Tag Archives: Spices

Autumn Flowers

20 May

On this side of the world fall is arriving, and although spring is the season known for the abundance of flowers, last weekend a nice surprize was waiting for me as I walked around my home garden to take care of a few herbs, fruits and other plants growing around. Guess I don’t need to say much more than that, judge for yourself.  I bet you’ll never look at these plants the same way again.

Papaya - Carica papaya

Papaya - Carica papaya

Malagueta pepper - Capsicum frutescens

Can you believe that from this delicate flower a 100,000 Scoville units devil grows?

A variety of basil - Ocimum basilicum

A variety of basil - Ocimum basilicum

Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis

Loquat - Eriobotrya japonica

Want some information about these plants?  Click on the links below:

Papaya on FoodistaPapaya

Malagueta Pepper on FoodistaMalagueta Pepper

Basil on FoodistaBasil

Rosemary on FoodistaRosemary

Loquat on FoodistaLoquat

Advertisements

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

Chicken Korma

15 Sep

“Korma” (also kormaa, khorma or kurma)  is a dish from the Muglai area, now partitioned between India and Pakistan.  It’s made with yogurt, nuts, several spices (cinnamon, cardamom, garlic, red pepper, coriander, cumin, and turmeric yellow, among others), coconut and coconut milk.

Vegetarians and non-vegetarians kormas exist.  I had chicken korma, at Raja Rani (Friedrichstrasse, 15, Heidelberg/Germany), a restaurant I’ve mentioned in an earlier post.

Briefly, diced onions are fried in clarified butter (“ghee”) to which the spices are added.  The chicken,which in some variations is previously marinated in yogurt, is then added and left to cook until tender (keep it moist adding water as needed).  When almost ready it’s time to add fresh coconut and coconut milk.

Chicken korma over Basmati rice

Chicken korma over Basmati rice

The dish was served over Basmati rice with some sliced almonds on top.  The overall impression was very nice, although I believe the chef abused a bit too much on the coconut, which dominated the dish almost entirely.  It was a bargain though, only about US$ 5,00 for a “small”dish (enough to feed one hungry traveller – as a matter of fact the difference between “small” and “large” seemed to me to be the size of the plate itself, as food portions were rather similar).

Korma on Foodista

%d bloggers like this: