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Archive for Salts/Seasonings/Herbs/Spices

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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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cedar Paper Grilling Wraps

    Cedar-Wrapped-Halibut-Fire&Flavor-230r

    Halibut wrapped in cedar grilling paper, for
    cooking on the stove top. It’s served with
    citrus pesto. Here’s the recipe. Photo
    courtesy Fire & Flavor.

     

    No grill? If you want an infusion of cedar flavor in your food, that’s no problem. Instead of a grill with cedar chips, get some cedar grilling papers.

    Made from a very thin, pliable slice of cedar, cedar grilling papers infuse a subtle but clear flavor while keeping food moist and tender.

    Wrap your favorite seafood, meats, vegetables, and fruits in Fire & Flavor’s All Natural Western Red Cedar Papers. One hundred percent all-natural western red cedar was chosen because it provides the best flavor and compliments the widest variety of foods.

    You can use the grilling papers indoors, in the oven, stove-top skillet or pannini press; or outdoors on the grill without the need for wood chips.

    A package of eight single-use grilling papers, 6″ x 7.25″, and 8 cotton strings for tying is $8.99 at FireAndFlavor.com.

    Cedar papers are easy to use and can be prepared in four easy steps: soak, heat, smoke, eat.

     
    FOUR EASY STEPS

    1. Soak
    Soak the grilling papers in a shallow dish for 10 minutes. Use a small bottle to weight down the papers to keep them fully submerged. Cedar grill papers only need to be soaked long enough to become pliable, but it’s fine to soak for several hours before use. You can also soak in tequila, wine and other liquids—details below.
     
    2. Heat
    Heat a grill, oven or skillet to 400°F or medium-high heat. Place the food face down in the center of a soaked cedar paper, parallel to the grain of the wood. Fold the paper’s edges toward each other until they overlap. Tie the paper together with cotton string (included with the papers) or butcher’s twine; or place them seam side down on the grill grate, skillet or pan.

  • Place citrus slices or other flavor infusions below the fillets before wrapping. This will push more of their flavor into the food above them.
  •  
    3. Smoke
    Smoke the wrapped food directly on the grill grates or in the grill pan. Cook fish for 3-4 minutes per side until food is done to your liking (close the lid if using a grill). During cooking, the cedar papers will blacken. This makes for great presentation.

  • Cedar paper can withstand high heat because the cooking times are usually short: 6-8 ounce chicken fillets can be cooked in less than 10 minutes.
  • Food will continue to conce removed from grill, so remove it from the heat a minute or two early. If unsure about the cook time, use recipe-suggested cook times.
  •  
    4. Eat
    Place the packets on plates or a platter, bring to the table and enjoy. Cedar wrapped foods will stay warm and moist for long periods of time.

  • Drizzle flavored oils, vinegars, or citrus juice on the foods right after unwrapping.
  •  

    PILING ON THE FLAVOR

    You can soak the papers in any liquid you like. Experiment with these soaking ideas from the Fire & Flavor Test Kitchen, and dream up your own.

  • Soak the papers in tequila. Then wrap shrimp, crab or lobster with some mango salsa. The acid of tequila and sweetness of the salsa pair perfectly.
  • Soak the papers in white wine. The subtle flavor of the fish will be enhanced with cedar notes. Wrap any white fish with asparagus or your favorite green veggie.
  • Soak the papers in red wine. Then wrap more flavorful fish like salmon, sea bass or red snapper with sliced lemon and thyme. The bold flavor of these fish withstands the influence of lemon and red wine.
  • Soak the papers in saké. Think beyond fish and meat to your favorite vegetables. Wrap mushrooms with goat cheese and your favorite spices.
  • Soak the papers in juice. Citrus juices like orange or lime add refreshing flavors. Wrap a spiced salmon fillet with salsa in “juiced” papers.
  •  

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    Give cedar grilling paper as gifts to friends who cook. Photo courtesy Fire & Flavor.

     

    MORE COOKING TIPS

  • Nonstick Spray. Spray cedar papers with non stick spray before wrapping to prevent foods from sticking to the papers as they dry.
  • Indoor Grilling. Grill pans and panini presses with deep grill grooves allow for the best air circulation.
  • Best Flavor. Before closing the wrap, top fish with julienned vegetables and a spiced butter or rub. As the fish cooks, the flavors meld together with the smokey cedar.
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Sumac With Spiced Roasted Carrots

    This recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen was so breathtaking, we traipsed through three different farmers markets to hunt down the beautiful heirloom carrots (and finally found them at Trader Joe’s).

    The recipe gave us an excuse to purchase sumac, a slightly tart and fruity spice popular in North African and Middle Eastern cooking. We’d never worked with it, and we like lemony tartness. (More ways to use it are below.)

    RECIPE: SPICED ROASTED CARROTS

    Ingredients For 4-6 Servings

  • 1 teaspoon ground sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 bunches rainbow carrots, peeled and trimmed, larger carrots halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  •    

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    Who could refuse to eat their vegetables? Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma.

  • Flaky sea salt for finishing (check out Maldon sea salt, beautiful pyramid-shaped flakes)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F (220°C).

    2. STIR together the sumac, cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes and salt in a small bowl.

    3. TOSS the carrots with the olive oil in a large bowl. Sprinkle the spice blend on top of the carrots and toss until the spices are evenly distributed.

    4. HEAT a frying pan over medium heat until warm. Add the carrots and toss two or three times. Transfer to the oven and roast until the carrots are just tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

    5. TRANSFER to a serving dish and finish with a sprinkle of sea salt. Serve immediately.

    Find more terrific recipes at Blog.Williams-Sonoma.com.

     

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    Sumac, a popular spice in the Middle East. Photo courtesy The Silk Road Spice Merchant.

     

    WHAT IS SUMAC?

    Sumac comprises some 35 species of flowering plants that grow in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world. If you were a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, you likely learned to spot one of the varieties, the poison sumac shrub, in the woods. (Like poison ivy and poison oak, skin contact generates a nasty rash.)

    The fruits of the bush form in dense clusters of what we might call little round red berries—like holly berries—but are actually drupes. The dried drupes of some species are ground to produce a tangy, crimson spice; the word “sumac” comes from the old Syriac Aramaic summaq, meaning red.

    The spice is also a component of the popular spice blend, za’atar.

    In Middle Eastern cuisine, sumac is used to add a lemony taste to meats and salads. It is used to garnish meze like hummus, and rice.

     
    Try it with recipes where you’d like lemony tartness as well as some bright red color.

    You can find sumac online or at Middle Eastern markets. If you can’t get hold of any, add some lemon juice. Its tart flavor is an alternative to the tart-sour sumac profile.

      

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