Few people think of spice blends in terms of being important aspects of cookery. However, how many of us use pre-made curry powders and pre-made blends of herbs (Italian seasoning, for example). Spice blends are simply pre-made versions of the spices that are commonly used in a country's cuisines and more than almost any other culinary item they represent a country or a region's cuisine and style of cooking.
Indeed, the very aroma of a specific spice blend can evoke a country and its cuisine more poignantly than almost anything else. Thus, blends of curry leaves, turmeric, cumin and coriander seeds are inexorably tied with the Indian sub-continent. The mix of saffron, cumin, coriander and dried mint is unmistakably North African.
Then there is the classic oriental blend of Sichuan pepper, star anise, cloves, cinnamon and fennel that goes into Chinese five spice. There are also traditional North African five spice blends, as exemplified by Haratat, a Libyan blend of cinnamon, cumin, coriander seeds, chillies and allspice.
Allspice is also a critical component in the classic Jamaican seasoning for barbecued or deep-fired fish and meat; Jamaican Jerk Seasoning. The recipe for this is given below:
Jamaican Jerk Seasoning
1 tbsp ground allspice
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 t tsp Cayenne pepper
1 t tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1 t tsp ground sage
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp habanero or Scotch bonnet chilli powder
Making this is simplicity itself. Just combine all the ingredients in a bowl then store in an air-tight jar.
The spice blend can be used to season flour in which fish and pork can be dredged before deep frying in oil. The mix can also be used as a direct rub for fish and meat.
If you want to use this for a barbecue then combine about 2 tbsp of the jerk seasoning mix with 1 tbsp brown sugar, 2 tbsp minced garlic, the juice of 2 limes, 2 tbsp soy sauce and enough water to bring everything together as a thick paste. Rub this paste over the meat you are going to cook, set aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes then grill (broil) or barbecue.
Of course, the classic spice blend that everyone knows is the curry powder. These masalas (spice blends) have traveled across the glove and you will find recipes for curry powders and curry paste from Jamaica through West Africa to the Indian sub-continent to Indonesia and China. The recipe below is a traditional and typical Indian curry spice blend.
1 tbsp Coriander Seeds
1 tbsp Cumin Seeds
1 tsp Green Cardamom Seeds
1 tsp Cloves
1 tsp Black Peppercorns
2 Cinnamon sticks (about 5cm long)
1/2 Nutmeg, freshly grated
4 Black Cardamoms
Toast the whole spices in a dry non-stick frying pan. Transfer to a spice grinder or coffee grinder and add all the remaining ingredients. Grind to a fine powder then store in an air-tight jar. This spice blend should have been added to stews and curries towards the end of cooking. It can also be used as a garnish or a rub for meats and vegetables.
To make a curry give heat with a paste of ginger, garlic, hot chillies and curry leaves and cook the meat in this. Then add the aromatic spice blend given here towards the end of cooking.