NEWSLETTER: Autumn 2000

Herbie get over writer’s cramp
The end of the old millennium and the beginning of the new one has been cause for much celebration. In our case, the celebration was even greater when Herbie delivered the manuscript of his forthcoming book to Pan Macmillan in January. Customers often ask us for “The definitive book on herbs and spices,” and although there are some very good books about herbs and some good ones about spices, there is nothing that really fills the bill as the definitive book, that has the answers to all your questions. Take any herb or spice … say, fennel or star anise … and ask what is its taste, where did it come from, how do you use it, what does it smell like, and other questions. This new book, due out in October, will have all the answers.

Out of Africa
Inspired perhaps by the dawn of a new century, we’ve been busy creating some exciting new blends. Adventurous cooks are already beginning to look beyond Moroccan and Middle Eastern foods and wondering what new flavours they can try. We have detected an interest in continental Africa, with new cookbooks highlighting this area and new cafes in some of Sydney’s trendier areas featuring African food. We’ve created our own blend of Berbere, a coarse grind of cumin, coriander seed, black pepper, salt and other spices, which brings a touch of the exotic sub-continent to grilled chicken and red meats. Try using it like a curry powder to make a tasty stew, using chicken, tomatoes and roasted capsicum strips – it’s fabulous.

African cooking often uses large amounts of a single spice like paprika or ground coriander– for instance, you can make a Berbere paste by roasting 3 teaspoons of Berbere mix and puree-ing with a small minced onion, a garlic clove, salt and 3 tablespoons of red wine. To this you add a good cup or more of paprika, a cup of water, and extra cayenne pepper to taste, then stir it over moderate heat for about 15 minutes until the onion puree is cooked. (You don’t have to memorize this – it is on the back of the pack!) You will probably feel sure that you have overdone the paprika, but this is the correct amount! This dark red, thick mixture can then be refrigerated for up to six months, and used by the spoonful as a rich, spicy alternative to tomato paste.

Herbie Masters a Chinese Master Stock
Last year, Herbie and the legendary chef Cheong Liew shared a combined presentation on spices at Brisbane’s MasterClass. Herbie was entranced by Cheong Liew’s master stock – a muslin bag about the size of a rockmelon, filled with magical and mysterious aromatic spices. Although busy with the abovementioned book much of the time last year, he has finally fulfilled his mission to create a Chinese master stock base of his own. More modest in size than Cheong’s, our spice mix, including star anise, licorice root, ginger, szechuan pepper, allspice, fennel seeds and other spices, fills a muslin bag about the size of a nectarine. This infusion ball is simmered in water, sugar and soy sauce for an hour to create a rich and aromatic stock that will make you (and your neighbours!) go weak at the knees. You can keep the stock in the fridge for some time, and use it to baste pork, chicken or duck. Keep the ball of stock spices in the fridge too, and use it several times. Some of you may have seen Cheong Liew using his master stock on his segment from Tasting Australia on ABC television in January.

Another Salt Mystery Solved
Many customers ask what makes Kosher salt different to ordinary salt, so we asked the experts. Basically most salts are Kosher but if they have any free-flow agents or additives (such as iodised salt) they are not. Whether a salt is Kosher or not makes no difference to the flavour.

Best Before?
We were a bit alarmed before Christmas when a customer noticed “Best Before 03/01” on the label of something and remarked to her friend that it would have to be used before the third of January. We hope that most people realize that the best-before date is written the same as your credit card expiry date, so 03/01 is March 2001.

Cholesterol and Coconut Milk
Customers often wistfully ask whether the coconut powder that we stock has less fat and cholesterol than coconut milk. The answer, sadly, is no – only the water is removed. Understanding that many of us want to use coconut milk for all those wonderful South-East Asian and Indian dishes, but don’t want the bad elements, we have finally procured pure coconut extract. This is not imitation flavouring, but the real thing. A teaspoon to a cup of any kind of milk makes a perfect flavour equivalent to coconut milk, and it is your choice whether you use skim milk, low-fat evaporated milk (which delivers the creamy mouth-feel of coconut milk) or ordinary cow’s milk. We’ve put it in a 100ml bottle and the price is $25.50 – it looks expensive, but that’s a lot of one-teaspoon servings – and positively medicinal for your cholesterol and your waistline! It’s also available in the small 25ml bottle for $7.85.

On the subject of bottles, we have also put Rose Water and Orange Blossom Water and Vanilla Extract in the 100ml bottle in response to your requests. The prices are $6.25, $6.25 and $15.25 respectively.

More New Blends From Herbie
What else is new at Herbie’s? There’s a Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, containing ground allspice, chilli, pepper, ginger and thyme that you traditionally mix with onions, garlic and rum to use as a marinade. Being a bit on the time-poor side sometimes, we just rub the seasoning straight onto chicken breasts and pan-fry. (Incidentally, the term Jamaican Jerk Seasoning is traditional, and has nothing to do with jerk beef.) And finally, for those who have been searching, we now have dried mandarin peel.

Isn’t it wonderful how many different and utterly entrancing flavours can be created with a few spices? Happy Spicing