Variety is the spice of life, so they say… Well the same applies to food. I used to work with someone who ate the same meals on each day of the week. So Monday might always be lasagne, Tuesday sausage and mash, Wednesday Spag Bol… You get the picture. Such routines take the colour out of life. Like in the film Shirley Valentine when Shirley’s husband is shocked to find egg and chips on his plate, not steak. They exchange words!
Joe “It’s Thursday. We have steak on Thursday. We always have steak on Thursday.”
Shirley: “We’re having chips and egg for a change. You like chips and egg.”
Joe: “On a Tuesday. I like chips and egg on a Tuesday. Today is Thursday.”
Shirley: “Well pretend it’s Tuesday.”
Joe: “Where’s me steak?”
Shirley: “I gave it to the dog!”
No wonder she ran off with Tom Conti!
One of the joys of cooking is using herbs, spices and sauces to conjure up memories, to remind you of holidays or celebrations, to make you think of faraway places or simply to make you feel warm and cosy on a chilly night. Here are a few of my favourites and the foods I like to use them in:
- Ground coriander and cumin: Essential in curries
- Turmeric: Add sparingly to mashed tofu, minced onion and egg-free mayo for a vegan egg sandwich!
- Smoked paprika: Use in tomato-based stews and sausage casseroles to add warmth
- Fennel seeds: Lovely in Dahl
- Mustard seeds: Great in potato and spinach bahji
- Cumin seeds: toasted and sprinkled on a winter crunchy salad with red onion, red cabbage, mango, red pepper, chilli pepper, coriander (cilantro) and lime it’s yum!
- Cloves, cinnamon and mace: use sparingly in stewed apples for a pie or crumble to add a whiff of Christmas! All good in mulled wine too.
- Worcester sauce (veggie version): unbeatable on macaroni ‘cheese’
- Toasted sesame oil: great for stir-fries and Thai curries
- Tamari: Lovely on stir-fried tofu or dry-fried pumpkin seeds
- Herbes de Provence: Good in ratatouille, great in scrambled tofu
- Saffron: essential in paella, don’t forget the arame (seaweed)
- Chipotle paste: Adds a smoky depth to a veggie chilli
- Cinnamon sticks and cloves: drop a couple of each into your basmati rice while it cooks
And two new ones I’ve just discovered this year:
- Asafoetida: lifts the flavour of dhal
- Ras el hanout: will take you directly to Marrakesh! Rub this generously onto burgers before cooking or just add to your tagine
These are just a few of my favourite things…