This month’s delicacies explore a cuisine with a tremendous amount of variety and complexity – far more, really, than we can come close to getting to in a single box. Which means, of course, that we’ll have to return.
This box is also a bit different. Since so much Indian cuisine is very sauce-based, and often with volumes that don’t lend themselves too well to being sent in a small box, I decided instead to focus primarily on some mind-blowing spices, along with a few delicious and interesting base ingredients.
The upshot? An incredible array of ingredients that will really expand your perception of what spices can be (I think) – and a nearly infinite number of directions you can go in, either using them in combination or bringing in other ingredients or cuisines. The downside? That infinity of options can also be a bit paralyzing.
So I’m hoping I can provide a bit of direction, and I’m also excited to see what you come up with. Without further ado, here’s what’s in the box:
- Diaspora Co Pragati Turmeric
- Burlap and Barrel Wild Mountain Cumin
- Burlap and Barrel Pemba Cloves
- Burlap and Barrel Cloud Forest Yellow Cardamom
- Full Moon Turmeric Spiced Ghee
- Rancho Gordo Garbanzos
First, a note on the spices: Both Diaspora Co and Burlap and Barrel are new producers to Ben to Table, and I’m very excited to have them. They’re both committed to revamping the global spice trade, shifting how we think about what spices can taste like and reorienting the trade toward the actual producers, instead of middlemen.
I’m going to describe each of the spices a bit, and then talk about some uses for them:
Diaspora Co Pragati Turmeric
First, get ready to discard any and all sense you may have of what you think dried turmeric “is.” As an ingredient in recipes, I’ve always had a basic perception of it as effectively “earthy food coloring.” But when you first open your jar of Pragati Turmeric, you’re immediately greeted by something else entirely: a whole bouquet of potent and inviting fragrances. This turmeric is also high in curcumin content, something lacking in many ground turmerics.
Burlap and Barrel Wild Mountain Cumin
This was the first spice Burlap and Barrel started with – the founder encountered the wild cumin in Afghanistan and was so blown away by it that he shifted careers to figure out how to get better cumin to folks back home. Like the turmeric, this cumin has an intensity and depth of flavor that is just way beyond the average cumin we know – it’s actually a distinct species from the cumin we most commonly encounter. You can use it just like the cumin you normally use, it’s just better – you can toast it and add whole to some sauce bases, or grind it for a paste or rub.
Burlap and Barrel Pemba Cloves
Like the cloves you know – only better. These are grown by a farmer collective on the Zanzibar Islands, in the Indian Ocean off the Tanzanian coast. Cloves pack a real flavor punch, but they can add a delicious note to braises, stews, and biryanis. Often used whole, you can also add a few to a spice mix with great results.
Burlap and Barrel Cloud Forest Yellow Cardamom
This is certainly more effort than just getting the jar of ground cardamom, but it’s definitely worth it. Biodynamically farmed on a single estate in the cloud forests of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, this green cardamom has a softer, more delicate flavor than the cardamom you’re used to. You need to get the seeds out of the pods, which just requires a light press with a flat surface. I actually used the garlic oil bottle from last month’s Italy box, which worked perfectly.
A note on grinding spices: The only ground spice here is the turmeric – everything else really works better if you get it whole. If you want to grind the cumin, cloves, cardamom seeds (once removed from the pod) or other whole spices you might have like coriander seeds or chilis, there are two primary methods to pursue:
- Use a mortar and pestle. This is the traditional way across the world in one form or another, and works great. Get a heavy base so you can really use some force. This also allows you to more easily add in some ingredients – garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chili – that can introduce moisture
- Get a spice grinder. My solution here was actually just to get an extra coffee grinder. This $15 Krups model works great.
A further note on these spices: Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to build out a true Indian spice cabinet. Top items missing here are a great chili (luckily, previous months have set us up with some pretty good substitutes), coriander, cinnamon, and saffron. I’ll offer some ideas that rely on some of these; my assumption is you probably have them in some way, even if not quite as amazing versions (that’s certainly the case for me).
With all that said, here are some of my favorite things of late:
- I’ve enjoyed pairing the turmeric with the smoked pimentón from the Spain-ish box as a rub for chicken, pork, and tofu (along with salt and pepper) for a quick and easy coating that’s a bit different than what we’re used to.
- I made a spice blend with toasted cumin, clove, and cardamom, plus some coriander, peppercorn, and chili, which I used for a roast chicken last week and then used as the base for a tomato-based stew with vaquero beans and paneer (and fresh garlic and ginger).
- I *adore* biryani. All four of these ingredients are vital ingredients.
- I can’t wait to make this caramelized cauliflower with turmeric-chili sauce recipe Diaspora just put up.
Full Moon Turmeric Spiced Ghee
This grass-fed ghee smells absolutely delicious. It’s a decadent base to use to begin a dish (one hell of a way to fry rice or another grain that you’ll use underneath something with complementary flavors!), and I’ve also enjoyed using it as a finishing coating for rice (pull the rice out just as it’s done, then lay out on parchment paper on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and coat with this ghee – delish!).
And adding to the general Ben to Table recurring theme of “just put it on toast,” this is a really interesting and tasty substitute for butter on toast, either on its own or underneath an egg or for a sandwich.
This ghee is made on a small farm in western Massachusetts committed to sustainable practices.
Rancho Gordo Garbanzos
Like everything from Rancho Gordo, these garbanzos are just about the best version of chickpea you’re ever going to run across. Slightly different than what is most often used in Chana Masala in India (this would be called “chole”), I nevertheless find these chickpeas great in a Chana Masala-like presentation, or for many other uses, whether in a “curry” (which is a controversial term on its own, but really we mean a stew with Indian spices), or venturing further from India, tossed with noodles or in a grain salad.
You can cook them basically like normal (see “How to cook: Beans” for more), with the additional caveat that the cooking liquid is even more beloved than average. It’s called aquafaba, and is particularly beloved as an egg white substitute, for use anywhere from meringues to cocktails.
For a chana masala recipe I like, here’s a fairly involved one that also offers some hints on substitutions. At it’s root, though, we’re talking about spiced tomatoey chickpea stew, so you can also riff from a usual base and emphasize different flavors you want to bring out (or have at hand!).