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How to Turn Cupboard Ingredients into Something Special Wine News

We live in an age where everything is available, and instantly. Part of me hates that. I foresee a future in which half the world will be packing and delivering items – miso, the latest sneakers, “miracle” skin cream – to the other half. The poor will serve the rich. It’s the speed that’s insidious – nobody needs anything at present and we shouldn’t expect it. But I won’t pretend that I’m not happy to be able to get my hands on specific ingredients by filling up a virtual shopping cart.

I try not to use Amazon because they can pack two small packets of coffee capsules in a box that would have a football in it, instead I have a list of reliable companies that sell unusual ingredients and spices from the whole world. The excellent Souschef and Spice Mountain stock that I haven’t even heard of.

I grew up in the sticks in the 70s and 80s. Getting spices to cook Indian dishes required a trip to Belfast, and even there the pickings could be slim. When I asked my local greengrocer for avocados he thought it was a variety of pears and suggested using conference instead.

When I moved to London, I still had to drive across town to get pomegranate molasses. I loved shopping for ingredients, though. With a travel map, I could roam all over town, Chinatown for Southeast Asian ingredients, Edgeware Road for Middle Eastern stuff, Green Lanes for Turkish staples. London was one city but had many worlds within it. I got to know and love him by buying unusual – for me – foods. Now supermarkets make their own brand of tamarind paste, bulgur and rice vinegar. The changes that have taken place over the past twenty years are staggering.

Not everyone is happy with this. I know from comments on my pieces that some don’t want their cupboards full of unknown things – how will they use them after making a dish with them? – and many don’t want to buy them either. They want to put dinner on the table with minimal fuss.

The point is, craving the unusual is nothing new, and many once ‘unusual’ ingredients have, over time, made their way into British cuisine. If we cut out spices, dried fruit, nuts and citrus, our food wouldn’t even look British. We wouldn’t have fruitcake, Sussex Pond pudding or marmalade, let alone tea. In fact, if we stopped having access to pasta – which hasn’t always been a staple here – I don’t know what British parents would feed their children.

My life would be poorer if I hadn’t discovered cumin – a spice that smells of earth and sweat that I love – or the Korean paste, gochujang. Mix a layer with mayonnaise and stuff it into a bun with crunchy vegetables and grilled chicken. Nirvana. Although I fear a global food culture where ingredients from different countries are used indiscriminately – no doubt someone will soon produce a recipe that contains both coconut milk and za-atar – most of we are curious, we want to taste the new and the unknown.

I remember when I tasted soy sauce for the first time. I was thirteen and my friend Audrey persuaded me to go to a Chinese restaurant in the nearby beach town. The menu was full of unknowns, but Audrey decided we should have tomato soup – something familiar – followed by chicken fried rice – something unusual. I fell for the black, salty, almost beefy condiment in a bottle with a little red cap and have been using soy sauce ever since.

Having a cabinet full of distinctive flavors is like having a can of paint. You can end up with loads of different results – some you couldn’t even imagine – just by using them with plain old chicken thighs or half a dozen eggs. An open mind leads to delight.

The best recipes to try with store cupboard ingredients

Fish counters in supermarkets are unfortunately on the way out, but if you can’t get whole fish near you, there are plenty of good suppliers online these days. This festive dish is the perfect excuse to consult a specialist.

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This notice was published: 2022-02-28 12:51:43

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