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?

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