Ingredient TM_IN_SUMAC_AP_001_004

If I told you that a spice often used to season grilled meats can also brighten up a delicate dessert, would you believe me? What if I told you that spice was sumac? Would you even have a jar of it to go home and taste?

Perhaps you’ve seen the plant’s bright red berries growing wild in your backyard before. Or maybe you’ve only heard about the poisonous variety, a relative of poison ivy and poison oak. If you’ve really been paying attention, you might recognize it as one of the primary components of za’atar, the increasingly popular Middle Eastern spice blend. But you’ve probably never tried sumac by itself, let alone cooked with it.

Sweet and tart, bitter and fruity, sumac has an unusual flavor profile for a spice. Imagine eating freshly picked raspberries, followed by a juicy tomato, topped off with a pleasantly savory finish. Made from a berry that is dried and ground into a bright burgundy powder, sumac is easily one of the most interesting — and certainly prettiest — spices you could have in your pantry. It has long been a saving grace spice in Middle Eastern cuisines, where it was traditionally used to brighten up dishes when lemons weren’t available or affordable.
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Superfoods TM_IN_TURM_FI_006

It could easily be mistaken for a knob of ginger, or maybe even a bug. Inside, it exudes an orange hue brighter than any carrot. Its aromas are so pungent that they linger in your kitchen well after it’s gone. It stains everything it comes in contact with. And it’s quickly becoming the next golden ingredient.

Turmeric, a rhizome best known in its orange-yellow powdered form, has lately been breaking away from its secondary role as a component of curry powder and making a solo debut. It has long been valued as a coloring agent, but turmeric can do more than turn food yellow.

Yes, turmeric is one of those so-called “superfoods,” packed full of an abundance of attractive nutrients and health benefits. The superstar of spices, turmeric has been used in holistic healing to reduce symptoms of arthritis and aid digestive relief for years. Its powerful active ingredient, curcumin, has proven effective as an antioxidant, and has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties as well.

Still, even in all of its golden dietary glory, turmeric doesn’t get much attention in the American kitchen. Rarely does it make its way onto our plates. Occasionally, the raw root is used to make a cold-pressed cleansing juice or the powdered spice is sprinkled on top of eggs. Beyond that and traditional Indian dishes, not many American home cooks have any idea what to do with it. MORE

Tea TM_DY_CHAI_AP_001

Of all the Madrid cafes that I could have been standing in, I somehow ended up at Starbucks.

Study abroad kept me away from home for a few months, and I was craving familiarity in the form of a warm, comforting drink. I wanted chai, the Indian take on tea. Masala chai is a daily Indian ritual – one cup in the morning and one following the afternoon nap. This variation on black tea is enhanced by spices and sometimes ginger. At first sip, the masala provides a kick that is accompanied by a rich black tea flavor. It has become comfortably settled in Indian culture, an inherent routine that simply exists without question. And so, because my parents drank chai twice daily, it had been incorporated into my routine back home in the States.
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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_CURRY_FI_002

The curry of my childhood was chicken legs, onions, carrots, potatoes, and a few raisins in a highly spiced, tomato-based sauce. We ate it over steamed brown rice to sop up the juices and with plenty of garnishes like yogurt, diced apple, and fresh cilantro leaves.

It wasn’t until I was well into my second decade of life that I discovered that our curry wasn’t the only version. Throughout my teens and twenties, I took great pleasure in exploring the curries of the world and tried every one I could.

These days, though I appreciate and enjoy the many disparate versions of curries out there in the world, I find that this time of year, when there’s a chill in the air and it’s dark out by 6 PM, I want nothing more than a bowl of the curry my mom always made.
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DIY TM_XX_OLDBAY_FI_001

Do not try to make your own Old Bay.

I’m serious. Don’t even bother.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to whip up your own crab seasoning or make your own Cajun spice. Sprinkle these mixes liberally everywhere you would use Old Bay — seafood, corn on the cob, french fries, wherever. But when you do this, start with the intention of making something different from Old Bay. Trying to beat Old Bay is a losing proposition. There are many reasons why. Here are the top three: MORE

Conflicted Kitchen

Homemade Take Out

It's well worth the effort to make Thai curry paste from scratch

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As a cheerleader for home cooking, I try to avoid take out and delivery meals. But recently, when I was overcome with a craving for Thai food, I placed an order for pickup at my local curry spot. I tasked my husband with picking up dinner on his way home from work. The experience reminded me of all the things I hate about take out—the food wasn’t ready on time, it was cold and not as vibrantly flavored as I wanted. The spring rolls were greasy and excessively high in calories. The spice level was meek. And the price tag was high.

I decided the time had come for me to conquer Thai curries from scratch. MORE