The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

On The Table

January 30, 2013

Blended spice heats up kitchen on a cold winter day

JOPLIN, Mo. — I have a serious addiction to spices. I can’t pick a favorite — I think they’re all good. My biggest moment of spice utopia happened when I discovered a vendor selling them by weight on a table full of sacks at a Kansas City farmers market. I lingered nearby as long as I could, breathing in the perfume of nutmeg, cumin, coriander and mint.

It’s not uncommon for members of my family to observe me pausing while cooking, with the spice jar to my nose and a smile on my face. Hey, if I’m going to open the refrigerator door to grab the jug of milk, then I might as well grab the tube of freshly minced ginger to get a fix.

But nothing, nothing, nothing beats the smell and flavor of curry powder, particularly on a cold winter day. The subtle heat starts at the back of your throat and envelops you in a blanket of goodness. Perhaps I love it because it’s actually a blend of numerous spices, rather than just one.

My favorite two partners to curry powder are coconut milk, which serves as a cooling, creamy counterpart, and ginger, which adds depth of flavor and additional heat.

Savory soups Filled with flavor

Two soups that use all three ingredients are among my go-to dishes for wintertime fare. Both also incorporate vegetables and legumes that are challenging to present to my family in any other form.

The first, a curried butternut squash soup, stars readily available squash, which is an excellent source of fiber, vitamins A, C and E, magnesium, manganese and potassium.

The hardest part of preparing the soup is removing the tough skin of the squash. I mastered it by trial and error and learned to first cut the squash in half to separate the “neck” from the “bottom.” This provides a flat surface on each section to place on my cutting board. Using a sharp knife and keeping fingers well out of harm’s way, slice off the skin in strips starting at the top and slicing down.

Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds — which are edible, either raw or roasted — as you would from a pumpkin. The recipe calls for 4 cups of squash, but it’s difficult to gauge just how much I’ll get from a particular squash, so if I have extra, I cut it into chunks and freeze it in a sealable bag for future use.

I also save time and waste by keeping a tube of fresh minced ginger paste in the refrigerator. Fresh cilantro is the final must-have to both stir in and garnish the dish.

The second soup, a chicken curry with spinach and chickpeas, also features curry and ginger. The garbanzo bean is a legume that’s a great source of zinc and protein. It’s low in fat and is often called a chickpea. Archaeological remains indicate they were around in the Middle East as early as 7,500 years ago.

My trick to making this soup on a busy weeknight is grabbing a rotisserie chicken after work and, again, relying on that tube of fresh minced ginger paste. It can be found in the produce section at most grocery stores under the label “gourmet garden.”

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