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Most commonly known for its appearances on hamburgers and hot dogs, mustard is actually one of the most popular and widely used spices in the world. Made from the seeds of the mustard plant, this versatile condiment is a favorite addition to many dressings, sauces, soups, glazes, and marinades.
The first documented use of mustard comes from Ancient Rome. In its earliest iterations, the Romans mixed the ground mustard seed with “must” (an unfermented grape juice) to make a “burning must.” The name given to the creation was mustum ardens, which through the years (and several languages) became “mustard.” The Romans continued to experiment with this creation, adding different liquids, flavorings, and spices.
An actual recipe for mustard appears in Apicius (also known as De re coquinaria), the anonymous cookbook that dates to either the late 4th or early 5th century. The instructions on the recipe call for mixing ground mustard seed with pepper, caraway, lovage, grilled coriander seeds, celery, thyme, dill, oregano, honey, onion, vinegar, oil, and fish sauce. Once mixed, it was recommend that the mustard be used as a glaze for a spit-roasted boar.
Mustard is known for its wide variety of flavors and strengths, both of which are determined by the seed type used, the preparation of the mustard, and the ingredients that are mixed in with the seed. A black mustard seed is considered the hottest of the seeds.
The temperature of the liquid (usually water or vinegar) that is mixed with the seed also plays a role in the spiciness of the final condiment. Hotter liquids affect the enzymes that control the strength of the seed, reducing its intensity. The colder the liquid, the spicier the mustard will be. The hottest mustard possible would involve a black mustard seed mixed with a cold liquid.
Mustard should always be stored in a tightly sealed and sterilized container that is keep in a cool, dark place. Though mustard requires no refrigeration (the antibacterial properties of the condiment prevents molding and mildewing), unrefrigerated mustard loses its pungency at a quicker rate.
One favorite type of antipasti is a spread. Defined literally as one food that is spread on another food product (usually bread or crackers), spreads are specifically designed to add a particular flavor or texture to a dish. The way they are applied, as well as their culinary purpose, distinguishes them from condiments (such as mustard) and dips (such as salsa and chutneys).
Three of the most common and delicious spreads are hummus, baba ghanoush, and pâté.
A staple in Middle Eastern and Arabic food, the word hummus comes from the Arabic word meaning “chickpeas.” The full name in Arabic is ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna, which means “chickpeas with tahini.” The name accurately describes the spread, which is made of mashed chickpeas mixed with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Hummus is most often served with a flatbread (such as pita) and can either be eaten plain or topped with tomato, cucumber, caramelized onions, coriander, olives, pickles, or pine nuts.
Baba Ghanoush is a dish that originates from the eastern Mediterranean region. The Arabic term means “father of coquetry” and it is believed that the original creator of the dish was a member of a harem.
The main ingredient in baba ghanoush is eggplant. Baked or broiled over an open flame to give it a nice smoky flavor, the pulp of the eggplant is then mashed and mixed with olive oil and various seasonings, such as tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, mint, salt, and parsley. Baba ghanoush is most often spread on khubz (a type of flatbread) or pita bread.
Considered a delicacy in many culinary traditions, pâté consists of a mixture of cooked ground meat (most often liver) and fat that is finely minced until it becomes a spreadable paste. The meat and fat can be combined with other ingredients, including spices, herbs, alcohol (most often wine, cognac, brandy, or Armagnac), and vegetables. Pâté is usually served on soft bread, garnished with dill or other fresh herbs.