Once John Gregory-Smith got his journey underway, he realized that spices really do make the world go round.
The English cook was already a spice expert when he set out to explore home cooking in small villages in more than a dozen countries What he found in Belize, India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Malaysia, Balia, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco and beyond is that simple foods become special with the creative use of spices.
It’s the culinary world’s worst kept secret, but learning to use spices can be so daunting for the home cook. Gregory-Smith’s book, Mighty Spice Cookbook, takes an enthusiastic approach to coaxing and coaching spice newbies into trying this new combination or showing how simple it can be to clone a favorite ethnic dish at home.
His most convincing approach is this: the recipes he selected and developed for Mighty Spice use five spices or less. Nothing intimidating here—ingredient lists are short, and the spices are familiar. A well-stocked pantry probably includes most of the spices and seasonings used in the book’s recipes.
In fact, some of the recipes don’t even use five spices. Huevos Poblanos, a colorful scramble of eggs and vegetables, gets its flavor from nothing more than garlic, a bit of green chile, scallions, and cilantro. Bangkok Garlic and Black Pepper Chicken uses just two, plus lime and fish sauce.
It’s all in how the spices are prepared and combined. Starting with the first recipe for Turkish Lentil Soup and ending with one last nightcap of Lemongrass and Ginger Rum Cocktail, the spices are toasted, ground, sprinkle, fried and pounded to produce a virtual atlas of flavor combinations.
Try your hand at Mighty Spice’s simple spicing at home with these three recipes. Huevos Poblanos is super simple and delivers a dish with enough good looks and punchy flavor to serve at a brunch occasion. Kadahi Chicken uses cumin, chili, ginger, garam masala and turmeric for layers of flavor. Sticky Szechuan Pork with Sesame Seeds makes a flavorful sauce from stir-fried spices cooked down with sugar into a hot-fragrant-sweet sauce that puts a world of flavor within reach for a busy home cook.
–By Nicki Pendleton Wood