What’s in this apple pie that makes it so indefinably good? See below!

Are your flavor profiles in need of a refresh? Do you have a recipe or two that you and your clients enjoy but could be elevated? Brightened? Recharged?

If so, here are some suggestions we hope you’ll consider inspiration. All are easy to find, whether in your local market–if not the traditional supermarket, then an Asian or Latinx market–or online.

Let’s start with sumac. It’s a deep red powder that you’ve probably enjoyed in Middle Eastern food. It comes from the sumac flower, which is a relative of cashews of all things. Sumac has a fruity tart, lemony flavor–just a bit astringent, which makes it wonderful in vinaigrettes, sprinkled over roasted vegetables, or to season meat or fish. Incorporate it in a dip you want to have a lemony flavor. You could even include it in a dessert. Importantly, it’s a key ingredient in the spice mixture, zatar. Look for it in Middle Eastern markets and Whole Foods, or online on Amazon, The Spice House, Williams-Sonoma, and Penzys.

Next up is merquén. A friend of mine who was a buyer for years at Dean & DeLuca introduced me to this Chilean smoked chile condiment long ago. I add it to everything savory–from meats to whole grains to tomato sauce. Merquén’s base is the cacho de cabra, a pepper that is first dried naturally in the sun, then smoked over a wood fire before being ground. The merquén I buy and have used since that long-ago introduction is a brand called Etnia. It mixes this smoked chile with salt, dehydrated cilantro seeds, and cumin. Use it as a dry rub for lamb, beef, or poultry. Sprinkle it over sauteed vegetables or an omelet. Add it to stews or soups, to ceviche, tacos, or a bowl of lentils or beans. This is your go-to for a touch of smoky heat. I found it at My Panier, Walmart, and The Gourmet Import Shop.Nigella seeds are a fascinating spice. If you taste these tiny black seeds on their own with your eyes closed you would swear you were munching on oregano. They’re native to the Mediterranean but found wild across Egypt and India, as well as North Africa. Leave them whole or grind them. I leave them whole and use them as a substitute for sesame seeds. Add them at the end of cooking a dish like sauteed or steamed potatoes to add a crunchy texture. Mix them into a whipped feta and yogurt dip for crudites. Add them to whole grains. If you bake crackers, top the crackers with the seeds before baking. You should be able to get them at your local Middle Eastern market or online at Amazon, Spice Jungle, World Spice Merchants, and The Spice House.Oh, how I adore Shichimi Togarashi! It’s a much-loved Japanese seven-spice mixture that offers citrus and just a bit of heat. It can vary but typically, the blend includes red chili peppers, sanshō or sichuan peppercorns, dried orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, ground ginger, poppy seeds and nori (seaweed). Add this to eggs, steamed or sauteed vegetables, ramen, soups, sauces, edamame, chicken, lamb, salmon, shrimp, or tofu dishes. Whisk it into a marinade or dressing. Sprinkle it on skewered, grilled dishes to finish. You can easily find it at an Asian market or any online store that sells spices.Yuzu Koshio is quite unusual. It’s a spice mix, but in the form of a fermented paste made from chilies, salt, and citrus fruit. The traditional name is actually yuzu kosho but the version I bought comes from a Seattle-based company called Umami Kushi and they added an “i” to the second word. It is truly an umami flavor bomb for fish, steak, noodles, soups, and desserts. If you have a dish for which you want to cut the fat flavor, this is the antidote. It’s also perfect to add to a dressing to pour over sturdy vegetables like eggplant or winter squash. You can find it on Amazon, but I discovered it and bought it on My Panier.

 

Finally, there’s fennel pollen. Fennel pollen is collected from wild fennel, with an anise flavor melded with  a musky sweet, floral taste. You can use it alone to elevate pasta dishes, sauces, grains, roasted pork or chicken, and sausages. But I’m actually a sucker for “Divine Desserts,” which is a blend of fennel pollen, orange peel, lemon grass, cayenne pepper, sour plum powder, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, vanilla powder, clove, coriander. If you’re a baker coming on fall dessert season–think apple pie–add a touch of this mixture to your apples. It’s now part of my apple pie recipe and I always get questions about what’s in the pie that makes it so different and good. You can also add it to banana bread, carrot cake, or muffins or scones, or spice cookies. Not into baking? Sprinkle it over fresh fruit. I get mine from Pollen Ranch but you can also find it on Amazon.

What new magical spices or spice mixes are you now enchanted by? How do you use them?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

Back in the day, when I lived in New York, my friends and I used to joke that February was the longest month and we would throw “thank God February is over” parties.

Well, we’re right in the middle of February and I have to admit I have no standing for complaining about the horrors of icy winter since I now live in balmy San Diego–but I still love a good soup on those chilly 65-degree days. (Yes, I appreciate the absurdity of this but we take our cool weather when we can.)

One soup I’ve come to love that I think your clients will enjoy as well is Delicata and Carrot Soup. While you could substitute other hard squashes, oblong delicata is one of my favorites. First, they’re just so cute, with their stripes of colors. I love their sweet flavor and the fact that they don’t require peeling. The skin is thin and perfectly edible. And, I love the seeds. My dad taught me how to prep and roast pumpkin seeds when I was a little girl and I do it on almost every winter squash I buy. It’s such a waste not to!

If I have a complaint about winter squash it’s that it can be kind of challenging to bring flavors to it that won’t be overshadowed by its own flavor. But winter squash pairs beautifully with the sweetness of carrots, so that was a natural go to. And from there I came up with four ingredients that I thought could pull it off–even if they didn’t seem to go together: mirin (rice wine), white miso, fresh lemongrass, and shichimi togarashi spice seasoning. This is a spicy multi-ingredient Japanese mix that contains chili pepper, black sesame, white sesame, orange peel, basil, and szechuan pepper. You can find it easily at Asian markets. And I had onions and garlic.

Since soup is one of those wonderful dishes that don’t require precision, I figured I’d just go for it. I sliced up the carrots and roughly cut the onion. I minced the garlic and peeled off the tougher layers of the lemongrass and then chopped that. Pretty soon, ingredients were going into the medium-size blue Le Creuset pot my mom gave me when she moved out of her house. I added a little water to the sauteeing onion, garlic, and carrots to keep them from burning while I dismembered the squash and pulled out the nest of seeds.

Once I added the squash and the rest of the ingredients, along with water (I didn’t have any stock on hand but you could use chicken or vegetable stock to make it even richer) I brought the pot ingredients to the boil, then reduced the heat to simmer for about an hour until the squash softened. And, oh, the aroma. It turns out combining mirin, miso, and lemongrass is, well, inspired. Sweet and salty and full of umami.

Now your clients can enjoy the soup as a loose vegetable soup. But I prefer creamy soups so I pulled out my stick blender and puréed it to a silky consistency. I had some pumpkin seed oil I had been waiting to use, so I drizzled that on my soup once I poured a serving into a bowl. And sighed after the first bite. Lucky me. I had plenty to enjoy with a hank of warm sourdough bread for a few more meals!

Delicata and Carrot Soup
Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients
Olive oil for sautéing
½ large onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
5 carrots, sliced
1 large Delicata squash, cut into cubes
¼ cup fresh lemongrass, roughly chopped
1 cup mirin
2 tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon shichimi togarashi spice mix
Water or chicken or vegetable stock
Pumpkin seed oil (optional)

Directions

1. In a medium size pot, sauté half an onion and five cloves minced garlic. Add carrot slices. Add a little water to prevent burning while cutting up the squash (save seeds for roasting).
2. Add squash pieces, chopped lemongrass, mirin, white miso, togarashi, and water to cover.
3. Bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour until squash is soft.
4. Use an immersion blender to purée. Drizzle with pumpkin seed oil from Vom Fass. Serve with crusty sourdough bread.

What are your or your clients’ favorite winter soups? Let us know if you’d like to share a recipe here.

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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