Using Herbs and Spices: More on Flavor Families

This multiple-entry post on herbs and spices was sparked by Julee Rosso’s recipe for Beef Stew with Eggplant (Great Good Food, p. 487).  Its unusual combination of spices ignited an entire exploration into using herbs and spices more often and more creatively.

On the subject of creativity, an earlier post talked about “flavor families”and how paying attention to them paves the way to more creative use of herbs and spices.  Rosso’s stew recipe provides a good example, with its flavor family of coriander, paprika, cinnamon, allspice and cayenne pepper. It took a little courage to step out on a limb and try that unusual combo (if you’re having trouble with that step, see the first post), but once past that barrier the door swung wide open to some cooking fun.  Turns out that this flavor family was fantastic.  Now, how else could it be used?

That’s the great thing about flavor families.  Find one you like and you’ve got an easy springboard to creative fun:  In the case of Julee’s coriander combo, after tasting it in a beef stew, it was a no-brainer to imagine how nicely it would complement a vegetarian stew with eggplant, green peppers and garbanzo beans, and then what a nice bite it would add to a peach chutney.  I tried both variations with excellent results.  The vegetarian stew follows.

Give it a try, check out the coriander combo, then have some fun trying it with other things—and be sure to share your ideas.

Eggplant and Garbanzo Stew with Spicy Coriander Flavors

Serves 4-6

  • 2-3 cups cooked brown rice

Be sure to have some leftover brown rice or put it on to cook before starting the rest of recipe.

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, diced to about ½”
  • 1 large or 2 medium green peppers, diced to about ½”
  • 1 lb. eggplant cut into roughly 3/4” cubes*

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking.  Add onions and green peppers and sauté about 4-5 minutes.  Push to sides of pan, add second Tbsp. oil, heat a minute or two, then add eggplant and sauté, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 7-8 minutes.

  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground allspice
  • 3 dashes to ½ tsp. cayenne pepper, to taste  [[LINK]]
  • 2 bay leaves

Reduce heat to medium, stir spices into vegetables and cook another 2-3 minutes.

  • 2 lbs. tomatoes (about 5-6 med.) tomatoes, cut roughly in ¾” pieces (or 1 lrg. can diced tomatoes)
  • 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, with juices
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Stir tomatoes, beans, salt and pepper into onion mixture and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer gently for about 20 minutes or so, stirring every few minutes.  Once tomatoes have softened and eggplant is soft and tender, add:

  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint (optional)

Cook just 1-2 minutes more, then serve over cooked brown rice—basmati is especially nice.


1.  On the Side:  This one dish meal doesn’t need any side dishes if you’re short on time, but if you have a few extra minutes, a simple salad with winter pears and toasted cashews is a nice compliment.

2.  About the Eggplant:

  • 1 lb. is roughly equivalent to 2 slender Japanese eggplants or 1 medium standard eggplant.
  • Use very fresh, small to medium eggplants, since they are the youngest and tenderest.  Larger or older eggplant can be used, but can be bitter.  If that is all you can find at the store, follow this procedure for salting, which works to draw out the bitterness:  Begin the recipe by cutting eggplant as directed and sprinkling generously with salt.  Place in a nonreactive colander to drain while preparing the onions and peppers.  Before cooking,

2 Responses

  1. […] Once you begin noticing these patterns, you’re set to take an exciting step: Getting creative and seasoning dishes on your own, without a recipe to follow. That’s how the fun continues without end!  Check out how I transferred the flavor family from Julee Rosso’s Beef and Eggplant Stew to a v…. […]


  2. This stew was great. I replaced the eggplant and garbanzo beans with stew beef and carrots. I realized afterward that I need to cook the stew longer if using these ingredients. I made the stew with kale on the side. I cooked it following a recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Steam the kale with sauteed garlic, tahini and some chicken broth, adding fresh lemon juice at the end. Quite delicious.


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