This guest post is written by one of my MOST favorite writers – Jess Thomson. Jess writes wonderful cookbooks, pens award-winning stories and writes heart-warming pieces about her life with her amazing on. I am so honored to have her grace my blog today.
Jess’s newest book is – Pike Place Market Recipes. It is an excellent collection of recipes and stories from Seattle’s public market. I laughed out loud so many times while reading some of the really great anecdotes in the book. I give it two thumbs up!
By Jess Thomson
When I began writing about the Pike Place Market for my most recent cookbook, Pike Place Market Recipes, I knew I’d be profiling the famous halibut-hocking fishmongers at Pike Place Fish. I knew I’d spend hours outside the original Starbucks store, watching a quartet of doo-woppers woo tourists. I wasn’t surprised to fall in love with four separate Reuben sandwiches. But what I didn’t expect, combing the Market for recipes and inspiration, was to relearn how to use spices.
I didn’t grow up in a kitchen with fresh spices. I grew up with cupboards of lemon pepper from a big box store and garlic powder from five years prior, both convenient flavorings in a household where the most esoteric cooking ingredient—the one we always had to look hardest for—was time.
If I’ve have one major weakness as a cook, it’s been that keeping and using fresh spices—cardamom ground to order, freshly blended herbes de provence, or chilies crushed fresh for each use—has always seemed a bit foreign to me. I don’t own a spice mill. I’ve even been known to use “canned” black pepper, on occasion. I thought perhaps it was just one of my kitchen foibles, that I would be forever destined to insist on the best, freshest ingredients, except where spice was concerned. Then, I discovered the various spice shops at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and things changed.
World Spice Merchants isn’t technically within the Market’s boundaries; it’s a skip across the street. Inside, it’s a nose’s paradise. Wall after wall is filled with small glass jars, each ready for sniffing. There are tissues everywhere, of course—they’re fond of saying that if you’re not sneezing, you’re not in a good spice shop—and if you smell something you don’t like, they’re happy to point you to the cocoa powder, which neutralizes scents the same way coffee beans do when you’re smelling perfumes. More likely, you’ll find aromas that may be new to you—the sweet, earthy smell of good dried thyme, or the sting of dried ghost chilies.
Ordering spices there is more like ordering a sandwich than like grocery shopping. First, you pick out what you want. (If you’re like me, there will be a bit of decision anxiety involved, and you’ll always pick out more than you planned.) You take a little slip up to the counter, and someone reaches into the tall stacks of containers carrying fresh, whole spices. If you order ground cloves for baking, you’ll soon be surrounded by a puff of clove air. If you order a mixture, like a barbecue spice rub, it’s whirled into a powder on the spot.
This is the part I expected, more or less. I knew I’d have to wait if I wanted great cumin. But what I didn’t expect, when I got the spices home, was how much the flavor of my cooking would change with them. Using that ground cumin in a velvety carrot soup, it had a shine and a punch I’d never experienced. Most surprisingly, perhaps, I learned how using spices with more flavor allows me to spend less time cooking, when I don’t have that time, because fresh, young spices make a dish far more vibrant more easily than their more geriatric cousins might.
The Market hasn’t turned me into a spice evangelist, but it has changed my shopping patterns. It’s a late lesson, I suppose, like learning to drive in your 30s or 40s, but it’s not too late to be useful. I keep a little stack of empty jars on my counter now, so that when I’m heading downtown, I can stop in to refill any spices I’ve depleted. Sure, it takes a bit of time. But I know when I get home, I’ll be able to make something incredibly simple taste delicious. And most likely, it will actually take less time.
Carrot Soup with Cumin and Honey
From Pike Place Market Recipes: 130 Delicious Ways to Bring Home Seattle’s Famous Market, by Jess Thomson
Photo and recipe used with permission of the author.
Sometimes, shopping for a small, simple dinner at the Pike Place Market can be overwhelming – there’s unavoidable temptation to buy, say, and entire salmon, and take it home for a holiday feast when you’re only two for dinner. When you just need something warm and satisfying, make this velvety carrot soup, spiced with cumin, cayenne, and pimenton de la vera – smoked paprika from Spain’s La Vera region. Look for the pimenton at World Spice Merchants, DeLaurenti, The Spanish Table, or in the spice aisle of a large supermarket, in a red box.
Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped into 1” pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton de la vera)
Small pinch cayenne pepper (to taste)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons honey (or to taste)
Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the carrots, season to taste with salt and pepper, stir, and cook, covered, for another 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Stir in the cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper, then add the broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook until carrots are completely soft, another 10 to 20 minutes.
Using a blender or food processor, carefully puree the hot soup in small batches and return to the pot. Stir in the honey, then check the seasonings, adding more cayenne or honey to taste. Serve hot.