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Ride an Elephant in Dana Point at The St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort

Ride an Elephant in Dana Point at The St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort

Babar and friends are marching on over to the beaches of Southern California this fall and taking up residence at the five-star St. Regis Monarch Beach. Elephant Parade®, a ten-week open-air art exhibition, is coming to the U.S. for the first time to raise money for the preservation of the Asian Elephant. Debuted on August 23, the show will run through November 17 and features a large-scale, city-wide open-air art exhibition. Among the pieces will be four life-size elephant sculptures and 14 smaller tribute sculptures painted by celebrities, artists and local heroes. To celebrate the parade, the St. Regis is offering an Ultimate Elephant Parade Package which offers a two-night suite stay, a guided tour to view all 17 displayed elephants, walking tour for the 37 hand painted elephants and maybe the best part, a ride on a real elephant! Guests will also be able to participate in feeding them and learning about conservation efforts from experienced on-site trainers. A portion of the rate will go toward the preservation efforts of the Asian Elephant.


Laguna Beach’s spice-blend superman

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spice blends include Ras Al Haunt, left, and Caribbean, right.

Zatar pizza with goat cheese.

Cod Sandwich at Sapphire Laguna.

Tandoori style chicken skewers, tomato salad and mint-cucumber raita at Sapphire Laguna.

Baked jumbo shrimp with spicy tomato virgin sauce.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spices included in the Ras Al Haunt blend.

Peppers used in the Caribbean blend.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India.

Azmin Ghahreman at Sahakari Spice Farm in Goa, India.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India while he and his wife were on a Crystal Cruise.

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

The Tandoori blend of spices used by Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Azmin Ghahreman’s dishes are a delectable marriage of aromas and flavors. From appetizers to salads, french fries to entrees, it’s often his unique spice blends that add irresistible flavor bling.

His freshly ground spice mixtures translate as cozy comfort, edged with innovative excitement. He says that spice blends should dance on your palate without stepping on your toes.

They are vibrant yet subtle mélanges with international roots.

Ghahreman, the chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, was born in Iran, educated in Switzerland, and has lived and worked all over the world. He has cooked at the Four Seasons Hotels in Wailea and Maui, Hawaii, and in Singapore, as well as the Halekulani in Honolulu. He has served as executive chef at The Regent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Sydney, Australia. And for five years he was executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

His spice mixtures aren’t limited to one flavor palate or cuisine. Working far and wide has given him global sensibility.

He insists that the spices he uses are the highest quality and freshness, sourced from the location where the specific berry, bud, bark, root, seed or berry is indigenous.

According to Ghahreman’s favorite spice book (“The Complete Book of Spices” by Jill Norman, Dorling Kindersley Publishers), that means cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and pepper from the Asian tropics allspice, chilies and vanilla from the West Indies and Central America. And from the Mediterranean basin, there’s coriander, fenugreek, fennel, poppy and mustard the colder regions contributing caraway, dill and juniper.

“Spices have three or four different grades,” he explained when I joined him at Sapphire Laguna, showing me a photo taken of him in a spice shop in India (one stop on a Crystal Cruise to India, Dubai and Phuket where he served as the ship’s guest chef).

“Look at the container of cloves in the photo there are pliers on top to squeeze them to test to see how much oil is inside. Cloves with the most oil are the best.”

Yes, those volatile oils are responsible for much of a spice’s distinct flavor characteristics. Ghahreman said it’s a shame that many people store their spices incorrectly and spices lose flavor.

“Too many people keep their spices next to the heat,” he said. “It should be in a place that is cool and dark. Good spices are expensive, even for me and I buy in bulk. Buy in small amounts and use it up. After a year throw them away. Maybe everyone should make that a New Year’s resolution.”

When making spice blends, he says to toast spices in small amounts in a small, dry skillet, long enough to heat them and make them fragrant, shaking the handle of the skillet to prevent burning them. Toasting generally applies to buds, dried chilies and seeds.

“Barks can be (toasted) OK too, like cinnamon berries like juniper can be OK … as long as they move the pan constantly so they do not get stuck and burn on one side,” he said.

After the toasted spices are cool, grind in an electric grinder. He suggests using a small, inexpensive electric coffee grinder that is designated just for spices.

I asked him to share his secrets for creating spice blends that would be helpful to home cooks, as well as home-style dishes to use them in. Here are his suggestions.

Ras al Hanout is a glorious spice blend used in North African cooking. It translates as “head of the shop.” Most spice shops in the region have a treasured secret recipe for the blend that is passed down from generation to generation. Ghahreman uses the mixture to coat a fish fillet that is the centerpiece in a tasty sandwich, balancing warm spices on the fish with a sweet pineapple mayonnaise. If you like, grill very thin pineapple slices to include in each sandwich. At the restaurant, he riffs on this theme, serving the spice blend on soft-shelled crab and accompanying it with the same fruit-spiked mayonnaise. He also loves this spice blend atop grilled lamb chops.

Ras al Hanout Ling Cod Sandwich With Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

4 ounce skinless lingcod fillet, or halibut, Mahi Mahi, or salmon

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, a small amount to taste

2 teaspoons Ras al Hanout, recipe included

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 brioche bun, cut in half

2 tablespoons Pineapple Mayonnaise, recipe included

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust fish with salt pepper and Ras el Hanout. Heat oil on medium-high heat in ovenproof skillet. Sear fish on both sides until nicely browned. Place in oven to finish cooking, 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.

2. Place bun in oven to warm about 1 minute.

3. Spread Pineapple Mayonnaise on cut-side of each half of bun. Add lettuce, tomato, and if desired, a grilled pineapple ring. Place the fish filet on the bun. Serve with French fries, chips or a salad.

Nutrition information (per serving): 211 calories, 47 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 484 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Mix all spices together and keep in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutritional information: 21 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 1.3 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4.0 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g protein, 3 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple

Coarse salt, such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add pineapple and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Add juice and cook until juice evaporates. Remove from heat cool completely.

2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 47 calories, 98 percent of calories from fat, 4.8 g fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g protein, 45 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The Tandoori Spice Blend teams with a yogurt-based mixture to make a delicious marinade. It enhances any meat that grills or cooks quickly, such as chicken thighs, rack of lamb, whole fish (such as striped bass), or skin-on salmon fillets. The marinade is enough for 1 1/2 pounds of lean boneless chicken thighs or breast meat. Add chicken to chilled marinade, cover and refrigerate 24 hours for best results. Skewer chicken and grill or bake at 400 degrees until it is completely cooked. Serve with soft lavosh or naan bread.

Tandoori Spice Mix and Marinade

1 tablespoon ground cumin, see cook’s notes

2 tablespoons ground coriander, see cook’s notes

1 tablespoon Madras curry (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon Garam Masala (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, see cook’s notes

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated, peeled fresh ginger

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: In step 1, the cumin and coriander is toasted, cooled and ground. The measurement given in the recipe is the ground measurement used in the mix, so toast three times as much for toasting, then measure accurate amounts of ground spices before using in step 3.

Rich, colorful Spanish paprika (called pimentón in Spain) has a distinct smoky flavor and aroma. Typically it is dried by smoking it over oak fires. It is sold online, in gourmet specialty shops and some supermarkets. Greek yogurt is sold at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Ghahreman uses Fage (pronounced fa-yeh) brand.

1. In a heavy (dry) skillet toast cumin and coriander separately on medium-high heat, shaking handle frequently to prevent burning. Turn toasted spices onto plate or bowl to cool. Grind them in an electric coffee grinder (preferably one that is only used to grind spices). Store in airtight jar in cool, dark location.

2. Mix all dry spices in a mixing bowl. Add saffron and saffron water and all remaining wet ingredients. Stir with a whisk for 1 to 2 minutes. Place in plastic container and cover: refrigerate 2 to 4 hours to allow flavors and aromas to meld.

Nutrition information (per 2 tablespoons): 98 calories, 91 percent of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Popular throughout North Africa and Turkey, zahtar (ZAH-tar) is a spice blend comprised of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme. Ghahreman adds dried oregano and sea salt to his alluring mixture. He showcases it atop warm pita bread along with nubbins of goat cheese and sautéed chopped garlic. It’s a fabulous and easy-to-prepare appetizer that is especially good accompanied with a vodka martini.

Zahtar and Goat Cheese Flat Bread

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Optional for serving: Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add zahtar and stir for a few seconds, just long enough to heat mixture. Add garlic mix and cook briefly, just long enough to soften garlic do NOT brown garlic.

3. Place pita bread on rimmed baking sheet and pour zahtar mixture on the pita bread, spreading it out evenly. Add crumbled goat cheese and place in middle of preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pita is golden brown around the edges. Cut in 4 to 6 wedges, pizza-style. Serve. If desired, accompany with Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil for optional topping.

Nutrition information (per wedge without optional Cucumber Riata ): 140 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 7.6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates,1.2 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon sumac powder (Middle Easter specialty stores)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Cook’s notes: Cumin and caraway and fennel seeds can also be added as an option

1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutrition information (per 1 tablespoon): 40 calories, 70 percent of calories from fat, 3.8 g fat, 1.9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Cucumber Riata With Cumin Oil

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt

1/3 medium-size hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin

1. Prepare riata: Combine all riata ingredients in a small bowl stir to combine and set aside.

2. Prepare Cumin Oil: In small, heavy-bottomed skillet heat oil on medium-high heat until almost smoking. Remove from heat and add cumin. Stir for a second or two, then drizzle over riata.

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 40 calories, 90 percent of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 48 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The name of this sauce refers to the Virgin Islands. A spice blend made with cinnamon, mace, allspice, cloves and nutmeg melds with the super-hot kiss of habanero chili. Tomato, celery, red bell peppers round out the flavors, making the sauce a great match with the large, sweet shrimp.

Buttered Shrimp, Fresh Virgin Tomato Sauce

3 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, semi-butterflied

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces Virgin Tomato Sauce, recipe included

Garnish: small sprigs fresh chervil

Cook’s notes: Traditionally, to butterfly shrimp means to partially split the shrimp so it can be opened like a book, cutting from outside (the middle of the back) down to the center, cutting almost but not through. In this recipe, the shrimp is “semi-butterflied”, so it is just cut only about halfway through.

1. Sauté shrimp in butter on medium-high heat, about 30 seconds per side. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the sauce and cook until shrimp is just cooked through and sauce is hot. Garnish with chervil.

Nutrition information (per serving): 206 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 9.7 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 292 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

1/3 fresh habanero chili, seeds and veins removed, finely diced, see cook’s notes

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium celery stalk, cut into small dice

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1/3 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cook’s notes: Habanero chilies are very spicy hot use caution when working with them. Wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do NOT touch face or eyes.

1. Add all ingredients except olive oil and tomatoes to a blender whirl until smooth.

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add blended ingredients stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Nutrition information (per tablespoon): 80 calories, 29 percent of calories from fat, 2.5 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 45 mg sodium, 1.5 g fiber


Laguna Beach’s spice-blend superman

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spice blends include Ras Al Haunt, left, and Caribbean, right.

Zatar pizza with goat cheese.

Cod Sandwich at Sapphire Laguna.

Tandoori style chicken skewers, tomato salad and mint-cucumber raita at Sapphire Laguna.

Baked jumbo shrimp with spicy tomato virgin sauce.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spices included in the Ras Al Haunt blend.

Peppers used in the Caribbean blend.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India.

Azmin Ghahreman at Sahakari Spice Farm in Goa, India.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India while he and his wife were on a Crystal Cruise.

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

The Tandoori blend of spices used by Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Azmin Ghahreman’s dishes are a delectable marriage of aromas and flavors. From appetizers to salads, french fries to entrees, it’s often his unique spice blends that add irresistible flavor bling.

His freshly ground spice mixtures translate as cozy comfort, edged with innovative excitement. He says that spice blends should dance on your palate without stepping on your toes.

They are vibrant yet subtle mélanges with international roots.

Ghahreman, the chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, was born in Iran, educated in Switzerland, and has lived and worked all over the world. He has cooked at the Four Seasons Hotels in Wailea and Maui, Hawaii, and in Singapore, as well as the Halekulani in Honolulu. He has served as executive chef at The Regent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Sydney, Australia. And for five years he was executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

His spice mixtures aren’t limited to one flavor palate or cuisine. Working far and wide has given him global sensibility.

He insists that the spices he uses are the highest quality and freshness, sourced from the location where the specific berry, bud, bark, root, seed or berry is indigenous.

According to Ghahreman’s favorite spice book (“The Complete Book of Spices” by Jill Norman, Dorling Kindersley Publishers), that means cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and pepper from the Asian tropics allspice, chilies and vanilla from the West Indies and Central America. And from the Mediterranean basin, there’s coriander, fenugreek, fennel, poppy and mustard the colder regions contributing caraway, dill and juniper.

“Spices have three or four different grades,” he explained when I joined him at Sapphire Laguna, showing me a photo taken of him in a spice shop in India (one stop on a Crystal Cruise to India, Dubai and Phuket where he served as the ship’s guest chef).

“Look at the container of cloves in the photo there are pliers on top to squeeze them to test to see how much oil is inside. Cloves with the most oil are the best.”

Yes, those volatile oils are responsible for much of a spice’s distinct flavor characteristics. Ghahreman said it’s a shame that many people store their spices incorrectly and spices lose flavor.

“Too many people keep their spices next to the heat,” he said. “It should be in a place that is cool and dark. Good spices are expensive, even for me and I buy in bulk. Buy in small amounts and use it up. After a year throw them away. Maybe everyone should make that a New Year’s resolution.”

When making spice blends, he says to toast spices in small amounts in a small, dry skillet, long enough to heat them and make them fragrant, shaking the handle of the skillet to prevent burning them. Toasting generally applies to buds, dried chilies and seeds.

“Barks can be (toasted) OK too, like cinnamon berries like juniper can be OK … as long as they move the pan constantly so they do not get stuck and burn on one side,” he said.

After the toasted spices are cool, grind in an electric grinder. He suggests using a small, inexpensive electric coffee grinder that is designated just for spices.

I asked him to share his secrets for creating spice blends that would be helpful to home cooks, as well as home-style dishes to use them in. Here are his suggestions.

Ras al Hanout is a glorious spice blend used in North African cooking. It translates as “head of the shop.” Most spice shops in the region have a treasured secret recipe for the blend that is passed down from generation to generation. Ghahreman uses the mixture to coat a fish fillet that is the centerpiece in a tasty sandwich, balancing warm spices on the fish with a sweet pineapple mayonnaise. If you like, grill very thin pineapple slices to include in each sandwich. At the restaurant, he riffs on this theme, serving the spice blend on soft-shelled crab and accompanying it with the same fruit-spiked mayonnaise. He also loves this spice blend atop grilled lamb chops.

Ras al Hanout Ling Cod Sandwich With Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

4 ounce skinless lingcod fillet, or halibut, Mahi Mahi, or salmon

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, a small amount to taste

2 teaspoons Ras al Hanout, recipe included

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 brioche bun, cut in half

2 tablespoons Pineapple Mayonnaise, recipe included

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust fish with salt pepper and Ras el Hanout. Heat oil on medium-high heat in ovenproof skillet. Sear fish on both sides until nicely browned. Place in oven to finish cooking, 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.

2. Place bun in oven to warm about 1 minute.

3. Spread Pineapple Mayonnaise on cut-side of each half of bun. Add lettuce, tomato, and if desired, a grilled pineapple ring. Place the fish filet on the bun. Serve with French fries, chips or a salad.

Nutrition information (per serving): 211 calories, 47 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 484 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Mix all spices together and keep in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutritional information: 21 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 1.3 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4.0 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g protein, 3 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple

Coarse salt, such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add pineapple and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Add juice and cook until juice evaporates. Remove from heat cool completely.

2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 47 calories, 98 percent of calories from fat, 4.8 g fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g protein, 45 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The Tandoori Spice Blend teams with a yogurt-based mixture to make a delicious marinade. It enhances any meat that grills or cooks quickly, such as chicken thighs, rack of lamb, whole fish (such as striped bass), or skin-on salmon fillets. The marinade is enough for 1 1/2 pounds of lean boneless chicken thighs or breast meat. Add chicken to chilled marinade, cover and refrigerate 24 hours for best results. Skewer chicken and grill or bake at 400 degrees until it is completely cooked. Serve with soft lavosh or naan bread.

Tandoori Spice Mix and Marinade

1 tablespoon ground cumin, see cook’s notes

2 tablespoons ground coriander, see cook’s notes

1 tablespoon Madras curry (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon Garam Masala (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, see cook’s notes

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated, peeled fresh ginger

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: In step 1, the cumin and coriander is toasted, cooled and ground. The measurement given in the recipe is the ground measurement used in the mix, so toast three times as much for toasting, then measure accurate amounts of ground spices before using in step 3.

Rich, colorful Spanish paprika (called pimentón in Spain) has a distinct smoky flavor and aroma. Typically it is dried by smoking it over oak fires. It is sold online, in gourmet specialty shops and some supermarkets. Greek yogurt is sold at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Ghahreman uses Fage (pronounced fa-yeh) brand.

1. In a heavy (dry) skillet toast cumin and coriander separately on medium-high heat, shaking handle frequently to prevent burning. Turn toasted spices onto plate or bowl to cool. Grind them in an electric coffee grinder (preferably one that is only used to grind spices). Store in airtight jar in cool, dark location.

2. Mix all dry spices in a mixing bowl. Add saffron and saffron water and all remaining wet ingredients. Stir with a whisk for 1 to 2 minutes. Place in plastic container and cover: refrigerate 2 to 4 hours to allow flavors and aromas to meld.

Nutrition information (per 2 tablespoons): 98 calories, 91 percent of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Popular throughout North Africa and Turkey, zahtar (ZAH-tar) is a spice blend comprised of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme. Ghahreman adds dried oregano and sea salt to his alluring mixture. He showcases it atop warm pita bread along with nubbins of goat cheese and sautéed chopped garlic. It’s a fabulous and easy-to-prepare appetizer that is especially good accompanied with a vodka martini.

Zahtar and Goat Cheese Flat Bread

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Optional for serving: Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add zahtar and stir for a few seconds, just long enough to heat mixture. Add garlic mix and cook briefly, just long enough to soften garlic do NOT brown garlic.

3. Place pita bread on rimmed baking sheet and pour zahtar mixture on the pita bread, spreading it out evenly. Add crumbled goat cheese and place in middle of preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pita is golden brown around the edges. Cut in 4 to 6 wedges, pizza-style. Serve. If desired, accompany with Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil for optional topping.

Nutrition information (per wedge without optional Cucumber Riata ): 140 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 7.6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates,1.2 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon sumac powder (Middle Easter specialty stores)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Cook’s notes: Cumin and caraway and fennel seeds can also be added as an option

1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutrition information (per 1 tablespoon): 40 calories, 70 percent of calories from fat, 3.8 g fat, 1.9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Cucumber Riata With Cumin Oil

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt

1/3 medium-size hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin

1. Prepare riata: Combine all riata ingredients in a small bowl stir to combine and set aside.

2. Prepare Cumin Oil: In small, heavy-bottomed skillet heat oil on medium-high heat until almost smoking. Remove from heat and add cumin. Stir for a second or two, then drizzle over riata.

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 40 calories, 90 percent of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 48 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The name of this sauce refers to the Virgin Islands. A spice blend made with cinnamon, mace, allspice, cloves and nutmeg melds with the super-hot kiss of habanero chili. Tomato, celery, red bell peppers round out the flavors, making the sauce a great match with the large, sweet shrimp.

Buttered Shrimp, Fresh Virgin Tomato Sauce

3 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, semi-butterflied

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces Virgin Tomato Sauce, recipe included

Garnish: small sprigs fresh chervil

Cook’s notes: Traditionally, to butterfly shrimp means to partially split the shrimp so it can be opened like a book, cutting from outside (the middle of the back) down to the center, cutting almost but not through. In this recipe, the shrimp is “semi-butterflied”, so it is just cut only about halfway through.

1. Sauté shrimp in butter on medium-high heat, about 30 seconds per side. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the sauce and cook until shrimp is just cooked through and sauce is hot. Garnish with chervil.

Nutrition information (per serving): 206 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 9.7 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 292 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

1/3 fresh habanero chili, seeds and veins removed, finely diced, see cook’s notes

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium celery stalk, cut into small dice

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1/3 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cook’s notes: Habanero chilies are very spicy hot use caution when working with them. Wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do NOT touch face or eyes.

1. Add all ingredients except olive oil and tomatoes to a blender whirl until smooth.

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add blended ingredients stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Nutrition information (per tablespoon): 80 calories, 29 percent of calories from fat, 2.5 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 45 mg sodium, 1.5 g fiber


Laguna Beach’s spice-blend superman

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spice blends include Ras Al Haunt, left, and Caribbean, right.

Zatar pizza with goat cheese.

Cod Sandwich at Sapphire Laguna.

Tandoori style chicken skewers, tomato salad and mint-cucumber raita at Sapphire Laguna.

Baked jumbo shrimp with spicy tomato virgin sauce.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spices included in the Ras Al Haunt blend.

Peppers used in the Caribbean blend.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India.

Azmin Ghahreman at Sahakari Spice Farm in Goa, India.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India while he and his wife were on a Crystal Cruise.

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

The Tandoori blend of spices used by Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Azmin Ghahreman’s dishes are a delectable marriage of aromas and flavors. From appetizers to salads, french fries to entrees, it’s often his unique spice blends that add irresistible flavor bling.

His freshly ground spice mixtures translate as cozy comfort, edged with innovative excitement. He says that spice blends should dance on your palate without stepping on your toes.

They are vibrant yet subtle mélanges with international roots.

Ghahreman, the chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, was born in Iran, educated in Switzerland, and has lived and worked all over the world. He has cooked at the Four Seasons Hotels in Wailea and Maui, Hawaii, and in Singapore, as well as the Halekulani in Honolulu. He has served as executive chef at The Regent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Sydney, Australia. And for five years he was executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

His spice mixtures aren’t limited to one flavor palate or cuisine. Working far and wide has given him global sensibility.

He insists that the spices he uses are the highest quality and freshness, sourced from the location where the specific berry, bud, bark, root, seed or berry is indigenous.

According to Ghahreman’s favorite spice book (“The Complete Book of Spices” by Jill Norman, Dorling Kindersley Publishers), that means cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and pepper from the Asian tropics allspice, chilies and vanilla from the West Indies and Central America. And from the Mediterranean basin, there’s coriander, fenugreek, fennel, poppy and mustard the colder regions contributing caraway, dill and juniper.

“Spices have three or four different grades,” he explained when I joined him at Sapphire Laguna, showing me a photo taken of him in a spice shop in India (one stop on a Crystal Cruise to India, Dubai and Phuket where he served as the ship’s guest chef).

“Look at the container of cloves in the photo there are pliers on top to squeeze them to test to see how much oil is inside. Cloves with the most oil are the best.”

Yes, those volatile oils are responsible for much of a spice’s distinct flavor characteristics. Ghahreman said it’s a shame that many people store their spices incorrectly and spices lose flavor.

“Too many people keep their spices next to the heat,” he said. “It should be in a place that is cool and dark. Good spices are expensive, even for me and I buy in bulk. Buy in small amounts and use it up. After a year throw them away. Maybe everyone should make that a New Year’s resolution.”

When making spice blends, he says to toast spices in small amounts in a small, dry skillet, long enough to heat them and make them fragrant, shaking the handle of the skillet to prevent burning them. Toasting generally applies to buds, dried chilies and seeds.

“Barks can be (toasted) OK too, like cinnamon berries like juniper can be OK … as long as they move the pan constantly so they do not get stuck and burn on one side,” he said.

After the toasted spices are cool, grind in an electric grinder. He suggests using a small, inexpensive electric coffee grinder that is designated just for spices.

I asked him to share his secrets for creating spice blends that would be helpful to home cooks, as well as home-style dishes to use them in. Here are his suggestions.

Ras al Hanout is a glorious spice blend used in North African cooking. It translates as “head of the shop.” Most spice shops in the region have a treasured secret recipe for the blend that is passed down from generation to generation. Ghahreman uses the mixture to coat a fish fillet that is the centerpiece in a tasty sandwich, balancing warm spices on the fish with a sweet pineapple mayonnaise. If you like, grill very thin pineapple slices to include in each sandwich. At the restaurant, he riffs on this theme, serving the spice blend on soft-shelled crab and accompanying it with the same fruit-spiked mayonnaise. He also loves this spice blend atop grilled lamb chops.

Ras al Hanout Ling Cod Sandwich With Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

4 ounce skinless lingcod fillet, or halibut, Mahi Mahi, or salmon

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, a small amount to taste

2 teaspoons Ras al Hanout, recipe included

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 brioche bun, cut in half

2 tablespoons Pineapple Mayonnaise, recipe included

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust fish with salt pepper and Ras el Hanout. Heat oil on medium-high heat in ovenproof skillet. Sear fish on both sides until nicely browned. Place in oven to finish cooking, 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.

2. Place bun in oven to warm about 1 minute.

3. Spread Pineapple Mayonnaise on cut-side of each half of bun. Add lettuce, tomato, and if desired, a grilled pineapple ring. Place the fish filet on the bun. Serve with French fries, chips or a salad.

Nutrition information (per serving): 211 calories, 47 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 484 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Mix all spices together and keep in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutritional information: 21 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 1.3 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4.0 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g protein, 3 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple

Coarse salt, such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add pineapple and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Add juice and cook until juice evaporates. Remove from heat cool completely.

2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 47 calories, 98 percent of calories from fat, 4.8 g fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g protein, 45 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The Tandoori Spice Blend teams with a yogurt-based mixture to make a delicious marinade. It enhances any meat that grills or cooks quickly, such as chicken thighs, rack of lamb, whole fish (such as striped bass), or skin-on salmon fillets. The marinade is enough for 1 1/2 pounds of lean boneless chicken thighs or breast meat. Add chicken to chilled marinade, cover and refrigerate 24 hours for best results. Skewer chicken and grill or bake at 400 degrees until it is completely cooked. Serve with soft lavosh or naan bread.

Tandoori Spice Mix and Marinade

1 tablespoon ground cumin, see cook’s notes

2 tablespoons ground coriander, see cook’s notes

1 tablespoon Madras curry (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon Garam Masala (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, see cook’s notes

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated, peeled fresh ginger

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: In step 1, the cumin and coriander is toasted, cooled and ground. The measurement given in the recipe is the ground measurement used in the mix, so toast three times as much for toasting, then measure accurate amounts of ground spices before using in step 3.

Rich, colorful Spanish paprika (called pimentón in Spain) has a distinct smoky flavor and aroma. Typically it is dried by smoking it over oak fires. It is sold online, in gourmet specialty shops and some supermarkets. Greek yogurt is sold at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Ghahreman uses Fage (pronounced fa-yeh) brand.

1. In a heavy (dry) skillet toast cumin and coriander separately on medium-high heat, shaking handle frequently to prevent burning. Turn toasted spices onto plate or bowl to cool. Grind them in an electric coffee grinder (preferably one that is only used to grind spices). Store in airtight jar in cool, dark location.

2. Mix all dry spices in a mixing bowl. Add saffron and saffron water and all remaining wet ingredients. Stir with a whisk for 1 to 2 minutes. Place in plastic container and cover: refrigerate 2 to 4 hours to allow flavors and aromas to meld.

Nutrition information (per 2 tablespoons): 98 calories, 91 percent of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Popular throughout North Africa and Turkey, zahtar (ZAH-tar) is a spice blend comprised of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme. Ghahreman adds dried oregano and sea salt to his alluring mixture. He showcases it atop warm pita bread along with nubbins of goat cheese and sautéed chopped garlic. It’s a fabulous and easy-to-prepare appetizer that is especially good accompanied with a vodka martini.

Zahtar and Goat Cheese Flat Bread

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Optional for serving: Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add zahtar and stir for a few seconds, just long enough to heat mixture. Add garlic mix and cook briefly, just long enough to soften garlic do NOT brown garlic.

3. Place pita bread on rimmed baking sheet and pour zahtar mixture on the pita bread, spreading it out evenly. Add crumbled goat cheese and place in middle of preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pita is golden brown around the edges. Cut in 4 to 6 wedges, pizza-style. Serve. If desired, accompany with Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil for optional topping.

Nutrition information (per wedge without optional Cucumber Riata ): 140 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 7.6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates,1.2 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon sumac powder (Middle Easter specialty stores)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Cook’s notes: Cumin and caraway and fennel seeds can also be added as an option

1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutrition information (per 1 tablespoon): 40 calories, 70 percent of calories from fat, 3.8 g fat, 1.9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Cucumber Riata With Cumin Oil

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt

1/3 medium-size hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin

1. Prepare riata: Combine all riata ingredients in a small bowl stir to combine and set aside.

2. Prepare Cumin Oil: In small, heavy-bottomed skillet heat oil on medium-high heat until almost smoking. Remove from heat and add cumin. Stir for a second or two, then drizzle over riata.

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 40 calories, 90 percent of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 48 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The name of this sauce refers to the Virgin Islands. A spice blend made with cinnamon, mace, allspice, cloves and nutmeg melds with the super-hot kiss of habanero chili. Tomato, celery, red bell peppers round out the flavors, making the sauce a great match with the large, sweet shrimp.

Buttered Shrimp, Fresh Virgin Tomato Sauce

3 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, semi-butterflied

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces Virgin Tomato Sauce, recipe included

Garnish: small sprigs fresh chervil

Cook’s notes: Traditionally, to butterfly shrimp means to partially split the shrimp so it can be opened like a book, cutting from outside (the middle of the back) down to the center, cutting almost but not through. In this recipe, the shrimp is “semi-butterflied”, so it is just cut only about halfway through.

1. Sauté shrimp in butter on medium-high heat, about 30 seconds per side. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the sauce and cook until shrimp is just cooked through and sauce is hot. Garnish with chervil.

Nutrition information (per serving): 206 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 9.7 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 292 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

1/3 fresh habanero chili, seeds and veins removed, finely diced, see cook’s notes

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium celery stalk, cut into small dice

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1/3 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cook’s notes: Habanero chilies are very spicy hot use caution when working with them. Wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do NOT touch face or eyes.

1. Add all ingredients except olive oil and tomatoes to a blender whirl until smooth.

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add blended ingredients stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Nutrition information (per tablespoon): 80 calories, 29 percent of calories from fat, 2.5 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 45 mg sodium, 1.5 g fiber


Laguna Beach’s spice-blend superman

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spice blends include Ras Al Haunt, left, and Caribbean, right.

Zatar pizza with goat cheese.

Cod Sandwich at Sapphire Laguna.

Tandoori style chicken skewers, tomato salad and mint-cucumber raita at Sapphire Laguna.

Baked jumbo shrimp with spicy tomato virgin sauce.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spices included in the Ras Al Haunt blend.

Peppers used in the Caribbean blend.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India.

Azmin Ghahreman at Sahakari Spice Farm in Goa, India.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India while he and his wife were on a Crystal Cruise.

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

The Tandoori blend of spices used by Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Azmin Ghahreman’s dishes are a delectable marriage of aromas and flavors. From appetizers to salads, french fries to entrees, it’s often his unique spice blends that add irresistible flavor bling.

His freshly ground spice mixtures translate as cozy comfort, edged with innovative excitement. He says that spice blends should dance on your palate without stepping on your toes.

They are vibrant yet subtle mélanges with international roots.

Ghahreman, the chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, was born in Iran, educated in Switzerland, and has lived and worked all over the world. He has cooked at the Four Seasons Hotels in Wailea and Maui, Hawaii, and in Singapore, as well as the Halekulani in Honolulu. He has served as executive chef at The Regent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Sydney, Australia. And for five years he was executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

His spice mixtures aren’t limited to one flavor palate or cuisine. Working far and wide has given him global sensibility.

He insists that the spices he uses are the highest quality and freshness, sourced from the location where the specific berry, bud, bark, root, seed or berry is indigenous.

According to Ghahreman’s favorite spice book (“The Complete Book of Spices” by Jill Norman, Dorling Kindersley Publishers), that means cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and pepper from the Asian tropics allspice, chilies and vanilla from the West Indies and Central America. And from the Mediterranean basin, there’s coriander, fenugreek, fennel, poppy and mustard the colder regions contributing caraway, dill and juniper.

“Spices have three or four different grades,” he explained when I joined him at Sapphire Laguna, showing me a photo taken of him in a spice shop in India (one stop on a Crystal Cruise to India, Dubai and Phuket where he served as the ship’s guest chef).

“Look at the container of cloves in the photo there are pliers on top to squeeze them to test to see how much oil is inside. Cloves with the most oil are the best.”

Yes, those volatile oils are responsible for much of a spice’s distinct flavor characteristics. Ghahreman said it’s a shame that many people store their spices incorrectly and spices lose flavor.

“Too many people keep their spices next to the heat,” he said. “It should be in a place that is cool and dark. Good spices are expensive, even for me and I buy in bulk. Buy in small amounts and use it up. After a year throw them away. Maybe everyone should make that a New Year’s resolution.”

When making spice blends, he says to toast spices in small amounts in a small, dry skillet, long enough to heat them and make them fragrant, shaking the handle of the skillet to prevent burning them. Toasting generally applies to buds, dried chilies and seeds.

“Barks can be (toasted) OK too, like cinnamon berries like juniper can be OK … as long as they move the pan constantly so they do not get stuck and burn on one side,” he said.

After the toasted spices are cool, grind in an electric grinder. He suggests using a small, inexpensive electric coffee grinder that is designated just for spices.

I asked him to share his secrets for creating spice blends that would be helpful to home cooks, as well as home-style dishes to use them in. Here are his suggestions.

Ras al Hanout is a glorious spice blend used in North African cooking. It translates as “head of the shop.” Most spice shops in the region have a treasured secret recipe for the blend that is passed down from generation to generation. Ghahreman uses the mixture to coat a fish fillet that is the centerpiece in a tasty sandwich, balancing warm spices on the fish with a sweet pineapple mayonnaise. If you like, grill very thin pineapple slices to include in each sandwich. At the restaurant, he riffs on this theme, serving the spice blend on soft-shelled crab and accompanying it with the same fruit-spiked mayonnaise. He also loves this spice blend atop grilled lamb chops.

Ras al Hanout Ling Cod Sandwich With Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

4 ounce skinless lingcod fillet, or halibut, Mahi Mahi, or salmon

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, a small amount to taste

2 teaspoons Ras al Hanout, recipe included

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 brioche bun, cut in half

2 tablespoons Pineapple Mayonnaise, recipe included

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust fish with salt pepper and Ras el Hanout. Heat oil on medium-high heat in ovenproof skillet. Sear fish on both sides until nicely browned. Place in oven to finish cooking, 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.

2. Place bun in oven to warm about 1 minute.

3. Spread Pineapple Mayonnaise on cut-side of each half of bun. Add lettuce, tomato, and if desired, a grilled pineapple ring. Place the fish filet on the bun. Serve with French fries, chips or a salad.

Nutrition information (per serving): 211 calories, 47 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 484 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Mix all spices together and keep in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutritional information: 21 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 1.3 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4.0 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g protein, 3 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple

Coarse salt, such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add pineapple and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Add juice and cook until juice evaporates. Remove from heat cool completely.

2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 47 calories, 98 percent of calories from fat, 4.8 g fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g protein, 45 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The Tandoori Spice Blend teams with a yogurt-based mixture to make a delicious marinade. It enhances any meat that grills or cooks quickly, such as chicken thighs, rack of lamb, whole fish (such as striped bass), or skin-on salmon fillets. The marinade is enough for 1 1/2 pounds of lean boneless chicken thighs or breast meat. Add chicken to chilled marinade, cover and refrigerate 24 hours for best results. Skewer chicken and grill or bake at 400 degrees until it is completely cooked. Serve with soft lavosh or naan bread.

Tandoori Spice Mix and Marinade

1 tablespoon ground cumin, see cook’s notes

2 tablespoons ground coriander, see cook’s notes

1 tablespoon Madras curry (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon Garam Masala (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, see cook’s notes

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated, peeled fresh ginger

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: In step 1, the cumin and coriander is toasted, cooled and ground. The measurement given in the recipe is the ground measurement used in the mix, so toast three times as much for toasting, then measure accurate amounts of ground spices before using in step 3.

Rich, colorful Spanish paprika (called pimentón in Spain) has a distinct smoky flavor and aroma. Typically it is dried by smoking it over oak fires. It is sold online, in gourmet specialty shops and some supermarkets. Greek yogurt is sold at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Ghahreman uses Fage (pronounced fa-yeh) brand.

1. In a heavy (dry) skillet toast cumin and coriander separately on medium-high heat, shaking handle frequently to prevent burning. Turn toasted spices onto plate or bowl to cool. Grind them in an electric coffee grinder (preferably one that is only used to grind spices). Store in airtight jar in cool, dark location.

2. Mix all dry spices in a mixing bowl. Add saffron and saffron water and all remaining wet ingredients. Stir with a whisk for 1 to 2 minutes. Place in plastic container and cover: refrigerate 2 to 4 hours to allow flavors and aromas to meld.

Nutrition information (per 2 tablespoons): 98 calories, 91 percent of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Popular throughout North Africa and Turkey, zahtar (ZAH-tar) is a spice blend comprised of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme. Ghahreman adds dried oregano and sea salt to his alluring mixture. He showcases it atop warm pita bread along with nubbins of goat cheese and sautéed chopped garlic. It’s a fabulous and easy-to-prepare appetizer that is especially good accompanied with a vodka martini.

Zahtar and Goat Cheese Flat Bread

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Optional for serving: Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add zahtar and stir for a few seconds, just long enough to heat mixture. Add garlic mix and cook briefly, just long enough to soften garlic do NOT brown garlic.

3. Place pita bread on rimmed baking sheet and pour zahtar mixture on the pita bread, spreading it out evenly. Add crumbled goat cheese and place in middle of preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pita is golden brown around the edges. Cut in 4 to 6 wedges, pizza-style. Serve. If desired, accompany with Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil for optional topping.

Nutrition information (per wedge without optional Cucumber Riata ): 140 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 7.6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates,1.2 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon sumac powder (Middle Easter specialty stores)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Cook’s notes: Cumin and caraway and fennel seeds can also be added as an option

1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutrition information (per 1 tablespoon): 40 calories, 70 percent of calories from fat, 3.8 g fat, 1.9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Cucumber Riata With Cumin Oil

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt

1/3 medium-size hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin

1. Prepare riata: Combine all riata ingredients in a small bowl stir to combine and set aside.

2. Prepare Cumin Oil: In small, heavy-bottomed skillet heat oil on medium-high heat until almost smoking. Remove from heat and add cumin. Stir for a second or two, then drizzle over riata.

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 40 calories, 90 percent of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 48 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The name of this sauce refers to the Virgin Islands. A spice blend made with cinnamon, mace, allspice, cloves and nutmeg melds with the super-hot kiss of habanero chili. Tomato, celery, red bell peppers round out the flavors, making the sauce a great match with the large, sweet shrimp.

Buttered Shrimp, Fresh Virgin Tomato Sauce

3 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, semi-butterflied

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces Virgin Tomato Sauce, recipe included

Garnish: small sprigs fresh chervil

Cook’s notes: Traditionally, to butterfly shrimp means to partially split the shrimp so it can be opened like a book, cutting from outside (the middle of the back) down to the center, cutting almost but not through. In this recipe, the shrimp is “semi-butterflied”, so it is just cut only about halfway through.

1. Sauté shrimp in butter on medium-high heat, about 30 seconds per side. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the sauce and cook until shrimp is just cooked through and sauce is hot. Garnish with chervil.

Nutrition information (per serving): 206 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 9.7 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 292 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

1/3 fresh habanero chili, seeds and veins removed, finely diced, see cook’s notes

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium celery stalk, cut into small dice

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1/3 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cook’s notes: Habanero chilies are very spicy hot use caution when working with them. Wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do NOT touch face or eyes.

1. Add all ingredients except olive oil and tomatoes to a blender whirl until smooth.

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add blended ingredients stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Nutrition information (per tablespoon): 80 calories, 29 percent of calories from fat, 2.5 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 45 mg sodium, 1.5 g fiber


Laguna Beach’s spice-blend superman

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spice blends include Ras Al Haunt, left, and Caribbean, right.

Zatar pizza with goat cheese.

Cod Sandwich at Sapphire Laguna.

Tandoori style chicken skewers, tomato salad and mint-cucumber raita at Sapphire Laguna.

Baked jumbo shrimp with spicy tomato virgin sauce.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spices included in the Ras Al Haunt blend.

Peppers used in the Caribbean blend.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India.

Azmin Ghahreman at Sahakari Spice Farm in Goa, India.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India while he and his wife were on a Crystal Cruise.

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

The Tandoori blend of spices used by Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Azmin Ghahreman’s dishes are a delectable marriage of aromas and flavors. From appetizers to salads, french fries to entrees, it’s often his unique spice blends that add irresistible flavor bling.

His freshly ground spice mixtures translate as cozy comfort, edged with innovative excitement. He says that spice blends should dance on your palate without stepping on your toes.

They are vibrant yet subtle mélanges with international roots.

Ghahreman, the chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, was born in Iran, educated in Switzerland, and has lived and worked all over the world. He has cooked at the Four Seasons Hotels in Wailea and Maui, Hawaii, and in Singapore, as well as the Halekulani in Honolulu. He has served as executive chef at The Regent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Sydney, Australia. And for five years he was executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

His spice mixtures aren’t limited to one flavor palate or cuisine. Working far and wide has given him global sensibility.

He insists that the spices he uses are the highest quality and freshness, sourced from the location where the specific berry, bud, bark, root, seed or berry is indigenous.

According to Ghahreman’s favorite spice book (“The Complete Book of Spices” by Jill Norman, Dorling Kindersley Publishers), that means cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and pepper from the Asian tropics allspice, chilies and vanilla from the West Indies and Central America. And from the Mediterranean basin, there’s coriander, fenugreek, fennel, poppy and mustard the colder regions contributing caraway, dill and juniper.

“Spices have three or four different grades,” he explained when I joined him at Sapphire Laguna, showing me a photo taken of him in a spice shop in India (one stop on a Crystal Cruise to India, Dubai and Phuket where he served as the ship’s guest chef).

“Look at the container of cloves in the photo there are pliers on top to squeeze them to test to see how much oil is inside. Cloves with the most oil are the best.”

Yes, those volatile oils are responsible for much of a spice’s distinct flavor characteristics. Ghahreman said it’s a shame that many people store their spices incorrectly and spices lose flavor.

“Too many people keep their spices next to the heat,” he said. “It should be in a place that is cool and dark. Good spices are expensive, even for me and I buy in bulk. Buy in small amounts and use it up. After a year throw them away. Maybe everyone should make that a New Year’s resolution.”

When making spice blends, he says to toast spices in small amounts in a small, dry skillet, long enough to heat them and make them fragrant, shaking the handle of the skillet to prevent burning them. Toasting generally applies to buds, dried chilies and seeds.

“Barks can be (toasted) OK too, like cinnamon berries like juniper can be OK … as long as they move the pan constantly so they do not get stuck and burn on one side,” he said.

After the toasted spices are cool, grind in an electric grinder. He suggests using a small, inexpensive electric coffee grinder that is designated just for spices.

I asked him to share his secrets for creating spice blends that would be helpful to home cooks, as well as home-style dishes to use them in. Here are his suggestions.

Ras al Hanout is a glorious spice blend used in North African cooking. It translates as “head of the shop.” Most spice shops in the region have a treasured secret recipe for the blend that is passed down from generation to generation. Ghahreman uses the mixture to coat a fish fillet that is the centerpiece in a tasty sandwich, balancing warm spices on the fish with a sweet pineapple mayonnaise. If you like, grill very thin pineapple slices to include in each sandwich. At the restaurant, he riffs on this theme, serving the spice blend on soft-shelled crab and accompanying it with the same fruit-spiked mayonnaise. He also loves this spice blend atop grilled lamb chops.

Ras al Hanout Ling Cod Sandwich With Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

4 ounce skinless lingcod fillet, or halibut, Mahi Mahi, or salmon

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, a small amount to taste

2 teaspoons Ras al Hanout, recipe included

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 brioche bun, cut in half

2 tablespoons Pineapple Mayonnaise, recipe included

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust fish with salt pepper and Ras el Hanout. Heat oil on medium-high heat in ovenproof skillet. Sear fish on both sides until nicely browned. Place in oven to finish cooking, 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.

2. Place bun in oven to warm about 1 minute.

3. Spread Pineapple Mayonnaise on cut-side of each half of bun. Add lettuce, tomato, and if desired, a grilled pineapple ring. Place the fish filet on the bun. Serve with French fries, chips or a salad.

Nutrition information (per serving): 211 calories, 47 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 484 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Mix all spices together and keep in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutritional information: 21 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 1.3 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4.0 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g protein, 3 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple

Coarse salt, such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add pineapple and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Add juice and cook until juice evaporates. Remove from heat cool completely.

2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 47 calories, 98 percent of calories from fat, 4.8 g fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g protein, 45 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The Tandoori Spice Blend teams with a yogurt-based mixture to make a delicious marinade. It enhances any meat that grills or cooks quickly, such as chicken thighs, rack of lamb, whole fish (such as striped bass), or skin-on salmon fillets. The marinade is enough for 1 1/2 pounds of lean boneless chicken thighs or breast meat. Add chicken to chilled marinade, cover and refrigerate 24 hours for best results. Skewer chicken and grill or bake at 400 degrees until it is completely cooked. Serve with soft lavosh or naan bread.

Tandoori Spice Mix and Marinade

1 tablespoon ground cumin, see cook’s notes

2 tablespoons ground coriander, see cook’s notes

1 tablespoon Madras curry (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon Garam Masala (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, see cook’s notes

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated, peeled fresh ginger

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: In step 1, the cumin and coriander is toasted, cooled and ground. The measurement given in the recipe is the ground measurement used in the mix, so toast three times as much for toasting, then measure accurate amounts of ground spices before using in step 3.

Rich, colorful Spanish paprika (called pimentón in Spain) has a distinct smoky flavor and aroma. Typically it is dried by smoking it over oak fires. It is sold online, in gourmet specialty shops and some supermarkets. Greek yogurt is sold at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Ghahreman uses Fage (pronounced fa-yeh) brand.

1. In a heavy (dry) skillet toast cumin and coriander separately on medium-high heat, shaking handle frequently to prevent burning. Turn toasted spices onto plate or bowl to cool. Grind them in an electric coffee grinder (preferably one that is only used to grind spices). Store in airtight jar in cool, dark location.

2. Mix all dry spices in a mixing bowl. Add saffron and saffron water and all remaining wet ingredients. Stir with a whisk for 1 to 2 minutes. Place in plastic container and cover: refrigerate 2 to 4 hours to allow flavors and aromas to meld.

Nutrition information (per 2 tablespoons): 98 calories, 91 percent of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Popular throughout North Africa and Turkey, zahtar (ZAH-tar) is a spice blend comprised of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme. Ghahreman adds dried oregano and sea salt to his alluring mixture. He showcases it atop warm pita bread along with nubbins of goat cheese and sautéed chopped garlic. It’s a fabulous and easy-to-prepare appetizer that is especially good accompanied with a vodka martini.

Zahtar and Goat Cheese Flat Bread

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Optional for serving: Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add zahtar and stir for a few seconds, just long enough to heat mixture. Add garlic mix and cook briefly, just long enough to soften garlic do NOT brown garlic.

3. Place pita bread on rimmed baking sheet and pour zahtar mixture on the pita bread, spreading it out evenly. Add crumbled goat cheese and place in middle of preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pita is golden brown around the edges. Cut in 4 to 6 wedges, pizza-style. Serve. If desired, accompany with Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil for optional topping.

Nutrition information (per wedge without optional Cucumber Riata ): 140 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 7.6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates,1.2 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon sumac powder (Middle Easter specialty stores)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Cook’s notes: Cumin and caraway and fennel seeds can also be added as an option

1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutrition information (per 1 tablespoon): 40 calories, 70 percent of calories from fat, 3.8 g fat, 1.9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Cucumber Riata With Cumin Oil

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt

1/3 medium-size hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin

1. Prepare riata: Combine all riata ingredients in a small bowl stir to combine and set aside.

2. Prepare Cumin Oil: In small, heavy-bottomed skillet heat oil on medium-high heat until almost smoking. Remove from heat and add cumin. Stir for a second or two, then drizzle over riata.

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 40 calories, 90 percent of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 48 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The name of this sauce refers to the Virgin Islands. A spice blend made with cinnamon, mace, allspice, cloves and nutmeg melds with the super-hot kiss of habanero chili. Tomato, celery, red bell peppers round out the flavors, making the sauce a great match with the large, sweet shrimp.

Buttered Shrimp, Fresh Virgin Tomato Sauce

3 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, semi-butterflied

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces Virgin Tomato Sauce, recipe included

Garnish: small sprigs fresh chervil

Cook’s notes: Traditionally, to butterfly shrimp means to partially split the shrimp so it can be opened like a book, cutting from outside (the middle of the back) down to the center, cutting almost but not through. In this recipe, the shrimp is “semi-butterflied”, so it is just cut only about halfway through.

1. Sauté shrimp in butter on medium-high heat, about 30 seconds per side. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the sauce and cook until shrimp is just cooked through and sauce is hot. Garnish with chervil.

Nutrition information (per serving): 206 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 9.7 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 292 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

1/3 fresh habanero chili, seeds and veins removed, finely diced, see cook’s notes

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium celery stalk, cut into small dice

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1/3 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cook’s notes: Habanero chilies are very spicy hot use caution when working with them. Wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do NOT touch face or eyes.

1. Add all ingredients except olive oil and tomatoes to a blender whirl until smooth.

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add blended ingredients stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Nutrition information (per tablespoon): 80 calories, 29 percent of calories from fat, 2.5 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 45 mg sodium, 1.5 g fiber


Laguna Beach’s spice-blend superman

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spice blends include Ras Al Haunt, left, and Caribbean, right.

Zatar pizza with goat cheese.

Cod Sandwich at Sapphire Laguna.

Tandoori style chicken skewers, tomato salad and mint-cucumber raita at Sapphire Laguna.

Baked jumbo shrimp with spicy tomato virgin sauce.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spices included in the Ras Al Haunt blend.

Peppers used in the Caribbean blend.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India.

Azmin Ghahreman at Sahakari Spice Farm in Goa, India.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India while he and his wife were on a Crystal Cruise.

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

The Tandoori blend of spices used by Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Azmin Ghahreman’s dishes are a delectable marriage of aromas and flavors. From appetizers to salads, french fries to entrees, it’s often his unique spice blends that add irresistible flavor bling.

His freshly ground spice mixtures translate as cozy comfort, edged with innovative excitement. He says that spice blends should dance on your palate without stepping on your toes.

They are vibrant yet subtle mélanges with international roots.

Ghahreman, the chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, was born in Iran, educated in Switzerland, and has lived and worked all over the world. He has cooked at the Four Seasons Hotels in Wailea and Maui, Hawaii, and in Singapore, as well as the Halekulani in Honolulu. He has served as executive chef at The Regent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Sydney, Australia. And for five years he was executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

His spice mixtures aren’t limited to one flavor palate or cuisine. Working far and wide has given him global sensibility.

He insists that the spices he uses are the highest quality and freshness, sourced from the location where the specific berry, bud, bark, root, seed or berry is indigenous.

According to Ghahreman’s favorite spice book (“The Complete Book of Spices” by Jill Norman, Dorling Kindersley Publishers), that means cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and pepper from the Asian tropics allspice, chilies and vanilla from the West Indies and Central America. And from the Mediterranean basin, there’s coriander, fenugreek, fennel, poppy and mustard the colder regions contributing caraway, dill and juniper.

“Spices have three or four different grades,” he explained when I joined him at Sapphire Laguna, showing me a photo taken of him in a spice shop in India (one stop on a Crystal Cruise to India, Dubai and Phuket where he served as the ship’s guest chef).

“Look at the container of cloves in the photo there are pliers on top to squeeze them to test to see how much oil is inside. Cloves with the most oil are the best.”

Yes, those volatile oils are responsible for much of a spice’s distinct flavor characteristics. Ghahreman said it’s a shame that many people store their spices incorrectly and spices lose flavor.

“Too many people keep their spices next to the heat,” he said. “It should be in a place that is cool and dark. Good spices are expensive, even for me and I buy in bulk. Buy in small amounts and use it up. After a year throw them away. Maybe everyone should make that a New Year’s resolution.”

When making spice blends, he says to toast spices in small amounts in a small, dry skillet, long enough to heat them and make them fragrant, shaking the handle of the skillet to prevent burning them. Toasting generally applies to buds, dried chilies and seeds.

“Barks can be (toasted) OK too, like cinnamon berries like juniper can be OK … as long as they move the pan constantly so they do not get stuck and burn on one side,” he said.

After the toasted spices are cool, grind in an electric grinder. He suggests using a small, inexpensive electric coffee grinder that is designated just for spices.

I asked him to share his secrets for creating spice blends that would be helpful to home cooks, as well as home-style dishes to use them in. Here are his suggestions.

Ras al Hanout is a glorious spice blend used in North African cooking. It translates as “head of the shop.” Most spice shops in the region have a treasured secret recipe for the blend that is passed down from generation to generation. Ghahreman uses the mixture to coat a fish fillet that is the centerpiece in a tasty sandwich, balancing warm spices on the fish with a sweet pineapple mayonnaise. If you like, grill very thin pineapple slices to include in each sandwich. At the restaurant, he riffs on this theme, serving the spice blend on soft-shelled crab and accompanying it with the same fruit-spiked mayonnaise. He also loves this spice blend atop grilled lamb chops.

Ras al Hanout Ling Cod Sandwich With Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

4 ounce skinless lingcod fillet, or halibut, Mahi Mahi, or salmon

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, a small amount to taste

2 teaspoons Ras al Hanout, recipe included

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 brioche bun, cut in half

2 tablespoons Pineapple Mayonnaise, recipe included

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust fish with salt pepper and Ras el Hanout. Heat oil on medium-high heat in ovenproof skillet. Sear fish on both sides until nicely browned. Place in oven to finish cooking, 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.

2. Place bun in oven to warm about 1 minute.

3. Spread Pineapple Mayonnaise on cut-side of each half of bun. Add lettuce, tomato, and if desired, a grilled pineapple ring. Place the fish filet on the bun. Serve with French fries, chips or a salad.

Nutrition information (per serving): 211 calories, 47 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 484 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Mix all spices together and keep in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutritional information: 21 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 1.3 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4.0 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g protein, 3 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple

Coarse salt, such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add pineapple and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Add juice and cook until juice evaporates. Remove from heat cool completely.

2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 47 calories, 98 percent of calories from fat, 4.8 g fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g protein, 45 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The Tandoori Spice Blend teams with a yogurt-based mixture to make a delicious marinade. It enhances any meat that grills or cooks quickly, such as chicken thighs, rack of lamb, whole fish (such as striped bass), or skin-on salmon fillets. The marinade is enough for 1 1/2 pounds of lean boneless chicken thighs or breast meat. Add chicken to chilled marinade, cover and refrigerate 24 hours for best results. Skewer chicken and grill or bake at 400 degrees until it is completely cooked. Serve with soft lavosh or naan bread.

Tandoori Spice Mix and Marinade

1 tablespoon ground cumin, see cook’s notes

2 tablespoons ground coriander, see cook’s notes

1 tablespoon Madras curry (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon Garam Masala (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, see cook’s notes

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated, peeled fresh ginger

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: In step 1, the cumin and coriander is toasted, cooled and ground. The measurement given in the recipe is the ground measurement used in the mix, so toast three times as much for toasting, then measure accurate amounts of ground spices before using in step 3.

Rich, colorful Spanish paprika (called pimentón in Spain) has a distinct smoky flavor and aroma. Typically it is dried by smoking it over oak fires. It is sold online, in gourmet specialty shops and some supermarkets. Greek yogurt is sold at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Ghahreman uses Fage (pronounced fa-yeh) brand.

1. In a heavy (dry) skillet toast cumin and coriander separately on medium-high heat, shaking handle frequently to prevent burning. Turn toasted spices onto plate or bowl to cool. Grind them in an electric coffee grinder (preferably one that is only used to grind spices). Store in airtight jar in cool, dark location.

2. Mix all dry spices in a mixing bowl. Add saffron and saffron water and all remaining wet ingredients. Stir with a whisk for 1 to 2 minutes. Place in plastic container and cover: refrigerate 2 to 4 hours to allow flavors and aromas to meld.

Nutrition information (per 2 tablespoons): 98 calories, 91 percent of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Popular throughout North Africa and Turkey, zahtar (ZAH-tar) is a spice blend comprised of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme. Ghahreman adds dried oregano and sea salt to his alluring mixture. He showcases it atop warm pita bread along with nubbins of goat cheese and sautéed chopped garlic. It’s a fabulous and easy-to-prepare appetizer that is especially good accompanied with a vodka martini.

Zahtar and Goat Cheese Flat Bread

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Optional for serving: Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add zahtar and stir for a few seconds, just long enough to heat mixture. Add garlic mix and cook briefly, just long enough to soften garlic do NOT brown garlic.

3. Place pita bread on rimmed baking sheet and pour zahtar mixture on the pita bread, spreading it out evenly. Add crumbled goat cheese and place in middle of preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pita is golden brown around the edges. Cut in 4 to 6 wedges, pizza-style. Serve. If desired, accompany with Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil for optional topping.

Nutrition information (per wedge without optional Cucumber Riata ): 140 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 7.6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates,1.2 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon sumac powder (Middle Easter specialty stores)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Cook’s notes: Cumin and caraway and fennel seeds can also be added as an option

1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutrition information (per 1 tablespoon): 40 calories, 70 percent of calories from fat, 3.8 g fat, 1.9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Cucumber Riata With Cumin Oil

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt

1/3 medium-size hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin

1. Prepare riata: Combine all riata ingredients in a small bowl stir to combine and set aside.

2. Prepare Cumin Oil: In small, heavy-bottomed skillet heat oil on medium-high heat until almost smoking. Remove from heat and add cumin. Stir for a second or two, then drizzle over riata.

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 40 calories, 90 percent of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 48 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The name of this sauce refers to the Virgin Islands. A spice blend made with cinnamon, mace, allspice, cloves and nutmeg melds with the super-hot kiss of habanero chili. Tomato, celery, red bell peppers round out the flavors, making the sauce a great match with the large, sweet shrimp.

Buttered Shrimp, Fresh Virgin Tomato Sauce

3 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, semi-butterflied

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces Virgin Tomato Sauce, recipe included

Garnish: small sprigs fresh chervil

Cook’s notes: Traditionally, to butterfly shrimp means to partially split the shrimp so it can be opened like a book, cutting from outside (the middle of the back) down to the center, cutting almost but not through. In this recipe, the shrimp is “semi-butterflied”, so it is just cut only about halfway through.

1. Sauté shrimp in butter on medium-high heat, about 30 seconds per side. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the sauce and cook until shrimp is just cooked through and sauce is hot. Garnish with chervil.

Nutrition information (per serving): 206 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 9.7 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 292 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

1/3 fresh habanero chili, seeds and veins removed, finely diced, see cook’s notes

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium celery stalk, cut into small dice

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1/3 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cook’s notes: Habanero chilies are very spicy hot use caution when working with them. Wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do NOT touch face or eyes.

1. Add all ingredients except olive oil and tomatoes to a blender whirl until smooth.

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add blended ingredients stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Nutrition information (per tablespoon): 80 calories, 29 percent of calories from fat, 2.5 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 45 mg sodium, 1.5 g fiber


Laguna Beach’s spice-blend superman

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spice blends include Ras Al Haunt, left, and Caribbean, right.

Zatar pizza with goat cheese.

Cod Sandwich at Sapphire Laguna.

Tandoori style chicken skewers, tomato salad and mint-cucumber raita at Sapphire Laguna.

Baked jumbo shrimp with spicy tomato virgin sauce.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spices included in the Ras Al Haunt blend.

Peppers used in the Caribbean blend.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India.

Azmin Ghahreman at Sahakari Spice Farm in Goa, India.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India while he and his wife were on a Crystal Cruise.

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

The Tandoori blend of spices used by Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Azmin Ghahreman’s dishes are a delectable marriage of aromas and flavors. From appetizers to salads, french fries to entrees, it’s often his unique spice blends that add irresistible flavor bling.

His freshly ground spice mixtures translate as cozy comfort, edged with innovative excitement. He says that spice blends should dance on your palate without stepping on your toes.

They are vibrant yet subtle mélanges with international roots.

Ghahreman, the chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, was born in Iran, educated in Switzerland, and has lived and worked all over the world. He has cooked at the Four Seasons Hotels in Wailea and Maui, Hawaii, and in Singapore, as well as the Halekulani in Honolulu. He has served as executive chef at The Regent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Sydney, Australia. And for five years he was executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

His spice mixtures aren’t limited to one flavor palate or cuisine. Working far and wide has given him global sensibility.

He insists that the spices he uses are the highest quality and freshness, sourced from the location where the specific berry, bud, bark, root, seed or berry is indigenous.

According to Ghahreman’s favorite spice book (“The Complete Book of Spices” by Jill Norman, Dorling Kindersley Publishers), that means cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and pepper from the Asian tropics allspice, chilies and vanilla from the West Indies and Central America. And from the Mediterranean basin, there’s coriander, fenugreek, fennel, poppy and mustard the colder regions contributing caraway, dill and juniper.

“Spices have three or four different grades,” he explained when I joined him at Sapphire Laguna, showing me a photo taken of him in a spice shop in India (one stop on a Crystal Cruise to India, Dubai and Phuket where he served as the ship’s guest chef).

“Look at the container of cloves in the photo there are pliers on top to squeeze them to test to see how much oil is inside. Cloves with the most oil are the best.”

Yes, those volatile oils are responsible for much of a spice’s distinct flavor characteristics. Ghahreman said it’s a shame that many people store their spices incorrectly and spices lose flavor.

“Too many people keep their spices next to the heat,” he said. “It should be in a place that is cool and dark. Good spices are expensive, even for me and I buy in bulk. Buy in small amounts and use it up. After a year throw them away. Maybe everyone should make that a New Year’s resolution.”

When making spice blends, he says to toast spices in small amounts in a small, dry skillet, long enough to heat them and make them fragrant, shaking the handle of the skillet to prevent burning them. Toasting generally applies to buds, dried chilies and seeds.

“Barks can be (toasted) OK too, like cinnamon berries like juniper can be OK … as long as they move the pan constantly so they do not get stuck and burn on one side,” he said.

After the toasted spices are cool, grind in an electric grinder. He suggests using a small, inexpensive electric coffee grinder that is designated just for spices.

I asked him to share his secrets for creating spice blends that would be helpful to home cooks, as well as home-style dishes to use them in. Here are his suggestions.

Ras al Hanout is a glorious spice blend used in North African cooking. It translates as “head of the shop.” Most spice shops in the region have a treasured secret recipe for the blend that is passed down from generation to generation. Ghahreman uses the mixture to coat a fish fillet that is the centerpiece in a tasty sandwich, balancing warm spices on the fish with a sweet pineapple mayonnaise. If you like, grill very thin pineapple slices to include in each sandwich. At the restaurant, he riffs on this theme, serving the spice blend on soft-shelled crab and accompanying it with the same fruit-spiked mayonnaise. He also loves this spice blend atop grilled lamb chops.

Ras al Hanout Ling Cod Sandwich With Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

4 ounce skinless lingcod fillet, or halibut, Mahi Mahi, or salmon

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, a small amount to taste

2 teaspoons Ras al Hanout, recipe included

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 brioche bun, cut in half

2 tablespoons Pineapple Mayonnaise, recipe included

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust fish with salt pepper and Ras el Hanout. Heat oil on medium-high heat in ovenproof skillet. Sear fish on both sides until nicely browned. Place in oven to finish cooking, 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.

2. Place bun in oven to warm about 1 minute.

3. Spread Pineapple Mayonnaise on cut-side of each half of bun. Add lettuce, tomato, and if desired, a grilled pineapple ring. Place the fish filet on the bun. Serve with French fries, chips or a salad.

Nutrition information (per serving): 211 calories, 47 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 484 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Mix all spices together and keep in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutritional information: 21 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 1.3 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4.0 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g protein, 3 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple

Coarse salt, such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add pineapple and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Add juice and cook until juice evaporates. Remove from heat cool completely.

2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 47 calories, 98 percent of calories from fat, 4.8 g fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g protein, 45 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The Tandoori Spice Blend teams with a yogurt-based mixture to make a delicious marinade. It enhances any meat that grills or cooks quickly, such as chicken thighs, rack of lamb, whole fish (such as striped bass), or skin-on salmon fillets. The marinade is enough for 1 1/2 pounds of lean boneless chicken thighs or breast meat. Add chicken to chilled marinade, cover and refrigerate 24 hours for best results. Skewer chicken and grill or bake at 400 degrees until it is completely cooked. Serve with soft lavosh or naan bread.

Tandoori Spice Mix and Marinade

1 tablespoon ground cumin, see cook’s notes

2 tablespoons ground coriander, see cook’s notes

1 tablespoon Madras curry (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon Garam Masala (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, see cook’s notes

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated, peeled fresh ginger

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: In step 1, the cumin and coriander is toasted, cooled and ground. The measurement given in the recipe is the ground measurement used in the mix, so toast three times as much for toasting, then measure accurate amounts of ground spices before using in step 3.

Rich, colorful Spanish paprika (called pimentón in Spain) has a distinct smoky flavor and aroma. Typically it is dried by smoking it over oak fires. It is sold online, in gourmet specialty shops and some supermarkets. Greek yogurt is sold at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Ghahreman uses Fage (pronounced fa-yeh) brand.

1. In a heavy (dry) skillet toast cumin and coriander separately on medium-high heat, shaking handle frequently to prevent burning. Turn toasted spices onto plate or bowl to cool. Grind them in an electric coffee grinder (preferably one that is only used to grind spices). Store in airtight jar in cool, dark location.

2. Mix all dry spices in a mixing bowl. Add saffron and saffron water and all remaining wet ingredients. Stir with a whisk for 1 to 2 minutes. Place in plastic container and cover: refrigerate 2 to 4 hours to allow flavors and aromas to meld.

Nutrition information (per 2 tablespoons): 98 calories, 91 percent of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Popular throughout North Africa and Turkey, zahtar (ZAH-tar) is a spice blend comprised of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme. Ghahreman adds dried oregano and sea salt to his alluring mixture. He showcases it atop warm pita bread along with nubbins of goat cheese and sautéed chopped garlic. It’s a fabulous and easy-to-prepare appetizer that is especially good accompanied with a vodka martini.

Zahtar and Goat Cheese Flat Bread

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Optional for serving: Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add zahtar and stir for a few seconds, just long enough to heat mixture. Add garlic mix and cook briefly, just long enough to soften garlic do NOT brown garlic.

3. Place pita bread on rimmed baking sheet and pour zahtar mixture on the pita bread, spreading it out evenly. Add crumbled goat cheese and place in middle of preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pita is golden brown around the edges. Cut in 4 to 6 wedges, pizza-style. Serve. If desired, accompany with Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil for optional topping.

Nutrition information (per wedge without optional Cucumber Riata ): 140 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 7.6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates,1.2 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon sumac powder (Middle Easter specialty stores)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Cook’s notes: Cumin and caraway and fennel seeds can also be added as an option

1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutrition information (per 1 tablespoon): 40 calories, 70 percent of calories from fat, 3.8 g fat, 1.9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Cucumber Riata With Cumin Oil

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt

1/3 medium-size hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin

1. Prepare riata: Combine all riata ingredients in a small bowl stir to combine and set aside.

2. Prepare Cumin Oil: In small, heavy-bottomed skillet heat oil on medium-high heat until almost smoking. Remove from heat and add cumin. Stir for a second or two, then drizzle over riata.

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 40 calories, 90 percent of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 48 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The name of this sauce refers to the Virgin Islands. A spice blend made with cinnamon, mace, allspice, cloves and nutmeg melds with the super-hot kiss of habanero chili. Tomato, celery, red bell peppers round out the flavors, making the sauce a great match with the large, sweet shrimp.

Buttered Shrimp, Fresh Virgin Tomato Sauce

3 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, semi-butterflied

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces Virgin Tomato Sauce, recipe included

Garnish: small sprigs fresh chervil

Cook’s notes: Traditionally, to butterfly shrimp means to partially split the shrimp so it can be opened like a book, cutting from outside (the middle of the back) down to the center, cutting almost but not through. In this recipe, the shrimp is “semi-butterflied”, so it is just cut only about halfway through.

1. Sauté shrimp in butter on medium-high heat, about 30 seconds per side. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the sauce and cook until shrimp is just cooked through and sauce is hot. Garnish with chervil.

Nutrition information (per serving): 206 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 9.7 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 292 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

1/3 fresh habanero chili, seeds and veins removed, finely diced, see cook’s notes

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium celery stalk, cut into small dice

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1/3 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cook’s notes: Habanero chilies are very spicy hot use caution when working with them. Wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do NOT touch face or eyes.

1. Add all ingredients except olive oil and tomatoes to a blender whirl until smooth.

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add blended ingredients stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Nutrition information (per tablespoon): 80 calories, 29 percent of calories from fat, 2.5 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 45 mg sodium, 1.5 g fiber


Laguna Beach’s spice-blend superman

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spice blends include Ras Al Haunt, left, and Caribbean, right.

Zatar pizza with goat cheese.

Cod Sandwich at Sapphire Laguna.

Tandoori style chicken skewers, tomato salad and mint-cucumber raita at Sapphire Laguna.

Baked jumbo shrimp with spicy tomato virgin sauce.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spices included in the Ras Al Haunt blend.

Peppers used in the Caribbean blend.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India.

Azmin Ghahreman at Sahakari Spice Farm in Goa, India.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India while he and his wife were on a Crystal Cruise.

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

The Tandoori blend of spices used by Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Azmin Ghahreman’s dishes are a delectable marriage of aromas and flavors. From appetizers to salads, french fries to entrees, it’s often his unique spice blends that add irresistible flavor bling.

His freshly ground spice mixtures translate as cozy comfort, edged with innovative excitement. He says that spice blends should dance on your palate without stepping on your toes.

They are vibrant yet subtle mélanges with international roots.

Ghahreman, the chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, was born in Iran, educated in Switzerland, and has lived and worked all over the world. He has cooked at the Four Seasons Hotels in Wailea and Maui, Hawaii, and in Singapore, as well as the Halekulani in Honolulu. He has served as executive chef at The Regent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Sydney, Australia. And for five years he was executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

His spice mixtures aren’t limited to one flavor palate or cuisine. Working far and wide has given him global sensibility.

He insists that the spices he uses are the highest quality and freshness, sourced from the location where the specific berry, bud, bark, root, seed or berry is indigenous.

According to Ghahreman’s favorite spice book (“The Complete Book of Spices” by Jill Norman, Dorling Kindersley Publishers), that means cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and pepper from the Asian tropics allspice, chilies and vanilla from the West Indies and Central America. And from the Mediterranean basin, there’s coriander, fenugreek, fennel, poppy and mustard the colder regions contributing caraway, dill and juniper.

“Spices have three or four different grades,” he explained when I joined him at Sapphire Laguna, showing me a photo taken of him in a spice shop in India (one stop on a Crystal Cruise to India, Dubai and Phuket where he served as the ship’s guest chef).

“Look at the container of cloves in the photo there are pliers on top to squeeze them to test to see how much oil is inside. Cloves with the most oil are the best.”

Yes, those volatile oils are responsible for much of a spice’s distinct flavor characteristics. Ghahreman said it’s a shame that many people store their spices incorrectly and spices lose flavor.

“Too many people keep their spices next to the heat,” he said. “It should be in a place that is cool and dark. Good spices are expensive, even for me and I buy in bulk. Buy in small amounts and use it up. After a year throw them away. Maybe everyone should make that a New Year’s resolution.”

When making spice blends, he says to toast spices in small amounts in a small, dry skillet, long enough to heat them and make them fragrant, shaking the handle of the skillet to prevent burning them. Toasting generally applies to buds, dried chilies and seeds.

“Barks can be (toasted) OK too, like cinnamon berries like juniper can be OK … as long as they move the pan constantly so they do not get stuck and burn on one side,” he said.

After the toasted spices are cool, grind in an electric grinder. He suggests using a small, inexpensive electric coffee grinder that is designated just for spices.

I asked him to share his secrets for creating spice blends that would be helpful to home cooks, as well as home-style dishes to use them in. Here are his suggestions.

Ras al Hanout is a glorious spice blend used in North African cooking. It translates as “head of the shop.” Most spice shops in the region have a treasured secret recipe for the blend that is passed down from generation to generation. Ghahreman uses the mixture to coat a fish fillet that is the centerpiece in a tasty sandwich, balancing warm spices on the fish with a sweet pineapple mayonnaise. If you like, grill very thin pineapple slices to include in each sandwich. At the restaurant, he riffs on this theme, serving the spice blend on soft-shelled crab and accompanying it with the same fruit-spiked mayonnaise. He also loves this spice blend atop grilled lamb chops.

Ras al Hanout Ling Cod Sandwich With Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

4 ounce skinless lingcod fillet, or halibut, Mahi Mahi, or salmon

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, a small amount to taste

2 teaspoons Ras al Hanout, recipe included

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 brioche bun, cut in half

2 tablespoons Pineapple Mayonnaise, recipe included

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust fish with salt pepper and Ras el Hanout. Heat oil on medium-high heat in ovenproof skillet. Sear fish on both sides until nicely browned. Place in oven to finish cooking, 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.

2. Place bun in oven to warm about 1 minute.

3. Spread Pineapple Mayonnaise on cut-side of each half of bun. Add lettuce, tomato, and if desired, a grilled pineapple ring. Place the fish filet on the bun. Serve with French fries, chips or a salad.

Nutrition information (per serving): 211 calories, 47 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 484 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Mix all spices together and keep in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutritional information: 21 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 1.3 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4.0 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g protein, 3 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple

Coarse salt, such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add pineapple and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Add juice and cook until juice evaporates. Remove from heat cool completely.

2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 47 calories, 98 percent of calories from fat, 4.8 g fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g protein, 45 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The Tandoori Spice Blend teams with a yogurt-based mixture to make a delicious marinade. It enhances any meat that grills or cooks quickly, such as chicken thighs, rack of lamb, whole fish (such as striped bass), or skin-on salmon fillets. The marinade is enough for 1 1/2 pounds of lean boneless chicken thighs or breast meat. Add chicken to chilled marinade, cover and refrigerate 24 hours for best results. Skewer chicken and grill or bake at 400 degrees until it is completely cooked. Serve with soft lavosh or naan bread.

Tandoori Spice Mix and Marinade

1 tablespoon ground cumin, see cook’s notes

2 tablespoons ground coriander, see cook’s notes

1 tablespoon Madras curry (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon Garam Masala (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, see cook’s notes

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated, peeled fresh ginger

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: In step 1, the cumin and coriander is toasted, cooled and ground. The measurement given in the recipe is the ground measurement used in the mix, so toast three times as much for toasting, then measure accurate amounts of ground spices before using in step 3.

Rich, colorful Spanish paprika (called pimentón in Spain) has a distinct smoky flavor and aroma. Typically it is dried by smoking it over oak fires. It is sold online, in gourmet specialty shops and some supermarkets. Greek yogurt is sold at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Ghahreman uses Fage (pronounced fa-yeh) brand.

1. In a heavy (dry) skillet toast cumin and coriander separately on medium-high heat, shaking handle frequently to prevent burning. Turn toasted spices onto plate or bowl to cool. Grind them in an electric coffee grinder (preferably one that is only used to grind spices). Store in airtight jar in cool, dark location.

2. Mix all dry spices in a mixing bowl. Add saffron and saffron water and all remaining wet ingredients. Stir with a whisk for 1 to 2 minutes. Place in plastic container and cover: refrigerate 2 to 4 hours to allow flavors and aromas to meld.

Nutrition information (per 2 tablespoons): 98 calories, 91 percent of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Popular throughout North Africa and Turkey, zahtar (ZAH-tar) is a spice blend comprised of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme. Ghahreman adds dried oregano and sea salt to his alluring mixture. He showcases it atop warm pita bread along with nubbins of goat cheese and sautéed chopped garlic. It’s a fabulous and easy-to-prepare appetizer that is especially good accompanied with a vodka martini.

Zahtar and Goat Cheese Flat Bread

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Optional for serving: Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add zahtar and stir for a few seconds, just long enough to heat mixture. Add garlic mix and cook briefly, just long enough to soften garlic do NOT brown garlic.

3. Place pita bread on rimmed baking sheet and pour zahtar mixture on the pita bread, spreading it out evenly. Add crumbled goat cheese and place in middle of preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pita is golden brown around the edges. Cut in 4 to 6 wedges, pizza-style. Serve. If desired, accompany with Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil for optional topping.

Nutrition information (per wedge without optional Cucumber Riata ): 140 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 7.6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates,1.2 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon sumac powder (Middle Easter specialty stores)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Cook’s notes: Cumin and caraway and fennel seeds can also be added as an option

1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutrition information (per 1 tablespoon): 40 calories, 70 percent of calories from fat, 3.8 g fat, 1.9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Cucumber Riata With Cumin Oil

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt

1/3 medium-size hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin

1. Prepare riata: Combine all riata ingredients in a small bowl stir to combine and set aside.

2. Prepare Cumin Oil: In small, heavy-bottomed skillet heat oil on medium-high heat until almost smoking. Remove from heat and add cumin. Stir for a second or two, then drizzle over riata.

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 40 calories, 90 percent of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 48 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The name of this sauce refers to the Virgin Islands. A spice blend made with cinnamon, mace, allspice, cloves and nutmeg melds with the super-hot kiss of habanero chili. Tomato, celery, red bell peppers round out the flavors, making the sauce a great match with the large, sweet shrimp.

Buttered Shrimp, Fresh Virgin Tomato Sauce

3 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, semi-butterflied

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces Virgin Tomato Sauce, recipe included

Garnish: small sprigs fresh chervil

Cook’s notes: Traditionally, to butterfly shrimp means to partially split the shrimp so it can be opened like a book, cutting from outside (the middle of the back) down to the center, cutting almost but not through. In this recipe, the shrimp is “semi-butterflied”, so it is just cut only about halfway through.

1. Sauté shrimp in butter on medium-high heat, about 30 seconds per side. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the sauce and cook until shrimp is just cooked through and sauce is hot. Garnish with chervil.

Nutrition information (per serving): 206 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 9.7 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 292 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

1/3 fresh habanero chili, seeds and veins removed, finely diced, see cook’s notes

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium celery stalk, cut into small dice

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1/3 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cook’s notes: Habanero chilies are very spicy hot use caution when working with them. Wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do NOT touch face or eyes.

1. Add all ingredients except olive oil and tomatoes to a blender whirl until smooth.

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add blended ingredients stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Nutrition information (per tablespoon): 80 calories, 29 percent of calories from fat, 2.5 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 45 mg sodium, 1.5 g fiber


Laguna Beach’s spice-blend superman

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spice blends include Ras Al Haunt, left, and Caribbean, right.

Zatar pizza with goat cheese.

Cod Sandwich at Sapphire Laguna.

Tandoori style chicken skewers, tomato salad and mint-cucumber raita at Sapphire Laguna.

Baked jumbo shrimp with spicy tomato virgin sauce.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spices included in the Ras Al Haunt blend.

Peppers used in the Caribbean blend.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India.

Azmin Ghahreman at Sahakari Spice Farm in Goa, India.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India while he and his wife were on a Crystal Cruise.

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

The Tandoori blend of spices used by Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Azmin Ghahreman’s dishes are a delectable marriage of aromas and flavors. From appetizers to salads, french fries to entrees, it’s often his unique spice blends that add irresistible flavor bling.

His freshly ground spice mixtures translate as cozy comfort, edged with innovative excitement. He says that spice blends should dance on your palate without stepping on your toes.

They are vibrant yet subtle mélanges with international roots.

Ghahreman, the chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, was born in Iran, educated in Switzerland, and has lived and worked all over the world. He has cooked at the Four Seasons Hotels in Wailea and Maui, Hawaii, and in Singapore, as well as the Halekulani in Honolulu. He has served as executive chef at The Regent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Sydney, Australia. And for five years he was executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

His spice mixtures aren’t limited to one flavor palate or cuisine. Working far and wide has given him global sensibility.

He insists that the spices he uses are the highest quality and freshness, sourced from the location where the specific berry, bud, bark, root, seed or berry is indigenous.

According to Ghahreman’s favorite spice book (“The Complete Book of Spices” by Jill Norman, Dorling Kindersley Publishers), that means cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and pepper from the Asian tropics allspice, chilies and vanilla from the West Indies and Central America. And from the Mediterranean basin, there’s coriander, fenugreek, fennel, poppy and mustard the colder regions contributing caraway, dill and juniper.

“Spices have three or four different grades,” he explained when I joined him at Sapphire Laguna, showing me a photo taken of him in a spice shop in India (one stop on a Crystal Cruise to India, Dubai and Phuket where he served as the ship’s guest chef).

“Look at the container of cloves in the photo there are pliers on top to squeeze them to test to see how much oil is inside. Cloves with the most oil are the best.”

Yes, those volatile oils are responsible for much of a spice’s distinct flavor characteristics. Ghahreman said it’s a shame that many people store their spices incorrectly and spices lose flavor.

“Too many people keep their spices next to the heat,” he said. “It should be in a place that is cool and dark. Good spices are expensive, even for me and I buy in bulk. Buy in small amounts and use it up. After a year throw them away. Maybe everyone should make that a New Year’s resolution.”

When making spice blends, he says to toast spices in small amounts in a small, dry skillet, long enough to heat them and make them fragrant, shaking the handle of the skillet to prevent burning them. Toasting generally applies to buds, dried chilies and seeds.

“Barks can be (toasted) OK too, like cinnamon berries like juniper can be OK … as long as they move the pan constantly so they do not get stuck and burn on one side,” he said.

After the toasted spices are cool, grind in an electric grinder. He suggests using a small, inexpensive electric coffee grinder that is designated just for spices.

I asked him to share his secrets for creating spice blends that would be helpful to home cooks, as well as home-style dishes to use them in. Here are his suggestions.

Ras al Hanout is a glorious spice blend used in North African cooking. It translates as “head of the shop.” Most spice shops in the region have a treasured secret recipe for the blend that is passed down from generation to generation. Ghahreman uses the mixture to coat a fish fillet that is the centerpiece in a tasty sandwich, balancing warm spices on the fish with a sweet pineapple mayonnaise. If you like, grill very thin pineapple slices to include in each sandwich. At the restaurant, he riffs on this theme, serving the spice blend on soft-shelled crab and accompanying it with the same fruit-spiked mayonnaise. He also loves this spice blend atop grilled lamb chops.

Ras al Hanout Ling Cod Sandwich With Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

4 ounce skinless lingcod fillet, or halibut, Mahi Mahi, or salmon

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, a small amount to taste

2 teaspoons Ras al Hanout, recipe included

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 brioche bun, cut in half

2 tablespoons Pineapple Mayonnaise, recipe included

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust fish with salt pepper and Ras el Hanout. Heat oil on medium-high heat in ovenproof skillet. Sear fish on both sides until nicely browned. Place in oven to finish cooking, 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.

2. Place bun in oven to warm about 1 minute.

3. Spread Pineapple Mayonnaise on cut-side of each half of bun. Add lettuce, tomato, and if desired, a grilled pineapple ring. Place the fish filet on the bun. Serve with French fries, chips or a salad.

Nutrition information (per serving): 211 calories, 47 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 484 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Mix all spices together and keep in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutritional information: 21 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 1.3 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4.0 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g protein, 3 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple

Coarse salt, such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add pineapple and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Add juice and cook until juice evaporates. Remove from heat cool completely.

2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 47 calories, 98 percent of calories from fat, 4.8 g fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g protein, 45 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The Tandoori Spice Blend teams with a yogurt-based mixture to make a delicious marinade. It enhances any meat that grills or cooks quickly, such as chicken thighs, rack of lamb, whole fish (such as striped bass), or skin-on salmon fillets. The marinade is enough for 1 1/2 pounds of lean boneless chicken thighs or breast meat. Add chicken to chilled marinade, cover and refrigerate 24 hours for best results. Skewer chicken and grill or bake at 400 degrees until it is completely cooked. Serve with soft lavosh or naan bread.

Tandoori Spice Mix and Marinade

1 tablespoon ground cumin, see cook’s notes

2 tablespoons ground coriander, see cook’s notes

1 tablespoon Madras curry (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon Garam Masala (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, see cook’s notes

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated, peeled fresh ginger

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: In step 1, the cumin and coriander is toasted, cooled and ground. The measurement given in the recipe is the ground measurement used in the mix, so toast three times as much for toasting, then measure accurate amounts of ground spices before using in step 3.

Rich, colorful Spanish paprika (called pimentón in Spain) has a distinct smoky flavor and aroma. Typically it is dried by smoking it over oak fires. It is sold online, in gourmet specialty shops and some supermarkets. Greek yogurt is sold at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Ghahreman uses Fage (pronounced fa-yeh) brand.

1. In a heavy (dry) skillet toast cumin and coriander separately on medium-high heat, shaking handle frequently to prevent burning. Turn toasted spices onto plate or bowl to cool. Grind them in an electric coffee grinder (preferably one that is only used to grind spices). Store in airtight jar in cool, dark location.

2. Mix all dry spices in a mixing bowl. Add saffron and saffron water and all remaining wet ingredients. Stir with a whisk for 1 to 2 minutes. Place in plastic container and cover: refrigerate 2 to 4 hours to allow flavors and aromas to meld.

Nutrition information (per 2 tablespoons): 98 calories, 91 percent of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Popular throughout North Africa and Turkey, zahtar (ZAH-tar) is a spice blend comprised of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme. Ghahreman adds dried oregano and sea salt to his alluring mixture. He showcases it atop warm pita bread along with nubbins of goat cheese and sautéed chopped garlic. It’s a fabulous and easy-to-prepare appetizer that is especially good accompanied with a vodka martini.

Zahtar and Goat Cheese Flat Bread

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Optional for serving: Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add zahtar and stir for a few seconds, just long enough to heat mixture. Add garlic mix and cook briefly, just long enough to soften garlic do NOT brown garlic.

3. Place pita bread on rimmed baking sheet and pour zahtar mixture on the pita bread, spreading it out evenly. Add crumbled goat cheese and place in middle of preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pita is golden brown around the edges. Cut in 4 to 6 wedges, pizza-style. Serve. If desired, accompany with Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil for optional topping.

Nutrition information (per wedge without optional Cucumber Riata ): 140 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 7.6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates,1.2 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon sumac powder (Middle Easter specialty stores)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Cook’s notes: Cumin and caraway and fennel seeds can also be added as an option

1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutrition information (per 1 tablespoon): 40 calories, 70 percent of calories from fat, 3.8 g fat, 1.9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Cucumber Riata With Cumin Oil

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt

1/3 medium-size hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin

1. Prepare riata: Combine all riata ingredients in a small bowl stir to combine and set aside.

2. Prepare Cumin Oil: In small, heavy-bottomed skillet heat oil on medium-high heat until almost smoking. Remove from heat and add cumin. Stir for a second or two, then drizzle over riata.

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 40 calories, 90 percent of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 48 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The name of this sauce refers to the Virgin Islands. A spice blend made with cinnamon, mace, allspice, cloves and nutmeg melds with the super-hot kiss of habanero chili. Tomato, celery, red bell peppers round out the flavors, making the sauce a great match with the large, sweet shrimp.

Buttered Shrimp, Fresh Virgin Tomato Sauce

3 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, semi-butterflied

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces Virgin Tomato Sauce, recipe included

Garnish: small sprigs fresh chervil

Cook’s notes: Traditionally, to butterfly shrimp means to partially split the shrimp so it can be opened like a book, cutting from outside (the middle of the back) down to the center, cutting almost but not through. In this recipe, the shrimp is “semi-butterflied”, so it is just cut only about halfway through.

1. Sauté shrimp in butter on medium-high heat, about 30 seconds per side. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the sauce and cook until shrimp is just cooked through and sauce is hot. Garnish with chervil.

Nutrition information (per serving): 206 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 9.7 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 292 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

1/3 fresh habanero chili, seeds and veins removed, finely diced, see cook’s notes

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium celery stalk, cut into small dice

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1/3 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cook’s notes: Habanero chilies are very spicy hot use caution when working with them. Wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do NOT touch face or eyes.

1. Add all ingredients except olive oil and tomatoes to a blender whirl until smooth.

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add blended ingredients stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Nutrition information (per tablespoon): 80 calories, 29 percent of calories from fat, 2.5 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 45 mg sodium, 1.5 g fiber


Laguna Beach’s spice-blend superman

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spice blends include Ras Al Haunt, left, and Caribbean, right.

Zatar pizza with goat cheese.

Cod Sandwich at Sapphire Laguna.

Tandoori style chicken skewers, tomato salad and mint-cucumber raita at Sapphire Laguna.

Baked jumbo shrimp with spicy tomato virgin sauce.

Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Spices included in the Ras Al Haunt blend.

Peppers used in the Caribbean blend.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India.

Azmin Ghahreman at Sahakari Spice Farm in Goa, India.

Azmin Ghahreman in a spice shop in India while he and his wife were on a Crystal Cruise.

Azmin and Laura Ghahreman visited a spice shop in India while on their Crystal Cruise.

The Tandoori blend of spices used by Azmin Ghahreman, owner and chef of Sapphire Laguna.

Azmin Ghahreman’s dishes are a delectable marriage of aromas and flavors. From appetizers to salads, french fries to entrees, it’s often his unique spice blends that add irresistible flavor bling.

His freshly ground spice mixtures translate as cozy comfort, edged with innovative excitement. He says that spice blends should dance on your palate without stepping on your toes.

They are vibrant yet subtle mélanges with international roots.

Ghahreman, the chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, was born in Iran, educated in Switzerland, and has lived and worked all over the world. He has cooked at the Four Seasons Hotels in Wailea and Maui, Hawaii, and in Singapore, as well as the Halekulani in Honolulu. He has served as executive chef at The Regent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and in Sydney, Australia. And for five years he was executive chef at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

His spice mixtures aren’t limited to one flavor palate or cuisine. Working far and wide has given him global sensibility.

He insists that the spices he uses are the highest quality and freshness, sourced from the location where the specific berry, bud, bark, root, seed or berry is indigenous.

According to Ghahreman’s favorite spice book (“The Complete Book of Spices” by Jill Norman, Dorling Kindersley Publishers), that means cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and pepper from the Asian tropics allspice, chilies and vanilla from the West Indies and Central America. And from the Mediterranean basin, there’s coriander, fenugreek, fennel, poppy and mustard the colder regions contributing caraway, dill and juniper.

“Spices have three or four different grades,” he explained when I joined him at Sapphire Laguna, showing me a photo taken of him in a spice shop in India (one stop on a Crystal Cruise to India, Dubai and Phuket where he served as the ship’s guest chef).

“Look at the container of cloves in the photo there are pliers on top to squeeze them to test to see how much oil is inside. Cloves with the most oil are the best.”

Yes, those volatile oils are responsible for much of a spice’s distinct flavor characteristics. Ghahreman said it’s a shame that many people store their spices incorrectly and spices lose flavor.

“Too many people keep their spices next to the heat,” he said. “It should be in a place that is cool and dark. Good spices are expensive, even for me and I buy in bulk. Buy in small amounts and use it up. After a year throw them away. Maybe everyone should make that a New Year’s resolution.”

When making spice blends, he says to toast spices in small amounts in a small, dry skillet, long enough to heat them and make them fragrant, shaking the handle of the skillet to prevent burning them. Toasting generally applies to buds, dried chilies and seeds.

“Barks can be (toasted) OK too, like cinnamon berries like juniper can be OK … as long as they move the pan constantly so they do not get stuck and burn on one side,” he said.

After the toasted spices are cool, grind in an electric grinder. He suggests using a small, inexpensive electric coffee grinder that is designated just for spices.

I asked him to share his secrets for creating spice blends that would be helpful to home cooks, as well as home-style dishes to use them in. Here are his suggestions.

Ras al Hanout is a glorious spice blend used in North African cooking. It translates as “head of the shop.” Most spice shops in the region have a treasured secret recipe for the blend that is passed down from generation to generation. Ghahreman uses the mixture to coat a fish fillet that is the centerpiece in a tasty sandwich, balancing warm spices on the fish with a sweet pineapple mayonnaise. If you like, grill very thin pineapple slices to include in each sandwich. At the restaurant, he riffs on this theme, serving the spice blend on soft-shelled crab and accompanying it with the same fruit-spiked mayonnaise. He also loves this spice blend atop grilled lamb chops.

Ras al Hanout Ling Cod Sandwich With Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

4 ounce skinless lingcod fillet, or halibut, Mahi Mahi, or salmon

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, a small amount to taste

2 teaspoons Ras al Hanout, recipe included

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 brioche bun, cut in half

2 tablespoons Pineapple Mayonnaise, recipe included

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust fish with salt pepper and Ras el Hanout. Heat oil on medium-high heat in ovenproof skillet. Sear fish on both sides until nicely browned. Place in oven to finish cooking, 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.

2. Place bun in oven to warm about 1 minute.

3. Spread Pineapple Mayonnaise on cut-side of each half of bun. Add lettuce, tomato, and if desired, a grilled pineapple ring. Place the fish filet on the bun. Serve with French fries, chips or a salad.

Nutrition information (per serving): 211 calories, 47 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5.2 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 484 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

I teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Mix all spices together and keep in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutritional information: 21 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 1.3 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4.0 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g protein, 3 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Sweet Pineapple Mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple

Coarse salt, such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add pineapple and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Add juice and cook until juice evaporates. Remove from heat cool completely.

2. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Keep refrigerated

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 47 calories, 98 percent of calories from fat, 4.8 g fat, 4.9 g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g protein, 45 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The Tandoori Spice Blend teams with a yogurt-based mixture to make a delicious marinade. It enhances any meat that grills or cooks quickly, such as chicken thighs, rack of lamb, whole fish (such as striped bass), or skin-on salmon fillets. The marinade is enough for 1 1/2 pounds of lean boneless chicken thighs or breast meat. Add chicken to chilled marinade, cover and refrigerate 24 hours for best results. Skewer chicken and grill or bake at 400 degrees until it is completely cooked. Serve with soft lavosh or naan bread.

Tandoori Spice Mix and Marinade

1 tablespoon ground cumin, see cook’s notes

2 tablespoons ground coriander, see cook’s notes

1 tablespoon Madras curry (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon Garam Masala (in Middle Eastern or Indian specialty stores and some supermarkets)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika, see cook’s notes

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated, peeled fresh ginger

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: In step 1, the cumin and coriander is toasted, cooled and ground. The measurement given in the recipe is the ground measurement used in the mix, so toast three times as much for toasting, then measure accurate amounts of ground spices before using in step 3.

Rich, colorful Spanish paprika (called pimentón in Spain) has a distinct smoky flavor and aroma. Typically it is dried by smoking it over oak fires. It is sold online, in gourmet specialty shops and some supermarkets. Greek yogurt is sold at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Ghahreman uses Fage (pronounced fa-yeh) brand.

1. In a heavy (dry) skillet toast cumin and coriander separately on medium-high heat, shaking handle frequently to prevent burning. Turn toasted spices onto plate or bowl to cool. Grind them in an electric coffee grinder (preferably one that is only used to grind spices). Store in airtight jar in cool, dark location.

2. Mix all dry spices in a mixing bowl. Add saffron and saffron water and all remaining wet ingredients. Stir with a whisk for 1 to 2 minutes. Place in plastic container and cover: refrigerate 2 to 4 hours to allow flavors and aromas to meld.

Nutrition information (per 2 tablespoons): 98 calories, 91 percent of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Popular throughout North Africa and Turkey, zahtar (ZAH-tar) is a spice blend comprised of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme. Ghahreman adds dried oregano and sea salt to his alluring mixture. He showcases it atop warm pita bread along with nubbins of goat cheese and sautéed chopped garlic. It’s a fabulous and easy-to-prepare appetizer that is especially good accompanied with a vodka martini.

Zahtar and Goat Cheese Flat Bread

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

2 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Optional for serving: Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add zahtar and stir for a few seconds, just long enough to heat mixture. Add garlic mix and cook briefly, just long enough to soften garlic do NOT brown garlic.

3. Place pita bread on rimmed baking sheet and pour zahtar mixture on the pita bread, spreading it out evenly. Add crumbled goat cheese and place in middle of preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pita is golden brown around the edges. Cut in 4 to 6 wedges, pizza-style. Serve. If desired, accompany with Cucumber Riata with Cumin Oil for optional topping.

Nutrition information (per wedge without optional Cucumber Riata ): 140 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 7.6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 4 g carbohydrates,1.2 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon sumac powder (Middle Easter specialty stores)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Cook’s notes: Cumin and caraway and fennel seeds can also be added as an option

1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar in cool, dark location.

Nutrition information (per 1 tablespoon): 40 calories, 70 percent of calories from fat, 3.8 g fat, 1.9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5g protein, 90 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

Cucumber Riata With Cumin Oil

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or thick Persian yogurt

1/3 medium-size hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher

1 pinch freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin

1. Prepare riata: Combine all riata ingredients in a small bowl stir to combine and set aside.

2. Prepare Cumin Oil: In small, heavy-bottomed skillet heat oil on medium-high heat until almost smoking. Remove from heat and add cumin. Stir for a second or two, then drizzle over riata.

Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 40 calories, 90 percent of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 48 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

The name of this sauce refers to the Virgin Islands. A spice blend made with cinnamon, mace, allspice, cloves and nutmeg melds with the super-hot kiss of habanero chili. Tomato, celery, red bell peppers round out the flavors, making the sauce a great match with the large, sweet shrimp.

Buttered Shrimp, Fresh Virgin Tomato Sauce

3 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, semi-butterflied

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces Virgin Tomato Sauce, recipe included

Garnish: small sprigs fresh chervil

Cook’s notes: Traditionally, to butterfly shrimp means to partially split the shrimp so it can be opened like a book, cutting from outside (the middle of the back) down to the center, cutting almost but not through. In this recipe, the shrimp is “semi-butterflied”, so it is just cut only about halfway through.

1. Sauté shrimp in butter on medium-high heat, about 30 seconds per side. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the sauce and cook until shrimp is just cooked through and sauce is hot. Garnish with chervil.

Nutrition information (per serving): 206 calories, 49 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 9.7 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 292 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber

Source: Azmin Ghahreman, Sapphire Laguna

1/3 fresh habanero chili, seeds and veins removed, finely diced, see cook’s notes

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 medium celery stalk, cut into small dice

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1/3 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Cook’s notes: Habanero chilies are very spicy hot use caution when working with them. Wash hands and work surface thoroughly upon completion and do NOT touch face or eyes.

1. Add all ingredients except olive oil and tomatoes to a blender whirl until smooth.

2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add blended ingredients stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Nutrition information (per tablespoon): 80 calories, 29 percent of calories from fat, 2.5 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 45 mg sodium, 1.5 g fiber


Watch the video: 6 Monarch Beach Resort South in Dana Point (December 2021).