Mighty Spice Mixes

By —Adeena Sussman in the Wall Street Journal

Vadouvan

Think of vadouvan as the sports car of curry powders. Like its better-known cousins, this French-influenced upstart is a favorite of Daniel Boulud and other chefs. Powered by a gutsy wallop of cumin, cardamom, mustard and turmeric, this blend is built for speed. Yet its torque is gentler than that of traditional curry, thanks to the addition of dried onions, garlic and often shallots. The effect is a mellow, balanced blend that finds a natural home in recipes from roasted butternut squash soup to buttery shortbread cookies.

Baharat

A sweet and savory combination often found in Arabic kitchens and used to enhance meats, lentils and grain dishes, baharat feels exotic and familiar at the same time. Look for a blend that combines an assertive kick of black pepper with the soothing warmth of nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. As chef Michael Solomonov often does at Zahav in Philadelphia, rub baharat on meat before grilling—or add a bit to your favorite brownie batter.

Za’atar

Tangy dried sumac is this versatile blend’s key player. There are many variations, but two of the best are Israeli, which typically includes sesame seeds, oregano, thyme and salt; and Syrian, which often brings cumin and coriander into the mix. Sprinkle Syrian za’atar on labneh (strained tart yogurt) with a drizzle of olive oil and serve with pita. Add the Israeli version to ripe pineapple before grilling or roasting.

 

 

Cajun Spice

Cajun seasoning channels Bayou cooking with a heady mix that includes several types of pepper, onion and garlic powder and often dried celery. Every Cajun mix is a little different, but they all pack salt and heat. Use in traditional “blackened” recipes, stir into soups or blend into unsalted butter to finish simply steamed vegetables.

 

 

 

Furikake

Though not technically a spice blend, this Japanese seasoning earns its keep in the cabinet. Made from black and white sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, salt and sometimes dried bonito flakes, this staple is a classic white-rice topper. It’s also great sprinkled on salads or for crusting tuna or salmon fillets before pan-searing. Vegetarians can opt for pared-down gomasio, which consists simply of sesame seeds and sea salt. Furikake: $4 for 1.9 ounces, mishima.com; gomasio:

 

 

Herbes de Provence

Don’t feel limited by its Gallic provenance—this blend boosts much more than French food. Fennel and lavender stand out among basil, marjoram, rosemary and thyme. Larger pieces of dried herbs—rather than finely ground spices—mean you’ll want to cook or marinate with these spices to soften them. Sprinkle onto tomato halves before roasting, rub into chicken with lemon and garlic before cooking, or mix into ground beef for herb-forward hamburgers.

Quick-change agents of the first order, spice blends can elevate dinner from edible to exquisite. Think about the way the introduction of even one new element, such as lemon juice or a fresh herb, can enliven a dish—then multiply the result exponentially. Za’atar’s citrus-like punch brightens anything it touches, while a pinch of herbes de Provence adds floral and piney accents. A few things to keep in mind: Freshness counts, so buy in small quantities from stores that have high turnover. Since many blends contain salt, season food with the blend first, then add salt as needed. Lastly, use in moderation, said Lior Lev Sercarz, owner of La Boîte à Epice, a New York-based spice purveyor to both restaurants and consumers. “Let the flavor of your recipe’s ingredients shine,” added Mr. Sercarz. “The spice blend is the accessory that ties the whole ensemble together.”

 

Mighty Spice Mixes

 

A version of this article appeared September 8, 2012, on page D5 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Mighty Spice  Mixes.

Better Cereal Choices For Kids?

Some child-focused products are 50 percent sugar

Courtesy of Consumer Reports

Are you one of those adults who keep a box of Frosted Flakes or Froot Loops hidden in the cupboard? Such sugary cereals are heavily marketed to children, to the tune of about $229 million advertising dollars per year. But an estimated 58 percent of “children’s” cereals are consumed by the over-18 crowd.

Whether you’re shopping for actual or overgrown kids, we found four cereals with kid-focused marketing that scored Very Good in our new nutrition rating system, based on product label information. Cheerios, Kix, Honey Nut Cheerios (all General Mills), and Life (Quaker Oats) earned points for relatively lower sugar and higher dietary fiber, the two categories we weighed as most important. Cheerios topped the list with only 1 gram of sugar and a healthful 3 grams of fiber per serving.

The bad news is that 23 of the top 27 cereals marketed to children rated only Good or Fair for nutrition. There is at least as much sugar in a serving of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks and 10 other rated cereals as there is in a glazed doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts. Two cereals, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks and Post Golden Crisp, are more than 50 percent sugar (by weight) and nine are at least 40 percent sugar. And that’s not the only issue. Although Kellogg’s Rice Krispies has only 4 grams of sugar per serving, it got only a Fair rating, largely because it is higher in sodium and has zero dietary fiber. Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size earned a healthful cereal score of Good; it has 12 grams of sugar per serving but is also very low in sodium and has a hefty 6 grams of fiber.

Six cereals bowls with different cereals in each


SWEET CHECK  Our new nutrition Ratings can help you decide which cereals to consider and which to skip.

If you’re going to buy one of these kids’ cereals, we recommend you pick one that is rated Very Good. See our oatmeal Ratings for more breakfast choices.

Our nutrition Ratings (available to subscribers) are based on the serving size recommended on the label, but is that what people actually eat? We studied how 91 youngsters, ages 6 to 16, poured their cereal and found that, on average, they served themselves about 50 to 65 percent more than the suggested serving size for three of the four tested cereals. If the kids ate the entire average amount of Frosted Flakes they poured for themselves, they would get about 18 grams of sugar per serving. With Kix, the kids poured portions closer to the recommended serving size. The puffed corn balls are big and light, so the serving size (1¼ cup) is larger than for most other cereals.

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