Toss expired supermarket spices and add real spice to your life

By Erik Mathes

When Shuli and Ronit Madmone met in Northern California back in the ‘90s, it couldn’t have been a more perfect match. They were both Israelis who had grown up in spice-centric homes, Shuli on a paprika farm in Israel’s Negev desert, and Ronit in a Moroccan home that took spices as seriously as the non-American world takes soccer. After the two tied the knot, they went into business together, and Whole Spice was born.

The husband-and-wife spice-slinging team that took the Napa Valley farmers’ market scene by storm, building a devoted customer base of cooking buffs around the San Francisco Bay area which then turned into working with restaurants, caterers, and supermarkets. From their website, the Madmones shared their collection of expertly curated wares to the entire world, opening up a flood of new customers, from people who finding themselves far away from home and looking for nostalgic flavors of their youth, such as Middle Eastern blends like baharat, dukka, and ras el hanout, to adventurous eaters, home cooks, and professional chefs seeking something new to stimulate their palates.

In 2008, they opened the first brick-and-mortar Whole Spice store in Napa, where customers can experience the aromas of each individual spice or blend before buying—and can purchase in amounts ranging from a spoonful to massive bags.

While it would be great if we could all take a trip to Napa to visit Shuli and Ronit at the store (and perhaps take a cooking class or two), the Madmones are offering BBE subscribers a hefty 30 percent off their entire site as a friendly welcome to the Whole Spice family. With what you’ll save on airfare and hotel, you can cash in on the finest cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. You could also go big on powerful blends like panch phoron (aka Bengal five-spice), the fiery Ethiopian berbere spice, or zhug—a spicy mix that originated in Yemen and now popular in Israel—and amp up your meals with the simple shake of a jar.

Tasty tidbits
  • There are over 600 items available on the Madmone’s website.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle recommended the harissa, mecalef, and lavender sugar, while the Napa Valley Register raved about “intriguing blends like the Afghan rib rub, Moroccan meatball mix,” and more.
  • Visiting Napa? Follow your nose to the Whole Sprice brick-and-mortar shop located at Oxbow Public Market.

Recipes from Whole Spice

Basic harissa sauce

Especially popular in Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian cuisines, Whole Spice’s harissa adds its bright color and bold flavors to a wide variety of dishes.

Note: The chiles should be kept whole while cooking, to avoid adding too much heat to the sauce.

yield: approximately 4 servings

4 Tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 large red bell pepper (or 1 small one), sliced
1/2 large green bell pepper (or 1 small one), sliced
2 dry, whole California chile pods
1 fresh serrano chile, whole
1 slice of pickled lemon
2 Tablespoons. finely chopped fresh parsley
3 Tablespoons Whole Spice harissa spice (coarse)
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup water

1. In a nonstick pan, heat up the olive oil. Add minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.
2. Add tomato paste and cook on medium-high heat for about 1 minute. Add Harissa Spice, cumin, and salt, mixing gently.
3. Add sliced bell peppers, California chile pods, serrano chili, pickled lemon and chopped parsley. Add water and mix.
4. Cover and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, until the chiles have softened.
5. Add vegetables, meat, or fish and serve with bread. (Traditionally, the bread is used to break up the chile pods and mix them with the sauce.)

Yemenite fava bean dip

The Whole Spice Hawaj Soup Blend is the classic seasoning for this tasty, protein-packed dip.

yield: 4–6 servings

2 cups dry, blanched. and skinless fava beans, soaked over night
6 cups water
5 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 fresh green Anaheim pepper, chopped fine
2 teaspoons Whole Spice hawaj soup blend
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 1/2 cups fresh tomato purée (or 2 large tomatoes, puréed)
1 teaspoons black pepper
Fresh cilantro (as a garnish)

1. In a pressure cooker, place fava beans with water and garlic. Cook about 30 minutes, or until they are softened. Set aside to cool. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, use a stock pot and cook until beans are soft.)
2. In a nonstick pan, heat olive oil at medium-high. Add the chopped onion and green chile; sauté until slightly browned.
3. Add Hawaj Soup Blend and salt, and mix.
4. Add fresh tomato purée and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.
5. Add cooled fava beans and garlic, mashing them into the sauce. (For a finer texture, place ingredients in a blender and whirl.) If the dip is too thick, thin it with some water.
5. Add black pepper at the end and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve with pita chips and vegetable sticks.