creamy, starchy nature provides the perfect canvas for herbs, spices and blends, from basic salt and pepper (many cooks like white pepper with potatoes) to flavored salts and complex blends.

    Spices return the favor by elevating basic potato dishes to gourmet status. A pinch of saffron salt or truffle salt will transform your mashed potatoes. Our Roasted Chicken BlendLamb Rub and Steak Seasoning work similar culinary magic on roasted spuds. Fragrant Ras El Hanout is particularly good with sweet potatoes. Other blends to try include:

    There are countless ways you can use spices and seasonings to create extraordinary potato dishes. Here are two easy recipes to get you started:

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  • Mad About Spices: Ajwain, Meet Romanesco

    You may have run across ajwain seeds in recipes from noted Indian cooks like Madhur Jaffrey. These savory seeds provide essential flavor to many Indian dishes, in particular the vegetarian cuisine of Uttar Pradesh, although they are believed to have originated in Egypt. Continue reading

  • Soup for What Ails You After Overindulging


The luxuries of holiday cuisine are delightful, but all those rich dishes can take a heavy toll on the digestive system. To the rescue: a clean, fresh, nutritious and satisfying vegetable soup that you can customize to your personal taste.

    Rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, yet delicate in flavor, this soup relies on the freshest ingredients. It’s best with vegetables bought or picked on the same day you cook it; old veggies from the back of the drawer should be used in another recipe, such as a stock.

    The second secret to this magically stomach-soothing soup is to cut the vegetables into equal-sized pieces and add each ingredient in the proper order, beginning with the densest veggies and ending with the lightest, so that all become perfectly cooked together. 

    I use very little dried seasoning in this soup — a hint of Moroccan harissa blend, a couple of bay leaves and a little salt and pepper — just enough to enhance, but not overwhelm the foundation flavors of cabbage, carrot and celery and the fresh note of Italian parsley. 

    With strictly fresh vegetables and water, this recipe can be prepared year-round and provides all the carbohydrates you need in a meal. To amp up the protein, swirl in a spoonful of whole-milk yogurt per serving. 

    We generally enjoy this soup as a first course, before a salad and some lean protein with a glass of wine for the cook. My boys love it, and I always feel like I’m getting more oxygen to my brain after I have some.

    If you wish, you may add different vegetables to the basic mix: mushrooms, cauliflower and kohlrabi are good choices. Just be sure to cut them in pieces and add them to the simmering soup at the appropriate time for their density. 

    You could even add a small tomato near the end of the cooking process, but please skip the eggplant and peppers — these nightshades will add unduly harsh notes, and may not be as easy on your stomach as the vegetables in this recipe.

    Broccoli is also too strongly-flavored to play nicely with the other ingredients. If the soup were a symphony, broccoli would be a loud vuvuzela overwhelming the other instruments! I want you to taste the beauty in every individual bite.

    Recipe: Cleansing Vegetable Soup with a Hint of Harissa »» vegetable soup

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  • How to Cook with Turmeric

    With its sunny color, distinctive fragrance and warm flavor, turmeric has long been one of the world’s most versatile and popular spices. It’s an essential element in curries and Middle Eastern spice blends such as ras el hanout, and lends its golden color to many other dishes. Let’s get to know this colorful rhizome a little better, and look at the best ways to cook with turmeric to release its fine flavor and long-documented nutritional benefits.Turmeric Quinoa 3

    In the bazaars of the Middle East, India and other south Asian countries, amid the vast array of clove buds, coriander seeds, cinnamon bark and peppercorns — and all the other spices the world has come to love — you will see heaps of turmeric powder looking like a mountain range of gold.

    A perennial relative of the ginger family, turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant. The rhizome has a tough brown skin and deep, orange-red flesh which, dried and ground, yields the turmeric powder found in most spice cabinets. In southern Asia, where the plant is grown, fresh turmeric leaves are also used to wrap food for cooking.

    For thousands of years, the turmeric rhizome has been used as a remedy for cuts, concussions, aches and pains and other ailments. Modern medical researchers have been studying the molecular properties of curcumin, the chief chemical compound in turmeric, as a way to effectively prevent cancer. Curcumin is also being studied as an effective means to fight against diseases such as arthritis, Alzheimer's and stomach ulcers, to name a few.

    At our Napa shop, customers often ask us about how to use this versatile, powerful spice. Here are our top tips for cooking with turmeric:
    » With its slightly bitter taste, turmeric can overpower a dish if you use too much. The best way to release its delicate flavor is to use small amounts per recipe, first sauteing it in hot oil for just a few seconds.
    » Also, piperine — a compound in black pepper — appears to help the human body absorb curcumin more effectively, so we always throw in a pinch of black pepper with the turmeric.

    For the best results cooking with turmeric:
    » Use about 1/4 - 3/4 tsp per recipe, depending on number of servings.
    » Saute the turmeric in hot olive oil before adding other ingredients.
    » Turmeric can burn very quickly: Prepare all the ingredients in advance.
    » If using onion or garlic, saute these first.
    » Once the onion is browned, mix in the sauteed turmeric and saute for about 20 seconds, allowing the oil to soak up the flavors. The turmeric will start to change color rapidly, from bright orange into darker orange.
    » Quickly add the rest of the ingredients to prevent the turmeric from burning.

    Once you start using turmeric on a regular basis, it's fun to find new ways to use it in home cooking. Try this recipe for a tasty side dish: Turmeric Quinoa »»

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  • Toasted Chickpeas with Chaat Masala: a savory, healthy snack — in minutes

    chaat plateWhen Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco approached me about developing a chaat masala blend, I was pleased but not at all surprised.

    Originally from northern India and now found — and devoured — throughout the subcontinent, chaat (from the Hindi for “to lick”) masala (“blend”) is all about mouthwatering vegetarian food, just like Rainbow. Continue reading

  • Watch: Making Druse Flatbread in Northern Israel

    Shuli and his boys were in northern Israel last month, where they stopped for a traditional Middle Eastern snack: paper-thin Druse flatbread, cooked on a convex griddle with no oil, then covered with labneh (yogurt cheese) and za'atar blend.
    Watch the deft movements of the baker as she quickly rolls the dough, stretches it thin on a special pillow and quickly griddles it till done. You can hear the boys' excited voices in the background when their treat is almost ready!

    Za'atar blend is traditionally made with the za'atar herb, which has been hard to come by recently. Until we're able to source the herb reliably, we are selling a blend that approximates the flavor of the traditional mix with thyme and toasted wheat along with sesame seeds and sumac.

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  • 4 Hot Spiced Drinks to Warm Your Winter

    Mulled wine 03Over the centuries, humans worldwide have battled winter’s darkness and hunger with bonfires, candles, holiday lights and piping hot drinks, often flavored with fragrant spices. Here are some of our favorite hot spiced drinks to enjoy with friends and family this winter:

    Mulled wine is one of the most traditional winter drinks. Served hot or warm, it is made with red wine — usually port or claret — with orange zest and juice, sugar, brandy (if desired) and an assortment of spices that can include cardamom podsclovesallspice, peppercorns and cinnamon. Get the recipe »»

    Hot Mulled Cider is terrific with brandy or applejack, but you can also make it with all apple cider for a non-alcoholic treat. Get the recipe »»

    Cinnamon Hot Chocolate will warm and cheer you, especially with whipped cream and, for the daring, a dash of Aleppo pepper. Get the recipe »»

    Chai Tea, with its aromas of ginger, cardamom, clove and other warming spices, is the ultimate cold-weather comforter. Get the recipe »»

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  • Your Selfie Could Win a 12-Jar Gift Set in Our Facebook Photo Contest


    If you're on Facebook, we have an easy and fun photo contest for you. Continue reading

  • Easy, Spicy Ethiopian Stews

    Ethiopian food sounds exotic, but it's easy to fall in love with the cuisine of this eastern African nation. Whether you're a strict vegan, a traditional vegetarian or an old-fashioned omnivore, as long as your palate is prepared for intense flavors, Ethiopian cookery has a dish for you.

    The deep, red color and spicy heat found in most Ethiopian food comes from the nationally popular berbere spice blend. Usually made from dried chili peppers, garlic, fenugreek and warm spices such as cumin, ginger, black pepper, allspice and cloves, berbere spice is typically mixed with water or oil to make a paste before it is used in cooking. Wet or dry, it makes a flavorful spice rub for meats and fish.

    Berbere is also the essential seasoning in Ethiopia's famous stews, curry-like mixtures known as wot or wat that are often flaming hot — an acquired taste for some! To dial back the lip-burning, if authentic heat of the berbere, we often will substitute mild California chili powder for half or even more of the spicier blend.

    Making Ethiopian stew at home is easy and while the traditional accompaniment, a fermented bread known as injera that is made from a tiny, nutritious grain called teff, is a bit of a stretch for most home cooks, you can serve your wot with any mild carb such as rice, barley or toasted bread.

    Our basic Ethiopian Berbere Sauce recipe uses no animal products. You can keep it vegan with lentils or split peas and vegetables, or serve it with cooked lamb, beef or chicken. Get the recipe »»


    Ethiopian Red Lentils with Berbere Get the recipe »»

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