Allspice is a victim of its own name.
You can’t blame someone for seeing the word “allspice” and thinking that it is a blend of many spices — or even all spices. It’s a natural assumption.
But allspice is just one spice, a dried berry from a broadleaf evergreen tree that grows primarily on the islands of the Caribbean Sea and Central America. It got its English name, according to a book published in 1736, because it tastes like “all the other spices.”
Usually when people today try to describe the taste, they limit the mixture of spices it resembles to cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Sometimes they also add juniper, ginger and black pepper.
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What this means to the home cook is that allspice can be counted on to add an extra kick to practically everything. Whatever tastes good with cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg tastes even better (or at least just as good) with allspice. And it is great in the sort of things you don’t necessarily associate with cloves or cinnamon too, such as soups and stews and vegetables.
The next time you make a chicken soup — or beef soup, or tomato — add a little allspice. Four or five berries will do for a gallon of soup, or one berry for every quart of liquid. Or if you are making a pot roast, stew or other braised dish, try three to five allspice berries for a lovely hint of the flavor of the islands.
And don’t forget to use it in desserts, too. Allspice is like cardamom; it is just as happy in sweet dishes as it is in savory. Cookies, cakes, oatmeal and even applesauce all perk up a bit when sprinkled with ground allspice.
I decided to use it in a spicy marinade inspired (and perhaps used) by the indigenous people of the Caribbean islands and in muffins made, surprisingly, with sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes? Yes, allspice also pairs well with all of your most popular orange vegetables — carrots, squash and sweet potatoes.
The marinade I made is more old school, meaning that the meat has to soak up the flavor before it is cooked. This is especially true because I used it to make London broil and, as with other tough cuts of meat, London broil needs a good, long marination to make it tender.
The great thing about this marinade is that it could be used for any kind of meat or fish. But try it with a London broil and let the meat marinate overnight. It is astonishingly good. Your family or guests will go crazy for it — as long as they like their food spicy.
A version of the recipe apparently originally comes from the Arawaks, an indigenous people of the Caribbean islands and South America. The recipe has it all: It is a little sweet (brown sugar, molasses), a little salty (soy sauce), a little spicy (cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger along with the allspice), a little aromatic (onions, shallots, garlic), a little fruity (orange juice, red wine) and perhaps more than a little hot (scotch bonnet chile peppers).
Ready for dessert, I also made sweet-potato muffins. I was a little uncertain about these as I was making them because the shredded sweet potato clumped together, making the batter a bit weird.
I needn’t have worried. It eventually unclumped (a fair amount of stirring was involved) and became a recognizable muffin batter. They baked with no problem.
And the taste? Superb. It tasted just like carrot cake, only one in which the carrots had been removed and replaced with sweet potatoes.
You know that carrot cake flavor. It tastes like cinnamon. And cloves. And maybe just a hint of nutmeg.
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups peeled, shredded sweet potatoes (about 2 large)
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins to hold about 15 muffins. Crack eggs into a small bowl and beat well. Add brown sugar, oil and vanilla, and whisk together until smooth.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt and grated sweet potato. Make a well in the center and pour in the egg mixture. Stir the egg mixture, gradually incorporating it into the sweet potato mixture. Stir in the raisins and walnuts.
Spoon the batter into the muffin tins; filling them to the rim will result in large caps. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Use a paring knife around the edges of each muffin, if needed, to help pop them out of the tin. Best when served immediately. Makes 15 servings.
Per muffin: 284 calories, 14 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 4 g protein, 39 g carbohydrate, 21 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 163 mg sodium, 74 mg calcium.
6 green onions, chopped
3 tablespoons minced shallots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon molasses
2 scotch bonnet peppers (see note)
In a medium bowl, combine the green onions, shallots, garlic, ginger, allspice, ground black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, brown sugar, orange juice, vinegar, wine, soy sauce, oil and molasses. Chop the peppers and add to the mixture. If you want it a little less hot, remove the seeds before chopping. Wash your hands thoroughly, then wash the knife and the cutting board. Mix well, cover, and allow to sit for 1 hour. Stir again before using to marinate fish or meat. Marinate fish at least 30 minutes, chicken or pork at least 1 to 2 hours, or beef (such as for London broil) at least 4 to 6 hours or overnight. Discard marinade after use.
Note: Scotch bonnet peppers are closely related to habaneros, which you can substitute if you cannot find the scotch bonnet. Both are among the hottest peppers in the world, so be very careful.
Per (2-tablespoon) serving: 70 calories, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, no cholesterol, 1 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 3 g sugar, no fiber, 583 mg sodium, 12 mg calcium.