February 14, 2014 by sarah
When I envisioned this blog project, I was going to try to stick to well know spices mostly, in order to explore their potential in new ways. But I was in the supermarket the other day, and found myself staring at the spice section ticking off which spices I had and which I didn’t have. Sumac was the only spice I knew I didn’t have in my cupboard so I just had to have it! And then when I got it home, I realised I knew nothing about it or how to use or even what it tasted of. The packet unhelpfully suggested ‘add to Middle Eastern dishes’. Luckily my new cook book arrived last week and Sophie Grigson’s ‘Spices’ helped me find the potential of this unusual spice.
Sumac is made of the dried berries of Rhus coriaria and used in the cuisines of the Middle East, North Africa and Sicily. It tends to be sprinkled on hummus or yogurt, added to salads and along with thyme and sesame seeds is an ingredient in za’atar seasoning used for dipping of olive oil soaked bread. Tasting it neat, it has a zing citrus like tang but no other aromatic tenancies. I was a little under whelmed tasting it but I think it is probably more suited to lovely sunny days, BBQs and salads than the rainy, windy weather we are having at present. I will do more experimentation if the weather improves and add another recipe for this spice.
Homemade cream cheese (lebneh) with sumac
500g/ml pot of yogurt, preferably full fat Greek type
1/4 tsp salt
extra-virgin olive oil
bread to serve, preferably homemade sourdough
Stir the salt into the yogurt in its pot. Place a plastic sieve over a glass bowl and line the sieve with muslin that has been sterilised by pouring boiling water over it. Tip the yogurt into the muslin lined sieve and cover the whole lot with cling film. Place the bowl in the fridge and leave for about 24 hours so that the whey drains out of the yogurt.
Serve the cheese sprinkled with sumac and drizzled with the olive oil. Scatter over the pomegranate seeds; the sweet burst of the seeds make a pleasing contrast to the creamy yogurt and slightly sour tang of the sumac. Eat within a day as this is a fresh cheese and does not last.
Category 40 Spices, Home | Tags: spice,spices,sumac | No Comments
January 16, 2014 by sarah
So here is the first recipe in a series of forty on spices. This time we are looking at star anise, that pretty star shaped spice with a hidden powerful punch.
Star anise, or Chinese anise, is the star shaped dried fruit (and seeds contained within) of an evergreen tree (Illicium verum, part of the Magnolia family) native to Vietnam and Southwest China, so it is not surprising that it is widely used in the cooking from these countries. It imparts a deep and warming licorice flavour to dishes, like the Vietnamese soup Pho, and is an essential ingredient in Chinese 5 spice mix. But perhaps more surprisingly, it is the flavouring in several liquors such as Sambucca and Pastis and even, until relatively recently, used to manufacture antivirals such as Tamiflu!
I like to use the spice whole, partly because it is so pretty and partly because it is easier to control the flavour level and pick out the bits after. You can buy ground star anise but be very careful with how much you add to a recipe as it is very pungent and will easily overpower any other flavours in the dish. I like to add a star or two to poaching fruit such as plums or pears and I add it my mulled cider recipe (but not to my mulled wine – I like to taste the wine).
Ox Tail Stew with Star Anise
Recipe from ‘River Cottage Everyday’ by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with a few of my own additions. Serves 4. Tastes even better on the second day, like most curries. Although it contains spices other than the star anise, the later is the star of the show and the predominate flavour but not over powering.
1kg oxtails, cut into thick slices (get the butcher to do it so you don’t chop off a finger trying)
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
2 medium onions, finely sliced
4″ cinnamon stick
3 star anise
2 bay leaves
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
thumb sized bit ginger, finely grated
up to 1L of good quality beef stock
couple of squares of dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum)
salt to taste or a splash of soy sauce
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based casserole and brown the meat all over, doing it in several lots so as not to overcrowd the pan and end up stewing up. Remove the meat to a plate and turn the heat down to low and add the onions and a sprinkle of salt. Cook until soft and translucent.
Return the meat to the pan and add all the other ingredients and enough beef stock to just cover the meat.
Bring to a slow simmer and then let is cook very gently for about 3 hours. If easier, you can do this in a low oven (120 C) or a slow cooker.
After this cooking time, remove the meat from the sauce with a slotted spoon and pick out the whole spices and bay leaves. Leave to cool so the fat rises and you can skim it off with a slotted spoon and some paper towel. Reheat the sauce and boil until slightly thickened. You can either add the meat back in as it is or remove from the bones with a couple of forks (may be a good idea to do this for ‘fussies’). Stir in the chocolate.
When you want to serve, heat through thoroughly and serve with mash. It was even better the second day.
Category 40 Spices, Home | Tags: main meals,spice,spices | No Comments
January 1, 2014 by sarah
Here is my first new project for 2014; 40 spices in 40 recipes in two years. This was inspired by the spices seen (and smelt) in Morocco; the lines of market stalls piled high with multi-coloured powders, roots and barks, the pungent spiciness tickling the nose. If you have ever seen inside my ‘flavour additive’ cupboard you will know that spices and the like feature frequently in my cooking. But in this series of blogs I want to take my use of spices to new places so each recipe will highlight one spice, though the recipe may contain other spices and flavour additives the ‘main’ spice will be the predominant flavour. Also, I want to discover new spices and unusual ways of using familiar ones, so look out for traditionally sweet spices in savoury dishes and visa versa.
What is it about spices? Any flavour additive (a term of my invention) turns a basic dish into something extra-ordinary, something special. Think of the sensations of eating a warmly spiced curry; the burning feeling in the mouth that is exciting and somewhat shocking, dangerous even. But then subtleties of a delicately spiced Christmas biscuit or the richness of vanilla in ice cream.
So first we need to know what we are using i.e. what is a spice? Well it turns out not to be an easy question to answer. The fountain of all knowledge that is Wikipedia (wink, wink – they like to think they are the bible but some of the information is flawed so take it with a pinch of salt) says a spice is ‘a dried seed, fruit, root, bark or vegetable substance primarily used for flavouring, colouring or preserving food’. So a dried part of a plant other than the leaves because the leaves are herbs. Ok, I think I’ve got it. But what about fresh spices like ginger root or garlic, they don’t HAVE to be dried do they? If they aren’t spices (or herbs) then what are they in a culinary sense? Ginger can be fresh or dried but both forms taste and act differently. Looks from a whiz around the internet that things like ginger, garlic, horseradish and capers are considered vegetable or flavourings rather than spices. Ok, we will stick to dried forms then.
So we come to our first recipe. I am not going to call this one of the official recipes of the project, because as the name implies, it contains several different spices and not one over-riding flavour. This recipe is adapted from a packet of ‘Chocolate Chai’ I bought in a Whittards shop and had been languishing in the back of the cupboard for a year until I made a pot a few weeks ago and discovered how delicious it was. The bought version was based on coco kernels which look and taste exactly like coco nibs (available from health food shops) so feel free to substitute them for the black tea. It made a fantastic mildly spicy and faintly chocolaty drink.
You can add or substitute in really any spice you like, typically things like coriander, fennel, black pepper, star anise.
3 cups loose black tea (about 100g)
36 green cardamon
1 teaspoon pink pepper corns
2 teaspoons cloves
4″ piece of cinnamon broken into small shards
8 pieces of candied stem ginger in sugar, finely cut up
Mix all the ingredients together and then store in a kilner jar or other similar jars for gift giving. I bought some empty tea bags with drawstrings which can be filled and then used like regular tea bags.
tea for one
200ml of water
100ml of milk (preferrably whole milk)
1 tablespoon of Chai Mix placed into a tea bag
Sugar or honey to tasteBring the water to a boil and add the teabag. Turn off the heat and let steep for about 5 minutes. Add the milk, turn on the flame and reheat until hot. Remove from heat, discard teabag, sweeten to taste, enjoy!
Category 40 Spices, Home | Tags: baking,chai. spicy,cooking,flavour,masal,spice,spices,unusual | No Comments