I’ve tried everything....
Chris Terrell © 2017Before
I’ve tried alphabetizing. I’ve tried country of origin. I’ve tried flavor profile. I’ve even tried color. No, I’m not talking about the latest culinary fads, but my spice cabinet. It’s a mess. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot keep it organized. So I continue to buy spices I don’t need because I cannot find the spices I already have. I have two jars of ground nutmeg (obviously a panic buy during Thanksgiving 2015); I have three jars of chili powder (2014 Iron Bowl?); and I have one unlabeled jar of a spice that I cannot identify (don't ask).
If this were 1517 rather than 2017, I'd be sitting on a fortune. I would've retired on this spice cabinet way, way back in the day!
What a difference 500 years make.
Chris Terrell ©2017After
If you were living in Western Europe in the late Middle Ages, life was dull as dishwater. Speaking of dishwater, I’m pretty sure this is where the “don’t-drink-the-water warning” came from! The only option you had for hydration in 1354 was to drink beer…at breakfast…at lunch…and at dinner. These folks had to have been buzzed most of the time.
But if the water didn’t kill you, the food certainly could. It was bland. It was boiled. It was boring. No wonder folks tried to score some Malabar black pepper in a back alley moat to make that stuff edible. Pepper was medieval crack to these people.
It was no wonder then that the Europeans' need to "spice up" their dull culinary lives lured the Portuguese explorer Vasca da Gama to India in 1498. The spices he hauled back to Europe covered his expenses several times over. Nice rate of return Mr. da Gama!
These days, spices are cheap and scoring some nothing more dangerous than a short drive to the Piggy Wiggly. We even have entire stores dedicated to selling nothing but spices. First world problems, right?
No cuisine may have a stronger association with spices than Indian, especially curry—a melange of various individual spices. Many of these mixtures, or "masalas," are family secrets, passed down from generation to generation.
And speaking of Indian spices, during my expedition into the dark recesses of my spice cabinet, I found six jars containing different Indian spice blends, made by a company named Ajika. I grabbed the jar for Tandoori Chicken Blend and, believe it or not, the “use-by” date was many months away. And on the back of the jar in very fine print was a recipe for grilled tandoori chicken that sent me scurrying in a huff to find my reading glasses. Dinner that night was solved. It was quick, easy, and tasted great.
For this post, I wanted to share my discovery with my dear readers. However, there was one problem. Ajika no longer appears to be a going concern. I couldn’t find the website advertised on the back of the jar, and even on Amazon the available jars were limited.
Sharing a recipe for a commercial spice blend that may or may not be readily available doesn't make a lot of sense if one can't get ahold of it. The only other option was to re-create the recipe. On the back of the jar, the ingredients were listed simply as: “cinnamon, clove, fennel, turmeric, ginger, spices.” Not much to go on. This was going to take a bit of detective work and so down the rabbit hole that is the Internet I went.
I quickly uncovered more tandoori masalas than there are bodegas in Manhattan. After several dead ends, however, I came across this recipe for tandoori masala that looked promising. So, with the Ajika spice blend recreated—perhaps—here’s the recipe:
Grilled Tandoori Chicken
For the Tandoori Masala:
2 T cumin powder
2 T coriander powder
4 tsp turmeric powder
4 tsp chili powder
4 tbsp sweet paprika
4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
For the marinade, combine four tablespoons of the tandoori masala with 1 cup of yogurt, 4 cloves of minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of minced garlic, 4 tablespoons of lime juice (about 2 limes), and salt to taste. Pierce four boneless chicken breasts and poke numerous holes in the chicken breasts with skewers. Place the chicken in a gallon Ziploc bag with the marinade and marinate for 4 to 24 hours. Grill at high heat on both sides until tender.
So what started out as the dreaded task of cleaning out my spice cabinet, turned into a delicious recipe for grilled tandoori chicken. And much like those discoverers of the 15th and 16th Century, I realized that one will never know how to get from the start of one's journey to the end. But then there’s a real reason for that phrase: “variety is the spice of life.”