A couple of weeks ago, I made my inaugural visit to Penzeys Spices, a chain that happens to have a location here in St. Louis. I prefer to buy most of my spices and herbs at Golden Grocer, a small, locally owned, natural foods store that sells a variety of spices and herbs in bulk.
I favor this option because 1) bulk containers mean I can bring my own bags (plastic, yes, but I’m reusing them) and then fill my glass spice jars at home; 2) I can buy a 2-3 month supply and avoid buying a too-large amount of some obscure seasoning that turn to sawdust long before I use it; and 3) I haven’t done any official price comparisons, but I’m pretty sure I come out ahead financially with this option compared to buying prepackaged jars in a regular store.
Anyway, over the past couple of years, we’ve heard good things about, and seen some interesting recipes featuring, smoked paprika (which Golden Grocer does not carry). When we found ourselves in the neighborhood of Penzeys after a visit to the Maplewood Winter Market, we walked on over to investigate. We came out with smoked paprika, szechuan peppercorns, and one other item that I don’t remember right now.
Sadly, Penzeys does not have bulk containers that you can use to fill your own bags, so we left with some unnecessary packaging. We asked the cashier if they had ever considered offering bulk jars, and she acted like it would be nigh unto impossible. Sigh.
Anyhow, we put the Szechuan pepper to use as soon as we got home, incorporating it into our lunch stir-fry. We were enjoying the flavor, until, a few bites into our meal, we noticed that we couldn’t really feel our tongues. It wasn’t that it was spicy hot, it just had this disconcerting effect. Apparently this is a “normal” effect of this pepper. We ended up picking out most of the peppercorns because the tingly numbness was just weird and made the dish less enjoyable. I’m not sure what we’ll end up doing with the remaining 4 oz. of the pepper.
Later that same week, I experimented with the smoked paprika. I made a super simple smoked paprika cream sauce as a topping for polenta with sauteed mushrooms and asparagus.
To make the cream sauce, I toasted the smoked paprika (~2 t.) in a bit of olive oil on the stove top — about 5 minutes on low heat. Then I whisked in a half cup of cream and left it on the heat until just warmed. I added salt to taste.
The result? Delicious! I resisted the temptation to eat the smoked paprika cream sauce by the spoonful (well, mostly resisted), because it went fabulously with the mushrooms and polenta. This sauce would taste good on a variety of things — pasta, scrambled eggs, other veggies — let the experimenting begin!
The photo evidence of my creation suffered from poor light conditions — I’m sharing anyway, but be forewarned, the photo does NOT do justice to the deliciousness.
Smoked paprika sounds incredible… you’ve made me hungry once again!
We’ve had similar experiences with the szechuan peppercorns… they seemed like such a good idea, and they taste OK… at first, but there’s just something “off” about them.
You don’t happen to have a good recipe for kung pao do you? My boyfriend is a total kung pao maniac, but he’s terribly picky and there’s only one Chinese place in town that’s up to his standards. He doesn’t like to go out, and I don’t like to drive across town to get it and end up with a pile of takeout waste. So we’ve tried umpteen times to make it ourselves, and even bought several “authentic” cook books, but no dice.
OK… I’m on a quest for smoked paprika now!
I’m afraid I don’t have a kung pao recipe. I might hunt one down, now that you’ve mentioned it. Maybe this one? Is NPR a valid recipe source? I guess for a vegetarian version, I can try tofu instead of chicken.
Our most recent “replicating ethnic cuisine” attempt was Pad Thai. It came out pretty well, despite our lack of tamarind (which is pretty critical for authentic Pad Thai) and mung bean sprouts. I’m going to hunt down some tamarind concentrate/pulp/whatever and grow some bean sprouts before our next attempt.
Admin, if not okay please remove!
Our facebook group “selfless” is spending this month spreading awareness on prostate cancer & research with a custom t-shirt design. Purchase proceeds will go to cancer.org, as listed on the shirt and shirt design.
Hmmm… that Kung Pao recipe is almost identical to the one in the “traditional” cook book that we bought. I’m starting to wonder if what my boyfriend considers good kung pao is really some sort of Americanized version of the dish… the quest continues…
I confess that I have no earthly idea what Pad Thai is, but I’ll have to check it out. Thai food is usually iffy for me since it so often contains corriander or cilantro which I am violently allergic to. But it’s worth some investigaton!