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January 2009 Issue
Toasting Spices
by Ronda L. Halpin
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With spices, the way to concentrate their aromatic properties is to toast them gently as whole spices, and then, if desired, grind them in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. If you are going to grind them, just heat a heavy fry pan over medium heat, with no oil added, and add as much spice as you'd like to toast. Keep a watchful eye over this process, and keep stirring and shaking the spices continually; when they start to brown, and become quite aromatic, they are finished. They can easily start to smoke and burn, so get them off the heat quickly when the toasting is complete. Do not try to toast a variety of different spices at the same time, as they will toast at different rates, and you will either burn some, or leave some un toasted. Transfer the toasted spices to a spice grinder, and grind until fine.

This toasting step only takes a couple of minutes, but will add a lot of life to any spice requiring dish. The toasting increases the intensity of the spice flavor, as well as adds a pleasant nutty toastiness. Toasting your spices will make you a better cook. Only toast as much as you need for a particular recipe, as once ground, the flavors will diminish relatively quickly.

Alternatively, you can toast spices in oil just before adding other ingredients like onion and garlic. This process also seasons the oil used for cooking and increases the depth of flavor in the dish. To that end, I'm sharing a recipe that does just that. Enjoy this sauce over more than eggplant -- although I highly suggest you try it as is at first.


Eggplant with Toasted Spices

  • 1 large eggplant -- about 1 1/2 pounds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • Pinch of ground ginger
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion -- finely chopped
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes -- halved, or 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light molasses
  • 1 garlic clove -- minced
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro (fresh coriander)
Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill or broiler. Away from the heat source, lightly coat the grill rack or broiler pan with cooking spray. Position the cooking rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source.

Trim the eggplant and cut lengthwise into slices about 1/4-inch thick. Arrange the slices on the rack or broiler pan and grill or broil, turning once, until the eggplant is tender and browned, about 5 minutes on each side. Set aside and keep warm.

In a small bowl, combine the first 7 spices (mustard seed through cloves) . In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the spice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds. Quickly add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, molasses, garlic and vinegar. Cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 4 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper.

Transfer the eggplant to a warmed serving dish or individual plates, pour the sauce over, and garnish with the cilantro.

  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes
  • Yields: 4 servings

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