Tag Archives: spices

Spice Up Your Life.

25 Oct

I know you must be cringing right now – and don’t worry, so am I – at the above reference. It’s not only socially unacceptable to know the name of and possibly like a Spice Girls song (not that I’m admitting anything here) but potentially worse to be seen reading an amateur food blog that alludes to the song in question.

But these girls make a good point. An array of spices can make any meal more exciting, whether it be a plain tomato-based sauce transformed into a curry, hamburgers made into kofta or peanut butter on toast revamped to become peanut butter on toast with cinnamon.

The other night I was feeling pretty lousy and was in no mood to cook something elaborate. Initially my thoughts were to go with my very delicious – yet admittedly very sad – fallback of tuna, peas and rice (which only involves throwing the latter two in a pot of boiling water before mixing them with a tin of tuna. Mmm.) but inspiration came in the form of a little jar of curry powder sitting at the very back of our pantry.

Curry is wonderfully simple, only requiring a few basic ingredients and a few minutes preparation. It’s a great way to use up vegetables that are clearly past it and quickly becoming compost-ripe and can be adapted to suit almost any type of vegetable or meat. You can also change up the spice mix if you so desire. This particular recipe is inspired by Nigella’s latest offering, Kitchen, and uses cherry tomatoes and peas, but by all means use whatever’s available and in season and whatever the bottom of your fridge desperately needs to get rid of.

Tomato & Pea Curry.

Tomato & Pea Curry

Serves 2

2 TBSP olive oil

1 large brown onion, peeled and chopped

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp fennel powder

2 tsp curry powder

1/2 tsp dried chili flakes

250g cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup frozen peas

1 TBSP tomato paste

1/2 cup coconut milk or regular milk


1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan that has a lid.

2. When hot, add the onions and fry, stirring occasionally, until fragrant.

3. Add the spices and fry for a further two to three minutes.

4. Add the tomatoes and the peas and cook, with the lid on, for twenty minutes.

5. Add the tomato paste and the milk and cook for a further 10 minutes.

6. Season to taste.

7. Serve with rice.


Mexicana! Ole! Bueno!

9 Jun

Clearly, I speak very limited Spanish. I’m not even sure the third word is Spanish. But luckily today’s post isn’t on a language I know very little about and instead on something I do.

On this particular evening, we’d decided to go with an easy fallback: spaghetti bolognese, or ‘spag bol’ as I often call it, despite loathing the name and the images of spitting in a bowl that it conjures up. My flatmate was going to a night class, I was home late from uni (and pretty useless in the kitchen past 7pm) and the easiest option we could think of was the old Italian classic.

I was all set to pick up some spaghetti and tinned tomatoes from the supermarket and was even in the middle of doing so when our guest for the evening decided to seriously shake things up. He wanted tacos. I wanted to go home. So I avoided an international food fight by just agreeing with him and getting tacos and, well, tinned tomatoes instead.

The principles behind spaghetti bolognese and tacos are essentially the same. Well, the authentic kinds probably aren’t but the student kinds are. The basic ingredients don’t really change, it’s just the seasoning and obviously the accompaniments that do. If you can cook a mean spag bol (eugh), tacos or even burritos, fajitas and any other Mexican things should be easy enough.

I know the spices used aren’t really authentic (lending themselves more to a Moroccan or Indian dish) but the general flavours are there. And when your taco is smothered in cheese and sour cream, who can really tell the difference?

Components for tacos.

Taco mince - apologies for the terrible lighting.


Serves 4

1 TBSP olive oil

1 medium brown onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1kg beef mince

1 400g tin chopped tomatoes

1 TBSP tomato paste

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

1/2 cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

12 taco shells

1 jar taco sauce

2 carrots, grated

torn up lettuce (which I don’t really know how to quanitfy)

3 tomatoes, chopped

300ml sour cream

1 cup grated cheese

1. Heat up the oil in a large frying pan.

2. Add the onions and garlic and fry until soft.

3. Add the mince and fry until browned, stirring occasionally.

4. Add the tinned tomatoes, stir through and cook for 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, put the tacos in a 160C oven to crisp up.

6. Back to the sauce, stir through the tomato paste and spices (except the coriander).

7. Season to taste. If it’s a bit sour, often a little pinch of sugar can help temper that. Just taste and season accordingly.

8. Add the coriander and stir through. Leave the whole thing to bubble and boil for a few minutes.

9. Put all the taco components in little bowls.

10. Take the mince sauce off the heat and serve. I won’t take the liberty of telling you how to serve tacos. That’d just be insulting.

NB: I strongly advise against serving this meal if you’re trying to woo someone. It’s not the most attractive look when meat is dribbling down your chin and sour cream has made its way into your hair.

Also, if you’re vego or vegan, the meat can easily be substituted by two 400g tins of beans and the sour cream and cheese either omitted or replaced with vegan options.

Spice World.

14 May

I fell in love today.

Sorry, dumplings, but I’ve possibly found a new flame. And this affair’s a little more spicy – boom, TISH!

My flatmate and I were visiting one of our regular shopping haunts after uni, Paddy’s Markets in Sydney’s Haymarket. Forget scrounging around for vintage finds in Rozelle or salivating over Paddington’s designer wares – when you’re in our position, grocery shopping becomes your favourite pastime. We have regular discussions over which type of milk powder to buy or what our preferred types of dishcloth are. Oh yes we do.

I digress. We were doing the weekly fruit and vege shop when we stumbled across a stall we had never seen before. A stall that was, quite seriously, going to change my life. Well, my spice rack at least.

Green Valley Spices was a beacon of colourful exuberance – fat, overloaded pots of almost every kind of spice, seasoning and even tea that let off the most wonderful mix of smells.

Bucketloads of spices

Cinnamon was there and za’atar was there and turmeric and paprika and ground fennel were there. Vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks and bark, whole cloves and cardamom pods. Seasonings for every type of meat, as well as chunky teas – not that powdery supermarket kind.

We were tempted to get some of the chai tea mix – loaded with broken cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and whole cloves. The camomile tea also looked intriguing, with its whole camomile flowers that were such a far cry from the bags we’re accustomed to. But our budget sadly only stretched to a few spices.

Vibrant turmeric and paprika

Instead we were more than satisfied to leave with 100g of cinnamon, 100g of za’atar and 50g of chilli flakes for $8. Getting your spices at the supermarket? Be prepared to spend more than twice that.

Most spices were $3 for 100g, $5 for 200g, $8 for 500g and $15 for 1kg. The teas were a little more exxy, starting at $9 for 100g, but still a comparative bargain to supermarket shopping.

A wall of spices

For dinner we decided to do something impromptu and spice-fuelled: sumac tomato salad and toasted sourdough with olive oil and za’atar.

‘Now what are these crazy things?’ You may ask. Sumac is a reddish-purplish spice with a tangy, almost lemony flavour. Za’atar is a mix of dried herbs: oregano, basil and thyme together with sesame seeds, salt and other spices, including sumac. They’re both generally used in Middle Eastern cuisine and are both equally as delicious.

Sumac tomato salad

Sumac Tomato Salad

Serves 2

2 tomatoes, chopped into wedges

2 tsp sumac

2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Arrange tomatoes on a plate or in a bowl
  2. Mix together sumac and olive oil
  3. Drizzle over tomatoes
  4. Serve

Sourdough toast, za'atar, olive oil and tomato salad

Toasted Sourdough with Za’atar

Serves 2

4-6 pieces of sourdough bread, toasted

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup za’atar

  1. It’s quite simple really: a bowl for the oil, a bowl for the za’atar and a plate for each person. Dip your bread in the oil and then the za’atar and voila, utter deliciousness with less than sixty seconds preparation time.

Green Valley Spices
Paddy’s Market, Haymarket