I just love to travel! I’m endlessly curious about other cultures and have been fortunate to travel throughout Asia, Europe and North America on a pretty regular basis. Eating and exploring the food in each country or region really gives me insight into their history and how the people live.
Spice blends are an easy way to bring international flavor to the most common of foods, like vegetables or chicken breasts. A few shakes of curry powder in an otherwise predicable tuna salad takes it to a new dimension. Following are some spice blends from around the world that are certain to spark your culinary creativity.
Georgia – Khemli Suneli
The nation of Georgia, which was once part of the Soviet Union, sits East of the Black Sea with Turkey to the South and Russia to the North of the Caucuses Mountains. It enjoys a mild climate and was a well-trod highway for trade between Mediterranean countries and the Far East. A combination of toasty, grassy floral, and tart all at once, think of khemli-suneli as the curry powder of Georgia. It’s used in hearty soups and meat dishes and is the essential ingredient in satsivi, a traditional Georgian chicken dish with walnut sauce. Walnuts are an excellent FoodTrient, as they are rich on omega-3 fatty acids and provide several rare and potent phytonutrients that are found in few commonly eaten foods and are strong cancer inhibitors. You can find khemli-suneli online at Etsy and Amazon.
For the satsivi paste:
1 cup walnuts
1/2 bunch cilantro
2-3 garlic cloves
2 tsp. khemli-suneli spice blend
1 lemon, juice of
For the chicken:
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 lbs. chicken pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
1 medium onion
2 Tbs. flour
2 cups chicken stock
For the garnish:
1-2 Tbs. tarragon, chopped
1-2 Tbs. cilantro, chopped
1-2 Tbs. pomegranate seeds (optional)
1. In a food processor or blender, combine the walnuts, cilantro, chile, khemli-suneli, garlic, lemon juice and 1/2 cup of chicken stock and process until you have a smooth paste. Set aside.
2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan; season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper on both sides; brown over medium heat. Work in batches to avoid overcrowding. Remove browned chicken on a plate and set aside.
3. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan; add chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes over low heat until translucent.
4. Add flour and stir; add chicken stock gradually while stirring to combine and turn the heat up to bring to a boil, then turn it down; add the satsivi paste and stir to combine.
5. Return chicken to the pan, bring the sauce to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer for 30 minutes uncovered until the sauce is about the consistency of heavy cream.
6. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and tarragon before serving.
7. Serve with rice and flat bread.
Argentina – Chimichurri
Argentine cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean influences from the country’s Italian and Spanish immigrants. There is also the cultural influence of the native peoples who blended with the conquering Spaniards during the Colonial era. With its vast grasslands, Argentina is known for its beef. Beef figures prominently in Argentine cuisine and no beef dish (or meal) is served without herbaceous chimichurri, though chimichurri is also delicious on chicken, fish, potatoes or as a dip for crusty bread.
Chimichurri seasoning is usually made of parsley, coriander, cumin, oregano, and garlic, but of course there are variations. It can be made with dried or fresh herbs, used as a dry rub or mixed with olive oil as a marinade. You can easily find chimichurri spice blend in specialty markets or online, on Amazon, or sites such as Spice Jungle. The herbs in chimichurri are high in vitamins and fiber, help regulate blood sugar as well as protect against cardiac disease.
1 ½ lbs. flank steak
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. spicy brown mustard
1 tsp. sea salt
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1/2 onion, diced
½ tsp. sea salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. pepper, or to taste
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp. Italian blend seasoning
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1. Whisk together marinade ingredients. Combine marinade and steak in a large Ziplock bag. Seal and chill for 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
2. Combine all chimichurri ingredients in a blender or food processor, and pulse until smooth.
3. Preheat an oiled skillet or grill to medium-high heat. Sear steak for 4-6 minutes on each side until heavily browned on the outside and slightly pink in the middle.
4. Thinly slice steak across the grain and serve with chimichurri sauce on top.
Morocco – Ras el Hanout
This sweet, warm spice blend can have as many as 30 ingredients! Every spice merchant has their own proprietary blend and the proportion of the ingredients can be a carefully guarded secret. Typically, ras el hanout contains cloves, allspice, black pepper, mace, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, rosebuds, cumin, white pepper, coriander, nutmeg, saffron, bay leaves, and paprika—whew!! It’s used on chicken, lamb, beef and vegetable stews or tagines. My recommendation is to find ras el hanout online, try it, then alter the blend to your own taste.
This thick vegetarian stew is an exotically flavored main dish that offers a lot of room for your own creativity. You can use a heavy Dutch oven instead of a tagine. All the vegetables provide fiber and vitamins, while the garbanzo beans contain fiber and protein, and the ginger helps to reduce inflammation that causes allergy symptoms and arthritis.
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 large carrots, sliced into coins
2 large sweet potatoes, cubed
2 zucchinis, chopped
1 large eggplant, cubed
1/2 cup cauliflower, chopped
15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
15 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup of organic vegetable stock
2 Tbs. harissa (available online and at Trader Joe’s)
1 Tbs. fresh ginger root, minced
1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbs. of chopped fresh mint
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ras el hanout
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbs. olive oil
Additional fresh mint and parsley to garnish
1. Heat the olive oil in the tagine (or heavy Dutch oven) over medium heat and sauté the chopped onion for about 2 minutes, followed by the garlic.
2. Add the vegetables, spices, harissa, and other ingredients.
3. Cover with the lid and cook over low heat for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Serve over rice, quinoa or cous-cous.
5. Garnish with fresh mint and parsley.
Keeps well in the fridge for leftovers; simply reheat in the oven or microwave briefly.
India – Garam Masala
Garam masala is one of the defining seasoning blends of Northern Indian cuisine. The blend varies from cook to cook, but it usually consists of cumin, coriander, chili, cinnamon, cloves, mustard and black pepper. It has a warm, earthy aroma, with a hint of sweetness.
Garam masala is added in at various stages, depending on the recipe. The whole spices are fried in oil before being added to basmati rice dishes, such as biryanis and pilafs. The powdered blend can be used as a seasoning for kebabs, chicken, seafood, or curries. What’s great about a seasoning blend such as garam masala is that it makes any common dish more flavorful and interesting. Try it on roasted potatoes, sautéed spinach, or sprinkled on egg salad.
The following recipe is easy to prepare, but the exotic flavor makes a big impression. Plus, it’s another way to serve FoodTrients super food, salmon, which is loaded with protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to use wild-caught salmon, rather than farmed.
1 ½ lb. salmon fillet, skin removed, cut into individual portions
¾ tsp. garam masala
Juice of 1/2 lime, plus additional lime wedges for serving
2 Tbs. tamari soy sauce
2 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 425° degrees F.
2. Brush the olive oil on the bottom of a baking dish that’s slightly larger than the fish fillets.
3. Sprinkle the fish evenly with the garam masala.
4. Whisk together the lime juice, soy sauce, and honey; pour over the fish.
5. Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and roast for 12-to-15 minutes, basting once or twice with the pan juices, or just until the salmon flesh is opaque in the center and the fish flakes easily with a fork. (The thickness of the fillets will determine how long the fish takes to cook.)
6. Serve with lime wedges.