The Spice of Life

In living around the world, it dawned on me one day (duh?) how universal the ingredients are that we cooks use to prepare the cuisines of our native countries. Certainly, there are things unique to certain areas because of environmental conditions, but our basic food lists are pretty much the same.

Consider the fact that there are a limited number of edible ingredients in the world. People foraged and ate whatever was available in their local environment. I often wonder how they decided which things were good to eat and which were not. Here, I think of examples like ackee, which is poisonous unless harvested, trimmed and cooked just so. French people did not always eat potatoes. Italians did not always eat tomatoes.

Today, all of us eat pretty much the same things …. potatoes, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers — not to mention poultry and meats like chicken, beef, pork, and lamb …. the list is endless. That was not always so. There is a long and interesting history of how that universality came to be. It is thanks, in large part, to the Columbian incursion, which, along with conquering native populations, transported foods and spices to all corners of the earth.

The point I want to make here is that the variables that distinguish our many divergent cuisines is cooking methods and seasoning. A potato prepared in India and one cooked in Cuba taste dramatically different. Plantains in Sierra Leone and those served in Haiti have only the ingredient in common, not the final product.

That leads me to extol the magical properties of spices and herbs. Instead of going into a long dissertation, I shall offer just one for your consideration.

When I lived in France, I discovered a marvelous concoction of herbs that is so flavorful and delicious, it elevates the taste of even the most simple dishes to extraordinary. I use it copiously in stews, soups, and meat dishes.

Although the mixture is named for a province in France, the ingredients are a melange of herbs native to Europe, North Africa, and China.

In France, you can buy it almost everywhere, already mixed. In America, you have to make your own. This recipe will provide enough to last for months.

Herbes de Provence

INGREDIENTS

3 tbs marjoram
3 tbs thyme
1 tbs summer savory
1 tbs basil
1 tbs rosemary
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp fennel seeds

DIRECTIONS

COMBINE all herbs in a bowl & MIX well. TRANSFER to an airtight jar. Lasts for months!

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1 Comment

  1. Patricia said,

    11 October 2014 at 5:08 pm

    lovely. I really like Herbes de Provence and will henceforth make my own.


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