Patty Erd of The Spice House Answers Our Questions

To walk into Chicago’s The Spice House, (see also locations in Evanston, IL and Milwaukee, WI,) is to be transported to a dozen far away lands all at once.  Owner, Patty Erd is one of Chicago’s most valued culinary treasures.  She has taught us so much — from the history of spice to simple and exciting ways enhance our recipes with the exotic.  As we are exploring 22 countries at once with this month’s look at The Mediterranean Middle East, we thought it only wise to consult Patty on the myriad spices and flavor profiles of the region. 

Here’s what she had to say!

Tell us how to simply add Spanish flavors to our food, using spice?
For Spanish cuisine, the two indigenous ingredients we sell the most are saffron and Pimenton de la Vera, Dulce or Picante which is a Spanish smoked paprika, available in sweet or hot variations. This smoked paprika has been an extremely popular favorite of chefs and home cooks alike for at least the past five years. You might find that the spices used in Spanish cooking have a great deal of cross over with Mexican cooking. In addition to smoked paprika, other ingredients you might find in spice mixes are cumin, oregano, chile peppers, lemon, rosemary, garlic, onion and even cocoa. We recently introduced a Chorizo Casero blend, which could be used in either Spanish or Mexican cooking, at The Spice House, that took off right out of the gate.

Chicago-Spice-HouseWhat are the secrets to Moroccan flavor profiles at home?
We carry a wonderful Moroccan blend that was created at the request of the Chicago Field Museum. Spices featured in our blend include cumin, coriander, curry powder, cardamom and cassia cinnamon. Other ingredients one might add could be saffron, turmeric, ginger. Harissa is a marvelous ingredient used in many Moroccan and Middle Eastern dishes. We just sourced a marvelous green Harissa product that we are very excited about, it is a traditional Moroccan green pepper sauce. Another delicious Moroccan ingredient is preserved lemons, it is quite simple to make your own if you give yourself the lead time needed for the preserving process. (We sell them as well if you are short on time!)

Let’s Talk Turkish.
Urfa Biber Turkish chile pepper is a newly available and soon to be trendy fruity crushed chile pepper that has a nice kick of heat and a tangy raisin-like flavor. It compliments roast vegetables and meats, but also balances nicely with the baking spices of vanilla and cocoa. You would also be repeating many of the other ingredients above, sumac, za’atar, cumin, cinnamon, etc.

What is your favorite “undiscovered Mediterranean” flavor profile?
If I had to pick one flavor, I love the Aleppo pepper from Syria. While a crushed red chile pepper, like our popular pizza peppers, it has so much more depth, a rich fruity bouquet and a little less heat. Add a few pieces of diced up preserved lemons and you are good to go.

What is a common misconception about spices or cooking with spice?
What myth do you want to bust once and for all!?

A little is good, means a lot is better. NOT at all true, when it comes to spices.

Also, that spices last forever, because they are already dried. Ground spices have, at best, a one year shelf life. The FDA does not require “best by” dates on spices, which is why it is a really good idea for you to just get out a sharpie and date your spice bottles when you bring them home and put in your cabinets.

What are the secrets to a great spice rub for grilled meat?  Following our Mediterranean theme…
I think the most simple combination that makes a great steak Mediterranean style is freshly ground black pepper, fresh sliced garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, and the herb of your choice, such as thyme or oregano.