Life’s too short to eat dull food. When Amanda Freitag is cooking, seasoning is key. These are some of the ingredients she makes sure to always keep on hand, and her favorite ways to use them. Here’s Amanda:
- Za’atar: This spice blend made up of oregano, thyme, sumac and sesame seeds has risen in popularity in the US in recent years. I was lucky enough to be introduced to these flavors decades ago from a chef mentor. I am obsessed with the flavor profile and the versatility of za’atar. It is so fragrant and bright, and the sumac adds a tangy citrus quality. It’s used widely in Middle Eastern cuisine, I got to experience the many applications of it when I was in Israel and Jordan. Za’atar can be baked into flatbreads, sprinkled on labneh, or used as a seasoning for poultry, meats and vegetables. At this time of year, try sprinkling some on your summer tomato salad for an extra boost of flavor.
- Cinnamon: Everyone knows and loves cinnamon for its warm, aromatic flavor in baked goods, but I love using it in savory foods as well. Cinnamon originated in Sri Lanka, and there are many different varieties. Cinnamon is essential in spice blends that flavor dishes in the Middle East, India, Mexico and Africa. It plays well with other spices, especially cumin, coriander and chili. Get adventurous and add cinnamon to your next lamb or beef stew, then create your own signature spice blend!
- Cumin: Cumin is a seed that can be used whole or ground. I think everyone should stock cumin in their cabinets; it’s earthy, warm and adds depth and fullness to any dish. Cumin is found in spice blends throughout the world; adobos, sofrito, curry powder, baharat and more. You may recognize it from Mexican-influenced dishes as the flavoring in taco seasoning. The seeds can be used whole for soups, curries, chili, pickles and braises. Lamb and cumin are a fantastic, bold flavor combination along with eggplant and lentils.
- Tellicherry Peppercorns: These are the best of the crop when it comes to black pepper, and I highly recommend treating yourself! Get these peppercorns and a pepper mill in your pantry as soon as possible! Their pungent, fruity, robust flavor will absolutely change your cooking. You can smell the difference after the first crack of the pepper mill. Your simple seasoning of salt and pepper will become one of the most exciting things in your kitchen if you try Tellicherry peppercorns.
- Cardamom: This spice is one of my all time favorites! I can honestly say I use it everyday. Its flavor is citrusy, with notes of pine and anise. You can find whole cardamom pods in green and black varieties. It originates from India, but it’s used globally in sweet and savory applications, and in many beverages. My dad always made sugar cookies with a bit of cardamom in them, and it adds a wonderful hint of flavor. I personally add cardamom pods to my coffee beans before brewing a pot; not only is it a delicious flavor, it’s great for digestion as well!
- Chickpeas/Garbanzo beans: It is almost impossible to describe how much I love this ingredient! There’s nothing more versatile than the chickpea. Hummus, falafel, chana masala, panelle and more; these are all culinary delights made from the humble chickpea. Even the cooking liquid from the chickpea can be extracted and used as a vegan delight; it is called “aquafaba” and can be whipped like meringue. Truly amazing.
- Anchovies: A very polarizing ingredient! The ones I am talking about are the salt-cured, oil-packed anchovies in a can or jar. These are the defining ingredient in a classic Caesar salad, and are also hidden in many delicious dishes. Anchovy haters might be shocked to know just how much they actually love them! Their salty, briny flavor adds depth to pasta puttanesca, braised meats like lamb and beef, and many other sauces. Delicious!
Try out some of Chef Amanda Freitag’s favorite flavors by ordering one of her chef-designed Blue Apron meals.