NEWSLETTER: Autumn 2001

March 01, 2001 posted in Newsletters

Latest Tour of India

Our recent trip to India was a great success once again, and we’ve all returned a little wiser about Indian cooking and spices. We made it our mission to collect at least one recipe from each place we stayed, and you’ll find the stars of them on our website.

AVIAL (Mixed Vegetable Curry)

South Indian cooks use curry leaves lavishly and constantly – in fact, there ‘s a saying “Don’t take me for a curry leaf”, meaning “don’t take me for granted” because it’s taken for granted that curry leaves will be added to all food! To whet your appetite, here’s a recipe which was demonstrated to us by two charming ladies in their home in Cochin. Try to get coconut oil to achieve the true distinctive Kerala flavour, otherwise you can use canola or another vegetable oil, mixed with just a drop of our coconut extract. Coconut oil is high in saturated fats and while many of the hotels don’t use it because it is not popular with health- and weight-conscious travellers, we found it’s used exclusively in domestic situations.

AVIAL (Mixed Vegetable Curry)
Serves 4

  • 500g mixed vegetables (brinjal, pumpkin, cucumber, string beans, eggplant, yam, potato, drumstick, snake gourd etc as available) cut into long thick slices
  • ¼ cup onions sliced into big pieces
  • 4 green chillies, split lengthwise
  • 6-10 curry leaves
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric and salt to taste
  • ½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups fresh coconut grated (or 2 cup desiccated coconut soaked in water for 5 minutes then squeezed to remove water)
  • ½ cup plain yoghurt
  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil
  1. Place the vegetables, onions, chillies and curry leaves in a saucepan with ½ cup water and the turmeric and salt.
  2. Steam gently over low heat until vegetables are almost cooked.
  3. Puree the cumin, garlic and coconut in a blender to a rough paste, then add yoghurt.
  4. Add the coconut-yoghurt paste to the vegetables and continue to cook until done.
  5. Add the coconut oil before serving for flavour.
  6. For an instant “South India hit” we fry some curry leaves until crisp, drain them well and crumble them, then mix a generous amount into a bought bhuja mix. It’s a great transformation – try it!

Sharing the Indian Atmosphere

For those in the group who had never visited India before, it was something of a shock to encounter the noise, smell and crowds of the reality as opposed to the glossy, sanitized photographs of brochures and magazines. One needs to bear in mind that it is very different to our world, and nothing will change overnight. India is perfectly summed-up in this quote from Mark Twain, in the book Snakes and Ladders, (Vintage Publishers, 1998, Random House Australia). “. the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations – the sole country under the sun that is endowed with imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”

The Next Tour of India?

Although we had planned our next Spice Discovery Tour for January 2003, expressions of interest in a trip this time next year are already in the air. If we find there is enough genuine interest in a trip for January 2002, we’ll give it some serious thought. Let us know if you’re one of the keen ones, as we need time to make arrangements well in advance!

Star Anise – Growing in Popularity

Over the last three years, we’ve noticed the growth in popularity of star anise, that richly orient-scented seed pod in the shape of an eight-pointed star. Now we must tell you that when we open a new shipment of star anise, it is not full of beautiful, whole stars, but is instead a jumbled mixture of whole and broken pods along with lots of stems and seeds. It takes a long time to sort by hand through a box of star anise, selecting the perfect or near-perfect stars, removing the stems from the rest . in fact, an hour’s work yields about 800 grams of whole star anise. The point of telling you about this is to remind you that there is no flavour difference between whole and broken star anise, but there is quite a difference in price because of the labour involved in sorting the whole stars. A 20g pack of sieved and cleaned broken pieces is only $2.50, compared with $3.25 for just 15g of whole stars.

Tea and Coffee Masala

We sometimes have customers who are looking for a good biriyani spice mix. You can use our Tea and Coffee Masala (a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and cardamom) with star anise added. Coat rice with oil, add meats or vegetables of your preference, the spices, and stock to cover, and allow to cook by the absorption method.

A Simple Cooking Gem

Here’s a simple gem that a customer shared with us recently: heat extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add a pinch of black salt and a tablespoon of za’ atar and stir for about 20 seconds. Add a cupful or more of sliced Spanish onions and half a cup of chopped sundried tomatoes. Allow to cook until onions are tender, then serve on bruscetta for a perfect Sunday brunch.

Cooking Classes in Brisbane & Melbourne

Herbie’s spreading the word! If you happen to be in Brisbane on 8th March, you might like to catch Herbie’s class at Black Pearl Epicure Cooking School in Fortitude Valley. For more details, phone Vicki Bright on (07) 3257 2144. And if you’re in Melbourne on 19th March, there’s a class at Richmond Hill Café and Larder – phone (03) 9421 2808 for more information. These classes will fill up pretty quickly, so act promptly if you want to attend.

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