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Spice of life

The One & Only’s themed high tea reminded me of the importance of one of the most basic kitchen staples.

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, Table Mountain basking in the glorious Cape Town sun, framed perfectly by the floor-to-ceiling windows of the One & Only’s Vista’s Lounge. It’s quite a sight you’re faced with as you drop down into the plush lounge and settle into one of the tub chairs. 

It wasn’t what I was looking at, though. 

I had my eyes on the high tea buffet table, the five-metre long table covered in varying heights of sweet and savoury delights. I needed to take a closer look, but from the smell, I could tell that the theme for this tea, Spice Route, was going to be a roaring success.  

The selection was pretty, well, spicy, with beautiful spices like cardamom, cinnamon, star anise and cloves incorporated into classic teatime treats, like baked cheesecake, milktart cupcakes, macarons, koeksisters, koesisters, chicken phyllo rolls and empanadas. The addition of one or two spices may seem like a simple act, but what it did to the flavours of a marshmallow (my favourite on the table; I may have gone back for 7) or macaron were anything but simple.

High tea

It got me thinking about how we could all be overlooking this simple, easy and affordable way of elevating our food everyday. Every. Day. So here’s my tired-and-tested list of a few things you should most definitely be adding some spice to…   

1. Best sides ready to steal the show

Plain rice? No man! Bland couscous? Never again! Jazz up a side dish easily by adding a few cardamom pods, a cinnamon stick and a clove or two to the pot of water when making your rice, quinoa or couscous.

2. Spinach even your kids will love

Spinach can be amazing, people! Sauté onion until tender, sprinkle with nutmeg, then drop in a few large handfuls of baby spinach leaves. Stir until wilted. (If you’re not shy of cream, stir through some at this point.)

3. The one ingredient lasagne and cannelloni can’t go without

A béchamel sauce (the white sauce made for a lasagne or cannelloni) needs nutmeg. It’s something my mother would do, and it’s something that has become a non-negotiable for me. It’s kind of like salt: it brings all the flavours of your dish together, in your mouth. 

4. Delicious cabbage (it’s possible!)

Cabbage is so affordable, easy to cook, low in calories and high in vitamin K, vitamin C and dietary fibre. BUT, it’s not always something we want to eat, is it? Well, try tossing some toasted cumin seeds through your wilted cabbage. Just try it.    

5. Cheeky chickpeas

Fry a chopped onion in oil, add a teaspoon each of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cardamom, and stir for two minutes. Add a tin of drained and rinsed chickpeas and a tin of diced tomatoes. Simmer until chickpeas are tender. Boom. Dinner. 

6. Keep it clean

Spices can go off! They lose their pungency, so then you may as be adding some pretty bright-red, flavourless powder to your meals. Keep your spice rack organised. Here’s how.

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