Sunday, October 3, 2010

Greek herbs & spices

Before continuing with recipes I thought it would be a good idea to describe the spices that I constantly use and always have in my kitchen. These are typical Greek spices, some of them very popular and others less known abroad. I will try to translate the names and explain how they look and where to use them, to spice up your food.

Dry oregano and basil: Basic spices used in almost all Greek meat and fish dishes, salads as well as all tomato-based sauces. It doesn't matter if the oregano is actually Greek or from other countries as long as it was growing in the mountains. The best oregano grows at sunny spots, where the soil is dry and infertile and only the flowers should be dried and used, as those contain high percentage of oils that make the food smell like summer on a plate. On the other hand, basil could be used both dry and fresh. Lately I have a pot of basil growing in my kitchen so I could have it fresh any time.

Dry thyme: gives amazing smell, especially when used in a sauce together with white wine. Similar to oregano and basil could be used in a large variety of dishes from salads to all kind of meat. Also matches perfectly with cheeses, particularly creamy ones.

Boukovo: crashed dried red chilly peppers. You could find it in two versions: hot or sweet (less spicy than the hot one). Commonly, used to marinade red meat or give spicy flavor to sauces. Otherwise, could be used in a same way as cayenne pepper.

Kimino = cumin, either seeds or ground. Originally from India, now used almost in all spicy cousines, like for example Mexican. In Greece, it is mostly used to spice up minced meet dishes, such as meatballs, burgers, soutzoukakia etc. Sometimes could be added to breads.

Bahari = either Jamaican pepper or Guinea grains or allspice. Looks just like black pepper grains, just a bit bigger and smells slightly different. Typically bahari is added to stews (stifado) and tomato-based sauces. In Amsterdam I usually buy it in Turkish stores although I have the feeling that it is slightly different from the one I bring from Greece.

Kanella - cinnamon, either stick or ground and Garifalo = clove, either whole or ground. These are the spices that you either love or hate. Mostly used in traditional deserts. You could use the cinnamon sticks and whole clove to flavor the syrup for baklava or other similar sweets. On the other hand ground cinnamon could also be used for spicing red meat, chicken or tomato-based sauces. This is very common in Konstantinoupoli (today Istanbul) cousine. Just make sure you don't use too much of it, otherwise you risk making your food bitter. By the way, there is a great Greek movie that I highly recommend to everybody. The movie is called "Politiki Kouzina" (Touch of spice) and it presents recent Greek history as well as Greek food-philosophy.

I think I covered the most important ones. Of course there are many many more, but these are the most typical and widely used.

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