Indian spice blends, collectively known as ‘Masalas’, can be dry powders or ‘wet’ pastes. Typically, pastes are made by combining dry powdered spices with a liquid (vinegar especially) and then either using as is, or else storing after cooking the paste in oil until the blending liquid evaporates out.
These little drumstick shaped things are the berries of a plant in the pepper family grown chiefly in Java and Sumatra. They are most commonly called Cubeb Berries (or just plain Cubeb), but are also known as Cubeb Pepper, Java Pepper, and (by reason of their stemmed appearance) Tail Pepper. They were a common culinary spice in medieval Europe but have largely disappeared from kitchens today. You won’t likely find them in your local supermarket, but you can find them on-line. They are worth giving a try, however, as even though a member of the Pepper family, they taste nothing like the variety in common use… Continue reading “Spice: Cubeb”→
At one time, a ‘Madras Curry’ was a standard on Indian restaurant menus in the west, and was also a fairly common recipe entry in Indian cookery books. It seems, however, to be a little less frequently encountered these days and this is perhaps because the Indian City of Madras (whence the name) is now known as Chennai, and the eponymous curry was probably more of an Anglo-Indian, rather than a purely Indian creation. Whatever the case, the Madras Curry is still something of a classic and well worth adding to one’s culinary repertoire.
In my research of a wide variety of spice blends, I have found that the Madras Curry blend is the closest to what most westerners would call the ‘curry flavor’ and the typical ingredients are much the same as found in the generic ‘Curry Powder’ you can find in almost any supermarket. The one major difference between the two, as far as I have seen, is that the generic type tends to be high in Turmeric and low in Chili, while, in a Madras blend, the reverse is usually true. In this post, we will have a quick look at the general composition and then I’ll provide a fairly straightforward version that you can use as a starting point for your own culinary creations… Continue reading “Spice: Homemade Madras Curry Powder”→
The pretty shreds of dried chili you see pictured above are commonly (and almost exclusively) used in Korean cuisine where they are often included in Kimchi preparations, both for their flavor and their attractive appearance. Indeed, beyond the basic spice function, this culinary item is handy to have on hand as a useful and versatile visual enhancer for all sorts of dishes… Continue reading “Spice: Korean Chili Threads”→
Ajowan Seed, also spelled ‘Ajwain’ sometimes called ‘Carom Seed’ in English, is used occasionally in the cuisines of Iran, Afghanistan and East Africa, but is most widely used in Indian cookery, particularly in the Northeastern states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. It is not a spice that you will come across in many western spice cabinets, nor on the shelves of mainstream supermarkets, but you can find it fairly easily in Indian or Middle-Eastern groceries or online, if you don’t mind shopping for spices that way. I certainly wouldn’t say that this is an essential spice in my collection, but it does have its uses and is worth looking for… Continue reading “Spice: Ajowan Seed”→
Celery is one of those ubiquitous grocery products that can usually be found in the crisper drawers of most refrigerators in western kitchens but celery seed, for some reason, is far less popular or well known. For most people, the seed (actually the tiny fruit of a particular wild variety of celery rather than the thick-stemmed sort usually eaten in the west) is encountered most commonly in some Bloody Mary recipes, or else in the Old Bay Seasoning used for seafood in the North-eastern United States. This is unfortunate, however, as the spice, being not only cheap and easy to find, is very versatile and well-worth having on hand… Continue reading “Spice: Celery Seed”→
Panch Phoron, sometimes spelled ‘panchpuran’ along with a host of other variations, is a blend of whole spices (as opposed to ground) that is native to north-eastern India in general, and the state of Bengal in particular. Because it is typically composed of 5 different spices, it is often called ‘Bengali five-spice’ although, as we shall see, there are variations not only in the types of spice, but also the number… Continue reading “Spice Blend: Panch Phoron”→
Chili pastes of one stripe or another are common in many cuisines. Some are fairly straightforward, containing little more than chili peppers, while others are considerably more complex and include a variety of other ingredients, such as garlic, ginger, or other spices. Not that many years ago, the Indonesian variety of simple chili paste known as Sambal Oelek (or Sambal Ulek) was relatively unknown in the west but this has changed in the last decade or so and one brand or another can be found in most supermarkets nowadays, with the Cock Brand, by Huy Fong Foods (makers of the popular Sriracha Sauce), being one of the most common.
Sambal Oelek is a very versatile paste that keeps well and is very easy to make. Strictly speaking, the basic version is nothing more than ground fresh chilies, but salt is also generally added, [particularly if the resultant paste is not to be used immediately). If you scan for recipes on the Internet, you will find many that include other ingredients as well but, since there are a myriad of Indonesian Sambals, all with different names, those that contain additional spices are not, in my opinion, true Sambal Oeleks. Vinegar (or even lime juice) is often included, particularly in commercial preparations, but, while this does enhance the shelf life somewhat, it also changes the finished product considerably. It also, to my mind, detracts from and diminishes the fresh chili taste, which, with just a little salt to act as a preservative, keeps surprisingly well in the fridge. For the version I will be sharing with you here, we will be using nothing more than fresh red chilies, salt, a little sugar to round out the tastes as the pastes ages, and some oil for grinding and preservation… Continue reading “Spice Blend: Homemade Sambal Oelek (Simple Chili Paste)”→
Back in October, I featured a commercially produced Lemongrass in a Tube and, as readers may recall, I was not terribly impressed. Indeed, I was actually so underwhelmed by the product that, after just a couple of uses, I tossed it out. Anyway, I recently managed to grab some of the fresh stalks whilst in Ottawa and I decided to make a paste myself. The process is really quite simple and I thought I would share it with you here… Continue reading “Spice Blend: Homemade Lemongrass Paste”→
The phrase ‘worth it’s weight in gold’ could very easily apply to saffron as it is, by a large margin, the world’s most expensive spice. It consists of the stamens of a particular variety of crocus (pictured above), which is cultivated primarily in Spain, Iran and India, but also in other places, including England, as well. Each flower produces only three tiny stamens (the three crimson colored ‘threads’ protruding from the center of the bloom), each of which must be collected by hand. This, coupled with the fact that it takes some 50,000 to 75,000 flowers to yield a pound of the spice, accounts for the cost. Thankfully, though a very little goes a long way and just a tiny pinch will lend a dish a beautifully vivid golden-yellow hue and a taste that is all but indescribable…. Continue reading “Spice: Saffron (and Safflower)”→