Raw Spice Bar Global Culinary Subscription: November 2015 Unboxing & Review
Raw Spice Bar is a subscription service aimed at expanding culinary horizons with fresh, exotic spice blends and recipes mailed to your door every month.
Envelopes cost $6 per month, which includes shipping. I was sent this envelope for review purposes. All opinions are my own.
A good friend of mine recently sent me the Raw Spice Bar link with a note that she was requesting that I review their subscription on Crunchy Parent soon. She has a “foodie” family and knows that I love to cook and enjoy good food from various cultures. As luck would have it, Raw Spice Bar reached out to me a short while later and offered to send me an envelope to review. I was all too pleased to say yes, and eagerly awaited my envelope. I opted not to do an unboxing video because I didn’t think that pulling spice packets out of an envelope would be especially compelling media. I went for lots of food photos instead.
The envelope was thin and unassuming, but sturdy. It was received in pristine condition.
When I opened the envelope, I saw that the November theme was Ethiopian food. I was thrilled. I have had a few absolutely delicious and memorable meals at Ethiopian restaurants in major cities. I loved eating the brightly flavored mounds of meats, vegetables, and legumes; using the spongy, flat injera bread as my utensil. That said, I have never tried preparing Ethiopian food at home. This was a perfect nudge and inspiration.
Raw Spice Bar included a colorful pamphlet with recipes, photos, and information about Ethiopian cuisine. They highlighted Asante Mama, a farming business in Uganda that helps to elevate the financial circumstances of impoverished women, and who provided some of the peppers in this month’s blends. Raw Spice Bar also included three freshly-ground, custom spice blends for use in the recipes; Berbere, Mitmita, and Pumpkin Pie Spice.
The recipes that Raw Spice Bar provided were Berbere Roasted Carrots with Fennel & Mint, Spicy Ethiopian Stewed Beef (Key Wat), and Ethiopian Pumpkin Spice Ricotta Donuts. I decided to prepare the first two for a family dinner and seek an alternative to the third, which would have been difficult to work around our food sensitivities.
It took me a couple of days to gather the ingredients for the meal, which included fresh mint, fennel, and stew meat; all of which I don’t always have on-hand but were not hard to acquire. I was looking forward to presenting my family with the dishes, and breaking out of our routine meals. I even went big time fancy and bought colorful heirloom organic carrots to use in the vegetable dish to match the ones in Raw Spice Bar’s beautiful photo.
I also decided that I wanted to make injera bread to eat with the meal as well. The spongy, tangy Ethiopian bread is made by fermenting teff flour; a perfect bread for gluten-free dining. It took me a few tries to find a store that carried teff flour, but I was able to track some down and make the bread too.
When food prep time rolled around, I began to notice a few curiosities in the information provided by Raw Spice Bar. They called for large quantities of the spice blends in the meat and vegetable dish, especially since these blends listed very hot peppers among their primary ingredients.
I do not have an very bold palate and the children fall in the same category. Rich appreciates spicy, but I suspected that even for him, a tablespoon or more of a hot pepper-based spice blend to a pound of meat would be too much. I took a taste of the two spicy blends and quickly determined that I would be cutting back on them a lot when making the dishes, and then adjusting the amount to taste as needed. In the end, I used about 1/8 to 1/4 of the spice suggested in the recipes.
In addition, the roasted carrots, fennel, and mint dish called for four fennel bulbs to one pound of carrots. I weighed out a single fennel bulb at one pound and thought that it would be excessive (and expensive) to include four pounds of fennel to a pound of carrots. This ratio of fennel to carrots would look very different than the picture of the dish provided by Raw Spice Bar. Moreover, even for our veggie-loving family, I couldn’t imagine us needing five pounds of roasted vegetables with our meal. I decided to stick with one fennel bulb. I also decided to double the recipe of the meat dish to feed us all because a pound of meat seemed inadequate.
Lastly, the Key Wat recipe recommended serving with injera bread, couscous, or butternut squash mash, all of which sounded great. They instructed the reader to go to RawSpiceBar’s monthly blog for recipes, but I did not find recipes for any of the suggestions there. I found an injera recipe on my own and used that instead.
In addition to the seemingly disproportionate quantities in the recipes, I also was a bit confused upon opening the spice packets. I had noted that the spice blends were all labeled .4 oz., but when I opened the envelopes they very obviously had different amounts in them.
I weighed the spices and after adjusting for the weight of the envelopes themselves, I discovered that there was actually .55 oz. of the Berbere blend, .2 oz. of the Mitmita, and .35 oz of the pumpkin pie spice. In total it averaged out to about .4 oz. per packet. The quantities also supported the recipes included, which called for greater quantities of the Berbere than of the ultra-spicy Mitmita, but it threw me at little, so I wanted to mention it.
I made the appropriate adjustments to the recipe quantities based upon my instinct, experience, and preferences. After those tweaks, I found the recipes to be easy to follow and relatively simple in their steps. The Key Wat essentially involved browning the beef and the aromatic ingredients and then adding tomatoes and stock and simmering a number of hours until tender.
The vegetables just needed some peeling, chopping, and tossing with olive oil and spices before being roasted in the oven and then tossed with chopped mint.
I was really excited to be cooking a new type of food, and loved seeing it all come together. The family was also intrigued by the tempting fragrances and unfamiliar foods. My children are relatively adventurous in their eating, but they were a bit dubious about what would happen if they were not fond of the food.
When the Key Wat, vegetables, and injera were ready, we all sat down to eat. Eva and I thought that the Key Wat and vegetables were delicious and we went back for seconds. Rich spiced his portions up a bit with added Berbere and Mitmita. He was blown away by the meal, and I think was in for thirds. Alina found everything a little too spicy. She ate a half serving of the meat and veggies and then made herself a sandwich. Asher eats about seven foods at this point so he had opted out of the meal and stuck with one of his standards. We negotiated over the leftover Key Wat the next day (Eva and I split it), and I claimed the leftover veggies.
The Pumpkin Pie Spice did not go neglected. The next morning, I modified our weekend gluten free/dairy free pancake breakfast to be gluten free/dairy free pumpkin aebleskiver breakfast. I added pumpkin and Pumpkin Pie Spice to the batter and filled the aebleskivers with chocolate chips or pumpkin butter. They were a big hit (I’ll post the recipe soon). I also used the spice blend in a GF/CF chocolate chip pumpkin bread that we enjoyed for Thanksgiving.
The spices from Raw Spice Bar were everything that they promised to be. They seemed very fresh and were extremely aromatic and flavorful. Every recipe that I made with them was delicious, once I made adjustments to spice quantities that seemed more consistent with our palates. I thought that the flavors in the foods were bright and lively; balanced, and layered. It was a great way to acquaint the kids with Ethiopian food and to introduce me to preparing it at home.
Eva raved about the Key Wat in particular, and made me promise to make it again. She also expressed a desire to try making some other Ethiopian dishes at home. Rich praised the meal so effusively, and so often that it was striking. He kept saying how delicious the food was, but also that he really appreciated having a whole spectrum of new flavors at our dinner table (and at breakfast).
I am not sure if the spice quantities that were suggested by Raw Spice Bar were reflective of authentic Ethiopian cuisine and we are just mild-palated, or if the recipes were aggressively spiced under any circumstances. I certainly didn’t mind adjusting the spice level down, and am excited that it means that I can make these dishes several more times with the quantities of spices that were provided.
As for my overall impression, my mother has worked in fields related to food advertising and marketing or specialty-food gifting since I was young. I have joined her in attending many food and gift-oriented trade shows around the country over the years. She also happens to be a fantastic cook. I have had the good fortune of tasting a lot of good food. I find that I often have high standards for food and for food-oriented subscriptions.
That said, Raw Spice Bar delighted me with what they had to offer. I think that for the open-minded eater and relatively experienced cook, this is a fantastic subscription. I was a little concerned about presenting my family with such exotic flavors. I was pleased that the girls tried both dishes, and Eva loved the food. Next time, I’ll cut back on the spice a bit for Alina and the rest of us will just add a pinch more at the table.
In addition to the high quality of the spices and the exotic blends that Raw Spice Bar provided, I really appreciated how they expanded our family dining horizons. I know that we will make these dishes again. They were truly so good, and absolutely packed with flavor. I am also inspired to try and to create additional Ethiopian recipes at home using the spices, and I love that sort of creative inspiration.
Have you received RawSpice Bar in the past? Who do you think would love this type of subscription as a gift?by