Spice things up

Spiced calamari with fennel and smashed avocado.

Spiced calamari with fennel and smashed avocado. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Spices define some cuisines with their pungent aromatics, but they add layers of subtlety and detail to any number of dishes without necessarily adding heat. They can impart warm, smoky and woody notes as well as citrus and floral characters. Make sure you store them somewhere cool, dark and dry.

Spiced calamari with fennel and smashed avocado

Though fennel is essentially a winter vegetable, this dish has quite a summery feel. I have no problem with a splash of sunshine in the cooler months.

Corn with paprika and chilli butter glaze.

Corn with paprika and chilli butter glaze. Photo: Marina Oliphant

1 small garlic clove


1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

Spiced calamari with smashed avocado and fennel.

Spiced calamari with smashed avocado and fennel. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Salt flakes

3-4 ripe avocados, peeled and roughly chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

3 limes — 2 juiced, 1 cut in wedges to serve

¼ bunch coriander, roughly chopped, plus extra leaves to garnish

1 bulb fennel

1 lemon

Extra virgin olive oil

1 green chilli, finely sliced

Oil for frying (I use olive oil)

600g small or medium-sized calamari, cleaned, scored and cut into strips

Spiced flour

100g plain flour

20g ground cumin

25g smoked paprika

25g ground coriander

35g ras el hanout

30g onion powder

20g garlic powder

2 tbsp salt flakes

1. Combine all the spiced flour ingredients until free of any lumps.

2. For the avocado, in a large mortar and pestle, grind the garlic and the spices with three good pinches of salt. Add the avocado and mash, then add plenty of pepper, the lime juice and the coriander. Stir and set aside.

3. Shave the fennel in fine slices lengthways (a mandolin is ideal for this) and dress with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. Toss through with the chilli.

4. Heat about six centimetres of oil to 175 degrees in a large saucepan.

5. Spread the avocado on a serving plate. Top with the fennel and extra coriander leaves.

6. Dust the calamari in the spiced flour and fry in batches until golden. Serve on the fennel and avocado with lime wedges on the side.

Drink Riesling

Serves 6

Corn with smoked paprika, chilli butter glaze and lime

This gets pretty hot and spicy once the liquid has been reduced and the flavours concentrate, but the intensity is balanced by the rich, buttery glaze and the sweetness of the corn.

4 cobs corn, cut in half

5 cloves garlic, finely sliced

3 green chillies, finely sliced

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp salt flakes

1 tbsp castor sugar

1 pinch saffron threads

100g butter

1 lime

1. Place the corn in a large saucepan with all the ingredients except the butter and lime. Add enough water to almost cover and bring to the boil.

2. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer, add the butter and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the cooked corn and keep warm.

3. Reduce the liquid down to a couple of centimetres  (this might take 15 minutes), return  corn to the pan to warm through. Remove the corn and reduce the liquid  to a glaze. Serve corn with the glaze poured over the top and a good squeeze of lime. 

Drink IPA beer

Serves 4

Spiced onion rings

These onion rings don't have a heavy batter; they're great served as a snack with garlic aioli or as a side for grilled steak or poultry.

Spiced flour (see first recipe for ingredients)

Oil for frying (I use olive oil)

2 eggs

200ml milk

2 brown onions, cut in 1cm rings

Olive oil

Plain flour to dust

1. Combine all the spiced flour ingredients until free of any lumps.

2. In a large saucepan, heat about sixcentimetres of oil to 175 degrees (just hot enough that an onion ring will bubble immediately when you throw it in, but make sure it's not too hot or it will burn).

3. Beat the eggs with the milk until combined.

4. Separate the onion slices into rings, and toss gently in a little oil to coat.  Dust lightly with the plain flour and toss again, coating evenly.

5. Dip the rings through the egg and milk mix, then toss through the spiced flour until fully coated. Fry in batches for about three minutes or until golden and crisp.

6. Drain on paper towels and serve.

Drink Pilsner beer

Tip Use half the spiced flour first, and more as you need it. Store the extra for another day.

Serves 4 as a generous side