Spices & Seasonings/spice mix

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Question
when i was on a train in india in sept 1992 a street vendor gave me a piece of lengthways cut cucumber with some spice mix sprinkled on it. i have not forgotten it to this day but can not for the life of me re-create the mix. can you point me in the right direction for possible recipes?

Answer
Wow Tony, that's quite a question.  Without further description, it's really impossible to tell what the fellow might have put in his spice blend, but I can at least throw some ideas your way.

The first assumption that I'm going to make is that the spice blend he used was Indian in origin.  Even then, India is a big country, and the cuisine of northern India is not the same as the cuisine of southern India.  What's more, traditional (and non traditional) Indian cuisine uses a great deal of spices, often in the same dish/sauce, and there's a great deal of synergy - the individual flavors of the spices are not prominent, while the flavor of the blend or 'masala' takes on a character of its own.

Skimming through one of my books, I find a list of common seasonings from the subcontinent:

Anise Seed
Asafetida
Bay Leaves
Black Pepper*
Cardamom*
Chiles
Cinnamon*
Cloves*
Coriander Seed*
Cumin*
Curry Leaves
Fennel Seeds
Fenugreek
Garlic
Ginger
Mace*
Mint
Mustard*
Nutmeg*
Onion Seeds*
Pomegranate Seeds (Dried)
Poppy Seeds
Saffron
Shallots
Tamarind
Turmeric*

The * indicates what I, personally, would think common for the application that you described.  Feel free to pick up some of the spices on the list that you have never tasted and try them out, see if anything strikes a chord with you.

'Culinary Artistry' provides a list of complimentary ingredients for a wide variety of foods.  Here is what it has to say about cucumbers, cross referenced with the above list:

Chiles
Cilantro (The leafy part of Coriander, though in India they call it all Coriander)
Garlic
Ginger
Mint
Nutmeg
Black Pepper

And of course, a pinch of salt will help to turn on the flavor of whatever you're working with.

You can also look for some prepackaged blends, garam masala is a common once where I live (though I prefer to make it).  Here's a couple of recipes to maybe get you going in the proper direction

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Garam Masala
~12 Green or Black Cardamom Pods, hulled, toasted
7g Coriander Seed, toasted
8g Cumin Seed, toasted
1 1/4 Cinnamon Sticks, shattered, toasted
2g Cloves, toasted
5g Black Peppercorns, toasted
0.5g Ground Nutmeg
2 to 3 Bay Leaves

-Grind all ingredients together in a spice grinder until medium-fine


Quatre Epices
35g Black Peppercorns
14g Nutmeg
6g Cinnamon
4g Cloves

-Grind to medium fine powder


Curry Powder
43g Cumin Seeds, toasted
14g Coriander Seeds, toasted
8g Mustard Seeds, toasted
8 dried red chiles, toasted
12g Ground Cinnamon
14g Ground Turmeric
12g Ground Ginger

- Grind to medium fine powder

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I suspect there will be a good deal of trial and error on your part.  If you do not discover the flavor that you had so many years ago, hopefully you will at least discover something that you like.  Hope this helps.



Suggested Reading

Culinary Artistry, Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Jon Wiley and Sons

Spices & Seasonings

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Adam Price

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I can answer general and specific questions related to all manner of food preparation, food cookery, and peripheral disciplines such as applied food science, nutrition, or sanitation. I am knowledgeable in meat, poultry and seafood fabrication, recipe development, world cuisines including 'fusion' styles, and all of the primary cooking methods (grilling, steaming, etc.). I can assist you with developing or redesigning recipes, planning for events (from a caterers point of view), troubleshooting recipes, identifying and working with unfamiliar ingredients or cooking methods, or (most importantly in my opinion) figuring out exactly why things happen the way they do. If we understand the science and reasoning behind our craft, then we can start learning how to cook instead of learning to recreate recipes. If for some reason I cannot answer a question, I will do my best to point you toward a source that can.

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I have nearly two decades of experience as a professional in the field, and I enjoy experimenting with new ideas on my own time. I have worked in restaurants ranging from quick service to fine dining, bakeries, butcher shops and institutions. I have done event planning and execution for large and small scale catered events. I have managed several kitchens and developed menus ranging from simple buffets to elaborate multi-course meals. I have an extensive library of recipe books as well as books on cooking techniques, food science, food safety, and nutrition.

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I graduated with high honors from the Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park). I am ServSafe certified for food safety and sanitation, and I take this very seriously.

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