NEWSLETTER: April – May 1999

April 01, 1999 posted in Newsletters

Easter’s here again – more of those chocolate eggs! Of course it’s natural to use the egg, a symbol of regeneration, at this time in the Christian calendar, but do they have to be chocolate? On the subject of eggs, we’d like to share a recipe with you – have it as a brunch on a lazy Easter long weekend morning, and it’s equally good as a light evening meal. (Thanks to the Sun-Herald’s Sheridan Rogers for this recipe which, she says, originated in Tunisia and is found, with regional differences, throughout the Middle East.) Need we add, we used Herbie’s Harissa mix to make the harissa paste!

Serves 4

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 small red capsicum, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 small green capsicum, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 400g tin peeled chopped tomatoes
  • 1-2 small chillies, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp harissa paste
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds, ground
  • half tsp sweet paprika
  • half tsp ground cumin seeds
  • 4 large eggs
  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the sliced capsicum until soft.
  2. Add the garlic and chillies and cook for a further 1-2 minutes, stirring to combine.
  3. Add the tomatoes, salt, harissa and spices. Leave to simmer gently for 10-15 minutes – it should be reasonably thick.
  4. Make four indentations in the mixture using the back of a spoon, and break one egg into each, cover and leave to simmer for about five minutes or until whites are cooked and yolks soft.
  5. Serve immediately with (or on) toast.

Black or White?

When you think you’ve got a pretty good handle on the herb and spice scene, it can be disconcerting to be asked “Black or white?” when you ask for something as simple as sesame seeds. Black sesame seeds are simply white ones with their shell or outer husk on, making them a little tougher to bite on, and not quite as nutty in flavour as the better-known white seeds. The story with poppy seeds is the same, although it is the complete seeds, usually called “blue” poppy seeds, that are more familiar. A white poppy seed, being shelled, is quite tiny and is frequently called for in classic Moghul Indian dishes. The flavour is similar to the blue one. White peppercorns begin as freshly-picked green peppercorns, which are soaked in water to soften their skin. The outer skin, or “pericarp” is then rubbed off – hey presto, a white peppercorn! One case where the variation in colour is not a variation of the same seed is mustard seeds. Brown or black mustard seeds are a different variety to yellow mustard seeds, which are bigger and slightly less pungent.

The passage to India

Our “explorers” are back from their Spice Discovery tour to Southern India with Herbie, and it was a stimulating, exciting and all-too-short experience for all of them. We can boast not a single case of “Delhi Belly” in any of the tourists for the entire two weeks! Highlights of the trip included happening upon “bath time” for the temple elephants in Cochin and watching the adrenaline-charged cardamom auctions in the Western Ghats. The group had a hotel-packed “picnic” in the dining room of a farmhouse (and subsequently explored the kitchen), and hated leaving their favourite hotel, a wonderful old-world colonial relic in Madurai. From what we’ve heard since their return, everyone is longing for more of that wonderful food!

Some small changes are being made to fine-tune the itinerary for another trip to India in January 2000, to explore once again the source of many of the spices of the world. We understand that for many people, a decision to travel to somewhere like India is like taking a big step into unknown territory. If you’re wondering whether such a trip would be suitable for you, some of our group from January have offered to make themselves available to chat on the phone with you. (Just give us a call and we’ll put you in touch.)

For a re-creation of true Southern Indian flavours, try this:


  • 4 fillets of chicken or fish (eg ling)
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 tablespoon Herbie’s Garam Masala
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • half teaspoon Medium Chilli Powder (more or less to taste)
  • 20 fresh curry leaves or 1 packet of Herbie’s dried curry leaves
  • half teaspoon salt
  1. Put the onion, oil, garam masala, chilli, salt and curry leaves in a blender and make into a paste.
  2. Coat the chicken or fish (this is also delicious with fresh, shelled green prawns) with the pureed mixture, cover and leave in the refrigerator for up to 30 minutes. Stir fry until cooked and serve with rice.

What’s new at Herbie’s Spices?

There’s a new Bay Seasoning for all our homesick customers from the United States, and we have made a great traditional Sri Lankan curry powder in response to demand. With increasing interest in food of the Gulf States (Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, etc), we felt it was time to make a Baharat Spice Mix, a blend of pepper, coriander, cassia, cloves, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg and paprika. It is used extensively in rice, soups, fish and meat dishes, often in conjunction with black limes.

A Sambar Mix has also joined the ranks. For those not familiar with South Indian food, sambar is a fabulous vegetarian dish made with lentils or split peas in a fairly runny, spicy liquid that is just heavenly over rice. We’ve put a recipe on the back, so it will be easy for you to try it. To make it even quicker, you can buy good quality lentils already cooked in some supermarkets (Woolies, we think) under the Quickpulse brand.

This has turned into a rather “Indian” newsletter, and in that vein, we’re including some information on edible silver leaf (also called vark), a Moghul invention to add “special-ness” to a dinner party. It’s now on your mail order sheet, priced at $3.95 for 15 sheets. The following explanation is an extract from Pat Chapman’s 250 Favourite Curries: “It is made from a nugget of either pure gold or silver which is hammered between leather pads by craftsmen, until thinner than paper. Each sheet measures 7.5 x 13 cm and is sandwiched between tissue. Do not touch it – it will stick to your fingers and disintegrate. Carefully remove the top covering sheet of paper, leaving the leaf resting on an under-sheet. Invert it than dab the under-sheet on to the food. It is best to break it up a little on the food or else it looks rather unappetising, like cooking foil.”

Happy Spicing!

Herbie and Liz

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