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Archive for Salts/Seasonings/Herbs/Spices

FOOD 101: Vanilla Vs. French Vanilla

A reader writes: What’s the difference between vanilla and French vanilla? Simply this:

  • Vanilla is the flavoring made from the vanilla bean Vanilla beans themselves are identified in the trade by origin: Indonesian, Madagascar (Bourbon), Mexican, Tahitian, etc. (see the different types (origins) of vanilla beans). Vanilla ice cream without eggs is called Philadelphia-style ice cream, dating back to the 18th century when it was developed as an alternative to French vanilla.
  • French vanilla is a classic French technique to enrich ice cream, by adding egg yolks to the recipe. The egg combines with the cream to create a custard base, which in turn provides a richer flavor, creamier texture, and a yellowish tinge to the color. USDA regulations require ice cream labeled “French vanilla” to be at least 1.4 % egg yolk.
  • Vanillin, artificial vanilla, is a cheaper alternative. It is used in products called vanilla-flavored.
  •  
    Beyond ice cream, French vanilla refers to a vanilla flavor is caramelized, eggy, custard-like.
     
    WHAT IS NOT FRENCH VANILLA

    As with so many other terms, people misuse “French vanilla,” either through ignorance or for marketing. French vanilla, after all, sounds more exciting than vanilla.

    Worse, “plain vanilla” has become an expression for bland and boring, the simplest version of something. It may be “plain vanilla,” but it’s still the most popular ice cream flavor in the U.S.

    Products that have co-opted the French vanilla name include coffee creamers, flavored coffees and teas, vanilla-flavored drinks (shakes, lattes) and syrups.

    It even extends to aromas, such as French vanilla candles and potpourri.

    French vanilla means added eggs, and none of these products contains them.
     
    MORE VANILLA FACTS

  • The small flecks of ground vanilla pod added by some manufacturers do not in of themselves indicate the best ice cream; in fact, the flavor is negligible if at all. They do, however, have eye appeal and may provide a bit of texture.
  • Vanilla bean versus extract: When using top-quality vanilla extract is near impossible to taste whether the ice cream is made from extract or by first infusing seeds from the pod in the cream.
  • Vanilla comes from a orchid variety called flat-leaved vanilla. The fruit of the plant is called the pod, which contains the beans that are used to make vanilla flavoring by extracting the flavor from the beans.
  • Most vanilla is made from Madagascar vanilla beans, also called Bourbon vanilla because the French Bourbons ruled Madagascar at the time. Vanilla is native to Madagascar.
  •  
    ALSO CHECK OUT:

    HISTORY & TYPES OF VANILLA

    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF ICE CREAM

    CHOCTÀL SINGLE ORIGIN ICE CREAM, made in four different vanilla flavors using different vanilla beans, as well as chocolate ice creams made with cacao beans from four different origins

    Plus:

  • Tahitian Vanilla
  • Caring For Your Vanilla Beans
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    Vanilla Beans

    Egg  Yolk

    French Vanilla ice Cream

    French Vanilla

    [1] Vanilla beans, from a particular orchid, are most often converted into vanilla extract by soaking the seeds in an alcohol base (photo courtesy Natures Flavours). [2] To make French vanilla, egg yolks are required. They blend with the cream to create a custard, which makes the ice cream richer (photo courtesy ANH-USA.org). [3] Flavors called French Vanilla should have egg yolks, as this one does (photo courtesy Dreyers.com). [4] One of many examples where marketing trumps fact (photo courtesy Bigelow).

  • Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe (he brought the recipe back from France)
  • Make Your Own Vanilla Extract (fun and great for gifting)
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    COCKTAIL RECIPE: Fizzy Lemonade With Sambuca

    Each weekend we try a new cocktail recipe. Last weekend it was Fizzy Lemonade, a fresh lemonade made with club soda and sambucca. The recipe was sent to us by Molinari Sambuca Extra.
     
    ANISE-FLAVORED LIQUEURS & SPIRITS

    Sambuca (som-BOO-kah) is an anise-flavored liqueur from Italy, one of a family of anise-flavoured alcohol that also includes absinthe (Switzerland), anesone (Italy), anis (Spain), anisette (France) arak (the Levant*), kasra (Libya), mistra and ouzo (Greece), ojen (Spain), pastis (France) and raki (Turkey).

    The base of sambucca consists of essential oils extracted from the seeds from the star anise (third photo) and other spices; some brands use anise or licorice. The blend also contains elderflowers. The oils are added to pure alcohol and sweetened with sugar.

    Sambucca is served neat, on the rocks, with water, and with coffee as an after-dinner drink. When drunk after the coffee, it is known in Italy as an ammazzacaffè; added directly to coffee instead of sugar it is called a caffè corretto.
     
    Sambuca Shots

    The classic serving of sambuca in Italy is a shot topped with seven coffee beans, representing the seven hills of Rome (bottom photo).

    A shot with just one coffee bean is called con la mosca, “with the fly.” Three coffee beans represent health, happiness and prosperity for some; the Holy Trinity for others.

    The shot may be ignited to toast the coffee beans; the flame extinguished immediately before drinking.

    Sambucca shots are delicious year-round; but here’s a refreshing summer samba drink:
     
    RECIPE: FIZZY LEMONADE WITH SAMBUCA

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 1 ounce agave nectar
  • 1 large basil leaf
  • 1½ ounces sambuca
  • Crushed ice
  • 1½ ounces fresh lemon juice
  • Club soda
  • Garnish: lemon wheel, cucumber spear
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MUDDLE the agave and basil in mixing glass. Add the sambuca, a scoop of crushed ice and the lemon juice. Cap and shake vigorously.

    2. STRAIN over crushed ice and top with a splash of club soda. Garnish with a lemon wedge and optional cucumber spear or vertical slice.

     
    WHAT IS STAR ANISE?

    Star anise (Illicium verum) is an evergreen tree native to northeast Vietnam and southwest China.

    The spice star anise, obtained from the star-shaped pericarp of the fruit, ia also called badiam, Chinese star anise and star anise seed. Each “arm” of the star contains one seed.

    Star anise closely resembles the herb anise (native to Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia) in flavor, but they are not related botanically. However, both include the chemical compound anethole, which provides the licorice-like flavor.

    Because star anise is less expensive to produce but provides comparable flavor, it has begun to replace anise in some culinary uses, especially baking.

    Star anise is a component of Chinese Five Spice powder. The spice blend also includes cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds and Sichuan pepper, representing all five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and hot. The proportions vary by producer.

     

    Lemonade Cocktail Recipe

    Molinari Sambuca Extra

    Star Anise

    Samba With Coffee Beans

    [1] Fizzy lemonade, with a touch of sambucca (photo courtesy Molinari). [2] Molinari Sambucca Extra. [3] Star anise: The seeds in the “petals” are distilled into essential oil (photo courtesy Farmgirl Gourmet). [4] Samba is traditionally served as an after-dinner drink with coffee, or alone with a garnish of coffee beans (photo courtesy GreatItalianFoodTrade.it).

     
    Star Anise In Cooking

    It is grown commercially in China, India, and most other countries in Asia. It is used whole to sweeten soups and meat stews.

    Ground star anise is used as a spice rub; and to flavor breads, custards, pastries, puddings and strudels.

  • In the Pacific Rim, star anise is widely used in Chinese cuisine; in the preparation of biryani, garam masala and masala chai in Indian cuisine; and in Indonesian and Malay cuisines.
  • In Vietnam, it is an important ingredient in the country’s famous noodle soup, pho.
  • The French, who ruled French Indochina from 1887 to 1954, use star anise in their mulled wine (called vin chaud, hot wine).
  •  
    We use it in fruit compote, and as a cocktail garnish.

    Instead of those coffee beans, how about a sambuca shot with a star anise?
     
    __________________
    *The Levant is an English term first appearing in 1497. It originally referred to the “Mediterranean lands east of Italy.” The historical area comprises modern-day Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. Among other popular foods, Levantine cuisine gave birth to baklava, balafel, kebabs, mezze (including tabbouleh, hummus and baba ghanoush), pita and za’atar, among other dishes that are enjoyed in the U.S. and around the world.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Bitters In Your Coffee

    Many “cocktail households” have a bottle of Angostura bitters, to splash into a Manhattan or other recipe.

    In fact, you can add bitters to still or sparkling water, regular or diet soda, hot or iced tea and coffee.

    If you follow food and beverage trends, you’ve no doubt seen the Renaissance in artisan bitters. In America, bitters had traditionally meant the ginger-tasting Angostura* bitters (it’s actually made with gentian root, a different botanical family) and the sweeter and more aromatic Peychaud’s Bitters (also gentian) used in the Sazerac cocktail of New Orleans.

    In recent years, flavors of bitters have been introduced by specialty foods companies, ranging from Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Cocktail Bitters, Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Cocktail Bitters, Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters, Hella Bitters Smoked Chili Cocktail Bitters, Stirrings Blood Orange Cocktail Bitters and dozens more flavors producers. So…

    WHAT ARE BITTERS?

    Bitters, which date back to ancient Egypt, are liquids consisting of water, alcohol and botanical extracts. They got their name from the by a bitter or bittersweet derived from botanicals known for their medicinal properties and pleasant flavor: aromatic herbs, barks, fruits and roots.

    Popular botanicals included cascarilla, cassia, gentian, orange peel, and cinchona bark. The word bitters derives from Old English biter, which evolved thousands of years earlier from the Gothic baitrs, “to bite.”

    The Middle Ages saw an increase in the development of medicines that combined botanicals with alcohol: tonics, often used to aid digestion (hence the term, digestive bitters, as opposed to the modern “cocktail bitters”). Available “over the counter,” they came to be used as preventive medicines.

    By the turn of the 19th century, the British practice of adding herbal bitters to wine had become very popular in the U.S. By 1806, there are references to a new preparation, the cocktail, described as a combination of “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.”
     

    WHAT ABOUT BITTERS IN COFFEE?

    It is well known that the people of New Orleans (the actual name is New Orleanians) add chicory to create a bitter flavor in their coffee. Why not try some bitters?

    A drop of bitters perks up the brew whether you drink your coffee black or with milk and/or sugar. Try it and see!

    Start with just a few drops (we began with one drop). You can add more to taste. Here’s a recipe for iced coffee with bitters from Hella, using its standard aromatic bitters.

    Yes, start with the traditional before moving on to Aztec Chocolate or Smoked Chili bitters. Consider topping an iced coffee with bitters whipped cream!
     
    RECIPE: ICED COFFEE WITH BITTERS

    Ingredients Per Cup

  • 8 ounces chilled coffee
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 4 dashes aromatic bitters
  • Ice
  • Optional garnish: whipped cream, bitters whipped cream
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    Old Bottle Of Bitters

    Bitters

    Thai Iced Coffee

    Top: An old bottle of German bitters (photo Axarus | Wikipedia). Center: The classic, Angostura bitters (photo Restaurant Manifesto). Bottom: An iced coffee with Hella bitters.

     
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the ingredients in a glass. Stir gently, taste, and adjust the sugar or bitters to your taste.

    2. GARNISH as desired and serve.
     
    MORE USES FOR BITTERS

    Check out this article from BonAppetit.com, which includes everything from baking and fruit salad, ice cream, floats and whipped cream.

     
    ___________
    *Despite its name, Angostura brand bitters are not made from the bark of the angostura tree but from the gentian a root. The name comes from the town of Angostura, Venezuela (known today as Ciudad Bolívar). There, in 1824, a German physician, Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert compounded a cure for sea sickness and stomach maladies. It worked, and Dr. Siegert subsequently formed the House of Angostura to sell his bitters to sailors.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Hibiscus Salt & Ways To Use It

    Hibiscus Salt Rim

    Chocolate Cupcake With Salt Garnish

    Cherry Tomato Salad With Hibiscus Salt

    Fried Egg & Asparagus With Hibiscus Salt

    Hibiscus Blossom

    Top: Margarita rim. Second: Cupcake garnish. Third: Salad garnish. Third: Eggs. Photos courtesy Hibiscus-Salt.com. Bottom: Hibiscus flower. Photo courtesy TypesOfFlower.com.

     

    A number of years ago, hibiscus flowers became a trendy ingredient for mixologists and pastry chefs, with the import of Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup from Australia’s Wild Hibiscus Flower Company.

    It took us this long to try the company’s second hibiscus product, Wild Hibiscus Flower Pyramid Salt Flakes. Salty, fruity-zingy-tart and beautiful, it’s become the latest “it” gift for us.

    WHAT IS HIBISCUS SALT?

    First, what is hibiscus? It’s a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae—the same genus that gave us marshmallow. The genus contains several hundred species that are native to subtropical and tropical regions throughout the world.

    The flowers often have vivid colors and fragrances. The blossoms are used as a flavoring for everything from beverages to ice pops (we highly recommend hibiscus iced tea. The flavor is fruity and floral, with a tart, red fruit backbone.

    The blossoms are also used to make a gourmet finishing salt with a pyramid shape similar to England’s Maldon salt and Cyprus Sea Salt. Hibiscus salt is a blend of dried, ground hibiscus flowers and Australian pyramid salt flakes.

    Finishing salts are top-quality salts that are known for their unique textures, which allow them to quickly dissolve when applied to finished dishes. These include flake salt, fleur de sel, and French sea salt.
     
    Flake salt is a light crystal salt reminiscent of snowflakes. Seawater is are evaporated by the sun and wind producing salt brine that is slowly heated to the point where delicate pyramids shaped crystals of salt appear. The finished product is light, flaky sea salt.

    Flake salts are harvested all over the world: the Maldon River in England, Anglesey off the island of Wales, New Zealand, and Australia. The pink flake salt shown here comes from Australia’s Murray-Darling River Basin, where a red pigment, carotene, is secreted by algae.

    The crystals are small, fine, flat and pink; combining with the hibiscus yields a salt with violet hues.

    In addition to delicate flavor and eye appeal, the salt is rich with calcium and magnesium, among other minerals.

    The product is call natural, certified kosher (by Kosher Australia) and gluten free.
     
    CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SALT IN OUR SALT GLOSSARY.

     
    HOW TO USE HIBISCUS SALT

    Hibiscus salt can be sprinkled as is, crumbled for a finer presentation or used in a salt grinder. It can be used with sweet and savory foods and beverages.

  • Avocado toast, cream cheese, etc.
  • Cake and cupcake garnish
  • Chocolate bark
  • Cocktails and mocktails
  • Eggs
  • Fish, smoked salmon
  • Glass rimmer
  • Goat cheese log (roll the log in an elegant combination of the violet salt and chopped green pistachios) and other fresh cheeses
  • Hot chocolate
  • Ice cream, sorbet and other desserts (go for a salty contrast, or mix the hibiscus salt with some decorating salt for sweet-and-salty)
  • Melon
  • Plate garnish
  • Popcorn
  • Potatoes, rice and vegetables
  • Salad
  • Yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Lots more (including gifts)
  •  
    Get yours today.

     

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Herb & Spice Grinders

    Some recipes instruct you to grind herbs or spices. In our grandmother’s day, that meant using a mortar and pestle. In our mother’s day, it meant using the coffee grinder for herbs and spices.

    Mom, a purist, had a second grinder for that purpose. Other folks had to first grind uncooked rice in their coffee grinder to remove minute particles of coffee, or else suffer coffee-accented spices.

    Today, manufacturers are doing more to meet the needs of home cooks. McCormick, for example, sells four popular herbs—basil, Italian blend, oregano and parsley—in non-refillable glass grinder bottles (center photo).

    On the spice end, McCormick has grinders for peppercorns and peppercorn-herb blends, seasoned salt blends and plain salt grinders.

    There are herb mills and spice grinders, a.k.a. mills, but we especially like the new Kyocera “Everything Grinder” (bottom photo—more about the mill below). Technically, “mill” refers to the entire device and “grinder” to the grinding mechanism inside the mill.

    FOOD 101: HERBS, MINERALS & SPICES—THE DIFFERENCE

    Herbs, minerals and spices are three options to flavor foods.

  • Herbs are parts of leafy green plants, such as leaves and stems.
  • Spices are bark, berries, fruits, roots or seeds of plants. Peppercorns are the berries of a vine.
  • Minerals are solid inorganic substances. Salt is a mineral. Other minerals used in cooking include baking powder, baking soda, citric acid, MSG and tartaric acid. Sugar is not a mineral since it is derived from the sap of a plant.
  • Herbs and spices lose their flavor over time, but salt retains its flavoring.
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    THE KYOCERA EVERYTHING MILL

    Now, one mill grinds everything: dried herbs, pepper, salt, seeds and spices: the Kyocera Everything Mill With Adjustable Advanced Ceramic Grinder.

    The company states that its advanced ceramic burr mill mechanism, close in hardness to a diamond, will outlast any metal-based grinding mill. Is adjusts from fine to coarse grinds.

     

    Marble Mortar & Pestle

    McCormick Oregano Spice Grinder

    Kyocera Everything Mill

    Top: Marble mortar and pestle from RSVP. Center: McCormick Spice Grinder. Bottom: Kyocera Everything Mill.

     
    The mill features a glass body, ceramic grinding mechanism and acrylic top. The glass base is dishwasher safe, and all components are rustproof.
     

    In addition to salt and peppercorns, you can grind celery, cumin, dill, flax, mustard and sesame seeds; any spices including red pepper flakes; and any dried herbs.

    To grind pliant fresh herbs you’ll still need a mortar and pestle (preferably) or a spice mill/coffee grinder with a metal blade. We’ve tried both and strongly recommend hand-grinding with a mortar and pestle for the finest flavor. Metal blades tear the leaves in a way that releases the oil in a different way. You’ll also need the mortar or metal blades stop grind nuts.

    But for most grinding, you can count on the Kyocera Everything Mill. There’s a color for every kitchen: Apple Green, Bright Black, Brilliant White, Candy Apple Red, Translucent Blue and Translucent Maroon.

    At $19.95, they make good gifts for your favorite cooks. All colors are available on Amazon.com.
     
    FUN: The History Of Coffee Grinders.


      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Flavored Salt

    Gourmet Flavored Salts

    Flavored Salts

    Szechuan Peppercorn Flavored Salt

    TOP: Flavored salts from Saltopia. Center: Trio of homemade flavored salts from Chef Eric LeVine | Steamy Kitchen. Bottom: Close-up of Szechuan Pepper Salt.

     

    Do you use flavored salt? Is your spice cabinet as packed with different flavors as ours is?

    We have 10 jars of artisan* flavored salts, of which we often use just our three favorites (rosemary, saffron and truffle). The other seven take up a lot of space. It’s not that we don’t like them; it’s similar to shoes and clothing. We own a lot but wear the same three most of the time.

    It’s tempting to reach for yet another exciting artisan salt. Here’s some of what we see when we visit a specialty salt website like Saltopia or US Saltworks:

  • Fruit-flavored salt: caper, coconut, habanero, jalapeño, lemon, lime, orange, peach, pineapple, pomegranate, strawberry, tomato
  • Herb-flavored salt: basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, garlic, lavender, lemongrass, mint, peppermint, rosemary, saffron, thyme, wasabi
  • Spice-flavored salt: Aleppo pepper, anise, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, curry, ginger, mustard, sumac, vanilla
  • Smoked salt: applewood, alderwood
  • Sweet-flavored salt: brown sugar, honey, maple
  • Vegetable-flavored salt: mushroom, onion, truffle
  • And beyond: balsamic vinegar, Cabernet Sauvignon, chocolate, rose
  •  
    WHAT DO YOU DO WITH FLAVORED SALTS?

    Says Chef Eric LeVine: “One of the easiest ways to elevate your cooking to another level is to use flavored salts, or finishing salts. I call these ‘finishing salts’ because most of the time, its exactly what I use them for. No recipe is needed, really: Flavor + Salt = Flavored Salt.

    “I like to use these salts in place of regular salt. The flavor I use is dependent on either the type of dish I’m cooking, the ethnic cuisine or a flavor I would like to infuse into the dish.

    “Sometimes a dish just needs a little color after plating. A finishing salt is the perfect complement, flavor-wise and eye-candy-deliciousness-wise.

    Learn from professional cooks—who often serve food on white dinnerware—and sprinkle a bit of finishing salt directly on the food and the plate. The vibrant colors are shown off against the white and your dinner guests can dab as much as or as little of the salt [on their food] as they wish. You can make a batch for less than $1….or you could go to a gourmet shop and spend $12 for an itty bitty jar.”

    Spring and summer grilling are another reason to bring out the flavored salt instead of reaching for Morton’s Little Salt Girl or Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.

    “You can also use it as a finishing salt. And you can use it to add a bit of color to all those beige and brown foods.”

    At THE NIBBLE, we use them as in ingredient or a garnish:

  • Baking, especially with lemon salt (lemon muffins, shortbread, garnish a lemon tart)
  • Bread dipper with olive oil and herbs
  • Confections: salted caramels and salted chocolate
  • Cottage cheese, soft cheeses, yogurt
  • Dessert: cobblers, puddings
  • Finishing salt: beef lamb, pork, poultry, seafood, smoked fish
  • Food garnish
  • Fruit salad or grilled fruit (a bit of salt brings out the sweetness)
  • Glass rimmer for sweet or savory salts: Blueberry Mojito, lemonade, Margarita, Bloody Mary, etc.
  • Ice cream or sorbet
  • Pasta, rice and other grains
  • Plate garnish (sprinkle bits on the plate for splashes of color)
  • Popcorn seasoning
  • Potatoes: baked, boiled, fried, mashed
  • Salted nuts
  • Salads and cooked vegetables
  • Any pale-colored food
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    ___________________________
    *Artisan salts are flavored sea salts; as opposed to supermarket garlic salt, onion salt, etc., which are flavored table salts.

     
    SOLUTION: SAVE SPACE & MONEY—BLEND YOUR OWN

    It takes just five minutes to blend salt, herbs and spices in a spice grinder. You can make them on an as-needed basis, or make larger batches for your spice rack.

    At $13 and up retail for a 3.5-ounce jar, you can make your own for perhaps $1 a batch.

    Pick A Base Salt

    If you don’t have sea salt on hand, start with kosher salt or table salt. After you get the hang of blending, you can try more exotic salts, such as:

  • Fleur de sel or sel gris from France
  • Black lava or red alaea salts from Hawaii
  • Pink Himalayan or kala namak salts from India
  • Smoked salt
  •  
    FLAVORED SALT RECIPES

    Here are four recipes, two savory and two sweet. The first three are from Chef Eric; the Blueberry Salt is from THE NIBBLE archives.
     
    Recipe: Szechuan (Sichuan) Peppercorn Salt

    Dry-roasted Szechuan or Sichuan Peppercorn + food processor to grind the peppercorn + sea salt. Chef Eric roasted peppercorns in a hot, dry skillet until they were smoking but not burnt. Let it cool and add to a food processor or piece mill to grind to your preferred granule size. Then add the salt and pulse a couple of times to fully blend the flavors.

    Says Chef Eric: “I like my Szechuan pepper salt a little chunky and not like a fine powder, so I use equal amts of peppercorns and sea salt. You can adjust the proportions based on your tastes. If you are using a very fine sea salt or just regular table salt, decrease the amount of salt.

    “In addition to Asian-accent dishes or for a touch of heat, I also love seasoning my steaks with this salt prior to grilling, instead of the standard salt and pepper. It can also be served as a dipping salt for fried shrimp.”

     

    Recipe: Matcha Salt

    Matcha is Japanese green tea powder made from the highest quality of green tea leaves. It’s very different from simply grinding green tea leaves. It’s a stunning mossy green color, which makes such a pretty finishing salt. Matcha powder + sea salt + couple pulses in food processor if you are using coarse sea salt.

    Chef Eric likes to use it on a chocolate truffle or mousse; you can dip a plain chocolate bar dip in Matcha Salt. Use it with eggs and tofu, and with dishes that are light in texture and flavor, since this salt’s flavor is more delicate and subtle. “Don’t get the super-premium stuff,” says Chef Eric, “It would be a waste to use the expensive powder for the salts.”
     
    Recipe: Citrus Salt

    Peel any citrus and let the peels dry a little bit on a paper towel. Citrus salt is bright, cheery and light, says Chef Eric.

    “Finish your shrimp skewers, any vegetables, grilled chicken breasts or grilled salmon with Citrus Salt. Lighten your risotto or steamed rice.”

     
    Recipe: Blueberry Salt

    For summer, make Blueberry Salt. Start with a small batch (this recipe makes one cup). This recipe takes longer, because you’re drying fresh fruit. Prep time is 35 minutes, cook time is 1 hour to 1 day, depending on whether you choose to oven dry (1 hour) or let dry naturally (24 hours or more).

    After you make this recipe, you can customize it with other ingredients: balsamic vinegar, citrus peel, thyme, rosemary or any of the ideas above. The recipe is courtesy of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
     
    Ingredients For 1 Cup

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  •  

    Blueberry Salt

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/blueberry salt saltopia 230sq

    Blueberry salt: You can buy a jar or make your own. Photos courtesy Saltopia.

  • 1 cup coarse sea salt (substitute kosher salt, or for a beautiful flake salt, use Maldon salt, with unique, pyramid-shaped crystals)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. LINE two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

    2. SIMMER the berries and water in a saucepan over medium heat until the berries pop and release their juices, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

    3. PRESS the blueberries with a potato masher or the back of a large spoon, reserving the juice. Further strain the berries with a fine wire sieve, pressing out as much liquid as possible; discard the solids. Line the sieve with cheesecloth and strain out the finer particles.

    4. RETURN the juice to the saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer (watching closely so the juice doesn’t burn) until the juice is reduced to a syrup thick enough to coat a spoon. You should have 2 to 3 tablespoons of juice.

    5. REMOVE from the heat. Stir in the salt until the crystals are evenly coated, then spread the salt onto baking sheets. Let it air dry, stirring occasionally, until dry. This will take 4-24 hours, depending on the humidity. Alternatively, bake the salt in a 150° convection oven, stirring frequently until dry, about 1 hour.

    TIP: For a deeper purple salt, add food color to the blueberry juice in Step 4.

     
    HOW MANY TYPES OF SALT HAVE YOU HAD?

    Check out the different types of salt in our Salt Glossary.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Harvest Topping, A Fall Garnish

    What’s Harvest Topping, you ask?

    As created by Country Crock, it’s a universal topping that can garnish anything from a baked Brie to a sundae to a crumble.

    Not to mention oatmeal, French toast, pancakes, waffles and yogurt. It’s also a salad topping. And we even mixed it into rice!

    Country Crock recommends it with mascarpone cheese on sliced multigrain baguette (toast the slices), garnished with Harvest Topping over top for a delicious snack. It works with cream cheese and ricotta, too.

    Sweet and spicy, it can be your go-to garnish for the rest of the season. The allspice is a nice change of pace from the ubiquitous seasonal cinnamon.

    Harvest Topping is easy to make, and it will keep in an airtight container for a month or more. You can turn it into a house gift with a mason jar and a ribbon.

    Prep time is 5 minutes, cook time is 20 minutes.

    RECIPE: HARVEST TOPPING

    Ingredients For 2 Cups

  • 1 medium apple, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons Country Crock Spread, unsalted butter or oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  •  

    crop Country Crock_Harvest Topping_dailymeal-230

    One garnish has many uses, from a Brie appetizer to dessert. Photo courtesy Country Crock.

     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°.

    2. COMBINE all ingredients in a medium bowl, mixing well. Arrange in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the seeds are golden brown.

    3. USE immediately, or let cool before storing in an airtight container.
     
    Find more holiday recipes at CountryCrock.com.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Blueberry Salt

    Sea salt is produced by simple evaporation of sea water. Depending on the body of water, the salt will have different qualities: not just in flavor, based on the minerals in the local water, but also in the size and shape of the crystals. See our Salt Glossary for more on the different types of salt.

    A subset of sea salt is artisan salt, which is created with added flavor is added. With the growing enthusiasm of chefs and home cooks, the flavor options have exploded. Saltopia, an online seller, offers dozens of flavored salts, including:

  • Fruit flavored salt: caper, coconut, habanero, jalapeño, lemon, lime, orange, peach, pineapple, pomegranate, strawberry, tomato
  • Herb flavored salt: basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, garlic, lavender, lemongrass, mint, peppermint, rosemary, saffron, thyme, wasabi
  • Spice flavored salt: Aleppo pepper, anise, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, curry, ginger, mustard, sumac, vanilla
  • Smoked salt: applewood, alderwood
  • Sweet flavored salt: brown sugar, honey, maple
  • Vegetable flavored salt: mushroom, onion, truffle
  •    

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    Blueberry salt: You can buy a jar or make your own. Photo courtesy Saltopia.

  • And beyond: balsamic vinegar, Cabernet Sauvignon, chocolate, rose
  •  
    Today, how about making a batch of blueberry sea salt? All you need are blueberries and salt!

    There isn’t extensive blueberry flavor because the salt overwhelms it; but the color is gorgeous—a glorious garnish or finishing salt.
     
    HOW TO USE BLUEBERRY SALT

    Sprinkle it as in ingredient or a garnish:

  • Baking, especially with lemon (lemon muffins, shortbread, garnish a lemon tart)
  • Bread dipper with olive oil and herbs
  • Confections: salted caramels and salted chocolate
  • Cottage cheese, soft cheeses, yogurt
  • Dessert: cobblers, puddings
  • Finishing salt: beef lamb, pork, poultry, seafood, smoked fish
  • Food garnish
  • Fruit salad or grilled fruit (a bit of salt brings out the sweetness)
  • Glass rimmer: Blueberry Mojito, lemonade, Margarita, etc.)
  • Ice cream
  • Pasta
  • Plate garnish (sprinkle bits on the plate for splashes of color)
  • Popcorn seasoning
  • Potatoes: baked, mashed, any pale recipe
  • Rice and other pale grains
  • Salted nuts
  • Sorbet
  • Salads and cooked vegetables
  •  

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    Are you inspired to make your own? Photo courtesy Saltopia.

     

    RECIPE: BLUEBERRY SALT

    You can buy the blueberry sea salt or make your own. You can make batches as gifts, too.

    Start with a small batch (this recipe makes one cup of blueberry salt). Prep time is 35 minutes, cook time: is 1 hour to 1 day, depending on whether you choose to oven dry (1 hour) or let dry naturally (24 hours or more).

    After you make this recipe, you can customize it with other ingredients: balsamic vinegar, citrus peel, thyme, rosemary or any of the ideas above.

    The recipe is courtesy of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, which has lots of delicious blueberry recipes

    Ingredients For 1 Cup

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup coarse sea salt (substitute kosher salt, or for a beautiful flake salt, use Maldon salt, with unique, pyramid-shaped crystals)
  • Preparation

    1. LINE two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

    2. SIMMER the berries and water in a saucepan over medium heat until the berries pop and release their juices, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

    3. PRESS the blueberries with a potato masher or the back of a large spoon, reserving the juice. Further strain the berries with a fine wire sieve, pressing out as much liquid as possible; discard the solids. Line the sieve with cheesecloth and strain out the finer particles.

    4. RETURN the juice to the saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer (watching closely so the juice doesn’t burn) until the juice is reduced to a syrup thick enough to coat a spoon. You should have 2 to 3 tablespoons of juice.

    5. REMOVE from the heat. Stir in the salt until the crystals are evenly coated, then spread the salt onto baking sheets. Let it air dry, stirring occasionally, until dry. This will take 4-24 hours, depending on the humidity. Alternatively, bake the salt in a 150° convection oven, stirring frequently until dry, about 1 hour.

    TIP: For a deeper purple salt, add food color to the blueberry juice in Step 4.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Israeli Salad

    Israeli salad (salat yerakot, vegetable salad*, in Hebrew) is a chopped salad of diced tomato and cucumber. It can also include bell pepper, onion, and parsley (that’s the way we like it). Other ingredients, such as carrot and ethnic-specific ingredients (more about that in a few paragraphs) can be added. The dressing is fresh lemon juice, olive oil or both. A dash of sumac or za’atar (see below) is optional.

    In Israel, the ingredients are diced very fine, and it is a badge of honor among cooks to dice as finely and perfectly as possible. Chunkier versions appear in the U.S.

    As a kibbutz tradition in Israel (and now ubiquitous at restaurants and cafés), Israeli salad is typically eaten for breakfast, along with a host of other options†. It is also served as a side dish at lunch and dinner, and added to pita along with falafel or shawarma.

    ISRAELI SALAD HISTORY

    Israeli salad is actually an Arab salad, adapted from a Palestinian country salad and popularized in the kibbutzes of Israel. Variations include ancestral seasonings: chopped ginger and green chili peppers show India influences, preserved lemon peel and cayenne pepper are popular with North African Jews. Bukharan Jews, who immigrated from Central Asia, dress the salad with vinegar only. A Persian variation substitutes mint for parsley.

       

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    Israeli salad: refreshing, low in calories and good for you. Photo © Pushiama | IST.

     
    RECIPE: ISRAELI SALAD

    Truth be told, although an ideal Israeli salad is known for its fine, even dice, dicing is our least favorite kitchen task. So we make a medium dice, imperfect in every way, and it works just fine.

    You can serve Israeli salad plain or with greens underneath; as a side dish; in a pita with hummus, falafel or both; and on a mezze plate with hummus, babaganoush, grape leaves, tabbouleh and tzatziki or labneh. Add feta and Kalamata olives for a Greek salad, and on top of that, add chickpeas for a Middle Eastern salad.

  • 6 Persian‡ cucumbers or 3 peeled Kirbys, finely chopped (no need to peel the Persian cukes)
  • 4 plum, San Marzano or other roma tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 4 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced, or equivalent red onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • Optional: 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional seasoning: sumac or za’atar (see below)
  •  
    Plus

  • Pita triangles, warmed or toasted
  •  
    *Israeli salad is also called salat katzutz (Hebrew for chopped salad) and salat aravi (Hebrew for Arab salad).

    †The Israeli breakfast is a dairy meal (meatless), starting with eggs in different styles, including shakshouka (recipe), eggs poached in a spicy tomato. In addition to Israeli salad, other Middle Eastern dishes may be served, such as baba ghanoush (eggplant spread), hummus and labaneh, a thick-strained yogurt. The options continue with breads, cheeses and fish, such as pickled herring, sardines and smoked salmon; olives and fresh vegetables (cucumbers, green bell peppers, onions, radishes, shredded carrots, tomatoes).

     

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    Persian cucumbers. Photo courtesy John Vena Produce.

     

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE all ingredients together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste, along with the optional sumac and za’atar.
     
    MEET THE INGREDIENTS

    Persian Cucumbers

    Persian cucumbers don’t require peeling. They were developed in 1939 on a kibbutz in northern Israeli; the local cucumbers were small and tasty but susceptible to rot and disease. The breeders hybridized them with cucumbers from China, India, Japan, Surinam and the U.S. to improve disease resistance; and crossed them with English and Dutch varieties to be seedless.

    The result was a small, very flavorful cucumber with crisp, sweet, succulent flesh, a smooth, thin, edible skin and without developed seeds. [Source]

     
    They range from four to six inches in length. In Israel, the variety was called Beit Alpha, after its birthplace. Some American growers called it a Persian cucumber or Lebanese cucumber. You can find them at farmers markets, higher-end supermarkets (we found them at Trader Joe’s). Or, buy Persian cucumber seeds,also called baby cucumbers, and grow your own.

    Sumac

    Sumac is ground from a red berry-like drupe that grows in clusters on bushes in subtropical and temperate regions. The dried drupes of some species are ground to produce a tangy, crimson spice. (One of the species not used is the poison sumac shrub.)

    The word “sumac” comes from the old Syriac Aramaic summaq, meaning red. In Middle Eastern cuisine, the spice is used to add a tangy, lemony taste to meats and salads; and to garnish hummus and rice. The spice is also a component of the popular spice blend, za’atar, below.
     
    Za’atar

    Also spelled zahtar, za’atar is a spice blend that is very popular in Middle Eastern cuisines. It is actually the word for Lebanese oregano, a member of the mint family Lamiaceaea, and known since antiquity as hyssop. The za’atar blend includes spices well-known in European cuisines, with the unique components of Lebanese oregano and sumac berries, which impart a tart, fruity flavor that differentiates za’atar from other spice blends.

    Traditional ingredients include marjoram, oregano, thyme, toasted sesame seeds, savory and sumac. Za’atar is used to season meat and vegetables, mixed with olive oil and spread on pita wedges or flatbread, added to hummus, and for a modern touch, sprinkled on pizza, especially ones with feta cheese.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Blend Your Own Seasoned Salt

    If you shake salt on your food, one of the easiest ways to add more flavor is to use a seasoned salt. Why not add other seasonings at the same time?

    Perhaps that’s why Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, created in 1938 to season the prime rib served at Lawry’s restaurant in Beverly Hills, has remained a prominent fixture on the spice rack in many households.

    The blend of salt, herbs and spices (garlic, onion, paprika and turmeric, plus sugar—here’s the copycat Lawry’s Seasoned Salt Recipe) adds more flavor than salt alone.

    Home cooks found that it worked on everything, from breakfast eggs to any grain, protein, starch or vegetable.
     
    BUYING FLAVORED SALTS

    Over the last decade, numerous specialty food artisans—Urban Accents, Saltworks and quite a few other—have created collections of seasoned salts, with a base of sea salt. Even McCormick has joined in, with 11 McCormick sea salt grinders from Chipotle to Sweet Onion.

       

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    Casina Rossa seasoned sea salts from
    Italy—Porcini, Saffron, Edible Flowers,
    and others, are available from Seasoned
    Sea Salts
    . Photo by Naheed Choudhry |
    THE NIBBLE.

     
    The Urban Accents blends tend to mirror popular cuisines: Caribbean, Indian (curry and mango), Mediterranean, Provençal (herbes de Provence), Spanish (smoked paprika).

    The Fusion line of sea salts from Saltworks goes farther, with gourmet salts such as Black Truffle, Espresso, Ginger, Lemon, Lime, Maple, Matcha, Merlot, Sriracha, Sundried Tomato, Vanilla and White Truffle.

    But at $15 or so per 3.5-ounce jar (more for pricier items like porcini and truffle), you might want to try blending your own with what you have on hand.

    We’re addicted to truffle salts, and to Casa Rossa’s saffron salt. A pinch of salt lets us enjoy these two favorite flavors in everything from scrambled eggs to mashed potatoes and vinaigrette.

    Unfortunately for us, it’s so costly to purchase dried saffron or truffles—two of the priciest ingredients in the world—that there’s no money to be saved by blending our own.

    But there’s much more to blend than saffron and truffles.

     

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    Coarse sea salt as a base for your seasoned
    salts. Photo by Dhanraj Emanuel | THE NIBBLE.

     

    START BLENDING!

    It takes just five minutes to blend salt, herbs and spices in a spice grinder. You can make them on an ad hoc basis, or make larger batches to store and use as needed.

    Pick A Salt

    If you don’t have sea salt on hand, start with kosher salt or table salt. After you get the hang of blending, you can try more exotic salts, such as:

  • Fleur de sel or sel gris from France
  • Black lava or red alaea salts from Hawaii
  • Pink Himalayan or kala namak salts from India
  • Smoked salt
  •  
    See our Salt Glossary for the different types of salts.
     
    Pick Your Seasonings

     
    Start with flavors you use in daily cooking: basil, chipotle, oregano, paprika, parsely, whatever. Pick as many as you like, although when starting out, limit your blends to salt plus four or five herbs/spices.
     
    You can also add ground pepper, although if you’re making enough to store, you may want to add it freshly ground. You can also add a pinch of white or brown sugar.
     
    Some basic blends to try:

  • Basic Seasoned Salt: salt plus garlic powder, onion powder and paprika
  • Lemon Pepper Salt: salt plus dried lemon peel and ground pepper
  • Rosemary Salt: salt plus garlic and rosemary
  • Celery Salt: salt plus dried celery leaves and celery Seeds (so much better than off-the-shelf celery salt!)
  • Hot & Smoky Salt: smoked sea salt plus ancho chiles and smoked paprika
  • Wild Mushroom Salt: salt plus dried chanterelles, dried porcinis, tarragon and white pepper
  •  
    Then, decide on ratios: which flavors do you want to be dominant, which flavors should be background hints.

    Start with twice as much salt as other flavors, and even less of hot flavors. You may find, after making different blends, that you’re using less salt and more herbs/spices.
     
    RECIPE: SAMPLE FLAVORED SALT BLEND

    Ingredients

  • ½ cup salt
  • ¼ cup each garlic and onion powders
  • ¼ cup ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder, chipotle, red pepper flakes, etc.
  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until well-combined. Working in batches, add the blend to a spice grinder and process into a fine powder. If you don’t have a spice blender, you can try a regular blender.

    2. STORE the salt in an airtight container. Store away from heat and light (as all herbs and spices should be stored!).
     
    If you want to make other blends but already have too much of homemade seasoned salt on hand, give it as gifts!

      

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