Local Bounty: Sept. 4

Penzeys Spices Come to San Diego



Is there a Penzeys cult in San Diego? It seems like there’s a whole subculture of food lovers, cooks, and bakers who have long been enthralled by the Wisconsin-based spice purveyor and are now worshipping at the new temple of spices they’ve erected in Hillcrest. Count me in as one of them. I couldn’t be happier.

The new Penzeys has a spacious shop in the Hillcrest Colonnade at 1274 University Ave. where it sells more than 250 spices, herbs, and seasonings. Sure, you can always order online but what if your recipe calls for Ajwain Seed (traditional in many Indian and Pakistani dishes) or cracked China ginger? Chances aren’t great that more obscure seasonings will be readily available or fresh in local markets. Now they are because the new shop has everything that you’d find online or in the catalog—without shipping charges—and turnover is monitored so product is fresh.

Prices vary, depending on the size of the package, which comes in the form of either  a jar or bag.

It was close to impossible to identify just three items you should pay particular attention to. You’ll just have to visit the shop yourself. But here’s my attempt at focus:

Cinnamon

Go to the supermarket and you’ll find jars of cinnamon and cinnamon sticks—and you can’t be faulted if you think that cinnamon is cinnamon. But, oh no, my friends, hit the cinnamon section at Penzeys, open some sample jars and take a whiff. There’s the China Cinnamon, or Tung Hing, which is sweet, spicy, and so powerful. Use this for cinnamon sugar or baking. The Indonesian Cinnamon, or Korintje, is sweet and mellow and perfect for sprinkling on oatmeal. It’s the cinnamon of our childhood. There’s cinnamon from Ceylon and Vietnam, the Penzeys blend of all four, cinnamon sugar, three- and four-inch cinnamon sticks from Ceylon, and fabulous cinnamon chunks—a blend of China and Indonesia varieties that are just the texture you  want for mulled wine or cider.  Prices vary depending on the type of cinnamon and size of the package.

Savory Leaves

This is one of those herbs that I don’t usually think to buy—which baffles me since it has a warm, lovely piquant flavor and is very aromatic. It’s popular in Germany, where it’s known as bohnen-kraut (or bean herb), as well as Eastern and Northern Europe, where it’s used—no surprise—to flavor bean and cabbage dishes, soups, stews, and sausage. It’s also terrific on poultry, pork chops, and fish. I mixed these leaves, which originate in Albania, with extra virgin olive oil, fresh minced garlic, sea salt, and Marash pepper flakes, to make a beautiful marinade for roasted turkey last week. ¼ cup jar is $2.29, ½ cup is $3.99, and a 1-ounce bag is $2.29

Country French Vinaigrette Dressing Base

It’s been a long time since I’ve made dressing from a package and I was reluctant to try the ones I saw at Penzeys. But I happened to run into a friend there who is a terrific cook and raved about the Country French Vinaigrette dressing base they sell. So, I got it. And loved it in a refreshing summer salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, pepperoncini, olives, and Greek feta. Really loved it. And, why not? It’s light and filled with French tarragon, thyme, rosemary, white pepper, lemon peel, Tellicherry black pepper, chives, crushed brown mustard, salt, garlic, and a bit of sugar. You mix a little with water and let it stand for five minutes, then whisk in red wine vinegar and olive oil. And voila! $4.25 for a ¼ cup jar and up to $20.90 for a 1-pound bag

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