With the launch of fire spice company at the end of this year, my mind has been on spices. One of the things I enjoy most about cooking is the sensory experience. I love the sound of onions hitting the hot oil. I love the smells, the colors and, of course, the tastes. I find that spices provide the most sensory experience of all. They create flavors that are so unique and take dishes to the next level.
A spice is a dried seed, fruit, or bark of a vegetable substance primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are parts of leafy green plants used for flavoring or as a garnish.
Spices should be purchased and used as close to preparation as possible. Once spices are exposed to air, they deteriorate quickly. If you have old spices in your drawer, it’s time to do summer cleaning. Try to purchase whole spices whenever possible and, once opened, make sure to store with as little air exposure as possible. A sealable plastic bag, with all the air removed works well. Spices last about six months before the taste starts to change.
Spices such as cumin, cardamom, fennel seed and coriander can be freshly toasted and then ground to create brighter flavors. If you’ve not toasted spices before, don’t be intimidated! Just put your spices in an appropriate size sauté pan that allows you to toast in an even layer. Black or green peppercorns, cardamom, fennel, coriander, cumin, dry chilies or seeds toast well. Heat the pan gently and toss or move the spice constantly to evenly toast. You will smell the nuttiness or cooked smell when they have been toasted long enough. The spices should smoke lightly but should never burn or smell burnt. Cool them before using. Some recipes will call for you to grind them to achieve a particular texture.
Spices can be used throughout the year and can change the flavor of your local and seasonal ingredients. We’re about to be inundated with local sweet corn. Here’s an easy recipe that complements the corn’s sweetness with a savory addition of cumin, poblano peppers and tomatoes. It’s a great side dish for grilled chicken, steak or fish.
Sautéed sweet corn with toasted cumin, onions, garlic, poblanos and baby tomatoes.
Ingredients (to serve 4)
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion or local summer variety, peeled, and diced (1/4 inch)
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Black pepper, freshly cracked, to taste
- 2 tsp cumin seed, freshly toasted and ground (toast in a dry pan over medium heat until the cumin smells nutty, about 3 minutes, cool and then finely grind)
- 3 ears of local sweet corn kernels, freshly shucked and cut from the cob. (be careful not to cut the kernels too close to the cob, or you will have tough kernels)
- 1 small poblano or sweet summer pepper of your choice, seeded and diced (1/4 inch)
- 8 baby cherry or sweet 100 tomatoes, washed and halved
- 1 tablespoon of dry white wine
- 3 leaves of fresh oregano, finely chopped
- 1 tbs unsalted butter
In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat until it shimmers or ripples. Add the onions and sweat until translucent (no color), for about 3 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium and add the garlic, salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine and cook about 2 more minutes.
Add the cumin, stirring to combine. Cook for another minute.
Add the corn and poblanos, increase the heat to medium high and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes or until the corn and peppers are tender.
Add the tomatoes, the wine and the oregano. Reduce for 30 seconds,
Remove from the heat, finish with butter, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Serve this as a side dish with grilled meats or fish or as a part of your summer buffet.
Douglas Katz is the owner and executive chef of fire food and drink at historic Shaker Square, owner of The Katz Club Diner in Cleveland Heights, and Chef/Partner of Provenance, Provenance Cafe, and Catering By Provenance at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Doug will launch his newest venture, Fire Spice Company, later this year.