Herbs and spices really are the best friend of vegetarian/vegan/plant-based cookery. They have the power to transform the ordinary to the extraordinary, take your tastebuds on a trip around the globe (no passport required) and boost the medicinal and nutritional value of your food. 

This week on the V&M blog I have none other than the king of spices… Australia’s Ian “Herbie” Hemphill as our guest. If you love your cooking I am sure you are familiar with Herbies herbs and spices. Hopefully you have stood in front of the vast shelves of packets and jars in his Rozelle (Sydney) shop, drinking in the uniquely perfumed air or have picked out Herbies spice/herb staples and blends from your local deli or health food market. This interview is guaranteed to get your mouth watering…

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Ian “Herbie” & Liz  Hemphill

How would you describe the style of dishes enjoyed in your household on a regular week night?

Full of flavour! We are so lucky our repertoire is varied thanks to our love of spices, but a week night will generally be something that doesn’t take too long, and is healthy and liked by the whole family.

What does great nutrition mean to you and your family?

A long and healthy life! Feeding a family nutritious food is really rewarding when you see them thriving and benefitting both mentally and physically.

Herbs and Spices have the ability to transform the same base ingredients from a dish from one region of the world to another. Which county’s cuisine is your favourite and why?

Tough question, but for family favourites, the wonderful combination of sweet and savoury spices in Moroccan cuisine is a winner every time.

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Saffron picture taken in Kashmir

The medicinal and general health benefits of many herbs and spices are widely known and have been studied for centuries. What herb or spice’s medicinal qualities do you find most fascinating?

Although we never give specific medicinal advice, as our expertise relates to culinary use, there are many herbs and spices like thyme, rosemary, pepper, turmeric and cinnamon which are high in antioxidants and known to be beneficial to health for most people.

What do you wish everyone knew before purchasing mass-produced supermarket varieties of herbs and spices?

We would like everyone to understand what they are buying. When you are using herbs and spices, you should smell them every time you use them. This way people will understand how good a herb or spice is by its aroma. Also, when buying spice blends always read the ingredient list, as many are full of fillers, flavours and artificial ingredients.

What do you predict will be the next big trend in the world of herbs and spices?

Spice blends are becoming more popular as they should be well balanced, combine many different herbs and spices in the right proportions, and are easy to use. We see the next trends coming are Mexican, and the clever use of ingredients without being based on any particular cuisine. What we would call “clever fusion” as opposed to some of the “confusion by infusion” in year’s past.

What are your top herb and spice staples? What can’t you live without and is always in your pantry?

Cardamom is a must have, as it brightens both sweet and savoury dishes. Cumin is used in so many cuisines and is much more than a “curry” spice with its appetising earthy profile. Then Cinnamon, Turmeric and paprika are must haves along with chilli. Coriander seed is a wonderful and versatile amalgamating spice that will be found in sweet and savoury spice blends form sweet mixed spice to curry powders.

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Bird’s Eye Chili

Can you recommend any books, films or online resources that have changed the way you look at cooking, health and nutrition?

While we’re not Paleo ourselves, Pete Evans has a wonderful way with recipes that don’t make you feel like you’re missing out. We follow Hemsley & Hemsley, Arthur Street Kitchen, The Agrarian Kitchen and Petite Kitchen amongst others which inspire ethical and healthy eating.

For specific dietary advice, we recommend Catherine Saxelby’s Complete Food & Nutrition Companion because it puts solid advice and hundreds of practical tips about food and health at your fingertips.

Using herbs and spices with every meal is one of my top tips for including more veggies in your diet. Herbs and spices go hand in hand with vegetarian food. What is the best vegetarian dish you have ever eaten?

Dosa for breakfast in India!

How do you get inspired to prepare a meal?

Lovely produce is a great start and keeping in mind a balanced and varied diet

What a treat! Ian had shared a few of his favourite recipes and some beautiful photos. 

We love: Baharat pumpkin with a simple green salad

baharat-pumpkin-olive-salsa
Ingredients
750g pumpkin, cut into thick wedges (3-5cm thick), skin on
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Herbie’s Baharat
2 stems of kale
salsa:
6 cocktail tomatoes, quartered
10 kalamata olives, finely sliced
1 small clove garlic, crushed
3 tbsp olive oil
Instructions
Preheat oven to 200C.
Cover pumpkin liberally in olive oil and spice mix and place in oven, turning once after 20 minutes. After 30 minutes, place kale stems on baking tray for 10 minutes until crisp, and pumpkin is tender.
While pumpkin is cooking, combine salsa ingredients and leave at room temperature for serving.
To serve, place pumpkin on a plate, top with salsa, and crumble the crisp kale over the top.

Another favourite any time of year: Roast Vegetables with Zaatar

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Ingredients
1 red capsicum, deseeded and cut into 2cm strips
1 yellow capsicum, deseeded and cut into 2cm strips
1 orange capsicum, deseeded and cut into 2cm strips
1 small bulb fennel, cut into small wedges and fronds reserved for serving
½ cauliflower, florets removed and halved if they are large
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 tbsp Herbie’s Spices Za’atar
2 tbsp olive oil
Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C while preparing vegetables.
Place veg and chickpeas on a large baking tray so that they aren’t overlapping too much. Toss in za’atar and oil and ensure well coated.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning once or twice for even browning.
Remove to a serving plate and garnish with fennel fronds.

A brilliant breakfast or brunch: Dosa

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Ingredients
1kg white potatoes (about 6 large)
batter:
200g (1½ cups) gram (chick pea) flour
65g (1/2 cup) rice flour
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
425ml water
1½ tsp Herbie’s brown mustard seeds
1 tsp Herbie’s nigella seeds
pinch sea salt
filling:
1 tbsp coconut oil or ghee
½ sliced brown onion
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 green chilli, sliced
2½ tsp Herbie’s panch phora
½ tsp Herbie’s ground turmeric
¼ cup fresh curry leaves, picked
salt and freshly ground pepper
to serve:
250ml (1 cup) plain yoghurt
¼ cup finely chopped mint leaves
1 cup fresh coriander leaves
¼ cup pomegranate seeds (optional)
Instructions
Prick potatoes and bake in preheated oven for one hour, or until very soft. Allow to cool a little, then peel of skin. Cut potato into 2cm dice, however it will be roughly mashed so don’t worry too much about the size.
While potatoes are cooking, make the batter. Put flours in a bowl with mustard and nigella seeds and salt. Mix yoghurt into water then pour liquid into a well in the flour mixture. Stir until smooth and combine. Keep in mind it will be a very thin batter. Set aside.
Heat oil or ghee in a wok or large frying pan, then add onion, ginger, chilli, panch phora and turmeric. Stir continually for 5 minutes until onion is softening and spices are fragrant.
Add potatoes and curry leaves to the spice mixture and combine well. Season to taste and turn off heat while making pancakes.
Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a pancake pan, tava or flat frying pan. When bubbling, ladle a spoon of batter into the pan and immediately swirl the pan so batter covers as much area as possible as thinly as possible. After 1-2 minutes, the pancake should be crisp. Flip over and cook other side. Slide cooked pancakes onto a large plate and repeat with remaining batter, using oil to grease the pan when needed.
Reserving a few mint and coriander leaves to garnish, blitz the remainder with yoghurt.
To serve, reheat potato until piping hot and place on the table with the pancakes, yoghurt, extra leaves and pomegranate seeds (if using) for people to help themselves.

What is the next exciting Herbies project that you will be sharing with the world?

Following a recent trip to Papua New Guinea to meet villagers producing small quantities of spices, we will be launching some unique spices from this region. Among them will a wild Sogeri Ginger, a very fresh tasting green chilli powder, vanilla bean powder and a vanilla bean paste made only from vanilla beans and sugar – no alcohol, alginates or spent material.