How spicy do you like your food? Great British Chefs' guest blogger Urvashi Roe aka @BotanicalBaker, is a bit of an expert when it comes to spices. So when we came across a book called The Mighty Spice Cook Book, she seemed the perfect person to review it.
Blog post & photos by Urvashi Roe
John Gregory-Smith, the author of this wonderful book, sounds a lot like me. He grew up eating lots of different spices, he’s travelled all over the world meeting local people to learn about their cooking and he is generally pretty obsessed with food but spices in particular.
This book starts with a fascinating tour of his travels and the origins of some of the dishes in the book. He covers China, Mexico, South East Asia, Morocco, Turkey, The Lebanon and of course my India and Sri Lanka. All growers of some of the most fabulous spices.
The structure of the book is pretty standard starting with soups and salads, poultry, meat, fish, vegetarian, rice and noodles and then finally desserts and drinks. What’s excellent though is that John suggests accompanying dishes for those of you, like me, are never sure what to pair things with. It’s very easy to dip in and out of.
He covers 30 different spices in this book and there are in-depth descriptions throughout the book with beautiful imagery. Each recipe has no more than five spices and the instructions are wonderfully clear and concise.
I’ve grown up with Indian spices and learned how to blend them from my mother, grandmothers and aunties. So I tried out his Chana Masalato see if it was as good. He uses cumin, coriander, garam masala, black pepper and chilli for a version that took me right back to a tiny street vendor in Delhi. A lovely fresh and fragrant lunchtime snack!
When I lived in Japan, I ate fish as my primary protein source but I’ve never been much good at cooking it. So I flicked to the fish section. So many to choose from – Sri Lankan Devilled Monkfish, Vietnamese Cha Ca La Vong, Sea Bass Ceviche, Chilli Seared Tuna….I decided to go with Malay Yellow Mussel Curry. Firstly because mussels are in season right now and secondly because it’s a nut-paste based curry which I have tasted but never made before.
It really was one of the easiest dinners I have ever made. First I blended the paste ingredients together - lemongrass, ginger, garlic, chilli, turmeric and cashew nuts.
Then I stir fried them lightly in a wok, added some coconut milk then the mussels, cooked those for 7 minutes and then garnished with fresh coriander. The nuts make the broth rich and thick. We were all licking and slurping the mussel shells to make sure none of it was wasted!
And finally on to dessert. I had used lots of spices in the above dishes so I decided to go with a recipe that used only one. Vanilla. My favourite of the sweet spices. John worked in a Beirut Brasserie and I guess this is where he learned how to make this glorious Lemon and Vanilla Cake. The texture was almost like a cheesecake. Dense, creamy and lemony but with a sweet and sour topping of caramel and caramelised lemons. It’s brought out the gluttons in us and was all gone in one sitting!
I lovedthis book. It has speedy, tasty and healthy recipes for everyday meals with simple spice mixes. It also brings back lovely memories of my own travels. Memories that trigger stories at the dinner table as well as my passion for food. A winning combination.
The Mighty Spice Cookbook by John Gregory-Smith is available online and there's also a lovely recipe for Vietnamese Chicken with Chili & Lemongrass on John's site.
Blog post for Great British Chefs by Urvashi Roe.
What are your favourite spices to cook with? Which spicy cakes and savoury dishes are favourites with you & your family? We're discussing these questions over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page