Spice Up September

By Brenna O’Dea

September is coming to a close and we all know what that means…leaves are changing colors…sweaters are lining the shelves…and PUMPKIN SPICE IS COMING. YOU CAN’T RUN. YOU CAN’T HIDE. PUMPKIN SPICE WILL NOT BE DENIED. Okay, okay, so it’s not all bad. Some people just can’t get enough of the stuff. With pumpkin spice cereals, bagelsbeer, even GOAT CHEESE, there is clearly a massive market for these squash specialties. Speaking in my totally non-biased completely objective all-knowing opinion, I HATE THE STUFF. Alright, you got me, my distaste and disgust for the pumpkiny spicey varieties of just about anything is absolutely subjective and counter to much of our culture today. But I just can’t help it. I think it’s yuck yuck yuck. So I am here to save the day for all of my fellow pumpkin spice protestors. Wave your hands and flags high and JUST SAY NO TO PUMPKIN. Do not give in to societal pressures that meet you everywhere you turn. Along every grocery store aisle…around every dark corner…IN YOUR NIGHTMARES. It’s time to wake up to a beautiful pumpkin-free reality. Today I bring you plenty of sweet ‘n spicy options that have absolutely nothin’ to do with pumpkin’.

We’ll start of simple with a sprinkle of cinnamon. We are pro cinnamon for all of its “anti” properties. Antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic – this classic flavor booster is filled with health benefits. Another benefit – it goes with just about every dang food out there. Bake with it, broil with it even barbecue with this baby. Not quite ready to sprinkle cinnamon over your rack of ribs just yet? Mix it into your morning oats or blend it right into your morning smoothie. Try adding a dash to your tea, coffee or even lemon water. Stir it into soups for a note of softness ‘n sweetness. It may sound stale, but cinnamon is still kicking and it’s one of the easiest, most versatile spices to have at hand in YOUR kitchen, especially at this time of year. Added bonus –  kids LOVE the stuff.

Taking things one step further with cardamom. It’s a bit of a tongue twister but this special spice will leave your tongue happy and healed. Just like its sister spice, cinnamon, cardamom offers a few fabulous health benefits. We love the stuff for its anti-carcinogenic & anti-depressant perks. A spice that makes you smile? We’ll take a spoonful or two. Many people are not as familiar with this spice as others such as cinnamon, but the possibilities are truly endless. Baby carrots, Crème brûlée, sweet potato biscuits – sweet or savory, this spice can enhance everything from your soup to your shortbread. Cardamom offers a flavor profile somewhere between cinnamon and nutmeg. In fact, if you are ever caught in a pinch without even a pinch of cardamom in your kitchen for that batch of carrot cake, you are in luck if you’ve got some cinnamon and nutmeg in the pantry. Mix together equal parts and that cake will be just as tasty as if you used the real deal.

Coming in HOT with cumin. Okay, so it’s not THAT hot. But it sure is delicious. The perfect pinch in many Mexican & Indian dishes, this aromatic herb can amplify all your lunch or dinner dishes. Looking for a cumin kick even earlier in the day? Whip up this perfect plate on chilly fall morning when you are too busy to bake that fresh frittata but still in the mood for something scrumptious ‘n savory. Cumin spice is ground up cumin seed which is a member of the parsley family. Besides packing a punch of flavor, cumin is known for its high levels of iron and manganese. Pair cumin with oregano for a milder modification, or combine cumin & chili pepper for a meal on the spicier side. This spice boasts great versatility for many cuisines. Looking to try one out? There is not better option than namesake itself. Dine at Cumin, a nepalese restaurant on the hip ‘n happenin’ Milwaukee Ave. Enjoy everything from lamb kabobs to veggie dumplings, all loaded with the warmth and wonder of this special spice.

Taste the rainbow? I say taste the turmeric and start adding this baby to just about everything you eat (and drink) and just about everything you feed your little ones. A little will go a long way, just get ready to do some extra scrubbing with that bright yellow tint it brings to everything it touches. It also brings bundles of health benefits, the most powerful being its anti inflammatory qualities. Turmeric reduces inflammation in joints and can reduce joint pain and even the symptoms of arthritis. Today it has even become popular as a supplement. People are popping turmeric capsules to aid in digestion, bloating, headaches, even gum disease. These positive qualities are due to the potent chemical in turmeric, curcumin (not to be confused with cumin!). This chemical is actually what gives turmeric its nearly neon yellow hue, and studies show it can provide relief from nausea and indigestion. But enough about tummy troubles, what are we most interested in? EATING (and drinking). Try your hand at these recipes to enjoy the warming, healing benefits of the spice. And for the perfect fall evening in, curl up by the fire with a good book (or a good cookbook) and sip on some turmeric milk or “golden milk.” Your body and soul will thank you.

Pass the paprika. Chicken, chickpeas, even CHURROS – this bright red ingredient is the dried, ground species of pepper known as Capsicum annuum. Don’t worry, that’s about as scientific as we’ll get, besides, we care more about the taste than the technicalities. Popular in Hungarian cuisine, paprika makes a lovely addition to many stews and sauces, especially if meatballs are involved. And remember that famous line from way back in high school, some famous dude said it, I think his name was William Shakespeare…”though she be little, she is fierce!” Well he was actually talking about this petite pepper. Just a few dashes can amp up your omelette and even that good ol’ avocado toast. Going beyond the fabulous flavor, paprika contains plenty of vitamins A, B & E, along with Iron & Capsaicin – capable of relaxing your blood vessels. So add a pinch of paprika for a boost that your blood flow and bellies will love.

Did somebody say dukkah? Pronounced doo-kah, also known as duqqa, this Egyptian spice blend is really something to talk about (and taste!). Loaded with flavors & textures galore, dukkah typically includes some sort of nuts, seeds, spices and herbs. Sesame seeds, coriander, cumin, fennel, almonds and hazelnuts are pretty common in this magical mixture, but feel free to add your own twist depending on your taste! Dukkah is often compared to za’atar, a Middle Eastern mixture of similar herbs and spices – nixing the nuts. Combine these already complex seasoning blends and your plates and palates will sing. A super simple and satisfying way to use either of these babies is just sprinkle it over your favorite hummus and dive right in. If you crave the crazy flavors first thing in the morning, toss some dukkah in with your scrambled eggs, fried eggs, however you like ’em. Ditch the sodium laden bottled spice mixtures you can find at the grocery store and mix some homemade dukkah into your pasta sauces, or just drizzle some GOOD olive oil and a dash of dukkah for pasta perfection.

You can’t spell clove without a little bit ‘o LOVE. I have never been a big fan of edible flowers – it just makes me a bit sad biting the heads off those beauties from Mama Earth. Cloves on the other hand, are some of the more flavorful flowers around and I have no problem chowing down. I also must note that even though I don’t like eating flowers I have no problem consuming copious amounts of bacon AKA tiny baby piglets…but my undying love for bacon is a story for another time. Cloves do not make my mouth water quite as much as cured meats, but they can certainly warm my soul on a blustery night. An Indonesian native, the clove flower is typically dried and sometimes crushed to be sprinkled onto and into everything from a big mug of tea to a big batch of gingerbread men (and women!) Speaking of ginger, clove and ginger are two spices that were just MINT to be (get it? that herb pun there? eh, I tried). Keep your eyes PEELED (bad food pun alert #2) for my ginger focused piece when Christmas time rolls around…but for now cloves will have to do. They actually make the perfect addition to a more timely holiday treat, pumpkin pie. You heard me, PUMPKIN pie. Yeah, yeah, I ranted about my personal vendetta against all things pumpkin, but when that buttery crust meets that crisp clove-filled filling, I really can’t complain.

Sugar, spice, and everything nice. And we mean EVERYTHING. This baby is bouncing around from it’s original home that will always have a special place in our hearts, bagels. The everything bagel is a classic that is tough to beat, but foodies around the world are trying, and boy are they succeeding. Poppy or sesame?? Must I choose? Why can’t I have my cake (bagel) and eat it too?? No more hemming & hawing over this impossible decision. You can have BOTH plus more! Sesame & poppy seeds, combined with the three musketeers: garlic, onion and of COARSE some salt. Okay. I’m done. I swear. Just stir up these simple ingredients and you’ve got yourself the perfect everything spice that can basically go on top of everything. It will bring that bite from a salty chewy bagel to everything you eat. Bagels for every meal? Excluding those who forego gluten (myself included), that sounds pretty darn close to heaven. There are too many marvelous recipes to include them all here…so stay tuned for an everything spice extravaganza post coming soon!

I hope I have instilled some hope in you today. Hope for a better, brighter future, free of pressure to pumpkinize your life. No disrespect toward all my pumpkin lovers out there, you are not alone, and you clearly have stomachs of steel. I however, steer clear of pumpkin spice products this time of year. I much prefer my paprika pickles & turmeric tea.

(Image by flickr member Olga Savitskaya licensed under Creative Commons)

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