Building a No Nightshade Kitchen is a personal endeavor. Mine features an evolving cast of some uncommon ingredients—particularly spices—alongside some fairly common substitutions, some home-made staples, and some techniques.
Given the complex flavor chemistry of nightshade vegetables, there are virtually no scenarios where you can simply swap one ingredient for the other and hardly notice the difference. Nightshades are integral to the flavor profile of a vast majority of cuisines, and you’ve got to be crafty to recreate a facsimile of old favorites.
For tomatoes, you’ll need to click through or scroll down to Beetuto under staples. For peppers, the vegetable, I really don’t have anything for you. Same for eggplant—though in some scenarios a zucchini will do the trick. For peppers, as in the spices like paprika and cayenne, that’s the complex and fundamental challenge explored in many of recipes in The No Nightshade Kitchen.
Potatoes are a little easier; these two simple substitution work somewhat well:
Parsnips, rutabagas, and turnips: These root vegetables can’t match the potato and it’s unique subtle taste and texture. But when deployed together, and using this simple Fauxtato technique, you can get closer than you might otherwise expect.
Mayocoba beans: (also known as Peruvian, Peruano, canary, canario, and Mexican yellow beans) Mayocoba beans are medium-sized, oval-shaped and pale yellow, and work well in soups where there slightly sweet and nutty profile works well.
There is a lot to be said about table pepper. In this age of Scoville-chasing ghost peppers, it’s hard to believe that humble table pepper—what is sometimes referred to as round pepper—is now a very pedestrian item. This is, after all, one of the spices that funded the Renaissance and spurred the Age of Exploration.
And, make no mistake, table pepper can be a pedestrian item. But it’s also true that you could spend a long time just exploring the endless variations in the peppercorn form.
First, quality and freshness matters. Peppercorns that have been lying around in a pepper grinder for six years probably are not going to offer much in whatever kind of cooking scheme you may have in mind. So, at minimum, find yourself a decent supply of fresh peppercorns.
Second, freshly ground peppercorns are almost always going to be better than stuff that’s been sitting around a shaker for three months. You can be a purist about this and grind everything fresh. I’m part purist, part pragmatist. I’ll take four tablespoons of peppercorns and put them through my spice mill and then seal them in a glass spice jar. I use a lot pepper, so that’ll be gone in a few weeks.
Why not just use a pepper grinder? Because I use a lot of pepper—and a lot of kinds of pepper—and that simply would take too long. Pepper grinders vary widely in quality and efficiency. If you have a good one, or can afford to buy a good one, that’s fantastic. But they’re overpriced, and if you’re regularly using 3 or 4 kinds of pepper, you’re hardly going to empty and reload. One option: the grinders sold by Trader Joe’s with their lemon pepper and Himalayan salt are solid, and can grind a lot of pepper fast. (It’s a little hard to break the seal without breaking the mechanism, but it can be done. And over time you can accumulate enough grinders.)
But you need a tool, and your life will be easier if you have more than one. So whatever combination of grinder, spice mill, and mortar and pestle you settle on, try to acquire at least one tool that works well enough that you actually enjoy using it.
Once you have your grinding situation squared away you can start to think about the different kinds of peppercorns. (Intriguingly, black white, and green peppercorns are actually from the same plant but are treated differently after harvest. Cubeb and Indian long pepper come from the same family, but are more distant cousins. And there are other, rarer varieties available.)
I’ll go into greater detail at a later date, but the concept to understand here is what I call stacking. We’ve probably all had a meal with too much black pepper. You may recall that it just kind of dries out your mouth and overwhelms your tasting apparatus. In short, it’s awful. But if you combine three or four different kinds of pepper, you can add more pepper overall, achieving a higher overall heat level while actually enhancing palatability.
OTHER SPICES & FLAVORINGS
Amchur: (also amchoor or aamchur) A powder ground from dried slices of green mango, amchur is a source of sour in Indian cooking, and is a signature ingredient in the street spice blend known as chaat masala. Some online vendors are here, here, and here.
Black Garlic: Produced from regular garlic using long slow heat, this version of garlic is dripping with umami. A clove here or a sprinkle of black garlic powder there can transform a dish. Some online vendors for the cloves are here, here, and here. Some online vendors for black garlic powder are here, here, and here.
Cubeb pepper: Another relative of traditional round pepper, cubeb is also hotter and more floral than its predominant cousin. Historically used to flavor gin and cigarettes, I’ve enjoyed it most for seasoning meats. Some online vendors are here, here, and here.
Grains of Paradise: A member of the ginger family, the seeds of this peppery West African swamp plant have a surprising kick, creating a trade demand when round peppercorns have been unavailable. The spice has a minimal flavor profile, providing mostly heat. Seeds are small and difficult to grind in smoother pestles but a standard pepper grinder does okay. You’ll need a way to grind it to make best use. Some online vendors are here, here, and here. (No, Penzey’s doesn’t carry it.)
Indian long pepper: When you read about the BCE spice trade and Roman ransoms for silver and pepper, this is actually the pepper they are talking about. Botanically related to round table pepper, it has a little pepper kick and a more floridly aromatic presentation. The taste also has a whisper of bitterness like what you’d find in a fresh nightshade pepper. The size and shape do not work in a pepper grinder, so you’ll need a mortar and pestle or a spice mill to make best use. Though it is still used in some Indian cuisine, I’ve rarely run across it in a store, even Indian grocers. Some online vendors are here, here, here, and here. (No, Penzey’s doesn’t carry it.)
Kalonji: (Nigella sativa, black caraway, black seed, black cumin, fennel flower, nigella, nutmeg flower, Roman coriander.) Another spice popular in India and the Middle East, kalonji is most commonly seen in the west as a seed applied on the outside of savory breads. It has a subtle nutty flavor reminiscent of green peppers, which is why I use them in Refrieds, Rebooted and Refrieds 2.0. Some online vendors are here, here, and here.
Red cardamom: (Cau guo or Chinese black cardamom) There is not a lot available on the English language internet about this species of cardamom popular in Vietnam and in some regional Chinese cuisines. The pods resemble green and the black cardamom sold in Indian groceries, but are substantially larger—about an inch in size. Breaking them open to access the seeds takes some effort. Red Cardamom is a smoky, aromatic twist on the cardamom experience, and I’ve experimented with mixing it with Indian long pepper, Grains of Paradise, and sumac to achieve something like paprika, though I haven’t quite found the right mix. Many online vendors are currently out of stock, and it can be quite expensive. Some online vendors are here, here, and here.
Sumac: This subtle and complex berry is commonly used in Mediterranean cuisines, and is a primary ingredient in the celebrated spice mix za’atar. It adds a citrus-like sour note to spice blends and rubs. Its rich hue also makes it perfect to replace paprika as a color splash for garnishing hummus or other dishes. Note: some boutique spice shops sell an ounce or two for an amount that will net you a pound elsewhere. Some online vendors are here, here, and here.
Tamarind paste: The tamarind tree grows wild in—and likely originates from—Africa, but has long been grown in India and is now cultivated in tropical regions worldwide. The tree comes from the legume family, and produces brown pods reminiscent of slender gourds. Within this husk hides a slightly sweet but mostly tangy pulp, which—once separated from its fibrous matrix—is used in cuisines around the world. Many grocery stores stock tamarind paste in their ethnic food aisle; check both the Asian and Mexican section. If you’ve ever seen the Mexican spice kiosks present in some grocery stores, you can often find whole bean pods. Ethnic grocers are also a solid bet, and will likely stock both ready made paste and bricks of tamarind pulp, if not the whole beans. If you need to rehydrate the pulp, you can find good directions all over the internet, like here. Many people report it lasting 3 months in the fridge, but my experience is that it is a bit more fragile. I often freeze mine. Some online vendors are here, here, and here.
Umemboshi: (Available as vinegar, paste, and pickles.) Made from the pickled fruit of the Prunus mume tree, variously named the Chinese plum, Japanese plum, and Japanese apricot. A little bit of research reveals there is a whole lot I don’t know and, so long as I don’t understand Japanese, can’t yet learn about these flavor nuggets. The fruits are salted and sometimes dried, and the expressed fluid from the process is sold as a vinegar, though it’s actually not precisely a vinegar. (I was once told by a clerk at an Asian grocery that it’s mixed with sake for drinking, but I can find little evidence to confirm that.) Both the fruits/paste and the vinegar impart an intriguing flavor between bitter and tart. I do not use it in traditional ways. Instead I’ve experimented with adding it in small quantities to evoke a richly sour flavor in a nightshade free and generally more Western inspired diet. It has considerable power, and should be used carefully until you have the measure of it.
Beetuto: I’ve developed three different red sauces over the years. This recipe is by far the most versatile, and can be deployed as a tomato substitute in a wide variety of cuisines.
Bright: A terrific supplement to beetuto, this combination of lemon and cilantro can be added in the final stages of a recipe that really depends on a strong tomato presence to succeed. Beetuto is made primarily from root vegetables, and Bright seems to lift it higher into the sun.
Nightshire Sauce: Store-bought flavor sauces are incredibly helpful for cooking truly flavorful meals. Most—and by most I mean the vast majority—of those are nightshade heavy. Nightshire Sauce is my attempt to recreate much of what Worcestershire Sauce provides in the way of bold and spicy flavor. It’s a recipe with a lot of ingredients, so it’s definitely something you’ll want to think ahead to produce.
Stacking: This is something I’ve learned over the years for use with spices from the pepper, onion, and ginger families. Each family has heat potential, or what you might call flavor intensity. But for each one, if you use too much of a single ingredient, you’re in trouble. Too much ginger, black pepper, or garlic really can spoil a dish. But you can stack garlic on top of shallots on top of onions. You can use more than twice as much pepper if you combine black, white, green, and Indian long pepper. And you can get more ginger power by adding dry ginger and Grains of Paradise on top of fresh ginger.