I have always wanted to know more about spices and the art of combining them to create the perfect flavors. When we lived in England I used to love the cooking shows which featured Chef Atul Kochhar. A twice Michelin starred chef renowned for his modern take on Indian cuisine, he is also what I would call “a spice genius.” Every time I watched Atul’s shows I was amazed with his artistry. To Atul, nothing was random: every ingredient had a reason to be there, and every added spice was discussed in a way which made perfect sense to the uninitiated, such as myself.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m in the same spot when it comes to spices: I would love to find out more about spices from various corners of the world and to learn to work with them, but I never have the time to go ahead and do this. When to add what, and why? – these are questions to which I have yet to find the answers. Thankfully, I have recently come across Raw Spice Bar, a monthly subscription service which delivers premium spices and spice blends from all around the world, and which makes using spices easy and convenient. They sent me a batch of spices to review and accompanying recipes to test.
Right off the bat, I was impressed with the thought process which had gone into the spice mix I received. It was obvious that a lot of research and effort had been put into it, and that nothing was random or far-fetched. The theme of the spice box was Celebrating Nowruz: Persian New Year, and the accompanying cards contained detailed information on the origin, history and tasting notes of the spices/spice blends I was about to try.
The centerpiece of the Raw Spice Bar Persian menu were the braised lamb shanks with advieh khoresht, which is a traditional Iranian mixture of rose petals and several spices including cinnamon, green cardamom, coriander, cumin, and black peppercorns. I am not a fan of lamb (I find it too heavy, and so does my stomach!), so I was a little apprehensive about this dish. Thankfully, the result put my mind to rest and married flavors and tradition beautifully. The spice blend shone through, elevating the meat, which was falling off the bone. Out of all the spices, the cardamom stood out for me, with its strong yet accommodating flavor. I used to use cardamom a lot to make rice pudding when we lived in England, and its presence in this dish brought back sweet memories. I also loved the hint of cinnamon, which gave the meat a cheerful yet delicate fragrance.
I did not have basmati rice in my pantry, so I used long grain rice to make the second dish, sabzi polow with dill and saffron. I had never cooked with saffron before and I was very excited to try this famous spice. I did some research beforehand because I wanted to know what to expect, but I was left with more questions than answers. It seems everyone experiences saffron differently – some say it’s bitter, others say it’s salty or fruity – so it was up to me to try it and to see what I made of it. I found it to be delicately salty, and I thought it gave the dish a wholesome finishing note. As I added the saffron to the rice, I was also amazed by its brilliant gold color, which instantly reminded me of summer, with all its heat and expansiveness.
Subtle and refreshing, the third dish on the menu was mast-o-khiar, a traditional Iranian yogurt and cucumber dish, to which I added Raw Spice Bar’s mast-o-khiar rose & herbs blend, a delicious mixture of dill, mint, organic rose petals and black peppercorns. This dish made a welcome contrast with the hearty lamb and rice – and it also looked great on the plate!
You can find all of these recipes on the Raw Spice Bar website, along with information about various other spices and details on their spice subscription options, including their quarterly subscription service.
Raw Spice Bar would also like to offer Chicago Loves Panini readers the chance to win a 3-month subscription to their service. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post and answer the following question: What is your favorite spice, and why?
Giveaway open to US residents only. One entry per person. Deadline for entries is 6PM central time on May 19, 2015. One winner will be chosen on or around May 20, 2015 by using a random number generator and will have 72 hours to respond to the winner notification email. I reserve the right to pick an alternative winner if the original winner does not contact me 72 hours after receipt of winner notification email. Good luck!
*Disclaimer: Raw Spice Bar sent me a package of spices to try as part of this review. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions expressed here are my own.