If you’ve run out of ways to reinvent your recipes, and are looking to add some flair to your cooking, you should delve into the realm of ethnic cuisine. Exploring the distinct herbs and spices used by other cultures is a good place to start.
Exotic fruits and vegetables are often used in ethnic dishes, and help lend authenticity to a meal. Still, what really defines a cuisine is the unique blend of seasonings and spices used to create traditional, and distinctly flavored dishes. Adding basic condiments like curry powder to a stir-fry is a surefire way to transform your meal from an ordinary plate to an exciting adventure.
Check out our suggested spices, and hit up the nearest ethnic or specialty food store to take off on your culinary voyage.
Take the Slow Boat to China
Hoisin sauce: A thick, sweet spicy sauce made from soybeans and used in stir-fries and as a condiment, like ketchup.
Sesame oil: Light sesame oil has a slightly nutty flavor and is used for cooking and frying. Dark sesame oil, sometimes called Oriental sesame oil, is a dark brown, fragrant, and deeply flavored oil. It packs a lot of punch, so use it sparingly, and only as a seasoning.
Star anise: This pretty, star-shaped spice comes from a Chinese evergreen tree. It’s similar to anise seed but stronger in flavor. Try adding it to soups, stews, and other cooked dishes.
Find the Heart of France
Chestnut puree: You can use this rich concoction to add a hint of nutty flavour to gravies, sauces, baked goods, and vegetable side dishes.
Mustard: The most popular mustard, from the Dijon region, is sharp and moderately hot. Serve it the table, or use it to flavour sauces and salad dressings.
Nut oils: These richly flavored seasoning oils made from hazelnuts, walnuts, or almonds should never used in cooking, because heat destroys their flavor. Try adding a splash to a vinaigrette for any type of salads, or drizzle over cooked vegetables.
Kalamata olive spread: Try this rich puree of olives, olive oil, capers, and herbs as a spread on toast or sandwiches.
Olive oil: Extra-virgin olive oil with strong, fruity flavor is a basic condiment in Greek cuisine. It’s delicious in vinaigrettes and drizzled over vegetables.
Pomegranate syrup: Add a tangy touch to your vinaigrette, sauce, or marinade with this fruit sauce.
Take the Train to Darjeeling
Chutney: Chutneys are made from a variety of ingredients. The most popular flavours are mango, lemon, coriander, mint, and date. Use one of these sweet and spicy condiments as a spread, a dip for appetizers, or a relish to go with a rice dish.
Curry powder: This aromatic blend of many seeds and spices is a staple of Indian cuisine. You can use it to give curries, lentils, meat and poultry dishes, salad dressings, sauces, and cooked vegetables, a distinct touch. Hot curry powder is seasoned with extra “hot” spices, like ginger and red pepper.
Garam masala: Made from a spicy blend of cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, coriander, cloves, and cardamom, this mixture adds a bold and complex flavour curries, rice, beans, and potatoes. It’s also ideal for eggplant, and meat dishes.
Experience a Taste of Rome
Balsamic vinegar: This classic condiment is made from concentrated grape juice that is aged in wooden barrels. The barrels contribute their own distinctive flavor to the vinegar, so each brand has a somewhat unique flavor, depending on the type of barrel used. Balsamic vinegar works well as a simple flavoring sauce for fish, meats, green salads, vegetables, and even citrus fruits and berries.
Extra-virgin olive oil: Deep green, intensely flavored and fragrant, high-grade olive oil is used to flavor pastas, salads, and cooked vegetables.
Sweet pepper paste or spread: Slather this puree of roasted peppers, olive oil, vinegar, and cheese on toast or sandwiches for a Mediterranean touch.
Jet to Japan
Miso: For a healthy and tasty seasoning, add this fermented soybean paste to your soups, salad dressings, and marinades.
Wasabi: This dangerously hot and somewhat bitter powder or paste adds a kick to any dip, dressing, or sauces.
Soy sauce: The most important and commonly used seasoning throughout Japan and all of Asia, this salty sauce made from fermented soybeans comes in several varieties. Light soy sauce is thinner and saltier. Dark soy sauce, like Japanese tamari, is thicker and less salty. Add it to any dish to bring a taste of Japan into your kitchen.