Esther Clark and The Modern Spice Rack

Esther Clark specialises in comforting, seasonal home cooking. She trained as a chef in her early 20s before working as a chef in Italy and India, followed by a three-year stint as Deputy Food Editor at one of the UK's leading food brands, BBC Good Food. In 2020, She won the PPA 30 Under 30 Award for recipe writing.

Her book The Modern Spice Rack is full of imaginative, delicious ways to use your spice rack to its full potential.

Try her recipe for Togarashi Fried Chicken, or Ancho Prawn Fregola. And don't miss this wonderful recipe for Spicy Chilli Oil and Cumin Lamb Noodles.

Here, Esther explains which flavours she loves, and how she uses her spice rack.


What’s the one dish to make anyone fall in love with your new book?

I’d say to start with a really classic recipe that’s been lifted into something spectacular by a particular spice that you may not always turn to. The first one that comes to mind is the Fennel Seed and Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake. It’s an easy loaf cake that is the perfect go-to when you crave something sweet with a cup of tea, have friends over or want to steal the show at a bake sale with minimal fuss. The crumb is perfectly soft and the addition of green, sweet fennel seeds adds a moreish liquorice flavour. Good for using up fennel seeds in a new, sweet context that turns a classic bake into something complex and surprising.

MORE: Browse all herbs and spices at Sous Chef


What dish do you make most often?

The Turkish eggs are my go-to for breakfast or lunch. I use really good eggs, the thickest strained yoghurt I can find, lots of dill and of course good quality Aleppo pepper. They are so satisfying with a big hunk of toast, or flatbreads from my local Turkish grocers (I live in North London near Harringay Green Lanes). Rice pudding is one of my guilty pleasures, so the Rice Pudding With Cardamom Poached Peaches is my ultimate comfort food when I’m in need of something soothing and indulgent – I’m not shy when it comes to going along with my cravings.

TRY: Esther's recipe for Spicy Chilli Oil and Cumin Lamb Noodles


 
What recipes would you recommend we try first from the book?

Pick a spice from your spice rack you bought for a recipe once and want to know how to use again. Spice blends like Za’atar and Ras El Hanout too often lay dormant on our spice racks after we make one long winded recipe that only required a tsp of an unusual spice or blend. Try the creamy tomato and za’atar soup, togarashi kimchi dip or ras el hanout sticky onion sausage sarnies. Or start with a really easy recipe using a classic spice like turmeric to get you going – I love the Carrot, Turmeric and Tamarind soup.


And which do you think is the biggest crowd-pleaser?

The no-bake salted ginger caramel chocolate tart is a winner because it’s low maintenance, easy to make ahead and involves chocolate and caramel which instantly makes it a hit!


What is one kitchen tip everyone should know?

Keep it simple! Use good quality ingredients, learn to nail simple, practical methods like frying an egg until crispy or cooking your pasta perfectly, then build on those by experimenting with flavours, toppings, combinations.

Always have simple equipment – a sharp knife, a good microplane (for zesting citrus, grating nutmeg and crushing garlic), a pair of tongs and a non-stick skillet are non-negotiables.

Another go-to tip: Always season your onions with salt when frying to break them down. Fry for no less than 10 mins or your lowest heat possible. It’s often the first step in so many recipes and really important to get right.

Which ingredients are always stocked in your pantry?

Extra virgin olive oil,

Flaky sea salt,

Dijon mustard,

Sherry vinegar and, of course spices.

I can’t live without whole coriander seeds, pul biber and ground cumin.

 

What will surprise people in your book?

How versatile spices are in both sweet and savoury dishes. How complex their flavour profile is, how important it is you store and look after them correctly to retain their flavour, and how easily they can transform a handful of ingredients into something remarkable.

Every recipe ends with tips on extra ways to use the spices, from seasoning with them, sprinkling them on eggs, or stirring them into a biscuit dough or batter. This book shows how many possibilities there are with the spices you probably already have in your kitchen.

TRY: Esther's recipe for Togarashi Fried Chicken

Where do you find inspiration?

Ingredients are such an inspiration to me and they are what lead these recipes. They’ve been a truly inspirational subject. I’ve loved toasting them and smelling their aroma, grinding them, and adding them to all sorts of dishes. It’s been really exciting. Before writing the book I already found myself using them daily, but becoming so much more familiar with them has been an incredible experience.

Can you tell me about a particularly memorable meal you have had and what made it so special?

There are so many. I did a stint in northern India as a chef years ago at huge Indian weddings and the lunches of bowls full of rich makhani paneer, buttery breads and fragrant cardamon scented rices are still some of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.

But I think my most memorable meal goes back to my childhood growing up – crispy roast chicken on a Sunday with my mum, lots of mustardy salad leaves, new potatoes or chips, aioli – perfection. Food, memories and relationships have such a strong connection for me. It’s not just about the meal, it’s who you shared it with.

TRY: Esther's recipe for Ancho Prawn, Fregola & Charred Corn Salad

How do you source your ingredients and what do you look for when selecting them?

I use Instagram a lot to find new products. I tend to order things that I see other chefs I trust using – a new brand of olive oil or an interesting condiment perhaps. The other half of my work life is being a food stylist.

I work on lots of different writers’ books – from working with Tim Anderson on his book Japaneasy – Bowls and Bentos to styling Africana by Lerato Umah-Shaylor – these jobs lead you to ingredients from all over the world and I often find myself re-ordering ingredients used on shoots from Sous Chef straight after the job has finished because I love them so much!


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