I didn’t realize just how much I loved spices until I started working on this story. They were in so many of the dishes I grew up eating: pomegranates my grandfather sprinkled with golpar (ground angelica seeds) and salt, rice stained with saffron-infused water. These tiny seeds, roots, herbs, and powders are magical. They lend sweetness, heat, nuttiness, grassiness, or sourness to a dish in an instant, perking up your mouth, ears, and throat. A little spice can do a lot of things.
As I began cooking in restaurants and traveling on my own, I dove deeper into spices. I learned how cinnamon sticks and star anise were essential to good pho; I experimented with the grind of spices to add texture, not just flavor. All these memories and experiences came flooding back as I began developing recipes for this story—reminding me that even though my cooking fluctuates constantly, spices are always a big part of it. Especially now, at the end of winter, when the produce selection can be rough, I’m relying on my spice rack more than ever. (On that note: Keep in mind that where you buy spices is just as important as how you use them.) Here are the meals I’m making—and the techniques (and products) at their core.
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