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October 15, 2009

Vadouvan, a Pantry Special (Recipe: butternut squash, apple and vadouvan soup)


Before last season's Top Chef, I'd never heard of vadouvan,so when I saw a small sample packet at the The Spice House in Chicago last summer, I couldn't pass it up. Basically, it's a French version of a South Indian curry powder (which can be a blend of up to 30 spices), and just as curry powders vary from one cook to the next, so does vadouvan. Sometimes it's more of a paste, made with cooked onions, that needs to be stored in the refrigerator. The packet I bought, which is a dry spice mix, contains curry, curry leaves, white and toasted onion and garlic powders, brown mustard seeds, shallots and kosher salt. Some blends also include fenugreek and cardamom. Use it as you would a sweet curry powder; the flavor is milder and a bit more fruity, with just a hint of smoke.

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August 23, 2009

Ritz crackers, a Pantry Special (Recipe: baked stuffed shrimp)

Baked stuffed shrimp, a New England classic.

In America, it's hard to imagine a place where you can't find Ritz crackers in every supermarket and corner store, yet I seldom keep them in my pantry. Since 1935, a year after they were test-marketed in Baltimore and Philadelphia, the round, scallop-edged crackers, salted on the top side and flaky on the inside, have been sold nationwide. Topped with peanut butter, they're a favorite afterschool snack for kids, but when crushed or ground, Ritz crackers work much like Cheddar cheese-y, buttery bread crumbs, in stuffings or as a coating.

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June 28, 2009

Nutella®, a Pantry Special (recipe: banana or strawberry Nutella quesadillas)

Nutellas strawberry quesadillas. For dessert!

When I suggested to my pastry chef friend Cindy that we make Nutella® quesadillas for dessert last week, she asked, "Italian Nutella or Canadian Nutella?" I had no idea what she meant, but a bit of research turned up the answer. Though the Ferrero corporation owns the trademark, the actual chocolate-hazelnut-skim-milk spread made in Italy since the 1940s is not the same product made in Canada and imported to America for the past twenty years. Canadian Nutella contains more chocolate and more sugar, and less hazelnut, than the Italian original. You'll find Nutella on the supermarket shelf with peanut butter, which makes sense; it tastes enough like chocolate peanut butter that I'm sure Elvis would have loved to spread it on his signature sandwich. Stored at room temperature (never in the refrigerator), Nutella keeps for months, though it seldom lasts that long in my house.

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April 28, 2009

Syrian spice, a Pantry Special (Recipe: chicken shish kabob) {gluten-free}


Syrian spice, Syrian allspice, Arabic spice, baharat: what's in a name? The basic ingredients in the Syrian version of this popular North African spice blend -- black peppercorns, allspice berries, cinnamon and nutmeg -- can be enhanced with a bit of sumac, cumin, cardamom, cassia or cinnamon, paprika, cloves, rose petals, dried lime, saffron or mint. A rich and peppery (spicy, not hot) mix, Syrian spice makes a delicious rub for grilled chicken, or the base of a flavorful dip for roasted vegetables. My local Middle Eastern market blends its own, letting the pungent, complex flavor of allspice take center stage. I love it.

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February 3, 2009

Grains of paradise, a Pantry Special (Recipe: tagine of lamb with apricots) {gluten-free}

Pantry Specials are great ingredients that find their way into my pantry from time to time, but not all the time.


On a recent search for new pantry ingredients with food blogging friend TW Barritt of Culinary Types, I acquired this tin of grains of paradise -- so unfamiliar to me that I had to look it up on my phone in the middle of the store.

Popular in West African cuisine and indigenous to that part of the world, grains of paradise (also called Melegueta or alligator pepper) got its name in a medieval marketing ploy: spice traders looking for a way to inflate the price claimed that the seeds grew only in Eden, and had to be collected as they floated down the rivers out of paradise. Spices were popular in those days, but true pepper was expensive; grains of paradise was a cheaper substitute (ironically, today pepper is inexpensive, while grains of paradise is not cheap at all). The spice was widely used in England until King George III, fearing it was being used in beer and wine production, banned it.

Grains of paradise tastes pungent and fruity, a bit like pepper crossed with cardamom. A frequent component of the spice blend ras el hanout, it works well with eggplant, potatoes, lamb and poultry, squash, tomatoes, and other root vegetables. Purchased in seed form, it must be ground or crushed right before use, and is best added towards the end of the cooking time.

Is this Pantry Special new to you?

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Welcome to The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my tiny kitchen in Boston's South End, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives. Thanks so much for visiting.

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