This is part two of a kitchen gift-guide I’m writing as the holidays and their shopping are at full tilt. The first post covered equipment and the following guide has edible items.
Like the equipment guide, this is not a comprehensive list of things that should be in someone’s pantry. These are things that I like and have found that not everyone has them in their kitchen. I’ve not been paid, compensated, or asked to feature any of the following items although this post does contain some affiliate links.
Aleppo pepper – $6.25 for 1.9oz
From Turkey and used frequently in Eastern Mediterranean food, crushed Aleppo pepper also seems to have quite the fan club among BBQ-lovers. I am not a raving BBQ fan but I am sweet on this pepper. When eaten straight it tastes a smidge like an Ancho pepper. It is somewhat chocolatey, but the peppery flavor is certainly there along with moderate heat. I use this in a bunch of recipes from Wolfert’s The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean and The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. When I’m feeling fancy I use Aleppo pepper instead of standard crushed red pepper. In less refined matters, I am not ashamed to say that I also put it on pizza in large amounts. In short, it’s good for all occasions.
Kashmir Mogra Cream Indian Saffron – $12.55 for .5g
Saffron is expensive– if you’ve any notion of herbs and spices, you know this. You may not know that only a little saffron is needed in any given recipe and that bit goes a long way. When it is added in excess, it makes the dish taste bitter and metallic. Half of a gram of saffron doesn’t seem like much to give as a gift, but it is plenty. Saffron is called for in everything from Italian to Indian to Spanish to Iranian food and there is nothing that comes close to saffron’s flavor and the color it gives to food. If you’re set on giving someone who cooks an herb or spice but are clueless as to what they like to make, I promise saffron will not sit unused in their kitchen.
Piment d’Espelette – $14.25 for 1.4oz
Piment d’Espelette is a pepper grown in a southern French town named (wait for it) Espelette. Common in southern French cooking, lately I’ve seen it cropping up in newer cookbooks and lots of blogs. On my bookshelves it is repeatedly on ingredient lists in Ad Hoc, Around My French Table, and (obviously) The Cooking of Southwest France. Currently, it is a little hard to find but Amazon carries the brand I have in my spice drawer. Different peppers can’t really be substituted for piment d’Espelette. It has a big, tomato-like taste and substantial heat, all while being lemony and bright. It would be a nice gift for someone who appreciates spicy and their taste buds at the same time.
Smoked Spanish Paprika (Sweet) – $10.25 for 2.64oz
Paprika and parsley share a similar history in my kitchen. Paprika never tasted like anything to me and I always omitted parsley from dishes because of the same thing. One day I replaced my paprika with fresh stock and eventually started using flat-leaf parsley instead of curly-leaf parsley. Now I shake my head at my old self and try to get everyone on my Fresh Paprika Flat Parsley bandwagon. I use hot Hungarian paprika or sweet Spanish smoked paprika depending on the recipe, but Spanish smoked paprika is my favorite. It is smokey, sultry, and REALLY DOES HAVE A FLAVOR. Paprika does (seriously!) need to be fresh to be worthwhile. Anyone who loves cooking Spanish food would love this, especially if paella is their thing.
Ras al Hanout – $7.95 for 2oz
I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but ras al hanout is a Moroccan spice blend that I keep running into everywhere. I first saw it in Couscous and Other Good food from Morocco, then in Radically Simple, and after that it kept popping up. Most recently Ideas in Food had a very inspiring post about it. Like a BBQ rub, the composition of ras al hanout varies depending on from whom you buy it. According to Zamouri Spices’ website, their blend from is made up of over 30 spices and herbs. I generally don’t buy spice mixtures, but I am so inspired by all of the recipes I keep seeing that I’ll forego ‘generally don’t’ and happily add this to my spice drawer. Like those tart pans, receiving spices that inspire you is a two-fold gift.
Ground Sumac – $3.95 for 2.0oz
Sumac is a stunning shade of purple, contrary to what this photo shows. Like Aleppo pepper, it is used often in Eastern Mediterranean food. Sumac has a tart lime taste and I was swept off of my feet by it when I used it in Sumac Chicken with Bread Salad from Finamore’s Tasty. I’ve sprinkled it on hummus, rubbed it on kebabs and, since it is so citrusy, I think it would be right at home on fajitas or street-style tacos. My sister had an aversion to this spice (she called it “the itchy spice” in reference to poison sumac) until I made her the aforementioned sumac chicken. I received an e-mail requesting the recipe not long after. Don’t let the name turn you away from sumac. It is neither poisonous nor itchy (it’s pretty and purple! That’s more than some people have going for them!), and well-loved by everyone I’ve introduced to it.
Fleur de Sel – $8.99 for 6.1oz
Fleur de sel is how I imagine snowflakes would taste if they were made of salt. Fleur de sel is flakes of almost impossibly crunchy salt usually used for ‘finishing’ dishes. Since it doesn’t dissolve immediately, flakes are sprinkled on food before serving for a hit of salt with a lot texture. I like it because you can use it in sweet applications (caramels!) or in savory dishes (scattered over fish or beef right before serving). If your giftee is way into salt, you could give them a set of a few different specialty salts, like this one, which has fleur de sel, Alaea salt, and black lava salt. I’ve never had those last two, but I’d really like to say “Could you pass the black lava salt, please?”
Vanilla Beans – $6.99 for .25 POUND of Tahitian vanilla beans
Years ago I found this seller on eBay when I was browsing a thread at eGullet on making your own vanilla extract. I ordered a pound of beans which came with a free quarter-pound package of beans (about 30-40 beans). They were beautiful, fat, fresh, pliable beans.
This year I finally managed to get through the quarter-pound package. That was a lot of beans.
What this means is that can possibly do all of your kitchen-related holiday gift shopping for under $10.00. If you have three or four people who love cooking, you could buy these vanilla beans, divvy them up into pretty glass bottles, tie some ribbon and bells around them and you’re done. Each jar will have a lot of beans in it and you will look amazing. Have you seen the price for two shriveled vanilla beans at the grocery store? Exactly. Bakers will especially appreciate a gift of these beans since they are called for in many frostings, custards, and glazes.
Walnut oil – Three 16.9oz bottles for $21.97
I am an olive oil person. I’m fascinated by olive oil’s flavors; one type may taste grassy, the next like butter. Unless I’m using extreme heat, I use it whenever I cook. I have a confession, though: I love walnut oil. When I have it on hand it is my default choice for salad dressings, swirling into soups, and brushing onto sandwiches in mayonnaise’s (or olive oil’s) stead. Unlike olive oil’s loud and enthusiastic flavor, walnut oil is gentle and quiet. That is not to say the flavor is demure, it just doesn’t haul back and sock you in the face like olive oil sometimes does. Walnut oil can go rancid quickly, so it’s best to use it up in a timely manner (no problems with that here) and store it in the refrigerator between uses. If you don’t have three people to give walnut oil (since this links to a bulk package), you can find single bottles at well-stocked grocers. Make sure the oil is in an opaque bottle and that it is ‘roasted’ or ‘toasted’ walnut oil. The opaque bottle and roasted factor keep the oil from going rancid as quickly. I’d wrap this up for anyone who likes salads, sandwiches, or soups.
The last leg of this marathon will cover media. Books, magazines, journals… all of my favorite things. I’ll try not to rhapsodize too much.