I admit that I am seriously addicted to spices and condiments. It’s not that most food is bland to me, but I love the inclusion of and mixture of many flavors. Spices and sauces and condiments, to me, are the window to infinitesimal permutations of flavors that will never leave the palate bored.
That being said, I want to hit on three great raw spices/herbs. What makes a great spice? A great spice can either be very versatile, or so infrequent in use that when that time comes around to use it, you find yourself in a daze. A great spice is one that you can long for by just thinking of it. A great spice is one that you can associate with events, pictures, places, or feelings.
#1) Basil – The “king of herbs”
. Literally, the word basil comes from the Greek “basileus” which means “king”. Although there are several varieties of basil (lemon, thai, etc) I tend to stick with sweet basil in my cooking. The scent is strong yet it does not overpower a dish (unless you want it to). Love me some pesto
. Love me a caprese salad
. Reminds me of walking through my grandfather’s front door to the kitchen where he always has a big italian feast ready. Great color and shape, and goes well with many dishes. And because bay leaves make me very mad, I’m glad I can eat a whole leaf of basil and be happy.
#2) Cumin – It’s biblical so it has that going for it (Isaiah 28:25). Such a distinct smell. Love it on chicken, love it in chili, love it with hot sauce, great in/on burgers
, and unique in salads
. Good sprinkled on grilled corn on the cob too. Reminds me of summer cookouts making our own fajitas on the back deck. A good spice to take out of the depths of your cupboard and place near the stove. You’ll find more opportunities to try it out in soups, salads, sandwiches, and other dishes. I’ve probably opened it up just to take a whiff more than any other spice.
#3) Saffron – Although not very well known and very expensive to buy, saffron is purely awesome. It takes a football field of flowers (50,000 – 75,000 flowers) to produce one pound of saffron. One pound of saffron costs at least $1000 (compare to $10-20 for dried basil). It reminds me of New Year’s Day where my grandfather makes huge pans of spanish rice (paella) for the family. I remember when my father bought a few ounces for my grandfather for Christmas and had the tin of saffron sitting in his trunk. Within 30 minutes, we could smell that great aroma in the car in the dead cold of winter. Pretty powerful stuff. Flavor is unreal in any rice dish and great with some seafood dishes as well.
Note: I know there are lots of cilantro haters out there but for me it gets a close honorable mention. Let this be my official declaration of awesomeness to cilantro, for its unique and lovely flavor.
These days, easy access to food should be considered a privilege. For that reason, it’s certainly a privilege to have easy access to a variety of foods with a wide variety of spice and herb options to boom up a nice dish. Thanks, Earth, for making nice flavors and letting me love them when I want and as much as I want.