One skill that I constantly feel like I am trying to develop is flavor combining. Growing up, the flavors I was most familiar with were soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and scallions. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves only made their appearance in a spiced apple cake that my mother would make on occasion because it was my favorite. Anything beyond that can easily feel alien to me.
I think it’s the main reason why I am a tad obsessed with spices and spice mixes. Power Spicing by Rachel Beller would have been the perfect book for me when I was getting into cooking. It’s a cute cookbook with only about 60 recipes, and an overview of 25 spices. This is not Spice Master Lior Lev Sercarz level of cooking. But that doesn’t mean that this book doesn’t have any value. One could argue that maybe it has more relevance to the average home cook.
In the spice introduction, Beller mentions potential health/medicinal benefits of the 25 spices she chose to highlight. For example, “studies show that cinnamon may help regulate blood sugars, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce hemoglobin A1C levels.” She also includes some general helpful information on each spice that varies from where you can find a certain spice to flavor substitutes. She also offers from spice pairings based on absorption enhancers, synergistic actions, or doubling potential health effects.
The book has seven main chapters:
- DIY spice blends
- Daily power beverages
- Spicy and sweet breakfasts
- Mains that pack a punch
- Sizzling up your sides
- Dressings and dips
- Snacks and sweets
A lot of the recipes are plant based, but not all of them. Some recipes that were of interest to me are:
- Red-hot chili cocoa
- Butternut squash and apple bake
- Apple-zested muesli
- Tzimmes oat crumble
- Lentil salad with spicy vinaigrette
- Vegan creamy brussels sprout Caesar
- Warm fennel salad
- Green goddess fenugreek tahini sauce
- Spiced nut and date bars
Since the temperatures are dropping here in New England, I was mostly interested in the spiced warm drinks. I made three of them (but only remembered to take photos of two). The first one I made was the golden choco-latte. The purpose of this drink is to help soothe inflammation and to balance your blood sugars. Honestly, I just thought that it was pretty tasty.
The second drink I tried was the saffron and cardamom latte. This was the recipe that caught my eye first when I initially received the cookbook. Made with saffron, green cardamom, cinnamon, and fennel, it’s supposed to boost your mood, strengthen your immune system, and help with bloating. I was mostly curious about using saffron and cardamom as a blend. (I use cardamom today when I’m making masala chai.) Sadly, I was disappointed in this one. Also, my efforts looked nothing like the photo. It just didn’t taste interesting enough to me. Maybe the fennel is a little too strong? I think I would have preferred just plain fennel tea (which is something I do from time to time). Maybe I’ll play with the ratios of cardamom and fennel next time (if there is a next time).
So then I made the stabilizing matcha in hopes that it would make up for the latte. The stabilizing matcha says that the “combination of ginger, cinnamon, and matcha has been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels and decrease the risk of diabetes.” I was a little worried that the cinnamon and ginger would completely overwhelm the matcha, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The spices hit the tongue first, but I think the matcha lingered afterward the most. Final review? Yeah, I think this made up for the latte. I’m normally a plain green tea kind of person, but I think I can make an exception for this recipe from time to time.
While I recommend taking health claims with some skepticism, I don’t think there’s any harm in experimenting with whole and natural foods to try to increase benefits. Especially if those experiments are tasty. Anyone with an interest in general spice blending or looking for a starting point in spice blending will find Power Spicing to be useful.
Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Clarkson Potter for this review. I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.