Making the Most of the Grill: Seasonings!

In the last post, I gave you all my innermost thoughts on marinades. As I’m sure you could tell, I think they are a very important step in flavoring, and often your first shot at packing flavor into food. This time, I thought I’d talk about seasonings, such as herbs and spices, that can be used in the marinades themselves or as wet or dry rubs.

The start….

For about 10 years, I made and sold handmade soap. As weird as it might sound, I approach flavor the same way I approached scenting my soaps. For soap, I’d start with a base note that just kind of lurks in the back, but doesn’t overpower the nose. Then I’d do the middle note, which is the overall scent that mingles with the others. It helps bridge the base note with the top note.  It lingers a little. Then, for the high note, I’d choose something a little sharper, with a brightness that hits you upfront, then mellows into the unified whole of all the parts.

..all in the bowl!

So, how does this apply to food?  I layer the seasonings. For base notes, I’d choose something kind of “hearty”, such as cumin, paprikas, some curry powders, or some of the “seedy” spices: caraway, fennel, or fenugreek. Mustard seeds fit here, too. Celery and dill seeds are more of a top note, so hold off on those.  Think of it as a foundation, and choose a solid foundation for the taste profile you are aiming for. The middle note is often an herb, or another spice that is pungent, such as garam masala, coriander, or the powders such as garlic, ginger, or onion. The top note is where those really bold spices go, where a little bit goes a long way. Add chili powders, red pepper flakes, allspice, cardamom,  or cinnamon. The finishing touch is salt and pepper. Always remember that you can always add salt, but you can’t take it out.  I like to have a variety of peppers onhand. They all have different flavors and are really fun to play with.

Let’s go back to those herbs for a minute. Although it adds another ingredient to the list (something I am sometimes knocked about), sometimes I think it makes a big difference in dish to use an herb in both it’s dry and fresh forms. This is especially true with basil, thyme, rosemary, and dill. Dried herbs have a shorter shelf life than spices, so be sure to store them airtight, out of direct light, and know how old they are. If you find that you need a lot more than a recipe calls for, there is a chance that yours might be a little too old.

Don’t hesitate to use premade blends, such as herbes de provence, Italian herb blends, or others. These can be a terrific starting point which you can use as a base in creating your own favorite blends. For example, if I’m using an Italian herb blend, I sometimes increase the thyme or rosemary, and often add some red pepper flakes. Cook to your own taste. If you find yourself repeating a certain cuisine, such as Mexican or Italian, or if you use a “standard” blend of your own for tofu scrambles, it’s helpful to make a large batch of it ahead of time and store it airtight. You can use what you need, and still adapt it as you cook.

Packaged for saving, or winning!

A quick flip through region-specific cookbooks will help you see the herbs and spices most used in a country or area. It’s a lot of fun to branch out and use some spices you’ve perhaps only heard of. Where do you find some of these more unique and unusual ingredients? Check your co-op, where you can often buy in bulk so you can get just enough to try, often for pennies. Just be sure that the stock they sell is fresh. You can also check Ethnic aisles of well-stocked grocery stores. Or try my dream shop: Penzeys! There are lots of locations in the United States, or you can order online.

Grand Prize Package (book not included)

Even better, if you take photos of recipes from Grills Gone Vegan, you could win one of two $25.00 Penzeys gift certificates! Between June 28th and July 8th, share your photos on Instagram  or Twitter (#grillsgonevegan). Winners must have a United States mailing address. Enter as many times as you’d like to  increase your chances. Winners will be chosen randomly. Good luck!

Do you still have questions? Join me on google+ to celebrate the Great American Vegan Cookout on Thursday, June 27th, at 7:30. Register and log on for a chance to win a copy of Grills Gone Vegan!

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