The following post was written by my mom, WWW. Thanks, mom!Penzeys but I’m always up for a fun field trip with my friend. (Lorraine and I used to drive over an hour just to buy olive oil and the best balsamic vinegar ever made from We Olive before they opened up a store in La Jolla.) “You’re going to be hooked for life,” she told me. “Their herbs and spices are the freshest I’ve found. And what a selection!” Lorraine has been buying all of her herbs and spices online from Penzeys for years and recently they opened up a store in San Diego. I had no idea what I was in for, but I inventoried my spice cabinet and made a list of what I needed. I also messaged my son, David for ideas.
Me: Hi, Sweetie. I’m going to a really cool spice store tomorrow. What special spices should I buy?
David: Urfa! Zatar is delicious for things like hummus…also Ras el Hanout. Those three will give you all the North African/Eastern Mediterranean flavors you've ever wanted.
I had never heard of any of these spices but was excited to try them. I thanked my foodie son and the next day Lorraine and I set off for Penzeys. When I entered the store, I gasped. I had never seen so many spices in one place and it is a beautiful sight to behold for someone who loves to cook. But I get overwhelmed and have difficulty deciding on anything when presented with too many choices so I was glad that I had made a list…except…when I checked my purse, AHHHH!!! NO LIST!! In my typical forgetful fashion, I had left it on the kitchen table. I couldn’t remember any of David’s suggestions—I guess the names were a little too colorful for my aging brain—so I texted him. Luckily he immediately answered with his favorite trio.
Being a newcomer to Penzeys, I shadowed Lorraine as she hunted and found her favorite selections. “Be careful,” she warned. “These add up quickly.” I was lost without my list, but decided to try some new spices recommended by Lorraine, a few things that I remembered I needed, and some others that caught my fancy. And I chose the small bottles. That way, I could try more things, stay within my budget, and be more educated on my next visit.
Penzeys has quite a few retail stores but also a thriving online business. Lorraine told me that she often gives their gift boxes for wedding gifts or Christmas presents. They have a great website with recipes and free shipping on any order over $30.
I’ve loved having some new spices to play around with. Zatar now dusts the top of my hummus as suggested by David. As for his other two recommendations, I haven’t found the urfa yet, but our very own neighborhood farmer’s market has a Moroccan stand and a few days after my visit to Penzey’s I was excited to discover they carry Ras el Hanout, hand blended by the sellers. David was right—it’s amazing.
I found this recipe online and thought it would be fun to try since it uses several of my new spices. It’s a super quick meal to make. Add more or less cayenne to adjust the heat. If you don’t have Ras el Hanout, you can make your own.
Moroccan Vegetarian Carrot and Chickpea Tagine
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ¼ teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
¾ teaspoon cinnamon (I put less because I used the super pungent Vietnamese cinnamon)
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon Ras el Hanout, or more to taste (optional)
2 or 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (or parsley if you don’t like cilantro)
4-5 carrots, peeled and cut into ¼” slices the long way
1 cup water (or half water and half broth—I used 1 ½ cups)
1 ½ --2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained
2-3 teaspoons honey (optional)
¼ cup golden raisins (optional)
1. In a large skillet with a lid (or a tagine) sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil over low heat for a few minutes.
2. Add spices, carrots, cilantro, and water. Cover and simmer until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.
Have you ever shopped at Penzeys? What are your favorite exotic spices? I’d love to hear from you!