Blending in: African, Middle Eastern spice combinations offer flavor boost in 2017

Blending in: African, Middle Eastern spice combinations offer flavor boost in 2017

With the Thanksgiving catering orders in, chef Judith Roll set out to make some pumpkin pies. That is, until she realized a crucial ingredient was missing. Her stash of allspice was some three-and-a-half miles away, ensconced at her other Stamford restaurant.
“I had to run down to Tabouli Grill for that,” says Roll on a recent morning sitting in Judy’s Bar & Kitchen, the American comfort food restaurant she opened in 2015. She introduced Tabouli Grill’s Israeli and Middle Eastern menu to the public in 2009. “We have chipotle here, for instance. We don’t keep that at Tabouli. You tend to keep what you need and what you often use close at hand.”
Such a culinary crutch is familiar to any professional chef, as well as their amateur counterparts. You tend to collect the spices and herbs that are part of the tried-and-true meal rotation. During the last several decades, however, spice cabinets have increasingly gone through an expansion (consumption has nearly tripled over the past 50 years), with adventurous cooks looking beyond the familiar to pick up some more exotic flavors — often with the intent of acquiring a more global palate and sprucing up the flavor of dishes, while avoiding salt or other unhealthy additives.
Of the more than 40 spices the United States imports every year, spices such as cumin, mace, paprika, anise, fennel, pepper, coriander and mustard seed have largely seen a jump in consumption over the last 10 years, according to the USDA. Roll noticed changes when the appetite for hot sauces began to rise about a decade ago. All that heat seemingly ushered in a love of pepper and different flavors of pepper. A more recent surge has seen more hands reaching for turmeric and spice blends, which offer a distinct profile of a particular regional or ethnic cuisine.