Insta-Living Vol.09 // In The Pantry


When it comes to cooking, there are many parts of the culinary industry that inspires me. And, as you may know by now my gastronomic tendencies all came from my mum (also known as the incomparable cook in our family).

I've memories of inviting friends over and seeing a feast set before our eyes to indulge in, even with short notice. At that table you'd likely savour every spoonful. This made me ponder about some of my favourite spices. It was very difficult to narrow it down to these faithful few, so here's seven. Perhaps, I will make a second volume of favourites soon …

Cinnamon: Aside from the marvellous health benefits of cinnamon, (enhancing cognitive actions, and regulating blood sugar), it's such a great spice to have in the cupboard. It's also perfect for seasonal ciders, and spice drinks, given its strong flavour. I keep cinnamon bark in the kitchen cupboard especially for making big batches of seasonal teas. Cinnamon bark oil is also an excellent anti-bacterial, and as I mentioned with my homemade potpourri can be used to preserve flower petals, food, etc.*1

Sumac: Sumacs are shrubs that come from the Rhus genus, and is the Rhus coriaria species. The stone fruit of the Rhus is what you see ground into the aubergine and red colour powder that is used as the spice. Sumac has a great lemony and tart flavour and is one of our staples. I use it on fish, as well as salads, rice, and of course in za'atar.

When I was in university, it was occasionally difficult to get to the spice markets, so I'd use zest from a fresh lemon, which is similar to sumac and a good substitution. Now, you can find it in many international stores. It's also used regularly In Middle Eastern cuisine, etc. Some leaves of specific sumacs have tannin properties, which gives the ability to dye. Morocco leather is actually created with sumac tannins.

Ginger: An excellent spice that we use in so many recipes of both, sweet and savoury. Ginger is also rich in phytonutrients (gingerols), and has anti-inflammatory properties, which many studies show that it combats arthritis, heart disease, and cancer, amongst other ailments. I use it regularly in my tea with lemon.

Cardamom: I absolutely loved my nan's cardamom cake when I was younger, because it wasn't that sweet and had loads of flavour. A native of India, cardamom is a spice that you've likely tasted before if you enjoy chai tea. Both black and green cardamom is used a lot in our home for savoury and sweet dishes. It's great with teas, cooking poultry, baking, and even used in seasoning homemade rubs.

Garlic: Although, it can be a bit too stringent for some, in our cooking we use fresh garlic, and roasted garlic quite a bit. But, garlic pastes can also be perfect for some dishes. Garlic is in the onion family (Allium). It's also nutritious for our bodies, and has antioxidants that protect the body from oxidative damage, and can aid in fighting off infectious illness and disease, amongst other benefits. Some people opt for garlic tablet supplements. Do you include garlic at all in your diet?

Juniper Berry: A popular favourite that my family uses in cooking, but one that is also used in making beverages (think, gin!) giving them a distinct flavour. Juniper berries (and its essential oil) has been known in some cultures to help lessen joint pain, inflammation, and gas.

My parents keep the oil in their home and have used it in making a homemade balm that they made for me as a child for joint relief when I played sport, but I never really thought about it. Natural remedies are very common on my mother's side of the family, so this is probably why I never got sick much at all in my youth. You may find lingers of juniper oil in some cosmetics, and soaps for fragrance. My grandmother used juniper berries in lamb, mutton, sauerbraten, essentially homemade pickled foods as well, amongst other dishes.

Harissa: One of my favourite things to use in cooking is Harissa. We actually used it quite a lot in cooking family recipes (West African cuisine). The Tunisian chilli paste is a nice and spicy hot paste that we also use in homemade rubs and flavouring fish, veggies, Fufu, soup, or rice sometimes. It's what my papa calls a "good heat," being that if you're used to a bit of spice, you'll likely love it. My parents make it fresh and preserve it, as it's quite easy to do so. You can also find it used in the spice's native dishes, as well as Moroccan cuisine.

I hope you enjoyed a closer look at some of my favourite herbs and spices. As always, stay tuned for more foodie tales in the future.

What is your favourite spice to cook with?  Is there a herb or spice that reminds you of your childhood? 

1 comment

  1. Great spice information for any cook thanks for sharing.