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Spicetrekkers.com - On the hunt for the world's best spices and blends

On the hunt for the world's best spices and blends

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Green Tea 101

Green Tea 101 - Spicetrekkers.com

Green tea is the most widely consumed tea in Asia, and is getting more and more popular in the West. It’s certainly the most talked about- particularly for its antioxidant properties, which have driven its global growth. Its health benefits are often reputed to be the secret to Chinese and Japanese longevity. But green tea is desirable for much more than its medicinal qualities, and offers a cornucopia of flavors that bear witness to the generations who’ve loved and cultivated this cherished beverage.

We tend to associate green tea with bitterness, which is why many people don’t like it. But it doesn’t have to be this way! More often than not, infusion time and temperature are the culprits when a cup of tea comes out bitter. Delicate, sensitive tea leaves require a little more care. The secret to making a delicate, jade-green infusion is having water at the right temperature (usually between 80-85°C), and the right infusion time (usually 2-3 minutes). Once you get this crucial consideration down, you’re ready to enjoy all the various subtleties and aromas of the tea.

Green Teas in China

Green tea leaves are only partially oxidized, which is why they have such a vegetal, floral flavor. The first harvest is usually in spring, in April or even March, depending on the weather. After being harvested, the tea leaves are withered (or dried) which allows them to oxidize. Then they are finally fired, or cooked, which ceases the oxidization of the leaves.

There are basically two kinds of firing in green tea: the Chinese school of thought and the Japanese. These two rough categories present markedly different flavors. Each school of thought is surprisingly distinct from the other. Continue reading →

My Grandma makes the best Ranch

Posted on by Steve

Classic Ranch Dressing - Spicetrekkers.com

Diving into Ranch- perhaps the greatest American sauce- took more than exploring American food and culture. The best of American cuisine often derives from the direct, almost assertive simplicity that makes the country great: baked beans, southern BBQ, good old-fashioned apple pie. But what makes simple food like Ranch good is not just the ingredients, or the balance of flavors, or the quantity of spices. It’s the people you’re making it for, the reasons you’re doing it in the first place. So for me, making a good Ranch took the whole family.

I don’t need to tell you about Ranch. Right now about 20% of the American population is covered in a creamy, peppery mayonnaise and buttermilk sauce that epitomizes the English word “tangy.” It goes on salads, sandwiches, chips, vegetables, you name it. It’s a dressing that used to be homemade and should be again.

Ranch Spice Blend - Spicetrekkers.com Continue reading →

The Indian Pantry

The Indian Pantry

Spices are our main concern at Épices de Cru, but the truth is spices often present their flavour best in combination with the many sauces, pastes, and other ingredients developed by the world’s great cuisines. So we present our series on pantries of the world- important ingredients to have on hand before delving into any regional cuisine.

Indian cuisine provides an endless source of inspiration for us, and is without a doubt a reigning champion in the use of spices. Ingredients and dishes vary wildly from region to region, according to the varying environments, cultures, and religious beliefs of each inhabitant. In the North, dairy and bread (naan, chapatti, roti) are the foundations of many meals. Hot spices, like pepper and cinnamon, are more common, notably in garam masala. In the South, fresher ingredients, like coconut, lime juice, and curry leaves, are more widely used. In the middle of the country, an impressive assortment of dishes reveals diverse influences, and rice often plays a primary role.

It is, therefore, quite difficult to summarize such a rich and complex cuisine in just a few words:  it would take more than just one little article to capture all those nuances! Simply put, however, a balanced Indian meal should have several vegetable dishes, raw or cooked, sometimes a meat, poultry or fish dish, in addition to a dairy (paneer or yogurt), and pulses, all accompanied by a bread or rice and plenty of chutneys. In addition to spices, there are a few ingredients, less well-known in the West, that are necessary to have on hand to make Indian food at home. Here are a few of our favourites.

Atta Flour and Chickpea Flour

Chickpea flour & Atta flour

Atta flour is a whole wheat flour made from wheat rich in fiber and protein. It’s most commonly used in bread dishes like chapati or paratha. Chickpea flour, also called besan or gram, is used to thicken certain curries and to make crunchy pakoras, bajhis, or papadums. It is now gaining increasing popularity in North America as a nutritious and flavour-packed gluten-free solution.

Ghee – Clarified Butter

Clarified Butter - Ghee

Clarified butter is butter from which the milk solids have been removed- it therefore contains no protein or lactose. Ghee can tolerate very high cooking temperatures without smoking or burning. It also keeps longer than butter. In certain parts of India, notably the North, it’s the most common cooking fat. It can also be brushed onto breads and is used for some desserts. It’s easy to find in many ethnic markets, but can also be easily made at home. Continue reading →

The Secrets of Garam Masala Making

Garam Masala

Garam Masala is an aromatic spice blend designed to activate heat in the body, derived from principles in Ayurvedic medicine. Put simply, garam means “hot,” and masala means “blend” in Hindi. It’s generally considered to be from Northern India, originating in regions that are hit hardest with winter. This spice blend, then, was long used to bring out heat.

With time, it became a foundation of Indian cuisine- and with good reason, as it offers the palette distinct flavours that enrich dishes with a delightful complexity. There are probably as many versions of this blend as there are families in India.

It can be said that Garam Masala is generally composed of a few principal spices: cinnamon (or cassia), cardamom, clove, cumin, and pepper, which adds a lightly hot note. However, these spices also vary greatly according to region. Southern and Northern cuisines differ greatly from one another and environmental factors mean varying levels of access to certain spices. It is, therefore, best to consider regional cuisines when building your Garam Masala. Continue reading →

Pairing Tea with Food: a Practical Guide

Posted on by Marika

Pairing Tea with Food a Practical Guide

As the owner of a tea company, I have a vested interest in showing you as many ways to consume tea as possible. This is why, in my opinion, the subject of pairing teas with food has been trending recently, and why there is so much terrible advice on it. Hot tea with tacos? Earl Grey with Mutton Stew? Sure, but why on earth would you do such thing? Just because you can do a thing, does not mean you should.

And so I will attempt to give you a practical guide to pairing teas with dishes by following a few simple rules. Tea can be paired with many dishes easily- without resorting to the lazy approach of just serving mild food, or overthinking the process so much that it sucks the joy out of the meal. Continue reading →

The Turkish Pantry

The Turkish Pantry

Spices are our main concern at Épices de Cru, but the truth is spices often present their flavour best in combination with the many sauces, pastes, and other ingredients developed by the world’s great cuisines. So we present our series on pantries of the world- important ingredients to have on hand before delving into any regional cuisine.

Turkish cuisine is rich, fragrant, and incorporates the flavours of both Europe and Asia. It is, therefore, one of the few cuisines that makes as much use of both dry spices as fresh herbs (a little like Québec, thanks to the mingling of English and French food).

The most commonly used spices include Aleppo pepper, cinnamon, allspice, saffron and sumac, to only name a few. Like anywhere in the Mediterranean, Turkish cooks use olive oil with great abandon. Olives themselves are often found on dinner tables amongst a variety of mezzes, the small shared dishes that are typical of many Middle Eastern cuisines. In parts of the country where olive trees are rarer, dishes are often cooked in sheep fat.

The Turkish Pantry - Nuts fruits and oil

Dried fruits and nuts (Gaziantep pistachios are among the best in the world) are also of great importance in many dishes, for example rice or bulgur pilafs. It is, above all, the quality of fresh ingredients that make all the difference, but there are still plenty of must-have ingredients that are of great importance when cooking Turkish food. Continue reading →

Not a Matter of Black and White: What I Learned from Wild Voatsiperifery Pepper

Posted on by Steve


White pepper has never been my favourite pepper. I understand many people crave the hot, pungent bite of a well-fermented mature white pepper, and others use it for keeping white sauces white. But for years now I’ve used it in recipes from around the world only to find everything I cook has the unmistakable whiff of overripe fruit. Then one day we got a call from our longtime pepper supplier in Madagascar, and everything changed. Now that wild Voatsiperifery (or Tsiperifery) has entered my life, I can see that judging pepper varieties is no longer a matter of black and white.

I should first clarify my position on white pepper. If you missed our guide to pepper varieties, I’ll say briefly that white pepper is the seed the of the mature pepper berry left to ferment in running water. Pulp removed, white pepper emerges hot and earthy, with strong vegetal notes. To me it smells like a barnyard after the rain. Continue reading →

Pu Erh 101

Pu Er 101

Pu erh is perhaps the most singular of the seven tea families. It’s known as the least accessible tea category, especially because of its distinct and sometimes intense flavours. You don’t need to be a tea expert to appreciate its elegant side- suffice it to say a single taste has hooked more than a few first-timers. With the growing enthusiasm for tea of the last few years, pu erh is getting more and more popular. And as we become ever more accustomed to its characteristic taste, we can treat it a little like a hearty cheese or even a nice piece of dark chocolate.

Pu erh is an aged, fermented tea that can be found in many forms. In the most common, the leaves are compressed into little cakes called bing cha, in little nuggets called tuo cha, or in the shape of a brick. Yunnan province, in southwest China, is where the majority of pu erhs are produced. Pu erh originated in Yunnan, where wild tea trees, aged over 1,000 years, still grow in the forests. Once upon a time, the tea leaves were harvested then compressed to facilitate their transport to the village of Pu’er, on old commercial center for tea exchange. This is how, with time, the name Pu’er came to be associated with particular type of tea. Continue reading →

Staff lunch: our favourite eggplant recipes

There is a great multitude of different eggplants in various shapes and colours- it is, after all, a vegetable that is grown nearly globally. In the Mediterranean, it’s used in classics from ratatouille to Greek moussaka. It’s commonly found in Turkish cooking and numerous Middle Eastern countries, as well as India and China. In many of these dishes, it’s better to salt the eggplant to draw out some of its water. This will also reduce its bitterness, particularly for larger eggplants.

Eggplant is slowing winning the hearts and mouths of Épices de Cru, although its still not universally beloved (it’s one of Philippe’s least favourite ingredients, though he still cooks it with remarkable ingenuity!). To persuade you of the eggplant’s value, or just cook with it more, we present you with a few recipes that appear on the menu for staff lunch regularly and always to rave reviews.

Baingan Bharta - Indian Style Mashed Eggplants
Baingan Bharta – Indian Style Mashed Eggplants
Baba Gannoush
Baba Ganoush
Eggplant Zaatar Salad recipe - Spicetrekkers
Eggplant Zaatar Salad
Yuxiang Qiezi - Fish Fragrant Eggplant
Yuxiang Qiezi – Fish Fragrant Eggplant
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