What recipes feature rarely-used spices, or spices used outside of their standard contexts?
December 17, 2009 8:02 PM   Subscribe

Recipes that feature a rarely-used spice? Or a spice out of its normal context?

I was just thinking about how much I liked the paprikash I made a while back with caraway seeds in it. What other dishes use an oft-forgotten, back of the cupboard (to the North American palate, at least) spice? Or a spice used in an unexpected way? Herbs too.
posted by kitcat to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Due to its price, saffron doesn't show up on many North American tables with any sort of frequency.
posted by mmascolino at 8:10 PM on December 17, 2009

I've seen various flavors of (dessert) ice cream made with herbs and spices like pepper, basil, rosemary, thyme, and more. Also, spices in certain blends of chocolate.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:13 PM on December 17, 2009

Honey curry snaps! They are like ginger snaps but more savory and incredibly delicious.
posted by jessamyn at 8:21 PM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Indian cooking gives an opportunity to explore many spices that are little-used or completely unknown in western cooking. For example, nothing I've encountered elsewhere tastes (or smells) like hing (asafoetida). The first time I added hing to a hot skillet, the thought that popped into my head was "oh, that's that characteristic 'Indian restaurant' smell!"

Also curry leaves, methi or fenugreek (leaves and seeds), kalonji (which one can grow in the garden — it's pretty, and collecting the seeds is entertaining), and more that aren't coming to mind at the moment.
posted by Lexica at 8:31 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

-I always like to put cinnamon in tex-mex style things, like tacos or chilis, anything with a tomato-base that I'm not going Italian-style with.
-Strawberries are amazing with cracked black pepper.
-Hot chocolate is excellent with a shake or two of cayenne pepper; you can pretend it's aztec-style but it's just yummy and I don't care what you call it.
-My family's secret ingredient for pot roast is marjoram. I'm not sure if this is unusual, but most people I know have no clue what marjoram is.
-Celery seed is a flavor that people don't seem to use much, but I shake it into soups to give it an herbal punch, and use it in tuna and egg salad.
posted by Mizu at 8:31 PM on December 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

Cheese + onion + cumin seeds is a lovely combination, especially in cheese puffs or a quiche etc.
Chocolate and cardamom make a wonderful combination (I like this bundt cake without the ganache).
posted by jeather at 8:36 PM on December 17, 2009

What recipes feature rarely-used spices, or spices used outside of their standard contexts?

I guess YMMV but for me it would be the wonderful world of dried chiles. Deseed them, and put them in hot water for a half hour, pop them in a food processor and you have a wonderful chile paste concentrate that is great for many different meals.
posted by nola at 8:37 PM on December 17, 2009

Chai spice tea makes use of a huge assortment of spices.

Out-of-context use? Try smoking the spices in a Hookah (spice up your shisha).
posted by VanCityChica at 8:44 PM on December 17, 2009

I don't know if you consider chocolate a spice, but some people put it in chili.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:50 PM on December 17, 2009

Cardamom in coffee. You can buy Turkish coffees this way (already blended), but the grind is very fine for that coffee, and it is prepared differently. I've found you can get a similar flavor by adding 1 rounded teaspoon of ground cardamom to the coffee for about 6 cups of coffee, then brewing it as usual. (Adding the cardamom to the coffee, before brewing.) Absolutely wonderful.
posted by Houstonian at 8:51 PM on December 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

B'stilla, a yummie savory and sweet Moroccan dish that combines chicken with cinnamon.
posted by jamaro at 8:52 PM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Lemon-Sage-Basil cookies. They're oddly compelling.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:56 PM on December 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

This pumpkin-cardamom soup recipe is really good.

Sumac is an amazing spice that's underused in the US. This chicken recipe is yum.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:01 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

A little nutmeg in b├ęchamel or cheese sauces adds depth to the rich creaminess.

I think people should use vinegars more. A splash of mirin on zuchini or shrimp; apple cider vinegar in a pork roast pan sauce; caramelize onions and deglaze with sherry vinegar; red wine vinegar into tomato sauces. Each adds a bit of depth, and accents the natural sweetness.

I know you said north american palates, but if you'd like to branch out, I think it's interesting to look at spice blends from other cooking cultures. You can pick up a bag and try out a few recipes. They're usually more economical than finding lots of unusual ingredients.

You've got Turkish/North African Baharat, Lebanese Za'atar, India's Madras curry blend, Mexican Adobo. (Yes, I'm grossly oversimplifying in a insensitive cultural appropriation.)

Pour a little Za'atar in a bowl and cover with olive oil. Dip in some hot pitas. Mmmm.
posted by fontophilic at 9:07 PM on December 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh, the gelato place down the road here makes an absolutely to die for pineapple-basil gelato. It's the most refreshing thing you'll ever eat. I imagine that the flavors can be used in their original forms, too, pairing pineapple and basil in anything. Pineapple-basil salsa? Sounds good to me!
posted by Mizu at 9:17 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tarragon and strawberry is a pretty divine combination.
posted by scody at 9:19 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ground mustard is good in macaroni and cheese. I first saw it in The Pioneer Woman's mac & cheese, and while I don't use her recipe any more, I always add it. It's really subtle but definitely enhances it.
posted by kro at 9:37 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ribman says mint is good in spaghetti sauce.
And rosemary in shortbread cookies makes a really special treat.

Also, "NOT putting cilantro in Mexican cooking is nice and refreshing, says Ribman. But he has cilantro issues.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:01 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nutmeg makes ground turkey better, no matter what else you do with it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:17 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Five Spice Roasted Maine Lobster with Fig Sauce and Seared Foie Gras.

This recipe is from Thomas Keller in the French Laundry CookBook.

The fig/port reduction sauce contains bitter chocolate and coffee!

The lobster is roasted in squab spice: quatre-epices, peppercorns, cloves, coriander, and cinnamon!

Plus... Foie!

This appetizer was so awesome, we took a 2 hour break this year between the starter and the main on Thanksgiving:)))
posted by jbenben at 10:26 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cardamom is underused in the US, in my opinion. Try a dash in hot chocolate.

Fun spice fact: seventy-five percent of the saffron in the world is used in the production of Fernet-Branca. Three grams out of every four. This one company can basically set the price of saffron with no input, process, or appeal.
posted by tellumo at 11:02 PM on December 17, 2009

"Hing." Hing dal recipe. Asafoetida "has a pungent, unpleasant smell when raw, but in cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavor, reminiscent of leeks" -- smells like an unwashed man on a bus in August, but it does cook up delightfully and irreplaceably.
posted by kmennie at 2:52 AM on December 18, 2009

Lavender in savory dishes.
posted by anaelith at 4:12 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I saw an article the other day about a store that sells chocolate five-spice ice cream. I would imagine that five-spice would be yummy with most chocolate things. Chocolate cupcakes with a five-spice frosting maybe?
posted by specialagentwebb at 5:30 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

And rosemary in shortbread cookies makes a really special treat.

I second this-- very elegant and a wonderful adult treat. Another way to go is 5 Spice Shortbread. (The butter shortbread recipe used as a base is my absolute favorite cookie.)

Also, I never liked garden peas until I had them with a dusting of nutmeg-- it is like magic!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:57 AM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sumac is amazing - I use it when making fattoush, but I've been meaning to play with it in other contexts.
posted by SNWidget at 6:01 AM on December 18, 2009

Thank you - there are definitely some spices here I've never heard of and will start searching for. And some combinations I can't wait to try. Coffee + cardamon? Sounds very good. I cannot mark any favorites as these are all great.
posted by kitcat at 6:41 AM on December 18, 2009

Fresh homemade lemonade with mint is amazing, too. Whirl it all up in a blender with some ice, so it turns into a mint-flecked slushie, and summer is suddenly a million times better.
posted by vytae at 7:04 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

A sprig of rosemary also makes a good addition to lemonade.
posted by dr. boludo at 7:19 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I worked at a chocolate shoppe we had extra-spicy chili pepper dark chocolate truffles that were always a hit. Some other interesting flavors of truffles were wasabi (with sesame seeds on top) and basil pistachio with a white chocolate ganache.

I brewed a batch of wheat beer once using orange jest and curry.

I also like to use balsamic vinegar on nearly anything from fresh fruit to ice cream.
posted by FairlyFarley at 8:35 AM on December 18, 2009

Totally nthing cardamom with chocolate. I discovered this at Chicago's Bleeding Heart Bakery, where a good third of the amazing menu options had this combo--in cupcakes, truffles, salted caramels, cookies, ahhh...they also had curry cupcakes.

I make these slice and bake icebox cookies every year for parties that are deeply chocolate-y but super spicy too thanks to cayenne. Save them for people who can take the heat, but my are they delicious. My dad puts chocolate and cinnamon in his chili, as also mentioned above...

Adding just a bit of clove to homemade (Rochester-style) "hot sauce," that spiced-ground-beef, chili-or-manwich-like stuff that tops burgers around Lake Ontario/upstate New York, is the secret to its weird perfection.

Yes yes yes to zatar and sumac.

Rosemary is excellent in baked goods, as also mentioned--a chewy cookie made with honey and fresh rosemary is one of my favorite options, and yes yes a thousand times yes to rosemary shortbread this time of year!

Sorbets made with unusual ingredients are making a comeback I think. Basil lime sorbet is excellent, cracked pepper and vanilla bean ice cream, lavender or violet sorbet...

Not spice per se, but a flavor combo: older Western European as well as current Eastern cooking is much more open to pairing fruit with meat/savory flavors. For example, brats go extremely well with creamy apple compote, roasting red grapes with spicy sausage 'til the grapes burst and release juice is excellent, adding sultanas or dried currants to ground meat is yummy, Persian fesenjoon stew is sweet and rich/nutty like mole, etc.
posted by ifjuly at 10:22 AM on December 18, 2009

Someone mentioned pineapple, someone mentioned mint, but did you know how AWESOME these two are together? Pineapple juice with mint is the most refreshing drink you have EVER had, and a Brazilian summer staple.

(On mint: I also came across proscuitto-melon recipes today with a fresh mint leaf. Not sure how that'll go this weekend...!)
posted by whatzit at 5:04 PM on December 18, 2009

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