It isn’t always easy to recreate spice blends as faithfully and respectfully as possible. Perhaps no example better highlights this issue than “Mexican Spice Blend.” Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask about our Mexican spice blend, necessitating the delicate response that no such blend exists, but we’d be happy to suggest one for you. Mexican Spice Blend seems to be everywhere, yet comes from nowhere.
So what is Mexican spice blend? Most of the time, Mexican spice blend is synonymous with “taco seasoning,” a chile and cumin heavy concoction that goes great on ground beef, delivering a satisfying, albeit vague, south-of-the-border sensation.
But Mexico is famous for the variety and complexity of its many dishes, and it’s a shame to treat such a cuisine so generally. Approaching Mexican seasonings according to dish, as in taco seasoning, is a good start, but delving into regional flavors is the best way to approach Mexican spice blends. Here are a few examples of dish-specific and regional spice blends:
The influence of Syrian cuisine on Mexican food is often underappreciated. 19th century migrants brought their knowledge of spices and grilling methods, resulting in now famous Mexican dishes like tacos al pastor. This brilliant combination of Middle Eastern favorites like cumin and cinnamon with central American chilies makes the perfect aromatic couch for sweet pineapple and sour vinegar.
Arguably Mexican, this spice blendwas built around another famous dish: the burrito, specifically, the California burrito. A hearty American combination of onion and garlic powder, along with Mexican chilies and Spanish herbs creates a powerful flavor base that can withstand the heat of grilling a carne asada steak.
This fabulous cross-border blend contains the best of Mexican herbs and chilies and hearty spices like clove and adjwain and is closest to a basic Mexican spice blend meant for tacos. While few would call Texas a region of Mexico, much of its culinary lineage is clearly derived from Mexico’s northern states. This dry, sparse region is proud of its grilling and simple cooking.
Oaxaca is the most cherished culinary region of Mexico. Renowned for its deep, layered flavors, such as mole, Oaxaca is home to an incredible variety of chilies and ways of combining their different flavors. This rub contains a delicate combination of famous Mexican chilies meant to honor the tradition of combining several chilies with a few herbs, spices, and salt. Best for grilling poultry and vegetables, it’s also a great seasoning for potatoes.
Finally, if an “authentic” Mexican spice blend is what you’re looking for, then venture to the region surrounding Mexico City- before the arrival of Columbus. Tlatelolco rub contains only spices that are native to Mexico, like allspice and avocado leaf. Named for the great marketat the center of the Aztec empire, this blend offers the hot, spicy, sweet aromas from the heart of an ancient empire.
So there really is no Mexican spice blend officially, but there is an infinity of flavor combinations that can satisfy a craving for Mexican food. Traditional dishes from renowned regions have been worked and reworked over centuries, and offer an ideal starting point. Enjoy your journey!
We get pretty excited during barbecue season around here. The grill comes out and suddenly staff lunches have that special summer flavor. All the fun grilling blends we didn’t complete last year can once again see the light of day. And recipe development! Oh the joys of developing new grilling recipes: of course we have to eat everything we cook until we get it just right. And sometimes it takes a long time to get a good BBQ sauce recipe just right.
It just wouldn’t be right to keep all the recipe development fun to ourselves. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about different BBQ sauce recipes, from different regions and styles to varying ingredients and cooking methods.
BBQ Sauce Styles
Still, American BBQ sauce remains the most famous. It’s divided roughly into four different styles, which differ mainly on the amount of vinegar or mustard and the addition of tomatoes or ketchup. While each region prefers its own style, tomato- and ketchup-based sauces are the most popular nationwide. In fact, BBQ as we know it began in the Caribbean, and was generally dry, or with sauce added at the end. Since the cultural phenomenon of cooking meat on a grill with sauce remains a relatively new phenomenon, which means we truly are free to experiment.
Easy BBQ Sauce Recipe
The recipe with the highest demand is probably our quickest and easiest one. Of course! When you want easy, it’s time to rely on prepared ingredients. This recipe uses ketchup, mustard, and one of our BBQ spice blends. All you have to do is mix the ingredients together! Use as a baste or dip.
Be a Jerk
You really should grill a classic Jerk at least once- BBQ did, after all, originate in the Caribbean. The famous Jamaican spice blend may be too hot for some, but the sauce recipe includes other ingredients that mellow the heat, like ketchup, lime and brown sugar. The trick to making this sauce a real hit: finding a nice, firm mango to grate.
An Unexpected BBQ Sauce
Still, the real fun of modern BBQ is experimentation. Freeing yourself from the deep but sometimes overbearing traditions of North American BBQ allows you to try new ingredients. Coconut milk is not the first base most people think of for an all-purpose BBQ sauce, but our fun and creative coconut BBQ sauce recipe is a fantastic side for all kinds of meat. Don’t worry traditionalists- it still calls for vinegar and tomato.
No Sauce Is a Sauce
Finally, let’s remember that a recipe for a good BBQ sauce doesn’t need an actual sauce. When hunting for a quick and easy BBQ sauce recipe, remember that many types of grilling take advantage of natural juices created during cooking. Take, for example, this maple glazed salmon: a mixture of maple syrup, soy sauce, and spices becomes a delectable glaze when it mingles with the salmon during cooking. The result is a moist fish filet coated in a sticky-sweet sauce.
And this is just the beginning! There’s still plenty of grilling left in our summer, and we promise to keep testing as many new sauces as we can. And while we do, we encourage you to as well. Whether you stick to the traditions or go out on your own, there are few summer activities more fun than trying out some wacky new BBQ sauce recipe.
Spice blends are too often overlooked in everyday cooking, diminished to a few famous blends and always attracting less attention than individual spices. Think of it: most supermarket shelves only stock omnibus general blends like “Moroccan Blend” and “Yellow Curry Powder,” while media focus on certain well-known spices like cumin, nutmeg, and basil. Cookbooks tend to list individual spices to be used, perhaps fearing that a ready-made blend may send a recipe spiraling out of control.
Of course we consider spice blends an essential part of a well-stocked pantry, dispensed daily to add zest, round out flavor, add familiar notes, or even turn a dish around. Once you realize a spice blend is not an unknown factor but a reliable tool, you can start letting them do the work in your cooking to concentrate on other things. Here are 5 spice blends that exemplify this concept: just add it and forget it.
Ethiopia may not be the first place you look for a universal flavor, but its wildly popular Berbere spice blend can replace the seasoning in just about any cuisine with delicious results. Thanks to a heavy dose of sweet paprika and chilies, combined with aromatics like cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom, this fragrant mixture enlivens any dish. Meat from chicken to moose enjoys Berbere, as well as vegetables like cauliflower and lima beans. It’s found its way onto burgers, onion rings, even spaghetti. No wonder it’s one of our best sellers, and one of our few blends available in large-sized tins.
It’s surprising Za’atar isn’t a mainstay in most North American kitchens, since it’s one of the oldest Western spice blends- dating back to biblical times. This salty, herbaceous blend features thyme and oregano, bolstered by sumac and sesame seeds. While it may not have the versatility of Berbere, Za’atar spice blend is so consistently pleasing in a few common dishes you should really have it on hand. In the Levant it’s an instant bread topper, be it baked in or served as a dip with olive oil. Salad dressing, fish, and even hummus are all great examples of its many uses.
Cajun spice blend is such a powerful addition to Western cooking that it’s the only blend in this list that we included in our most recent book, The Spice Trekkers Cook at Home. Sweet smoked paprika, onion, garlic, and herbs are about the perfect combination to heighten classics like BBQ chicken, pan-fried fish and pork chops. It’s Cajun spice’s versatility that’s surprising: salad, tajine, even kale all benefit from a dose of Cajun.
The complexity of Ras-el-Hanout (or Ras-al-Hanout) is a tribute to Moroccan cuisine. Famously containing dozens of spices (there’s 27 in our blend), a quality Ras-el-Hanout spice blend is considered the mark of a good spice trader. Generally reserved for North African recipes like couscous and tajine, it also adds a sweet and aromatic subtlety to herbed and spiced sides like potatoes and goat cheese.
You’ll notice little heed to the herb vs. spice debate on this website. Our Mediterranean herb blend has become our favorite general use herb blend. 6 classic Mediterranean herbs, sourced from around the world, combine to make your new favorite addition to classic tomato sauce, chicken and lamb. It’s also an easy choice for your next salad dressing.
And these are just to start! Once you’ve got these blends in heavy household rotation, you can see where your desire leads you. Don’t worry, we’ve got over a hundred others for you to try. If you’re looking for even more ideas, you can check out more lists or even make your own blend!
Which spices and spice blends should you always have in stock? It’s not a simple question considering the hundreds of spices that need to be considered. Even without adding personal taste, there are numerous spices and spice blends that make a good starting point, whether for a new student filling a spice rack for his or her first apartment or an old spice hand who’s just looking for an update. These are the dozen or so spices we find indispensable for both everyday cooking and special occasions.
It may seem an obvious choice, but the quality of your pepper can make all the difference in your cooking, no matter if its added during cooking or sprinkled on at the end. Malabar pepper, one of the great classics, is ideal for everyday cooking, while those interested in a little more heat might prefer one with more character, like tribal.
Who cooks without chilies? You can choose one that’s light and all-purpose, like Korean pepper, to kick up sauces, pasta, and stir-fries. If you want a little more heat, we like Reshampatti, a kind of Cayenne.
Cumin winds up in just about every cuisine in the world, notably Moroccan, Indian, and Mexican. I little toasted cumin- ground or not- easily elevates the flavor of a soup or chili that lacks punch. It’s also a must-have for cooking pulses.
Who doesn’t like a barbecued or oven-roasted chicken? BBQ blends like Classic BBQ or Staff BBQ are generally used to flavor or marinate meats, but they’re also great for potatoes, yams and corn. With a little ketchup, vinegar and Dijon mustard, you can throw together a powerful BBQ sauce in minutes.
Don’t be confused by its name. It could really be called “All-Purpose Blend,” since it can be used to meld the tastes of grilled vegetables, salad dressings, soups, even chicken or fish. Does your dish need a little help? Bring on Vegetable Spice Blend!
We (sadly) have a tendency to only use cinnamon in desserts. It’s true that nothing beats cinnamon for cookies, cakes, and muffins, but it’s also great in braised beef, salads, or rice.
Nutmeg can be found in desserts, like apple pie, as well as savory dishes like potatoes au gratin. You can actually add a pinch to things like root vegetable purées, quiche, béchamel, in stew, or even in your rum punch! Have a few whole nutmegs on hand to be freshly grated.
Curries may be the most versatile of spice blends. Madras Curry is the great classic, and can be used in all kinds of dishes. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, try a Trinidad or Singapore Curry.
High-quality, all-natural vanilla extracts are hard to find and often expensive. Sure, we use whole beans in a few recipes, but vanilla extract is still the best option for most desserts. Making a homemade vanilla extract will save you time, money, and provide a much more flavorful ingredient.
Researching spices on the internet I come across a lot of talk about spice substitutions, particularly when it comes to chilies. It seems many of us are forgetting the cardinal rule of carefully reading a recipe before we start. I know I’ve been wrist-deep in a cookbook only to find I’m missing some regional rarity that is absolutely crucial but comes in a very small bottle. But thinking about how to replace, or really, resemble, a forgotten spice is less a list to remember and more an invitation to experiment. The possibilities are most apparent in the wide world of paprika substitutes. I find it’s less about finding the best paprika substitute or alternative chili pepper flake, and more a question of balancing tastes and flavors.
The Theory of the Interchangeability of Spices, outlined in The Golden Rules of Spices, highlights the differences between taste and flavor. Taste, experienced by the tongue, is limited to a few categories like sweet, sour, or hot, while innumerable flavors can be experienced by the nose. So choosing a chile powder or chile flake substitute with the same taste means you can experiment with as many flavors as you like. Continue reading →
Everyone knows Quebec’s most famous dish is Pork Chops Hochelaga. Since its fine dining debut at the ’67 Expo, this classic combination of herbs, spices, pickles and mushrooms has sauced pork chops around the world. At least, that’s what was supposed to happen.
Of course, no one today has ever heard of Pork Chops Hochelaga, nor the vaunted place it once held on the menu of Canada’s most expensive restaurant, La Toundra, at the biggest event in Canada’s history, the 1967 International and Universal Exposition. This unfortunate omission needs correcting: the untold story of Pork Chops Hochelaga tell us much of how a young Canada once presented itself to the world, and what it means to be Canadian.
It’s also a fun and easy recipe that’s historical, adaptable, and delicious.
The Expo and Food
Expo 67 opened 50 years ago to fanfare and hope. Dozens of nations were proud to show off their newest fashions, technologies, and ideas to over 50 million attendees from around the world. There were few opportunities for competing nations to parade their cultural best in a peaceful setting. Each national pavilion promised to be a microcosm of the best of what each country had to offer. Continue reading →
What is so darned appealing about whole cinnamon sticks? We’re not talking about the red-hot, brown colored powder you find littering coffee condiment counters, or the mysterious throat-burning flavor that haunts candies, drinks, and ready-to-eat pastries. No, this is an investigation of the true spice, the classic spice, the flaky, copper quills that have fueled global culinary desire for thousands of years. There’s a reason, or rather many reasons, the cinnamon stick keeps popping up: etched in Greek amphora, featured in Renaissance paintings, and adorning every pastry on Instagram.
The case for whole cinnamon sticks is not a hard one to make. First is the obvious advantage to keeping spices whole: increasing shelf life. Cinnamon sticks can be used differently than ground cinnamon, but can still be ground if you just need a pinch. Beyond the practicalities, a true cinnamon stick is a historical lesson, study in craftsmanship, and sensory delight all rolled into one. Ground or not, it’s a spice that’s bound to stick around. Continue reading →
I told them the only thing I wanted to do in Sri Lanka was see a cinnamon tree. Even after years as a Spice Trekker, the idea still blows my mind: this is the edible tree, the one tree of all trees, whose bark we eat. We couldn’t care less about its fruit or seeds! Sure, you could point to a few other examples of strange tree uses: Greek mastic, for example, comes from a kind of pistachio sap, and no Canadian company can forget maple syrup (we love it in chai). But I knew I had to see the bizarre tree-turned-shoot firsthand if I was ever going to believe it happens.
So when they asked what I wanted out of our first spice sourcing trip to Sri Lanka, I simply said, “see a real cinnamon tree.” We had the great fortune of being hosted by longtime family friends and suppliers, Deepa and Sanath, who wanted nothing more than to show us around Sri Lanka and help me make this absurd abstraction a reality.
Where Does Cinnamon Come From?
Let’s remember I’m talking about Ceylon cinnamon, or true cinnamon, which is more delicate and flavorful than its cousin, Vietnamese cinnamon, or cassia. You can read more about this subtle but important distinction here. Ceylon cinnamon has been the darling cash crop of Sri Lanka for millennia, its origins shrouded in mystery. Spice traders put such effort into keeping its provenance secret that Europeans didn’t know it came from a tree for centuries! Continue reading →
One of the most common questions we encounter in customer service is the real meaning of white pepper vs black pepper. While we agree they come from the same peppercorn plant, how different whole peppercorns come to be is not as clear: especially for white varieties. Black peppercorns, like Tellicherry pepper or Malabar pepper, are perhaps the most popular fruits of all pepper plants, and white peppercorns remain a source of mystery for plenty of cooks. We know they are different, but how are they different?
Where Do Peppercorns Come from?
Begin at the beginning: the pepper plant, growing from India to Indonesia to Madagascar, into long pepper vines wrapped around trees, trellises, the sides of homes. The fruit of these vines ripens to a bright, fragrant red, and from there they are dried to either black peppercorns or the mysterious white pepper. Continue reading →
Our trip to Kashgar in Northwestern China, near the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, was the first that was deliberately ”not spice specific.” Our daughter Marika was living in The People’s Republic and, after completing a particularly arduous season in Montreal, we decided that rest, recreation —no spice hunting— and a strong dose of our much-missed offspring, had the making of a bona fide vacation.
References to Zinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region mentioned the blandness of the local Muslim food and made no allusion to spices whatsoever. Despite our ”no spice hunting” itinerary, we planned to explore the legendary Silk Route used by ancient merchant caravans to circumvent the Taklamakan desert on their way to oasis towns as Kashgar.
We kicked off our arrival in Kashgar by asking Nelli, the hotel receptionist, for directions to the local market. He obliged, making it clear that he was available, should we require an interpreter. The first market stall we encountered was dedicated to spices from all over Asia. Kashgar was a crossroad of the Middle East, India, China, Persia, Russia and even Greece —for art, jewellery, culture, fashion, and also for a large and impressive variety of spices. Continue reading →
Cabbage is markedly associated with traditional Quebec cuisine, never mind fall and winter food. It is adored the world over, not just because it’s available year round, but also because it’s cheap and versatile. Cabbage can mean anything from kale to Brussel sprouts or even bok choy, so it shows up in just about every cuisine in the world. It is, of course, an excellent base for all manner of spice dishes.