Just Add Spice - Lyndey Milan and Ian Hemphill

Matching spicy food with wine and beer

By Robyn Lewis
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Ginger Garlic restaurant's exotic tours to India - Spice market

Ginger Garlic restaurant's exotic tours to India - Spice market

Just add Spice - Lyndey Milan and Ian Hemphill


The use of spices in cooking has a history dating back thousands of years, when they were used to enhance flavour and to help preserve foods, and also to disguise tainted food, bitter medicines, bad breath and even poison!

Until a few hundred years ago, many spices were immensely valuable; worth far more than their weight in gold, such was the demand to brighten up the European diet in particular with these natural products of the tropics.

Nowadays most spices are mostly far more affordable, and the advent of cheap, rapid transport and refrigeration means that almost anywhere in the world you can now buy an enormous array of spices (and herbs), dried, fresh or sometimes frozen. Pepper, once the cause of wars and piracy, is now commonplace.

And as we travel more, so does our demand to recreate the tastes of faraway places on our return.

Very few of us who grew up knowing anything about cooking would not have used pepper, vanilla (although perhaps only in essence form), cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and maybe some other basic spices as we learned to cook. Even if our mothers only had tired spice jars in the back of the pantry cupboard, their dusty contents could still add a twist to standard home cooking, although usually with little real sophistication.

Roll on to 2010. Now, nearly every restaurant in Australia uses spices of one form or another in their cooking; indeed, ‘modern Australian’ cooking is more akin to that of Asia than Europe. Chilli and coriander appear in almost everything.

But there’s still a gap between our developing tastes and our abilities to use spices well, one which Ian ‘Herbie’ Hemphill, aka Australia’s ‘King of Spice’, is determined to help us fill. With over 40 years in the food business, Hemphill’s store Herbie’s Spices is a Sydney institution, and he has authored a number of books on spices including Spice Notes and Recipes, Spice Travels, Spicery and Herbaceous.

Just Add Spice  breaks new ground, however; in it Hemphill explains how spice combinations are grouped so that we can learn from first principles how to combine spice flavours, and why they work together. With such information you can apply your newfound knowledge to a wide variety of dishes – the 100 in the book are just to get you started.

The recipes in Just Add Spice – subtitled Creating wonderful feasts from simple ingredients – show you at minimum how to give ordinary dishes a flavour renovation with the addition of spice. Using nothing more exotic than the contents of the average spice rack, you will learn how to pep up pumpkin soup with curry paste and ginger; reinvent scrambled eggs with chilli and chorizo; and turn up the heat with a robust vindaloo curry.

However you can go much, much further than that. Hemphill gives recommendations for his top 20 spices, in order of importance – top of his list is coriander seed, which he describes as ‘amalgamating’ for its ability to bring other spice flavours together in a delicious whole.

He classifies spices (including some herbs) into five main flavour groups:

  • hot (e.g. chilli, mustard, pepper, Szechuan pepper),
  • pungent (e.g. cardamom, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, ginger),
  • tangy (e.g. sumac, tamarind),
  • sweet (e.g. allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon) and
  • amalgamating (e.g. paprika, fennel, sesame, coriander seed),

plus 2 other categories: mild (e.g. parsley) and strong (e.g. basil, caraway, lemon myrtle, kaffir lime). He explains the role of each group in creating a dish, and how they work together.

Hemphill then gives recommended ratios of hot : pungent : tangy : sweet : amalgamating for a basic spice blend and meat rub.  With this information, plus the nine pages of spice mix recipes that follow, you will feel like you’ve been walking through the spice markets of India or Morocco and well on the way to being a spice master yourself. It’s a very valuable addition to cooking knowledge, especially collated in one place.

I especially like the Hemphill’s ‘holiday spice mix’ – his family obviously can't abide the thought of boring food anywhere, so they take this camping, to self-catering apartments, indeed whenever they travel. BYO spice is probably their motto.

The 100 recipes that follow are by both Ian Hemphill and food identity Lyndey Milan, for light starters, fast and slow food, ‘not so slow’ food, sides and sweets. In this you will see how different cooking methods require different spices and how they influence the outcome. For example and not surprisingly, slow cooking tends to soften some spices, so more may need to be added. Build and experiment around these recipes and you’ll enjoy years of variety.

The media release for Just Add Spice says that the book provides advice on matching wines to spicy foods, written by Milan: ‘Lyndey’s food and wine notes add another perspective on combining flavours, and counteract the misconception that spiced food is difficult to match with wine. Lyndey has written simple wine and beer matching notes for every recipe, so that each sip perfectly complements every mouthful’.

If only perfect wine matching were that easy. To me these notes (‘grog’ notes, as Hemphill refers to them in the introduction) are perhaps a little too simple – but if you are just starting out on your food and wine adventures of a lifetime, I’m sure they’d provide a start. One important point made by Hemphill is that capsaicin, the active ingredient in chilli that makes it ‘hot’, is not soluble in water but only in alcohol, so only the latter will remove the burning sensation from your tongue or throat. Reach for a beer or chilled wine instead of water next time you experience a fiery curry!

At the rear of the book is a section by Milan called ‘the grog cupboard – things to go with (and in) your recipes’. The most common varieties of grapes/wines are listed, with suggested food companions for each – some are deemed ‘natural’ as they come from the same region – and also for beers. There are several pages on buying wine and beer, how to start a cellar and which wines to store.

Then follows a page on wine and food matching – the key principles of which are to match the weight of the wine to that of the food, and to think about the flavour of the finished dish (e.g. baked with herbs and tomatoes, vs poached and served with a creamy sauce), rather than the main raw ingredient (e.g. chicken), and link that to your wine choice. The same applies to beer, of which there are an every increasing variety now available in Australia.

The photographs (whilst atrractive) don’t really do the book contents justice, to me – perhaps they are OK if you like your wine in coloured tumblers, but if you’ve left that phase of your life behind, and think that either finer-than-vegemite-jar glassware or even stemmed or crystal wine glasses might enhance your wine or your table, they probably won’t do much for you either. (The wine stem was invented so that wines did not become too hot and spoil in flavour while being held in the hand). Neither are they helped by the wines in the photos not always matching the wines in the recommendations.

However, these are finer points, but I wonder why the authors, or indeed the editor, didn't think it worthwhile to list the recipes by each recommended wine type – not everyone starts with the food first, and then worries what to drink with it when it reaches the table (as Milan also notes).

For some people, or on some occasions, wine is the hero, and its choice then determines the recipe, ingredients or style of cooking. (This also applies to BYO restaurants).

It took me only about an hour or so to do this, and it would have been a very valuable addition to the book, as otherwise you have to sift through the side notes of each recipe to build up a picture of what food Milan recommends to match with different wines, and why. It certainly makes an interesting read for wine lovers. (Print this article out and use alongside the book for guidance).

As Milan says ‘you are your own expert’ – but that is true only when you’ve built up a certain amount of knowledge to begin with. Certainly, everyone’s tastes are different; you can decide for yourselves, but here are her recommendations for the recipes in Just Add Spice, by wine colour and grape variety, and for various beer styles. (Note the recipes are listed in the order in which they appear in the book; some recipe names are repeated as they have more than one matching wine or beer suggestion).

 

White wines, sparkling wines, sherry

Albarino:
•    Pork meat loaf with sage and fennel seed (Milan suggests that the smoky flavour of paprika goes naturally with Spanish wine varietals).

Champagne or sparkling white:
•    Eggs scrambled with chorizo and chilli
•    Rockmelon and lemon myrtle sorbet (Editor: see Champagne and Chandeliers below for an entire book on Champagne and food matching).

Chardonnay (unwooded):
•    Corn cakes with guacamole
•    Spicy pumpkin soup
•    Prawn laksa
•    Aussie seared ocean trout
•    ‘Republican’ turkey (in a mayo salad)
•    Slow-cooked chicken with juniper
•    Ras el hanout chicken
•    Couscous with cumin-spiced pumpkin and vegetables
•    Brie with dukkah-date ‘sandwich’

Chardonnay (wooded):
•    Unspiced pumpkin soup
•    Asian moules marinieres
•    Baharat-spiced ocean (leather) jacket
•    Spice-crusted flathead with yoghurt sauce
•    Butter chicken
•    Tea-smoked quail

Chenin blanc
•    Fish in paper with ginger and soy

Gewürtztraminer (described as ‘aromatic’; Editor - note that it is often recommended as a spicy food accompaniment due to the spiciness of the grape itself and slight sweetness):
•    Thai red chicken curry
•    Prawn vada marsala
•    Strawberry or fig tart

Pinot grigio:
•    Greek-style mussels with capsicum

Pinot gris (Milan: ‘much more textured than the leaner, crisper pinot grigio’):
•    Spicy pumpkin soup
•    Prawn laksa
•    Baharat-spiced ocean (leather) jacket
•    Spice-crusted flathead with yoghurt sauce
•    ‘Republican’ turkey (in a mayo salad)
•    Pork chops with celery seed and parsnip puree
•    Ras el hanout chicken
•    Satay vegetables

Riesling (young):
•    Greek-style mussels with capsicum
•    Middle Eastern fish casserole
•    Gingered rack of pork

Riesling (aged):
•    Asian moules marinieres
•    Salt and pepper calamari
•    Aussie seared ocean trout
•    Lemon myrtle and pepper chicken

Sauvignon blanc:
•    Herbed fromage blanc with melba toast
•    Prawn moilee
•    Spice-crusted flathead with yoghurt sauce
•    Thai red chicken curry (with a fruity sav blanc)
•    Middle Eastern fish casserole

Semillon (young) – which Milan says is high in acidity and hence made to match with lemon and tomatoes:
•    Tomato tarts with sumac
•    Tomato soup
•    Middle Eastern fish casserole
•    Spatchcock with lemon and rosemary
•    Gingered rack of pork

Semillon (aged):
•    Aussie-seared ocean trout
•    Lemon myrtle and pepper chicken

Sherry (non-specific):
•    Fragrant Asian chicken soup

Sherry – Olorosa:
•    Ginger and star anise crème brulee
•    Panettone bread and butter pudding

Verdelho (recommended by Milan to ‘tame the palate’ for chilli-hot dishes, along with frontignac – both ‘with soft fruit’):
•    Cajun blackened chicken
•    Gingered rack of pork (no curries are mentioned)

Viognier:
•    Rillettes
•    Spicy pumpkin soup
•    Spice-crusted flathead with yoghurt sauce
•    ‘Republican’ turkey (in a mayo salad)
•    Pork chops with celery seed and parsnip puree
•    Yoghurt spiced chicken
•    Satay vegetables

 

Red wines and rosé:

Barbera:
•    Couscous with cumin-spiced pumpkin and vegies

Cabernet sauvignon:
•    Mushroom tart
•    African Berbere chicken thighs
•    Tangia of veal
•    Baharat beef with olives
•    Braised oxtail (‘needs a big, big wine’ Ed: i.e  something youngish, not your softer old cab sav)

Cabernet/merlot blend:
•    Lamb neck with North African flavours (less chilli version)
•    ‘Modern’ meatloaf with Middle Eastern flavours

Chambourcin:
•    Tomato tart with sumac
•    Barbecued tandoori prawns
•    Mexican tacos
•    Middle Eastern fish casserole
•    Fresh tomato and basil sauce (i.e. with pasta etc)

Durif:
•    ‘The perfect steak’ with hot and sour sauce
•    Asian-style kangaroo fillets

Grenache:
•    Asian-style kangaroo fillets
•    Vindaloo pork curry (Milan: ‘needs a powerful wine’)
•    Madras beef curry
•    Gingered rack of pork

Merlot:
•    Asian moules marinieres
•    Crisp-skinned duck breast with pomegranate sauce
•    Pork chops with celery seed and parsnip puree
•    African Berbere chicken thighs
•    ‘Peking’ leg of lamb (as in Peking duck served with pancakes, although with no pancake recipe given)
•    Masaman beef curry
•    Madras beef curry
•    Lamb with Thai mint chutney

Pinot noir (clearly a favourite of Milan’s):
•    Rillettes
•    Tomato tarts with sumac
•    Vietnamese beef and noodle soup
•    Barbecued tandoori prawns
•    Baharat-spiced ocean (leather) jacket
•    Spice-crusted flathead with yoghurt sauce
•    Crisp-skinned duck breast with pomegranate sauce
•    Lamb korma
•    ‘Peking’ leg of lamb (as in Peking duck served with pancakes, although with no pancake recipe given)
•    Masterstock quail (one of Milan’s old favourites)
•    Ras el hanout chicken
•    Tea-smoked quail (recommended with a ‘smoky’ pinot noir – she also suggests that such pinot noir ‘balances the smokiness of paprika’)
•    Lamb with Thai mint chutney
•    Red-cooked beef ribs
•    Satay beef or lamb
•    Fresh tomato and basil sauce (i.e. with pasta etc)

Red wine (Ed: no variety given, but I would suggest cabernet sauvignon, preferably with some age)
•    Cheddar cheese with dukkah and date ‘sandwich’

Rosé:
•    Mussels in pastis broth
•    Baharat-spiced ocean (leather) jacket
•    Rillettes
•    Spice-crusted flathead with yoghurt sauce
•    Middle Eastern fish casserole (Milan suggests that rosés are good with any fish casserole)
•    Portuguese barbecued chicken
•    Couscous with cumin-spiced pumpkin and vegetables
•    Salad with dressing with pomegranate molasses

Sangiovese (Ed: despite being described as ‘wonderfully food friendly’ this wine only has three matches; many of those for shiraz could also be tried with this variety, the main component of Chianti):
•    Lamb korma
•    Ras el hanout chicken
•    ‘Modern’ meatloaf with Middle Eastern flavours

Shiraz:
•    Thai red chicken curry (Editor’s note – perhaps not with your best bottle)
•    Crisp-skinned duck breast with pomegranate sauce
•    ‘The perfect steak’ with hot and sour sauce
•    Marinated blade steak
•    Asian-style kangaroo fillets
•    Vindaloo pork curry (Ed: ditto)
•    Lamb rogan josh
•    Lamb neck with African flavours (‘if chilli hot’ according to the recommendation)
•    Madras beef curry
•    Red-cooked beef ribs

Tempranillo/Rioja:
•    Mexican tacos
•    Pork meatloaf with sage and fennel seed
•    African-style Berbere chicken thighs (for Rioja, generally made from tempranillo).

Zinfandel:
•    Asian-style kangaroo fillets
•    Vindaloo pork curry
•    Madras beef curry

 

Beers:

Ale:
•    Baharat beef with olives (mid-strength ale)
•    Tangia of veal (sparkling ale)
•    Caraway cabbage

Ale (brown – described as a ‘mid-weight beer’):
•    Marinated blade steak Asian style
•    Vindaloo pork curry
•    Lamb korma

Ale (dark):
•    Thai red chicken curry
•    Lamb rogan josh

Beer (‘full bodied’)
•    Caraway cabbage

Lager:
•    Prawn laksa
•    Prawn moilee
•    Prawn vada marsala
•    Aussie seared ocean trout
•    Fish in paper with ginger and soy
•    Eggs scrambled with chorizo and chilli
•    Mexican tacos
•    Lamb with Thai mint dressing
•    ‘Modern’ meatloaf with Middle Eastern flavours
•    African Berbere chicken thighs (European-style lager)

Mexican (preferably served with lime or lemon slice):
•    Corn cakes with guacamole
•    Mexican tacos

Medium beer:
•    Mussels in pastis broth

Pilsener:

•    Prawn laksa
•    Salt and pepper calamari
•    Gingered rack of pork (German-style pilsener recommended)

 

Sweet/dessert wines:

Botrytis semillon:
•    Chinese five-spice panna cotta and fruit compote
•    Ginger and star anise crème brulee
•    Pineapple and lime upside-down cake

Dessert wine (Ed: no variety specified – try a botrytis Riesling for something special)
•    Blue cheese with dukkah and date ‘sandwich’

Madeira/malmsey:
•    Panettone bread and butter pudding

Moscato
(including pink moscato):
•    Lemongrass poached peaches with spiced crumble
•    Orange and vanilla ‘buttons’
•    Rockmelon and lemon myrtle sorbet
•    Stuffed spiced apples

Muscat, tokay, liqueur muscat or port:
•    Sticky figs and dates in espresso syrup
•    Chilli cardamom chocolate truffles

Vin santo:
•    Panettone bread and butter pudding

 

Other:

Nothing:
•    Fragrant Asian chicken soup

Tea or coffee:
•    Lightly spiced toasted muesli
•    Carrot and poppy seed muffins
•    Lyndey’s mum’s bran loaf
•    Pineapple and lime upside-down cake


And for the delicious recipes themselves, you’ll have to buy the book. If you’re into spicy food, or are just starting out on your own spice route, you won’t regret it.

 

Just add Spice - creating wonderful feasts from simple ingredients by Lyndey Milan and Ian Hemphill is published by Penguin Lantern (Melbourne. Hc, 218 pp. April 2010 ) It retails for RRP A$49.95.

Subscribers of VisitVineyards.com and Winepros Archive can purchase Just Add Spice at 12.5% discount off RRP from our book partners Seekbooks - click here (postage extra).

 

Ian 'Herbie' Hemphill's spices are available for purchase online here or if you are in Sydney, drop in and browse at Herbie's Spices in Rozelle (see related listings below).

 

Regions

  • Sydney (NSW)

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