While global travel is on pause during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, people are still longing for it. One way to safely satisfy a bit of the craving is through the kitchen spice rack – something Hilton culinary experts around the world have creatively sourced to help people indulge in local flavors and beyond.
When it comes to global cuisine, spices are an essential part of establishing flavors that are synonymous with specific cultures. A dash or pinch of a spice has the power to add flair and personality to even the most basic foods, such as bread or roasted carrots, and transform them into distinct dishes, Hilton culinary experts say. Even something as simple as an aroma or the sound of food crackling in a pan can transport your mind somewhere new or reignite happy memories of a favorite trip. What’s lesser known is how to use different spices to take you where you want to go, while physically remaining in your kitchen.
Hilton culinary experts share how to use seven spices from around the world to shake things up in your kitchen and let your taste buds travel.
France – Herbes de Provence
This staple seasoning of French cuisine originates in the south of France and is made up of a variety of different herbs, including basil, fennel, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, tarragon and thyme. The herbs are freshest during the summer months, but they can be dried and saved for use year-round. As a blend, herbes de Provence can be added to almost anything – such as chicken or beans – to create fragrant and warm flavors. Herbes de Provence are the perfect addition to a vegetable soup that combines a variety of seasonal vegetables, flavored stock or water, olive oil, salt and goat cheese.
Morocco – Cardamom
This spice has a unique flavor that can stand up on its own or be added to a blend. Cardamom has a slightly citrusy herbal flavor that is commonly found in a wide range of Moroccan dishes, from tagines to couscous. Hilton culinary experts say cardamom brings out the fresh and simple flavors of some of the most basic foods, like vegetables or fish. To brighten up a side dish, add cardamom to vegetables before roasting them.
India – Garam Masala
For those looking to experiment with warm and mystical flavors, Hilton culinary experts describe garam masala as the perfect aromatic spice to add a vivid and distinct taste to almost any dish. One Hilton chef says eating dishes that contain garam masala makes him feel like he’s been transported to India, experiencing the fragrances and seeing the details of Indian architecture. Garam masala is actually a blend of different spices that can vary from region to region. Typical ingredients include coriander, cardamom, cloves, black pepper and nutmeg. Try adding this blend to vegetable stew or even homemade bread for added flavor.
Thailand – Lemongrass
When it comes to Thai food, lemongrass is a staple ingredient. The lemony-scented spice adds a vibrant burst of citrus that can transport your taste buds straight to southeast Asia. There are various ways to use it while cooking, but it often starts by grinding it with a mortar and pestle or shredding it in a food processor. After that, lemongrass can be added to a green curry sauce, fish stew or shrimp cocktail. One chef suggests using it with crab, coconut, ginger and curry. Another creative way to use it is by infusing it into a drink, such as tea or a fun cocktail. For an easy cocktail, heat up equal parts of water and sugar with ground lemongrass to create a lemongrass-infused simple syrup. Then strain out the lemongrass pieces before mixing the syrup with soda water and a clear liquor, such as gin or white rum.
Mexico – Cumin
There are so many distinct flavors in Mexican cuisine, but cumin is one of the most commonly used spices in regional dishes. It has a strong flavor, which Hilton’s culinary experts caution can easily overpower a dish if it is used excessively. However, when used properly, cumin adds a distinct earthy flavor and a hint of spice to food. One of the best ways to experience cumin’s rich and deep flavor is to prepare it from scratch by toasting the whole seeds on a dry pan before grinding them to use in recipes. Try sprinkling cumin on chicken or steak for flavorful fajitas, or blend the spice with roasted tomatoes and whatever vegetables you have in the fridge for a savory salsa. Combining it with olive oil to create a sauce is another tasty tip.
North America – Dry Rub
Americans are well-known for mastering the art of barbecue, and each region of the United States has its own variation of the sauce, from the smoky flavors found in Texas to the classic, thick, tomato-based sauce of Kansas City. While the sauce is a crucial element of most barbecue dishes, Hilton chefs note that it’s the dry rub seasoning that is the secret to getting that distinct barbecue flavor. Not all dry rubs are the same – each mix can be made with a variety of seasonings, like paprika, chili powder, salt, pepper, garlic, brown sugar and cinnamon. The key is to make sure the seasoning mix achieves the sought-after umami flavor. To ensure maximum taste, it is best to apply the dry rub a few hours, or even a full day, before cooking. And dry rub doesn’t have to be limited to meat. For plant-based foodies, try experimenting with the seasoning on veggies like cauliflower, which can instantly satisfy cravings for some classic barbecue. Adding beer or bourbon can add another twist to a barbecue dish.
Turkey – Sumac
Sumac is most commonly recognized in the Middle Eastern za’atar seasoning, which is a mix of dried herbs, toasted sesame seeds, salt and sumac. It has a tangy, sour flavor and it is sometimes used as a substitute for lemon juice to add a bit of tartness to dishes such as hummus or a salad dressing. Use it to brighten roasted, baked or even fried potatoes, or sprinkle it on top of avocado toast for some extra “zing.” It’s also nice on pita bread brushed with olive oil. Alternatively, to satisfy a sweet craving, Hilton culinary experts suggest trying sumac mixed with honey and drizzled on ice cream. You can also try it in a pastry; wrap a fruit puree in filo dough, then brush the dough with sumac-infused honey before baking it to create a delightful sweet treat.