Spice is nice

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Spice is nice
In the doldrums of winter, there’s nothing like a little spice to awaken you from hibernation and whisk you away on a virtual adventure. These local dishes will take your taste buds on a journey from sweet to savory to spicy with stops in between.—Megan Headley

(Photo by John Robinson)

Chicken might seem a staid request, but at an Indian restaurant like Milan (pictured), tandoori chicken tikka is a must. The chicken, marinated in a tangy yogurt seasoned with cayenne pepper, cumin, garam masala, garlic, ginger, and turmeric, cooks in a hot clay oven and is served with sliced onions, limes, and cilantro chutney.

Making a decision can be tough at Pad Thai, where there are curries of every color (with your choice of tofu, beef, chicken, or pork). The Masaman curry combines dried red chilies, shallots, and garlic with spices like cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg (among other ingredients) in a thick, stew-like dish that’s mild and slightly sweet with rich, toasty spices mingling throughout.

At the Korean House, spice is tamed with sweet in the dwaeji bulgogi, or spicy Korean pork barbecue. Tender pork is marinated in soy, brown sugar, thai chile paste, fresh ginger, dark sesame oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper before being grilled to sticky, charred perfection. Wrap in lettuce leaves with strips of cool veggies for a crispy, hot/cold combo.

Afghan cuisine is the fare at Ariana Grill Kabob House on West Main Street and the lamb quorma chalow is a combination of tender lamb chunks swathed in a warm and savory sauce of onions, tomato sauce, lentils, garam masala, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, and black pepper. Served with a salad, basmati rice, and Afghan bread and you’ve got a meal for $11.75.

Diva-licious
To find one of Charlottesville’s newest gourmet shops, just follow your nose. Smoky cumin and exotic cardamom lure shoppers into The Spice Diva, whose tiny space (it’s snuggled into the purple building off the Main Street Market) concentrates the aromas.

Owner Phyllis Hunter was thrilled to land in a corner of what she calls “foodie heaven” when she and her husband relocated from Virginia Beach in July. The trained singer developed a taste for freshly ground spices while performing with the Santa Fe opera, and vowed to open her own mini-bazaar after visiting a similar shop in Napa Valley.

With spices, freshness is everything. Bring in old, dusty jars for Hunter’s spice exchange. Worn-out powders will occupy containers by the window for decoration, and customers will get a 30 percent discount on freshly ground replacements through February 5. Jarred spices lose their potency after six months, so Hunter suggests buying in small quantities to keep your rack ultra-fresh.

The Spice Diva can fill small (and therefore less expensive) orders for saffron, truffles, and rare teas, and will suggest the perfect enhancements for any fresh seafood, organic meat, or nuts you might have picked up from the other market vendors.

It’s a new year—turn over a new leaf (bay or curry?) and let the Spice Diva help your supper sing.—Eric Angevine

Healthful seasoning
Certain spices can sprinkle on more disease-fighting benefits than most fruits and veggies. Here’s how to stock your spice rack (instead of your medicine cabinet).

Cayenne: A teaspoon or two a day contains enough capsaicin (an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant) to lower the risk of cancer and relieve headaches and arthritis by suppressing one of the body’s neurotransmitters for pain.

Cinnamon: One teaspoon a day contains the same antioxidant power as 5 ½ cups of broccoli and lowers blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL (bad cholesterol), and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.

Clove: A teaspoon contains enough eugenol and flavinoids to act as an anti-inflammatory, an anti-bacterial, and a mild anaesthetic.

Nutmeg: A few fresh grinds a day help with skin breakouts, mood, sex drive, digestive and sleep disturbances and act as a powerful antioxidant. It’s toxic in large amounts though, so don’t exceed one teaspoon in a day.

Turmeric: About 500-800 milligrams a day acts as a natural anti-inflammatory with a cancer cell inhibitor called curcumin that stops the growth of new blood vessels in tumors. It may also slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.

 

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