Interesting, exotic, and perfectly balanced flavor...it's the holy grail of cooking. One of the best ways to achieve this in your party food recipes is to use the appropriate spices. Knowing which spices are best with which food – now that's a challenge.
Culinary students spend hours and hours learning the best combinations. While you may simply follow a recipe using just what it calls for, sometimes stepping things up a bit can really turn a party food recipe from OK, to wow! Or better yet, create your own dish with a little spice.
One thing I do know, that the aroma, the color, the taste of certain spices linger long after they've been used. It's a wonderful sensation that, for me, is inspiring. As I prepare a party food recipe that is rich with spices, I can travel to a far away land, in ancient times...
The history of spice
In ancient times, and through medieval times, spices were precious. They were used for medicine, perfume, and incense as well as for flavoring. Spices were a commodity often used for trading. Spice trade has been traced back to the Neolithic period, as early as the 10th millennium BC.
The spice trade grew to be major commerce for the civilizations of Asia, Europe, and Northeast Africa. The true sources of some spices were withheld by traders, sparking fantastic tales of their origins. Trade routes were fought over, and power among civilizations shifted depending on control of these routes.
I find it fascinating that something so simple, so commonplace now, was once so precious. Spices haven't changed, but their impact on civilization has. From a hot commodity that sparked battles between an entire people, spice has become a readily available ingredient that sparks creativity in the kitchen.
If you'd like to learn more about the history of the spice trade, try these titles:
- Dangerous Tastes, The Story of Spices by Andrew Dalby
- Spice: The History of a Temptation by Tom Standage
- Nathaniel's Nutmeg: Or, the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History by Giles Milton
Today we can select from an aisle of spices at our local grocer. They smell wonderful, impart flavors that are at times nuanced, other times, full-on. But what they all have in common is to add something special to our meals, and our party food recipes.
As the air cools, and the leaves begin to change and fall, the foods we crave change also. It's time to enjoy creamy soups, pot roasts, even favorite desserts like pumpkin pie. What would these recipes be without spices to help jazz them up, or to pull together the various ingredients.
Spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves provide a mellow-sweet hint of flavor. Combinations, like allspice (a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove together) or pumpkin pie spice (a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and mace) should once again be pulled to the front of your pantry.
How to pair spices and food
For experienced chefs, knowing the combinations of foods and spices that works best is second nature. For some of us food loving folks who just want to entertain with style, perhaps it can be a bit of a mystery. I know what spices and seasonings I like, and tend to use the same few with certain things. But I want be more creative, and to experiment.
If, like me, you're at a loss for how to use spices, I found this handy guide from Frontier. It lists foods and the spices that work best with them. I suggest you do a little experimenting on your own with this information. Who knows, you can develop a new family favorite, or impress guests with a flavorful fall party food recipe.