I have been a fan of the show Licence to Grill, which originally airs on Food Network Canada, but is shown on the BET channel on Dstv. The host, Rob Rainford, makes grilling look fun and easy, with amazing and ambitious barbecue recipes. His meals are made with mostly natural and fresh ingredients and, when they are done, look alive and healthy, with much colour and flavour. Yeah, I know I can’t taste it, but won’t you know a good thing when you see one? Especially when you’re watching how it’s being done.
While marinating meat or preparing a meal, generally, I noticed that Rob uses mostly natural ingredients to add flavour. I haven’t seen anything like the many variations of packaged seasonings and flavour enhancers (monosodium glutamate) we use here in Nigeria. Other than salt, onion and garlic, he uses fresh herbs and spices, like cilantro, oregano, celery, and even plain yoghurt, wines, vinegar, and fresh fruit juices.
I realized that there are a lot more natural and exciting ways to flavour our meals other than the regular salt, sugar, pepper, curry, thyme, and various seasoning cubes we are used to. Here in Nigeria, we don’t have a tradition for barbecue, nor one of being adventurous with different herbs and spices. One of the reasons is that most of these herbs I’ve mentioned are not localized in Nigeria.
There are many local spices used to flavour our dishes, soups, and stews (iru, uda, ehuru), but how about trying something new? About learning something different, and healthy?
Thank God for the advent of some shopping malls. You can find some of these herbs and spices fresh at the fruit and vegetable section of your local market, and at some shopping malls around the city.
Even though you get maximum flavour from fresh herbs and spices, there are still some spices that cannot be obtained fresh in Nigeria. These ones you can buy dried. You can find packaged and bottled dried herbs in the local market, in stores, and a wide variety at the mega-stores and malls.
However, going fresh should be your optimum choice.
Onions and Garlic: Adding enough onions and garlic to any meal is an instant flavour booster. Every meal I make includes garlic and onions, especially onions. I don’t go easy with adding onions in cooking stews and beans. These bulbous herbs also have immune boosting properties. Even though I have bottles of dried onions and garlic in the kitchen cupboard, I prefer them fresh. Tip: blend and crush a whole lot of them and store in small transparent plastic containers, and then freeze.
Coriander (Cilantro): Yet another name for this herb is Chinese Parsley. Add to salads and stir-fry to dips. You may not be able to buy fresh here in Nigeria. There are, however, the dried versions on sale in most supermarkets. Coriander is great for seasoning fish and chicken, too.
Celery: With a very strong flavour, a small bunch of celery can alter the aroma of your kitchen in minutes. It’s a good thing I get this herb fresh from the local market. Use in salads, in Irish potato porridges, and in jollof rice and pasta dishes. It’s particularly delightful in jollof rice (Chop the tender part of the stalk and garnish above nearly done jollof rice. Add the leaves later, before the meal is finally done). Because of its strong flavour, a little goes a long way.
White wine: Yeah, white wine! While cooking, the alcohol in the wine evaporates, leaving behind a delicate, smooth flavour. Besides fish and chicken dishes, white wine is great in soups such as split pea and lentil (not traditional soups!), and in beef and lamb stew. You can also marinate your meat, fish, and pork with white wine.
Ginger: A highly overlooked spice. Besides adding to vegetable stir-fry, it’s great for seasoning meat and chicken, and great in chicken soups. Use fresh for better results. Just crush in a mortar and add to your dish. You can also buy this in large quantities before you crush, place the crushed spice in a container, and freeze for later use.
Bay leaves: This strengthens the flavor in vegetarian soups and stews, and is amazing in rice. Add a couple of cloves while cooking your jollof rice. When the food is done, remove before eating.
Rosemary: This herb has quite a strong flavour so you don’t need to add very much. Rosemary is great in lamb, chicken, pork, pasta, and vegetable dishes. You can add rosemary to roast potatoes (yes, try something other than boiling or frying your potatoes. Use your oven). It’s also great in soups and stews, and has remarkable medical benefits as a mood enhancer, an aphrodisiac, and is an anti-inflammatory.
Next Week I will feature some new and different herbs and spices. You can tell us about some exciting herbs, spices, and tips you have discovered, and use in flavouring your dishes. Leave a comment below.