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Posts Tagged ‘cardamom’

I love it when I make something from scratch and have enough left over to store some in the freezer.  It makes me feel so prepared… so wholesome (which is excellent since “prepared” and “wholesome” probably aren’t the first words that come to mind when describing myself).  It also makes me feel smart, because making something from scratch that you would normally buy jarred from the store tends to be much tastier, much cheaper, and much better for you.   

the components

In fact, I love this so much that one may assume by the looks of my freezer that an eighty-five year old woman lives at my house.  My freezer is full of little labeled bags, each one containing enough of some little morsel or ingredient to be used for a specific serving amount.  Didn’t use an entire can of tomato paste or chipotle chiles?  Just divide the rest up and put it in a little bag, I say!  Who doesn’t love stretching one dollar across four meals?!  If only I exercised this level of mindfulness and precision with my laundry or, I don’t know, our budget.

accidental art

Back to making things from scratch; I’ve been really into this lately.  The discovery of very inexpensive spices that can be found at international markets (basically any place that sells food outside of your conventional chain grocery store) opens up a new world of possibilities in this realm.  I’ve always been a relative purist in terms of cooking meals from scratch; I keep it simple and fresh with veggies, grains, meats and bread.  Now I’m moving on to condiments.  I have big plans for some Guiness mustard, a fantastic worsteshire sauce, Harissa paste and maybe ketsup.   Once you deconstruct a sauce or flavor component that you use regularly and typically pick up at the store, you discover that the ingredients in a store bought item tend towards fillers and artificial ingredients that diminish flavor and aren’t really good for you.  Homemade marinara or Bolognese sauce, for instance, is a revelation after years of stuff from a jar.

possibilities

Anyway, I started this journey with Thai Red Curry paste.  The beauty of Thai Red Curry paste (aside from the fact that it is utterly delicious) is that it has so many uses: stir a little into noodles, add some to rice, slather on meat for a marinade, whisk some into soup, add to oil and vinegar for a unique salad dressing… Having some of this curry paste on hand means that a can of coconut milk, shallots, lime and a pound of mussels is all it takes to quickly put together an elegant and exotic meal.  I love this!  I enjoy so much the complilation of all these ingredients, coming together to make something fantastic.  There may be a little extra work on the front end, but I’m so thankful when I pull my well marked baggie out of the freezer for instant flavor.  This little trend has started to extend to a multitude of other genres… spice blends, jams and jellies… I’m actually dreaming of getting my hands on some veal bones to make my own demi glace this Fall.  

the end result

In the meantime, I’ll just share this recipe that I used from Saveur; I hope someone will try it and share with me in the unusual satisfaction that comes from a freezer full of tiny baggies.  

thai red curry paste

  • 8 dried chiles de arbol, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 tbsp corriander seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp white peppercorns
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, with stems
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 5 gloves of garlic, smashed
  • 3 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 2 holland or fresno chiles, stemmed, seeded and chopped
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, tough outer layers discarded, tender interior layers finely chopped
  • 1 one inch piece of ginger peeled and roughly chopped
  1. break the chiles de arbol into pieces, transfer to a small bowl, and cover with one cup of boiling water; let them soak until softened – about 20 minutes
  2. meanwhile, add corriander, cumin, peppercorns, and cardamom to a small skillet over meadium head; toast spices, swirling constantly, until very fragrant – about 4 minutes
  3. transfer spices to a grinder (I use an electric coffee grinder) and grind to a fine poweder – set aside – (if you’re feeling really rustic, you could smash and grind them with a mortar and pestle)
  4. strain the chiles de arbol through a sieve, reserving the soaking liquid
  5. in a food processor, combine chiles de arbol, ground spices, fish sauce, cilantro, oil, salt, nutmeg, garlic, shallots, fresh holland chiles, lemongrass and ginger – puree until paste is smooth, about 2 minutes (sprinkle in a tbsp or two of reserved chile soaking water to help paste grind)
  6. refrigerate for up to three weeks or freeze for up to three months

Thai Red Curry paste doesn’t have the flavor that many people associate with the traditional Indian Yellow Curry; the word “curry” is used in both Indian and Thai cuisines to indicate a pungeant and flavorful spice paste or mixture, and is not indicative of one specific flavor or aroma.

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tashreeb2I am passionately in love with Middle Eastern cuisine.  I crave it, think about it, dream about it.  I search for it in every new city that we travel to.  While some may be dreaming of a vacation, a new house, worrying over the economy, I am deeply pondering the best ingredient combinations for fatoush (a fantastic salad served throughout the Middle East).

My love affair with Middle Eastern food intensified after a long, miserable visit to Lynchburg, Virginia (of all places…).  My husband and I went to VA, planning to stay one week for my father in law’s bypass surgery.  One week turned into three as he clung to life by a thread in the ICU.  Diana is a gorgeous Lebanese student who lived in my in law’s basement.  With a graduate degree in counseling and an expertise in cooking Lebanese dishes, she rescued us with compassion and heaping plates of sumptuous food.  She is a saint or an angel, and I love her.  We eat at least one of the dishes that she prepared for us once a week in our home.

Shortly thereafter, we went to Greece and Israel.  Oh, how I ate and ate and ate and ate!  At one particular restaurant, the waiters asked for my permission (we are sitting at tables of 12) to take the empty dishes away.  They spied me literally bringing a bowl to my lips and drinking the salad dressing.  This incited quite a bit of snickering amongst the wait staff, as well as looks of horror from my husband who was whispering, “I think you’ve gone a bit crazy.  You’re in a frenzy.”  What can I say?  We had a table covered in the creamiest hummus I have ever eaten, fresh and perfect baba ganoush, bowls of fatoush, flat bread straight from the oven, soft grape leaves delicately wrapping little dollops of spiced meat and rice… the list goes on and I digress.  However, if you ever travel to Israel (and I hope that you do) you must dine at Shalizar in the city of Jerusalem.  You will have one of the best meals of your life, dining under ancient stone vaulted ceilings with a view of a courtyard overflowing with citrus trees and trailing geraniums.  Unfortunately, so many travel tours take you to places that serve what they think you want to eat; usually poor interpretations of bland American dishes.  If I ever take a group to Israel, we will NOT be eating chicken and French fries.  Shalizar will be the first stop (after a stop at the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view of the Old City of Jerusalem).

I also love Middle Eastern food because it makes me feel connected with something very ancient.  So many of these  foods have ties that go back to Mesopotamia and other ancient civilizations of the region, with traditions and recipes passed orally through generation after generation.  If you do a little research, you can discover when certain spices entered the mix as trade opened up with neighboring villages, cities, and later other countries.  Typically, this cuisine is prepared with a multitude of spices, which in and of itself feels inherently exotic.  Add to that the fact that a generous serving of garlic and lemon juice accompany most everything that’s served, and you have a truly sexy dish.  The ancient history of the Middle East is certainly marred with oppression, but freedom of expression has not always been so limited.  Today the climate of that region is currently under the veil (literally for women) of self-denial, legalism and prohibition of pleasure and expression; however, the food and flavors of the Middle East remain vibrant, forward, and fragrantly exotic.  You must try it.  You MUST.  I love the fact that food is still telling the story of a continent of people who can claim some of the most ancient written history and global cultural influence.

There are many resources for the purchase of spices and the procurement of recipes that I plan to post at some point in the future.  However, today I will simply recommend that you do not buy these spices at your regular grocery store.  If you live in Georgia, make a trip to the DeKalb Farmer’s Market (definitely expect more on this later) where you will pay an average of fifty cents for several ounces of spice.  Absolutely incredible.  If you don’t have access to the DeKalb Farmer’s Market, look up any other international market in your city and go there – it is almost guaranteed that you will pay a fraction of what you would at a major grocery store chain.

My friend Becky let me borrow one of her Saveur magazines, where I discovered this delicious recipe.  Thank you, Becky.  The author of the article spent some time with a group of young Iraqi men who had escaped the violence and religious mandates of radical Muslims in Iraq.  They are currently refugees in Lebanon with dreams to settle in Texas.  Go figure.  You never know the story behind the people that you pass in your day to day life.  They may have lived a life of adventure and heartbreak, settling for something far different from their childhood dreams, expertly preparing Tashreeb Dijaaj in some town in Texas.  🙂

The author of the article is apparently publishing a book entitled, “Day of Honey,” a memoir about food and war in the Middle East.  I can’t wait to read it.

tashreeb dijaaj (spiced chicken and chickpea stew) – serves 4 or 2 for several meals

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 3 small onions, quartered
  • 4 medium waxy style potatoes, peeled and quartered (I used red bliss potatoes – russet will not stand up to cooking)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp spice mixture (see below for recipe)
  • heaping 1/2 tbsp of turmeric
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 skinless chicken legs (about 1 lb – you could also use bone in chicken breast)
  • 4 skinless chicken thighs (about 1 lb)
  • 1 19 oz can of chickpeas (dried may be substituted if properly soaked beforehand – rinse canned chickpeas to get rid of excess sodium)
  • 4 pieces of khubuz al-tannour (Iraqi flat bread), naan, or pita (rice could be substituted for all of these, but not preferable – all of these bread types can be found at DeKalb Farmer’s Market or Leon International Bakery in Atlanta)
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 1 tbsp dried sumac
  1. Heat oil in a 6 quart or larger pot over medium high heat, and add onions, garlic, potatoes, bay leaves, spice mixture, turmeric and salt.
  2. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, until the onions and potatoes are golden, about 10 minutes
  3. Add the chicken and three and a half cups of water, stirring to combine
  4. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until chicken is tender and cooked throughout
  5. Add chickpeas and cook five minutes more, seasoning with salt to taste
  6. Line four bowls with bread and ladle the stew over the bread; finish with a generous squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sumac
  7. Sing Hallelujah and take some tums if you aren’t used to this much spice

spice mixture

  • 1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 white or green cardamom pods
  • 2 whole allspice berries
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 chile de arbol (substitute cayenne pepper if you can’t find this)
  • 3/4 dried rose petals (optional – I didn’t use this my first time around)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
  1. In a dry skillet, toast peppercorns, cumin, coriander, cardamom, allspice and cloves over medium low heat until fragrant (3 to 4 minutes)
  2. Let cool, then grind to a powder in a spice grinder with chile and rose petals
  3. transfer spices to a bowl and stir in nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and turmeric

NOTE – you could substitute all “whole” spices with “ground” spices – still toast ground spices in a dry pan

 

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