"The secret of happiness is variety, but the secret of variety, like the secret of all spices, is knowing when to use it." -Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
What delights me more than a pantry full of spices from around the world is remembering I have an emergency stash of spices buried deep inside my purse. I call it BYO spice.
I know it may sound strange and dramatic but this habit has been a life saver since I started a full-time job and resorted to cooking a big pot of something simple over the weekend for the entire week. To spice things up (pun intended), I keep a rotation of spices handy to be sprinkled on my otherwise repetitive lunch at work: Ethiopian mitmita spice blend for some sweet heat, Southeast Asian kaffir lime powder for a pop of citrus zing... I am living dangerously through my tastebuds!
You know how the saying goes: variety is the spice of life.
I'm so inspired by these spices that I'm dedicating the entire fall season to exploring and showcasing them in my recipes, particularly those typically found in Asian food. As the summer heat subsides and the air gets crisper, let's fire up our senses with the gentle warmth and heady aroma of spices. Are you ready to fall for spices? (Another pun. I'm on a roll!)
So let's talk about spices! I have a few spicy things to share with you...
Five Spice Energy Bites
I adapted this recipe with measured abandon from the Almond Board of California, who fueled us with these energy dense bites at the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) recently held in Sacramento, California.
Instead of using mostly almonds as in the original recipe, I added a care-free mixture of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits to a base of rolled oats, and brought all the good flavors together with a generous amount of Chinese five spice.
Easily one of my favorite Asian spice blends, five spice powder counts cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel, and pepper among its ingredients, and has a versatile application in both savory and sweet recipes, commonly in marinades and stir-fries but also does remarkably well in cookies and chutneys based on my experience.
If you've never used five spice, consider starting with this easy no-cook recipe, which you will find at the end of this post.
I've said this and I will say it again: Comestible is the best Kickstarter campaign I've ever supported! I backed the quarterly print journal over two seasons and am the proud owner of the spring and summer issues which are filled with thoughtful illustrations and quality writing on food.
The autumn issue is in the oven now and you can pre-order a copy here!
Comestible is founded and edited by Anna Brones, whom you may know as the author of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break and the recently published Hello, Bicycle. The past two issues have featured essays and recipes by chefs, journalists, bloggers, and cookbook authors with a passion for real food—the science and art of it, and most definitely the heart of it.
I'm pleased to announce that the autumn issue will include my spicy Malaysian rendang recipe made with one of the season's most iconic produce: pumpkin. Get your copy here!
Raw Spice Bar
I would not be able to travel the world through my tastebuds were it not for Raw Spice Bar, a spice subscription service (from USD$8/month) that delivers a sampling of spices from different regions in the world. I've been a subscriber for close to a year now, and highly recommend it for the sheer joy of discovering new flavors.
Every month, I get three freshly ground spice blends specific to a country or place with recipes that show me how to use them. I also take pleasure in sprinkling them liberally on my popcorn!
I'm loving the updated look and the new option to customize recipes based on my dietary preferences. The colorful packaging makes them easier to find in my purse too.
In the spirit of exploring global tastes, I recently gave Spiced Pantry a try. A fairly new spice subscription service (from USD$19/month) on the market, what sets it apart is the inclusion of certain ingredients like grains, nuts, and flours in addition to international spices.
The amount of ingredients included were enough to make the suggested recipes more than once, and then some for my own recipes.
I was recently introduced to UncommonGoods, an online marketplace for handmade products with a focus on business and environmental sustainability. Through it, I am discovering independent artists and small-scale manufacturers that tell stories through their creative products.
The Spicy Sea Salt collection, for example, takes kitchen experiments to a whole new level by presenting pepper-infused salts in test tubes against the backdrop of a pine rack hand-cut by one Brett Cramer in Florida.
And while we're shopping, how about an Artisanal Bamboo Salt Chest featuring 24 sprinklings from around the world? I am imagining a place for it on my kitchen counter and sending massive hints to my husband. You see, our anniversary is coming up and I spy plenty of amazing anniversary gift ideas here (for him) and here (for me!).
The anniversary collection on UncommonGoods will spice up any special occasion, and with every purchase made, a dollar is donated to support a cause in their Better To Give program.
Five Spice Energy Bites
These energy dense bites are easy to make and feature the unique flavor of Chinese five spice. Adapted from here. Makes about 12 balls.
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup nuts (I used almond flakes and walnut pieces)
1/4 cup seeds (I used pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds)
1/2 cup dried fruits (I used goji berries, mulberries, and raisins)
1 teaspoon five spice powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup honey (or agave nectar to make it vegan)
1/2 cup nut butter (I used almond butter and peanut butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium bowl, combine the oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, five spice powder, and salt. With a spatula or spoon, stir well to distribute the ingredients. Add honey, nut butter, and vanilla extract, and stir well to combine. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
With your hands, cup and roll a heaping tablespoon of the mixture into a ball. If the mixture is not sticky enough to form balls, add some nut butter. Keep the energy bites chilled until ready to serve. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for longer.