Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Ethnic spice mixtures provide flavor punch

Eat Your Vegetables

By Angela Stephens
Gannett News Service

The key to interesting vegetarian cuisine is simple: flavor.

The flavor of fresh fruits and vegetables can't be beat. Grains, beans and legumes add a hearty flavor to meals.

Nothing enhances those tastes like a variety of herbs and spices. It's what gives vegetarian cuisine its edge, for some.

Experimenting with spices isn't scary if you've become familiar with spice or herb combinations common in cookbooks. A little fresh basil here, a little chopped rosemary or thyme there.

But, if you delight in the flavors of various ethnic cuisines, the spices and herbs used are usually very pungent, flavorful, and even a bit spicy.

So many ethnic vegetarian dishes succeed in the mainstream simply because of the interesting use of spices and herbs. The wonderful aromas and flavors tantalize the taste buds and make the simplest foods so fulfilling that even non-vegetarians are satisfied by the completeness.

Some of these dishes may seem too exotic to replicate at home, but they aren't once you familiarize yourself with basic spice mixtures and vegetables.

Many of these spice and herb combinations - such as the distinctive garam marsala, which is widely used in Indian cuisine - can be found premixed in some specialty stores.

Don't let the unavailability of specialty spice or herb mixtures prohibit you from trying a new recipe. Most of the individual spice or herb ingredients can be purchased at either a grocery store or a specialty market and recreated right in your own kitchen.

Moroccan Spice Mixture

1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon mace

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Combine all ingredients; then store in a tightly covered container. A traditional spice mixture that is used in everyday cooking. Makes about 1/3 cup.

Classic Vegetarian Cooking From the Middle East & North Africa

(Interlink Press; $25)

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