A Spice Rub For More Than Just Meat

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Photo by Gret@Lorenz/Flickr CC

Merken is the native spice of Chile, an essential ingredient of the Mapuche people. From what I can gather, they eat it regularly and with most everything. It's made from Cacho de Cabra chile--the name means "horn of the goat," given for the shape of the peppers.The ripe red chiles are harvested during February and the first few days of March, then dried over slowly smoldering pieces of native wood. In essence, the chiles are smoked during the drying process, and then, at the end of the process, ground to a fairly fine powder and blended with ground coriander seed.

It's about as easy to use and versatile as you're going to get: You just sprinkle it on whatever you're eating. I've taken to just keeping it on the kitchen table along with salt and pepper and then adding it to most anything where a bit of heat would be of benefit. Merken is great on vegetables, fish, and meat (I like it on lamb a lot). It's particularly good on potatoes, which the Mapuche eat a lot. I've put it on pasta, added it to eggs...pretty much, you name it, and it's good. Actually, fruit is great with it as well--melons, papaya, pineapple in particular. (Remember the Mexican custom of serving fruit sprinkled with ground chile.) Haven't tried it with chocolate but it could well be good there, too.

To purchase Merken, click here.

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Ari Weinzweig is co-founder of Zingerman's Community of Businesses, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is also the author of Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating. More

After graduating from University of Michigan with a degree in Russian history, Ari Weinzweig went to work washing dishes in a local restaurant and soon discovered that he loved the food business. Along with his partner Paul Saginaw, Ari started Zingerman's Delicatessen in 1982 with a $20,000 bank loan, a staff of two, a small selection of great-tasting specialty foods, and a relatively short sandwich menu. Today, Zingerman's is a community of businesses that employs over 500 people and includes a bakery, creamery, sit-down restaurant, training company, coffee roaster, and mail order service. Ari is the author of the best-selling Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating and the forthcoming Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon.
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