Spice Up Your Cooking with Global Flavors from Chopped

These unique herbs, spices, pastes and rubs have all made an appearance in the mystery baskets. Find out how to incorporate them into your cooking at home.

Photo By: Richard Griffin

Photo By: Nilesh J. Bhange ©Nilesh J. Bhange

Photo By: Anna Bieniek ©Anna Bieniek

Photo By: Maryna Pleshkun

Asafetida

Where you'll find it: Indian cuisine

What it is: A gum resin obtained from a large plant resembling fennel. Once dried it's sold either whole or in powdered form. Its flavor and aroma are unpleasantly pungent, but once briefly fried in oil it turns pleasantly onionlike.

How it's used: Asafetida appears in curries alongside other spices, sometimes as a component of curry powder. Asafetida can be strong, so less is more.

Baharat

Where you'll find it: Middle Eastern cuisine

What it is: Baharat means "spice" in Arabic. Its makeup can vary from household to household, but it's basically a ground blend of paprika, black peppercorns, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg.

How it's used: In soups, mixed with fresh herbs as a condiment and as a rub on meats.

Chinese Five-Spice Powder

Where you'll find it: Chinese cuisine

What it is: A blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise and Sichuan peppercorns, it's typically rubbed on Peking duck or roast pork.

How it's used: Five-spice powder is rubbed onto meats before roasting, grilling, barbecuing or stir-frying.

Culantro

Where you'll find it: Mexican, Puerto Rican and West Indian cuisines

What it is: A variety of coriander with a more concentrated flavor, culantro has long, saw-toothed leaves. In fact, it's sometimes referred to as "saw-tooth leaf." In Puerto Rican cuisine it's called recao and is used in sofrito.

How it's used: Used like cilantro, culantro is often added to soups, stews, rice and noodle dishes.

Curry Leaves

Where you'll find it: Indian cuisine

What it is: Curry leaves come from a small tree native to the Indian subcontinent. Their flavor is musky, bitter and slightly lemony. Sri Lankan and Madras curry powders often include curry leaves in the spice blend. Fresh leaves are preferred over dried, which have nearly no flavor.

How it's used: The leaves are often added to long-simmering stews and curries, and to fish, seafood and rice dishes. Unless they are soft and tender, the leaves should be discarded before serving.

Curry Paste

Where you'll find it: Southeast Asian cuisine

What it is: Curry paste is not related to Indian curries, in that it's made from fresh ingredients instead of dried spices. Typically it includes garlic, shallots, galangal, lemongrass, chile peppers, kaffir lime leaves or peel, cilantro, Thai basil, shrimp paste, cumin, coriander and peppercorns. You'll find three varieties: green, made with green chiles (spicy); red, made with red chiles (medium); and yellow, made with turmeric (mild).

How it's used: As the main flavor base in Thai curries.

Fennel Pollen

Where you'll find it: North American and Mediterranean cuisines.

What it is: Exactly what it sounds like — the pollen from a fennel plant. It's highly aromatic, and its flavor is much like licorice and slightly citrusy.

How it's used: Anywhere fennel seed works, fennel pollen works, too. Think seafood, grilled vegetables, pork chops and for flavoring breads.

Fenugreek Seed

Where you'll find it: Indian, Middle Eastern and African cuisines

What it is: A bittersweet seed with a maplelike aroma, fenugreek is available whole and ground. It's also found in spice blends such as the Indian garam masala. It's best to buy the seeds and grind them yourself for optimal flavor.

How it's used: You'll see it in fish curries, lamb stews and meat rubs.

Garam Masala

Where you'll find it: Indian cuisine

What it is: A combination of spices, literally meaning "hot mix," the ground blend is as common as curry powder all over the Indian subcontinent, but it typically doesn't contain chile heat. Every region, even every household, has its own particular blend, but most garam masalas include cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, mace and/or nutmeg and peppercorns.

How it's used: The blend is usually made in small batches, with the spices first toasted and then ground. It's added to dishes toward the end of cooking or just before serving.

Lemon Verbena

Where you'll find it: French, North American and Latin American cuisines

What it is: An herb with long, green, slender leaves, lemon verbena smells and tastes lemony but is less acidic-tasting than lemon.

How it's used: Lemon verbena pairs well with fish, poultry, rice, vegetable soups and even fruit desserts. Dried leaves are used to make an herbal tea and to infuse syrups and liqueurs.

Lime Leaves

Where you'll find it: Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian cuisines

What it is: These shiny green leaves are harvested from the kaffir (aka makrut) lime tree. They lend an exotically citrusy flavor and aroma when used in recipes, such as Southeast Asian curries.

How it's used: Lime leaves add a citrus hit to Thai curries and stir-fries and can perfume even a simple pot of steamed rice. Unless they're finely sliced, the leaves should be removed before serving.

Mustard Seed

Where you'll find it: Asian, European and Indian cuisines

What it is: Available mainly in yellow and brown varieties. In Western cuisine, yellow mustard seed is primarily used in pickling and, of course, the popular condiment. The brown variety is more pungent and is typically used in Indian cooking.

How it's used: Mustard seeds are staples of marinades and brines for pickles. Brown mustard seeds are often toasted and ground up for curries.

Peri Peri Rub

Where you'll find it: Portuguese, Brazilian and African cuisines

What it is: Peri peri rub is made from dried chiles, paprika, dried lemon peel and black peppercorns. If you like spicy foods, you'll like using this seasoning in your cooking.

How it's used: Most often rubbed on meats and seafood. Stirred into mayonnaise, it makes a fiery aioli.

Sumac

Where you'll find it: Arabic and Lebanese cuisines

What it is: This garnet-colored spice comes from the berries of a bush that grows in the Mediterranean. It's typically sold ground and has a citrusy yet astringent flavor much like lemon.

How it's used: Middle Eastern dips often receive a sprinkle of sumac before serving; sumac is also rubbed on fish, meats and vegetables both before and after cooking.

Tamarind Paste

Where you'll find it: Indian, Southeast Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern cuisines

What it is: The paste is made from the pulp obtained from beanlike pods that grown on the tamarind tree. The fruit has a tangy, apricot-like flavor. The paste can be found canned or frozen.

How it's used: Tamarind is used in chutneys, curried dishes, stews, beverages and sometimes even barbecue sauce.

Thai Basil

Where you'll find it: Southeast Asian cuisine

What it is: A type of sweet basil also called holy basil that has small, pointed leaves and purple stems. Its flavor is stronger than that of common basil and is quite similar to anise or licorice.

How it's used: Thai basil flavors many stir-fries and Thai curries.

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