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DIY Foodie Gifts For the Holidays: Aromatic Spice Mixes

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Tired of a stale spice rack? Home ground spices are a fresh face-lift for tried and true recipes. The one investment necessary to blend your spices is a coffee grinder. If you grind coffee at home, you’ll need a separate grinder so that your delicate spices don’t come out tainted with your girlfriend’s hazelnut vanilla French roast. All you need are some attractive airtight jars for gifting and you can start grinding fast and fabulous flavor combos for everyone on your list: 

Lemon Pepper 

A delicious rub on salmon, white fish or pork, no one doesn’t like lemon pepper. This mix has only three ingredients, and how easy is that? Wash and zest 5 large organic lemons. Mix in 1/3 cup of cracked peppercorns. If you have whole peppercorns, zip them through the spice grinder quickly to crack them up, but do not grind fine yet. Once cracked pepper is mixed with the lemon zest, spread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven on low until lemon zest is totally dry, about an hour. This step is very important, as wet zest will mean moldy lemon pepper! When completely dry, grind it all to a fine powder. If desired, add 1/4 cup kosher salt, but omit salt if you’re watching sodium intake. Store in an airtight container for 6 months. 

Garam Masala 

In many places in India, the matron of the family still hand grinds the spices for her family’s sumptuous curries. ‘Garam’ means hot in Hindi, but garam masala is not meant to be spicy, but a ‘warming’ curry powder for the heart and hands on dark winter days. The sweet fragrance of garam masala is sure to please in savory and sweet dishes. Try a vegan chickpea soup with coconut milk, carrots, kale and purple potatoes, and then throw January’s resolutions out the window and add some to a sumptuous carrot cake. Trust me, it’s dynamite. 

To make, crack up 8 inches of cinnamon stick as small as you can and grind to a powder in a spice grinder.  Add in 1/2 cup coriander seeds, 1/4 cup cumin seeds, 2 tbsp green cardamom pods, 2 tablespoons cloves, 1 tbsp peppercorns, 3 bay leaves, 3 red dry chili peppers, and 1/2 tsp nutmeg and grind to a fine powder, in batches if necessary. Mix very well and store in an airtight container for 6 months. Extra credit: Roast each spice separately in a cast iron skillet until just fragrant. Though not necessary to make delicious garam masala, this is the traditional technique to coax out the maximum flavor of each spice. 

French Country

This one’s for your great grandma whose palate is too delicate to handle a pinch of nutmeg on her eggnog. Take 1/4 cup each of dried rosemary, lavender flowers, marjoram and thyme and blend in the spice grinder. Salt and pepper to your taste, or not at all. Fresh and herbal, this mix is delicious on roasted veggies, or do as the French and stuff a whole chicken with dry bread cubes tossed with this herb mix and a few lemon quarters. Roast the chicken in the oven until it smells so good you can’t stand it anymore. Dig in. 

Blackened Cajun Spice Rub

Have a loved one who loves to grill? Help him out with this creole style bbq spice rub. The only exotic ingredient is the spanish paprika, a special variety that lends that quintessential smoky flavor to your meat.  Grind up 1 tbsp each of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and black peppercorns to a coarse powder. Add 2 tbsp smoked Spanish paprika, 1 tbsp dried thyme, a pinch of dried oregano, 2 tbsp fine salt, and 1 tbsp garlic powder and grind up. Mix well and store in an airtight container. (Adapted from Peter Gordon’s The Cook's Book (DK Adult, 2007)). Try the rub on pork tenderloin, chicken, salmon, and shrimp. For veg*ns, marinate tofu kebabs in a mix of garlic, brown sugar and a dash of worcestershire and then rub the mix on each kebab.

An urban farmer and master gardener, Amélie Rousseau writes for fellow explorers and eaters of the plant kingdom. It's a jungle out there. 


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