Friday, April 13, 2007

and i thought i was a spice-junkie

Today the topic on my mind was GRAINS OF PARADISE.
I had ordered some from World Spice when my Mom came to visit at Christmas. If you don't know World Spice Merchants in Seattle, I highly recommend them as the freshest and highest quality source for all your spice needs. World Spice sells bulk spices to over half the restaurants in Seattle and creates custom blends. And they do mail-order!! One of the few businesses I know that does business the old-fashioned way with only cash and checks -- no credit cards! (Sorry for the commercial, I used to work there, so the store is close to my heart.)

I ordered these paradise grains without really knowing what to do with them. I knew they were exotic and definitely something that I would never in a thousand moons find here in Ljubljana. Now to actually cook with them.

I did a search and found this very handy site by Gernot Katzer a guy who lives between Graz and Berlin. So much information! So much inspiration! Well ... for me, a spice geek, yes ... etymology, photos, chemical components, names in 32 languages ...

Thanks to Gernot and his site, I have a clearer picture about what should be in Baharat as well.

Will make this short ... the kitchen is calling.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

experimenting with an Egyptian spice mix...

So today I experimented with a spice mixture that my friend Andreja brought back from her trip to Egypt. Apparently it is used in a red lentil soup that is served everywhere there.

As far as I can tell, the mix includes whole coriander seeds, whole cumin seeds, rosemary, rose petals, cinnamon bark and dried mint leaves. That's just my guess from trying to isolate the ingredients and tasting the flavors. A colleague who had lived in Cairo suggested it might be "bukharat (spices) li-shorbit ads (for lentil soup) i think it's a mixture of cardamom, fenugreek, anise, and some other stuff. quite posibly some hibiscus and saffron (for colour)"...but, I don't see cardamom, fenugreek or anise, nor do I taste Still, she was eagerly planning to use the little packet that I gave her with onion, chicken stock and red lentils to make a soup.
I found some other information here:
and an informative blog by an Arab-American woman who calls herself The Dove (worth reading!):

But having no red lentils at home today and a craving for mung beans, I decided to use them instead and to make the dish more a kin to an Indian dahl.

I soaked the mung beans in water and then boiled them for about 20-30 minutes in water with about 1/4 tsp of turmeric powder and a little salt. It's possible to make them without soaking them first, they cook pretty quickly even when they are not soaked.

I used a big heaping Tablespoon of the spice mixture, grinding it first in my electric coffee grinder (which is used solely for spices) and then adding it to some hot oil in a frying pan to make a tarka. I add the tarka to the cooked mung beans and let it simmer on low a little longer.

When I tested for flavor, it still seemed a bit bland to me, so I added a little more salt, some freshly ground black pepper, and juice of 1/2 lemon. I tested it again after a few minutes, and something was still missing, a certain depthness of flavor that I was looking for. So I added 2 bay leaves, a pinch of dried sage and a splash of balsamic vinegar. I let it cooked a little longer so that the flavors could develop. After the next tasting, it seemed closer to what I was looking for, though not as potent as I might have liked. This was okay, because I was already planning to use caramelized onions as a garnish, and I knew they would add another dimension.

For the caramelized onions, I sliced one medium sized onion into rings "across the grain" (that is, not from root to stem...but the other way). This allows the onion to "breakdown" faster which is what you want when caramelizing. I added the onion to about one teaspoon of hot olive oil, after a moment, I added one teaspoon of brown sugar, a pinch of salt and a splash of balsamic vinegar. The onions caramelize best slowly on low heat. They were are really great addition to the mung beans and are so good you want to eat them all with your fingers straight out of the pan before they even make it to your plate!

For the rest of the meal, I made brown basmati rice and steamed broccoli. Alongside I served tomato wedges and pickled red beets...very colorful and healthy and delicious!

Again, the recipe:
mung beans
1 cup dried mung beans, soaked in 2 cups water
2-3 cups water for cooking beans
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 bay leaves
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
caramelized onions
bring mung beans, water and turmeric powder to a boil, cook for 20-30 minutes until soft. watch that water doesn't cook out. add more water if necessary. add other ingredients in order. allow to cook another 10-15 minutes to develop flavors. add caramelized onions just before serving.

made with 1 Tablespoon ground egyptian spice mix (whole coriander seeds, whole cumin seeds, rosemary, rose petals, cinnamon bark and dried mint leaves) and 2 teaspoons olive oil
optional: add a pinch of dried sage to the mix when making the tarka

caramelized onions
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium sized brown onion sliced into rings about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick
1 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
heat olive oil in pan on medium-high heat, add onion stir 2-3 minutes to release flavors, add remaining ingredients, reduce heat and continue stirring occasionally
serve on top of mung beans

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

faint grumblings finally heard

how many times do you disregard the grumblings in your stomach, telling you that you are hungry? that's been me, lately, though i haven't gone hungry. not at all. been cooking up a storm. but i've gone without feeding that little urge to write about all this cooking. instead, each day suffering a little that another fabulous meal has evaporated. how to catch these experiences? how to share them? to make them something bigger than myself?

this space will be the first effort towards that.

i hope you're hungry.