Spicely Organics & Pumpkin Hummus

My recipe for pumpkin hummus went up on My New Usual a couple of weeks ago, a tasty and seasonal alternative to traditional chickpea hummus. My friend Becky was hanging out in my kitchen while I was finalizing the recipe and I used her as a guinea pig to see if I could re-write my recipe to   make the ingredients a little easier for everyone to find. I started making pumpkin hummus when we lived in California and I was buying most of my spices from a San Francisco based organic spice company called Spicely Organics. Long story short, Becky and I agreed that while the simplified recipe was good, the addition of the shawarma seasoning blend made the recipe so much better.

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 I hadn’t been able to find Spicely on the east coast since we moved, and when I had looked for them online, couldn’t find a user-friendly shopping portal. I ran across their booth at the Fancy Food Show in NYC this summer and was excited to hear that they were expanding to sell more nationally and had developed their online presence a lot. After posting the recipe, my friend Kate said she had even found the shawarma spice mix at Whole Foods in Montclair NJ, so it’s become much more widely available recently.

The first thing that I loved about this spice company besides the quality and flavor of their herbs and spices is the packaging. I use a huge variety of herbs and spices in my cooking and I don’t want a load of new glass jars every time I resupply my stock. Spicely’s herbs and spices are mostly packaged in small 1 inch square cardboard boxes with a cellophane bag inside. I also like that they are sold in smaller amounts than the standard jar size. The most important factor in spices maintaining their flavor is freshness and it’s a lot easier to use up the small packages before the fragrance starts to dissipate and the flavor becomes stale, especially if it’s a spice I don’t use constantly. For those go-to spices that I use most often, they also carry cardboard or glass jars in larger sizes and a bulk jar called the “sous chef”. Another benefit to the variety of sizes is that stocking up on a few spices isn’t going to be expensive, especially if you often end up throw away the dregs of an old jar that you never get around to using.

They also have a  tremendous variety of  spices in their line. I’ve bought sumac and mace and nigella seeds, black and green cardamom, whole anise, ground turmeric and juniper berries as well as more everyday spices like Italian and Mexican oregano, cumin, thyme, and smoked paprika. The seasoning blends skew toward more exotic, less standard “steakhouse seasoning”, like the shawarma blend, which I use for chicken and vegetables, not just hummus. There was a curry blend that I didn’t love and I prefer a Cajun blend from Louisiana, but I love the unique Ras El Hanout, the harissa blend, and the za’atar seasoning. They list the ingredients of the blends on the package so you can get a sense of the flavor before buying; I got a lot of inspiration from their blends, new ideas for how to combine flavors. I noticed on their website that they now have tea and spice infused chocolate in their product line, none of which I have tried.

The icing on the cake is that all of their products are organic, non GMO, and fair trade certified. My opinion is that if an organic product doesn’t taste good or isn’t well made, I’m not eating it. I also realize that there are a lot of great foods that are grown or made very naturally that aren’t organic or certified. But if food that I use can taste great and is also organic, I’m happy about it.  The Fair trade certification means that the company sources its spices from producers who do not use forced or child labor, have unsafe working conditions or substandard wages. I don’t want my food to come at the expense of anyone’s health or well-being and I want their work to provide them with a livelihood, so fair trade certification is something that I look for when possible, particularly in categories that have a history of abuse. Going to a little more trouble (or expense) for more carefully sourced food isn’t everyone’s prerogative, but it is important to me. I explained my position in this comment about why Rancho Gordo beans, whose farmers are able to make a living growing the beans, are (to me) worth the higher price:

I grew up eating lots of beans, so I too was a little skeptical when I saw the prices of RG beans. Then I tried them. Their flavor and texture is far, far better than the .69 per pound bags of black beans I’ve always eaten. And while I realize that there is still a big price difference, $5 divided by 6-8 servings is not particularly expensive. 
The real test for me however was when my mom ate RG beans for the first time. She is the one who taught me to use beans as an inexpensive meal. She hasn’t had the extra money to spend on frivolous “gourmet” products, and yet she is sold on RG beans. 
Normally, beans are farmed as a commodity product that has to be produced in bulk for the farmer to make any profit. Steve’s approach is completely different. Smaller yields of more costly beans mean a better profit margin for these farmers. While everyone may not be in a position to buy their food at a higher price in support of smaller farmers, I think it is certainly worthwhile for those who can. It begins to change the food supply system, making it possible for small farmers to support themselves growing better quality produce, enabling more food to be grown locally, and creating a more diverse agricultural polyculture.
If you are a new cook who wants to stock your spice basics or an adventurous experimental one looking for spice inspiration, I think you’ll find something to love about Spicely Organics. I wrote this without any “swag” or payment of any kind to motivate my opinion; I am just really happy that they are now more widely available and wanted to spread the word about something I like and use.
Once you track down that shawarma blend, try this pumpkin hummus recipe:
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Pumpkin Hummus

makes about 2 cups

1 ½ cups pureed roasted pumpkin

3 tablespoons tahini

3 cloves roasted garlic

1 clove raw garlic, crushed or grated on a microplane

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon Spicely organic shawarma seasoning (or ¼ teaspoon each of ground bay leaves, cinnamon, coriander, and thyme)

2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil plus more to serve.

Sumac (optional)

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the pumpkin, tahini, garlic, and spices. Process until smooth. Mix about half of the lemon juice and olive oil in , check for taste and consistency (you don’t want the hummus to be too liquid) and then add the rest to taste.

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How to not cook a turtle

 

I had a bowl of gorgeous turtle soup at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen a long long time ago back when I still lived in the South. It was dark and rich and intriguing, spicy and earthy and had a nice whiff of sherry in it. I loved it. The thing is, I don’t run across a lot of turtles and if I did, I can’t say I could fathom cooking one of them, having only just conquered the crab. But that flavor has always stayed in my memory, waiting to be recreated.  The trigger on that idea got pulled recently. Here in NJ where I live, there are grocery aisles dedicated to Caribbean ingredients like adobo seasoning, lard colored with annatto, beans and rice, yucca chips. There are at least five Caribbean restaurants here in my mile-square town. Seeing pumpkin soup and black beans on menus and then eating some good jerk during TMRVacationEver got me thinking- rich, earthy, sweet, spicy. Spices like cumin, allspice, thyme and Habanero  are straight out of a jerk marinade recipe and pumpkin and black beans balance that earthy/sweet flavor combo. I’m not going to say that this soup tastes like that turtle soup I had, but it makes me feel like that soup did. And I didn’t have to cook a turtle.

 

Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup


1 ½ cups dried black beans, soaked and drained

1 onion large diced

3 cloves garlic minced

1 small knob ginger smashed (end of thumb size)

I medium heat green chili diced (can of chilis would work)

1 small Habanero deseeded and cut in half

oil (or butter) to sauté the onion

1 allspice berry, crushed (or  tiny pinch of ground allspice)

small pinch of dried thyme

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 packet Goya ham base or whatever smoked ham stock you like

4-6 cups water

¼ calabaza pumpkin, seeds removed and roasted until soft

¾ cup diced tomato

1/2- 2/3  cups diced or shredded smoked ham

1/3-1/2 cup dry sherry

garnish with avocado, feta or cotija cheese, or sour cream, or toasted pumpkin seeds

 

Saute’ the onion, chilis, ginger and garlic in oil until soft. Add the cumin, thyme and allspice and warm in the oil for a minute. Add the drained beans and the ham stock if desired. Otherwise , cover generously with water and simmer until the beans are soft and creamy. Don’t fear the Habanero. If you are tasting the soup as you go, you can easily fish the pepper out when you are happy with the heat level. I just think that the fruity heat of the Habanero adds a specific flavor that cayenne or jalapeno doesn’t have.

 

I roasted the pumpkin on a dish in the oven, lightly covered, at 350 for a few hours. Since everything is going to be blended, you can’t really overcook it.  I used calabaza because it was easy to find here, but I’d also make it with butternut squash or kabocha pumpkin; they both have dense, sweet flesh that intensifies as it is cooked down. Scrape the pumpkin flesh off of the skin and add to the black bean along with the tomatoes. Simmer together, adding additional water if needed. Adjust the seasoning for salt.

Pour in the sherry and bring back to a good simmer, to let some of the alcohol cook off. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Stir in the smoky shreds of ham (or put it in the bottom of each bowl before pouring in the soup). Scoop some avocado, cheese or sour cream on top.

 

If you are disinclined to do the whole “from dried beans and whole pumpkin” route,  try it with canned beans and pumpkin. Use about 1 can of pumpkin puree and 2 cans of drained black beans.  After the onions and spices are cooked, add the beans, pumpkin and stock, tomatoes, and cook it all together . Letting it sit overnight before blending will probably help the flavors integrate more thoroughly.

 

Soup of the day- Kabocha Pumpkin Soup

Rifling through the freezer today, I found a couple of Ziploc bags of kabocha pumpkin that I had roasted and pureed. Kabocha is a little gnarly green pumpkin with very sweet slightly grainy flesh. It’s flavor is intensified by roasting and I like to keep some cooked in the freezer for risotto, soup, or quick bread.

Tonight, I’m making a very traditionally and simply seasoned pumpkin soup.

Kabocha Pumpkin Soup

Tools you’ll need

Knife

Cutting board

Soup pot- about 3 quarts

Spoon or spatula to stir

Immersion blender or regular blender

Ingredients

2 cups roasted kabocha

1 stalk of celery minced

½ yellow onion, minced

1 shallot, minced

6 dried sage leaves, chopped or ground

Dash of cayenne

1 tablespoon of butter and a splash of olive oil

Chicken stock- I used about 2 cups

Cream or half and half- I used about 4 tablespoons

Salt

Technique-

Start by mincing all of the aromatic vegetables, celery, onion, and shallot; meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil in the soup pot. Add all of the minced vegetables and the chopped or ground sage, a dash of cayenne, and a nice pinch of salt and sweat it slowly over low heat until everything is soft. Add the pumpkin and about half of the chicken stock. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes to infuse the flavor of the aromatics into the pumpkin and stock. Check the consistency and add enough of the additional stock to make a fairly loose mixture; add the cream of half and half. Using an immersion blender or regular blender, process the soup until it is very smooth. Check the seasoning for salt.

A bowl of this rich saffron-colored sweet and savory soup is incredibly satisfying with a little Brie grilled cheese alongside. We had licked-clean bowls at our house.