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I recently received a gift box from a lovely Toronto spice store. The pretty salt box is a collection of eight gourmet salts from around the globe – que chic from a shop called The Spice Traders. I wanted to know more. Where was this lovely spice store? Who were these kindred spirits who brought in organic (yes, organic spices do make a difference in your food- try it and taste for yourselves) and natural spices from around the world? What untold treasures did their quaint spice den hold for me?
I grabbed my notepad, curiosity and taste buds and off we went to visit Allison and Neil at their olive-coloured spice tin lined boite. These two spice connoisseurs come by their love of these flavour enhancers honestly- both enjoy cooking, wanted to leave their former incarnations (as a banker and film maker) and both studied spices (what’s behind a good pod, seed or herb) for about a year before embarking on this not-so-little venture. The result? A fantastic spice store that offers much more than tidy shelves brimming with everything from nigella seeds to whole cardamom pods, spice grinders, mortars and pestles, microplaners and graters of every size. You also get to sample the shopkeep’s very own blends that will make cooking an unexplored adventure- even for the most unadventurous.
Some delectable suggestions for your Pantry, blended by Allison and Neil:
The Bangkok Blend
A gorgeous amalgamation of spices that doesn’t have a fiery scoville factor, leaving the roof of your mouth and taste receptors in tact. Paprika, cumin, and fennel, explained Allison, helps to stretch and merge flavours, while galangal, garlic and sweet basil give the blend its distinct Thai exoticism. (Here are some great garlic presses for you!)
- Add a dash to coconut milk and steam your own mussels at home.
- This blend makes a beautiful marinade for fish fillets- just add a little rice wine vinegar, mix and marinade. Poach fish fillets on low heat in olive oil– you’ve never had it so good! (Note: filleting your own fish makes it taste better. Check out our guide to the best boning and fish fillet knives!)
- Perfect for sprinkling on shrimp that’s meant for the BBQ.
Tuscan Stuffing Blend
A truly Mediterranean mix of thyme, tarragon, onion, lavender, and bay leaf combine to give this blend a thumbs up among many a Spice Trader client. It’s one of the shop’s most popular house blends.
- Mix with a little olive oil to coat your favourite vegetables- sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, turnips, butternut squash, red or yellow peppers, shallots and roast to caramelized perfection. (Here’s some olive oil dispensers you may like)
- Use as a marinade or spice for chicken– roasted in the oven is recommended or grilled on the barbeque.
Ras Al Hanout
Over 25 spices go into this Moroccan influenced beauty. One whiff and you know you’ve got a tremendous tagine in the making.
- Alison recommends using a pinch in soups (pear and parsnip is one of her favourites- and the use of fruit in savoury/sweet soups is a food trend that’s on the rise), dry roast the spice and add it to rice, lamb dishes or to flavour your own couscous.
Other neat finds include
Organic Mulling Spice blends
With vanilla bean, orange and lemon peel, allspice, cinnamon chips and cloves to name a few of the quality ingredients. Perfect for blah winter time weather or anytime you’d like a pick-me-up in a hot mug.
Whole spices get mixed with rock salt to offer up a flash of India that isn’t overpowering for a host of your favourite dishes. Aromatic, fragrant and delicious!
As hot if not hotter (pun intended) that the wonderful world of salts, pepper is the next big wave in flavour sensations. From Javanese Cubeb, Green, White, Black, Pink, Long, and Szechuan pepper varieties to the more exotic Grains of Paradise, the Spice Trader’s got you covered. Grains of Paradise (the seeds from the melegueta pepper- an African fruit that’s used in Brazilian and Portuguese cooking) was a new one for me. This black seed dates from the Middle Ages, its taste is fiery- think black pepper mixed with lemon and cardamom. The shop suggests you grind it with some garlic and rub it on meat before roasting. I cannot wait for summertime grilling!
While you’re here, be sure to check out our kitchen product reviews!