Tag Archives: cinnamon

Spices – They made the world go ’round

20 Nov

Every society seems to have its own luxurious items, available only to the dominant casts, to the rulers, to those who dictate not only the present, but in some ways also the future.

Clearly, you can get quite rich, very rich, if you happen to dominate the market of these goods, as history has shown that no logic exists regarding their market price. In fact, it seems that the more expensive they are the more they seem to be used as a symbol of power and wealth, regardless of their real value.

During the middle ages some of the most luxurious products someone could lay hands on were the spices. Products like cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, nutmeg, for example, were among the most prized ones. And their market was dominated by the Venetians. The Republic of Venice, for around 6 centuries, dominated the trade of these substances with the Middle-East and most of Asia.

By the XVth century two of the most powerful countries in Europe, Portugal and Spain, where, for obvious reasons, quite unhappy with this situation. The decision taken by their rulers was an obvious result of such unhappiness: they decided to free themselves from the Venetian monopoly establishing their own trade routes with the Eastern world. How to do that? Build nice ships, hire good sailors, and set them to sea in search of practical new routes. Among the most known expeditions launched were those headed by Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus), Pedro Alvares Cabral and Vasco da Gama. Colombus landed in America in 1492, Cabral discovered South America, having reached Brazil in 1500 and Vasco da Gama commanded the first ship to sail directly from Europe to India in 1497-1498. All of this mainly because of spices.

I’m not even going to mention the spices discovered in this new world, like chili pepper, vanilla and chocolate, which, also needless to say, spread around the world in a reversed travel towards the East and in such a way that it’s almost impossible to imagine present-day Eastern food without their presence, specially of the chili pepper (just take a look at some of the main dishes in China, Thailand, India, etc). The point is, spices really made the world go ’round at that time.

Among the old Eastern spices 2 of my favorites are star anise and cinnamon.

Star anise is the fruit of Illicium verum, a small tree native of China, widely used in its dried form not only in China, but also in India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Cinnamon, is actually the bark of Cinnamomum verum, also a small tree, but native of Sri Lanka. Cinnamon, along with black pepper, are perhaps the most widely known, and still used, spices in present-day cuisine.

All of this just to mention that I was very happy to find a recipe by one of my favorite chefs, the Australian Kylie Kwong, using both (cinnamon and star anise) to prepare a sweet-sour plum sauce to go along a crisp-skin duck.

My version of Kylie Kwong's crispy-skin duck with plum sauce

I followed the recipe available at the ABC site with 2 exceptions: (1) the plums were not really blood plums, but a lighter version, as you can see in the above picture and, (2) instead of Sichuan pepper and salt I used sea salt with crushed black pepper corns (4:1).

The result, and specially the sauce, was superb. The 2 spices, star anise and cinnamon, added a very nice dimension to the simple water/sugar base, perfectly complementing the sourness of the lime. My daughter Juliana, who happens to be a professional chef, ate it even with ice cream.

Cinnamon on Foodista
Star Anise on Foodista
Duck Meat on Foodista

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Kibbe, the Middle Eastern steak tartare

6 Nov

Visiting my hometown, from which I’ve been away for almost 35 years, is always a special moment. Florianópolis is not only a very nice place worth visiting, but for me it’s also a wonderful bag of memories. In the early 70’s I was just a like any other teenager around the world, loved to listen to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Carlos Santana, among others, and enjoyed partying with friends. But differently from other kids anywhere else in the world we used to visit quite frequently a rather unique place, “Kibelândia” or, literally, the land of kibbe. “Kibelândia” was then a small joint (it was stablished in 1966), neglected by almost every grown up in town, a rather typical magnet for teenagers.

Kibbe, or kibbeh, is a Middle Eastern dish, and Lebanon’s national dish, found in many forms, the most common one a torpedo-shaped fried croquette stuffed with minced beef or lamb. The basic recipe contains burghul (a kind of crushed wheat) and chopped meat to which spices like garlic, onions, cinnamon, pepper and mint may be added. The kibbes at “Kibelândia” were prepared and fried right before your eyes (you could even see when the cook licked his finger to open a hole in it were an olive was placed). I don’t know if because of this nasty habit or not, but the kibbes tasted great.

During my last visit to Florianópolis I was invited by my brother-in-law to have a kibbe with beer at “Kibelândia”, and for my surprise it still exists in the very same address (Rua Victor Meirelles, 98), right in the heart of town.

kibes

Kibbes from "Kibelândia", in Florianópolis/SC/Brazil

To my joy the kibbes were very good, even though you can no longer see if the cook still licks his finger (the olive was inside though).

One kind of kibbe I never eat outside my home is “kibbe nayyeh”, or raw kibbe, a type of steak tartare. At home we prepare it mixing ground beef or lamb with burghul (around 60%:40%). Add some cold butter (around 100 g for every 2 pounds of meat) and seasoning (we use lots of garlic and mint and a splash of Syrian pepper). The burghul should be soaked in water before combining with the meat (there is some controversy on that). Traditionally the fat used in Lebanon is “samma”, a kind of clarified butter, or the fat obtained from the tail of a sheep (I haven’t been able to find that around here yet).

The meat is then shaped like a loaf of bread, scored with a knife and drizzled with olive oil.

kibecru

Kibbe nayyeh - Lebanese steak tartar?

Top: kibbe bi saniyeh (kibbe in a tray) and a lettuce and orange salad with orange juice, olive oil and cinnamon dressing.  Botton: kibbe nayyeh and tabule.

Top left: kibbe bi saniyeh (kibbe in a tray). Top right: orange and lettuce salad (orange juice, olive oil and cinnamon dressing). Botton left: kibbe nayyeh (raw kibbe). Botton right: tabbouleh

You can also press the raw kibbe in a flat baking pan, which is then scored with a knife into diamond shapes about one or two inches in length, topped with olive oil and then baked in the oven until done (be careful not to let it dry). This is called “kibbe bi saniyeh” or “kibbe in a tray”.

At home we eat kibbe (usually two or three variations) with a very simple salad made with lettuce, slices of orange and walnuts, dressed with a mixture of olive oil, orange juice and cinnamon (try it, I’m sure you’re going to aprove it). Tabbouleh and pita bread are also mandatory presences.

Tartar Steak on Foodista
Deep Fried Kebbeh on Foodista
Fried Stuffed Kubbeh- Kibbeh on Foodista

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