I tried to imagine what food would taste like today if we had no spices. It was hard to even imagine.
Because we all take spices for granted, it might be helpful if we first understood over the centuries how people suffered and how much they paid to make spices available for the European palates. Most of the spices we take for granted today originated in various parts of the Middle East and India, spice caravans underwent severe hardships moving their products from those regions to Europe. Try to imagine a camel loaded with a variety of spices moving at snail’s pace from India, through the Middle East, to France, joined by a couple dozen other camels with he same load, crossing the desert,worrying about water as well as about dying at the hands of caravan-raiding bandits.
When we smell a dish cooked with curry powder, we instantly know that the dish must come from the vicinity of India. Similarly, with the smell of oregano or sweet basil, we know that we are soon to be blessed with Italian cooking. The smells created by cooking with cumin and cardamom tell us that the recipe we are about to enjoy most likely comes from the Arab world.
It is not so much for flavoring a bland recipe that spices are used, but also for the unique odors that emanate from a dish in which spices are blended in. Each herb or spice gives each dish its individual character. To illustrate my point, we all know to the trick carnival operator use by sauteeing onions at all hours of the day. It’s no secret that the smell of frying onions draws people to their food stand. The hunger awakened by such redolent smells much more quickly sells hamburgers and hot dogs.
In next week’s blog I will give you tips on using and preserving your garden herbs.
Oregano Feta Salad
3 cups chopped fresh oregano
1 cup chopped fresh thyme
2 cucumbers, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
fresh ground black pepper
salt to taste
-In a chilled salad bowl, toss all the vegetables.
-Mix the lemon juice with the olive oil, the pepper and the salt. Drizzle this dressing over the vegetable and toss well.
-Sprinkle the feta cheese and toasted pine nuts over the herbs and serve.