There is nothing quiet like the scent of warm winter spices wafting through the kitchen on a cold winter's day. Some of my favourite spices are associated with this time of year; think cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves. These ingredients can help elevate everyday ingredients and turn them into delicious and flavoursome dishes. Plus, they will fill your kitchen with the warm aromas of Winter; no scented candles needed when you have the smell of cinnamon coming from the oven.
We often associate these spices with baking and not much more; however there are so many uses for these spices in both sweet and savoury dishes. Here is my dummies guide to using five of my favourite winter spices to warm up your cooking this winter.
Cinnamon has to come top of the list when talking about winter spices. It's impossible to imagine winter cooking without the aroma of cinnamon in the kitchen. Cinnamon has a delicate sweet flavour. Buy cinnamon in quill form rather than ground and then grind the quills at home using a coffee grinder. Your home will thank you as there isn't a nicer smell than freshly ground cinnamon.
Use cinnamon in desserts and baked goods, but don't forget about savoury dishes. It can be added to salad dressings, tagines and curries. It's great sprinkled over porridge and added to smoothies, while whole quills can be used to infuse flavour into teas. One of my favourite ways to use cinnamon in cooking is to roast butternut squash in maple syrup, olive oil and cinnamon. The squash caramalises in the oven and is beautifully sweet to eat.
Have both fresh ginger and ground ginger on hand to help ward off winter chills. It's also great for any digestion woes that come your way. Keep fresh ginger in the fridge or freezer. Fresh ginger has quite a strong and pungent flavour and is quite hot, whereas ground ginger has a lighter flavour and is even a little sweet.
We are probably most familiar with adding fresh ginger to stirfries and curry pastes, but it can be used in so many other ways. Mince fresh ginger and add to roast vegetable and mash together. One of my favourite uses for fresh ginger, is grated onto halved tomatoes, drizzled with oil and roasted in the oven (we have to thank Mr. Ottolenghi for this idea). Make ginger tea by soaking shavings of fresh ginger in hot water. Add ground ginger to baked goods desserts for added heat. Like cinnamon, ginger is great added to smoothies. I also pop some in my juicer when I'm making a green juice in Winter as it immediately heats it up and makes it more appealing to drink.
I adore nutmeg. Nutmeg is a sweet spice and I opt to buy whole nutmeg and use a microplane to finely grate it into ground nutmeg if needed. Nutmeg as the name suggests has a nutty flavour, but it is also slightly sweet in flavour.
Sprinkle it over vegetables and desserts. I love nutmeg with roast butternut squash or grated into sauteed spinach or kale. Nutmeg also works great with baked cheese dishes such as mac & cheese and cheesy cauliflower. Nutmeg is pretty popular in cocktail bars, with many Winter cocktails finished off with a light dusting of freshly grated nutmeg.
Cardamom is a beautiful fragrant spice. It's most often associated with Middle Eastern and Indian cooking, but is also commonly used in Scandinavian cooking, mainly in baked treats. It comes in both black and green, but I always use the green pods. Use the pods whole in cooking and remove them before serving or split open the pods to release the seeds and grind them using a pestle and mortar before use.
Cardamom pairs well with tea and coffee, orange honey, pistachio, almonds, walnuts, chocolate and vegetables such as squash and carrots. Add a whole cardamom pod to rice when cooking it and remove the pod before serving. Sprinkle ground cardamom over porridge or add it to smoothies for warmth. One of my favourite winter smoothies, is a combination of almond milk, spinach, banana, lime juice and ground cardamom. It's the perfect combination of soothing and warming.
Through out history, cloves have been prized for their medicinal benefits, from easing the pain of a tooth ache to aiding digestion; they are a must have in any kitchen cupboard. They have a deep sweet aroma but are quite pungent so always use them sparingly. Keep both whole cloves and ground cloves in the kitchen cupboard.
They are commonly used in Asian cuisines but their use is not limited there. They are perhaps best known to us as one of the spices in garam masala, added to hot whiskys or used in stewed fruits. There are lots of other uses for this spice; use them to flavour vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and onions. Use in cooking meats such as ham and pork. Cloves also love red wine and vanilla; how often have you seen dessert options for poached pears in red wine with vanilla ice-cream. For a hot drink at night, add lemon, cloves and honey to hot water and sip on it before bedtime.
There are so many uses for these five wonderful spices, that I have only touched the tip of the ice berg. Delicious used individually, there are even better when combined together. Enjoy xx