Spice it up

carrot and squash soupWhen it comes to food, I have a terrible handicap. I’m Scottish.

Scots aren’t exactly known for their culinary prowess. I had a meat and potatoes kind of childhood. Growing up, the only spices I remember in my house were salt, salt, and more salt.

Today we are blessed to live in an era when delicacies and aromatic spices from around the world can be found in any market. We just need an adventurous spirit to experiment with different flavours and combinations.

My favourite “go to” spices these days are cumin, curry and coriander. This weekend I made a yummy carrot squash soup with coconut milk with these three spices from Greta Podleski’s new cookbook, Yum and Yummer. I was too lazy to roast the sweet potatoes and carrots, so just dumped them in the pot. It was spicy and delicious.

When Dave and I were in Zanzibar, we toured a spice plantation. Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island—it was a key trading route and stop in the nineteenth century for slave traders and spice merchants off the coast of Africa. We learned about the medicinal properties of spices, ate cinnamon shaved right off the tree, and brought back a treasure trove of spices in our suitcases. I still use all of these spices in my dishes.

man in coconut tree
Our guide climbing a coconut tree in Zanzibar

Most spices have medicinal properties. Cinnamon has been called a medical powerhouse, lowering blood sugar, aiding digestion and battling ailments like bronchitis. I sprinkle cinnamon on my coffee at work every day for a healthy, tasty start to my day. I even use cinnamon in some of my rice dishes and most of my baked goods.

And then there’s the Italian spices—oregano, basil, thyme. So many spices, so little time!

Four spices that I haven’t cooked with as much are cardamom, tamarind, saffron and garam marsala. If any of you have any great tips or recipes for these spices, please share.

This week’s #HappyAct is to spice it up. Put the salt shaker away and discover the spice of your life.

Inspired reading and viewing: I watched a movie a few weeks ago that will inspire you to spice up your culinary creations—The Hundred Foot Journey. It’s the story of an Indian family that starts a restaurant directly across from a French haute cuisine restaurant in the French countryside. The story centres around Hassan whose secret spice box propels him to become one of the top chefs of France. It was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time—I’m reading the book right now.

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