Spice evokes the romance of the exotic and a fascination with the unusual and exquisite flavours that they have to offer. Although most spices originate from the tropics, there are a handful that are native to this part of the world such as aniseed, saffron, mustard and cumin. It is the creative infusion of these very different worlds that makes cooking with them so pleasurable.

pimiento chicken

Pimiento chicken with turmeric and tamarind

4 chicken pieces, 1 tablespoon pimiento, 1/2 tablespoon ground turmeric, salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 dessertspoon fennel seeds, 2 chopped tomatoes.

Season the chicken well and rub a mix of pimienton and turmeric all over the outside of the pieces. Sauté in olive oil until golden each side, add the chopped tomatoes and fennel seeds, cover and steam on low heat for 7 minutes. Serve with the tamarind pickle.

For the pickle, 6 fresh ripe tamarinds, 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon ground turmeric, 1 teaspoon ground chili, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, Pre soak the tamarinds in warm water (20 minutes). Break open and squeeze out the pulp, discard the seeds and case. Dry roast the seeds, add the oil, tamarind pulp, lime juice and ground spices, mix well, cook for a few minutes until a thick paste (you can adjust this with a little water). Remove from heat, season to taste.

tagine

Aubergine tagine

1 medium sized aubergine, 350g tomatoes, 1 small apple, 1 medium onion, 60g sultanas, 3 oranges (zest and juice), 1/2 lemon (juiced), 60g fresh dates, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 teaspoons dried cinnamon, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon fresh ginger root (peeled and grated), 30g fresh coriander roughly chopped, 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil,

Remove the peel from the aubergine, discard the stalk end, dice the flesh into 1cm cubes. (Up to you if you use the skin, if not too tough). Peel the onion and dice. Peel the apple, remove core and dice, drizzle with lemon juice. Heat the olive oil in a large pan, add the onions, diced aubergine and apple, sauté for 5 minutes. Finely chop the apricots, trim the dates and cut lengthways into 6. Roughly chop the coriander and the tomatoes. Add the apricots, dates, cinnamon, sultanas, orange juice and zest, oregano, ginger, coriander and tomato to the pan, cover and simmer gently for 7 minutes. Serve the tagine with couscous.

meat balls

Lebanese meatballs, red onions, cumin and lime

This dish has strong flavours and bold combinations - the lamb and the pungent cumin are cut by the piquant pimiento and the sharpness of lime. 250g lean lamb meat, 2 medium onions, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 dessert spoon pimiento, 1 tablespoon plain flour, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 3 limes, large handful of fresh coriander leaves, 4 tomatoes, 1 large orange, 1 egg, extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the meat into small cubes. Finely chop the onions and the tomatoes (retain the juices). Zest and juice the limes and the orange. Put the meat, 1 tablespoon of the chopped onions, the ground cumin, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and the egg into the food processor. Pulse and combine to form a mince - check as pulsing too much will result in a paste. Remove and form into balls about 3cm in diameter. Combine the flour and pimiento and roll each ball in the mix, covering thoroughly. In a deep frying pan sauté the meat balls in olive oil for a few minutes until lightly browned all over. Stir gently, turn the heat down and add all the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer on low heat for a further 10 minutes. Stir carefully from time to time.

squid with chili

Seared squid with coriander, scallions and chili

Squid has a unique flavour and texture that are the essence of this dish. Searing the squid on high heat is essential to keep it tender and gives it colour and bite. It is also important to let it stand. Its particular flavour is enhanced by the pungency of chillies, the fragrance of coriander and the strong leafy taste of scallions.

4 small squid cleaned, 2 cloves garlic, 2 scallions (spring onions), 4 chillies, 1 bunch fresh coriander, 2 limes, 1 large sweet orange, 1 tablespoon caster sugar, 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, freshly ground black pepper, salt. To make the dressing, finely zest and juice the orange. Heat the juice and sugar on low heat and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the vinegar, orange zest and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Chop the coriander stalks, add to the pan. Zest and juice the limes. De-seed and finely slice the chillies, slice the scallions, finely chop the garlic. Cut the squid lengthways into thick slices, dab dry and season. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a shallow pan until hot. Add the squid pieces carefully, stir fry over high heat for about 3 minutes until they start to colour. Turn the heat down, quickly stir in the chillies, garlic, scallions, lime zest, lime juice and most of the coriander leaves. Cover immediately, remove from heat and leave to stand for at least 3 minutes. Turn the squid out into a serving dish. Pour over the dressing, garnish with the rest of the coriander leaves and serve.

herbal infusion

Ginger, orange and hibiscus infusion

As well as being a pleasant infusion this is great for warming up the inside of the body and is a good tonic for when feeling under the weather. Infuse in boiled spring water a little dried hibiscus flower with a strip of fresh ginger root (or it can be finely diced for enhanced strength) and top up with warmed fresh orange juice. If you prefer, you can also sweeten with honey.

moroccan carrot salad

Moroccan carrot salad

6 large carrots peeled and finely grated, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon honey, 2 table spoons extra virgin olive oil, juice from ½ lemon, juice and zest from 1 orange, salt and pepper. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, mix thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Serve on own or with other salads, pastillas or boureks. Keeps well refrigerated for a few days.

spiced chicken skewers

Dry marinated spiced chicken

Cut two large chicken breasts into long thick strips. In a large bowl mix a tablespoon of flour, a tablespoon sweet pimiento, half a tablespoon of ground cumin, half a teaspoon each of salt, black pepper and ground cloves. Mix well. Place the chicken pieces into the dry marinade and coat each one thoroughly. Leave in for at least 3 hours. Juice one lemon and one orange. Sauté the chicken pieces in a little olive oil over medium heat for two minutes each side, reduce heat to the lowest setting, add the juices and fresh coriander leaves then cover. Leave to cook gently for about 8 minutes turning once. Leave to stand for a further 2 minutes, skewer, garnish with pine nuts and serve warm.

monkfish lime chili

Monkfish with lime and green chili

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 4 fresh green chilies (deseeded, cut into fine strips), 2 limes (zest in fine strips and flesh juiced), 2cm length fresh ginger (peeled and finely grated), peel from I zucchini (optional, use potato peeler, adds depth of color). Start with the marinade. Warm the olive oil a little, add the zucchini peel and leave to infuse over very low heat for 10 minutes, add all the other ingredients above. Remove from heat. 2 monkfish fillets cut in half, 1 teaspoon white sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon soy sauce. Heat a little olive oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan and sear the monkfish fillets on high heat until lightly golden all over. Add 1 tablespoon of water and the soy sauce, immediately cover, remove from the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Skewer the fish pieces, put in a serving bowl and pour over the marinade. Scatter sesame seeds, serve warm or at room temperature - goes well with basmati rice or hummus and soft naan bread.