NEWSLETTER: Autumn 2004

Most of Australia is sweltering under the humidity and still heat of February, and autumn has never seemed more welcome or more attractive. On these hot days, we’ve been making the most of the melons in season and making a juice of fresh ginger, watermelon and rockmelon, with lots of ice. Very refreshing!

Shichimi Togarashi – try “Asian Greens”

Your response to our newest blend, Shichimi Togarashi, as been very lively, to say the least. We’re delighted that you’re finding it so enjoyable, especially as a crusting on tuna fillets. We also enjoy this simple salad: buy, if you can, an “Asian greens” salad mix or baby salad leaves. Make a dressing of half mirin, half sesame oil, and toss through the cleaned salad mix, then sprinkle with shichimi togarashi. It’s simple, elegant and very delicious.

Our January tour of Sri Lanka and India

The last two weeks of January were spent in the company of 15 delightful fellow travellers as once again, we took in the sights, sounds, smells and palate-pleasing delicacies of India. Having ventured to this sub-continent three times in the last four years, we’ve had ample opportunity to see how everything is modernizing more quickly in this millennium than in the previous ten years. Tractors, earth-moving machinery and imported cars are more in evidence than ever before. Although this, in one way, means more efficiency and comfort for the people, it also spells increased pollution, higher unemployment and greater danger for the bovine and human pedestrians. And from the tourist’s point of view, it means the gradual disappearance of some of the charming scenes that we snap up so eagerly for our albums and the family at home.

This makes our job as tour leaders more challenging … whereas we used to visit the Cochin Pepper Exchange to delight in the raucous energy of open-outcry bidding on the exchange floor, the switch to computers has changed the scene to that of men sitting in front of computers. We can see that at home! And the charming, aromatic old-world-ness of the wood-furnace-fired cardamom drying sheds has gone, in favour of more efficient and time saving steel gas-fired driers. Of course, one has to appreciate that, for all producers, the name of the game is best finished product for least cost and effort.

However, our travelling companions assured us that there were still unforgettable highlights, lots of laughter and fascinating scenes wherever we went. Because India and Sri Lanka are so rich in spices, there were plenty of opportunities for impromptu “classes” on the ins and outs of production, quality and varieties of spices as we went along. Would you buy Sri Lankan vanilla beans, and if not, why not? And the vegetables …! Have you ever seen elephant squash in the markets, or had a fresh sapota or mud-fruit with your breakfast?


New Recipe – Dhai Baingon (Eggplant with Yoghurt)
Once again, new recipes were collected, including this rather marvelous Indian version of ratatouille that we discovered in a splendid domed dining room in Jaipur – it’s an Indian take on east-west fusion!

Dhai Baingon (Eggplant with Yoghurt)

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced and drained
  • vegetable oil
  • 3 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Alleppey turmeric
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek leaves
  • 1 cup yoghurt mixed with 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh chopped coriander leaves

Grease a medium-sized ovenproof dish or casserole. Heat about 1 Tablespoon of oil in a heavy based pan and fry the eggplant slices in batches until lightly golden, adding more oil if necessary. Remove and set aside.
Heat another tablespoon of oil in the pan and add the whole cumin seeds. Fry for 45 seconds, then add onion and tomato. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is transparent. Add turmeric, salt, cumin, coriander, chilli powder, fenugreek leaves and tomato paste, then stir in a cup water.
Continue cooking over moderate heat until onion and tomato is soft and most of the liquid has evaporated.
Spoon half the onion/tomato mixture into the ovenproof dish, then layer eggplant slices on top. Cover with the remaining onion/tomato mixture, then more eggplant. Spread the yoghurt/cumin mix over the top, cover closely with foil, then heat through in a moderate oven. Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander leaves.

Tours & Classes
Planning for the 2005 Spice Tour is now under way, with some bookings already in place. It will be in January, because it is the best time to visit the south, after the monsoon and before it gets too hot. We’ll have the details on the website as soon as everything is finalized – we would expect that to be about early March.

As usual, bookings for our classes are already filled a couple of months ahead. The Spicing for Families is perfect for young parents – get a group of your pre-school or kindy mums and dads together, and if you have a group of 14 to fill the class, you’ll get a 10% discount.

All about “peppers”
We’ve had many enquiries at the shop lately about various “peppers” cropping up in recipes and television cooking shows. You need to bear in mind that a pepper can be anything from capsicum, through paprika, to chilli, especially if the cookbook writer or presenter is American. Aleppo pepper is a blend used in the Middle East, and is similar to our blend Baharat. The Italian pepperoncino is a small, hot chilli. Red pepper flakes are usually dried pieces of red capsicum – for a hot version, use our chopped red jalapeno chilli. Speaking of things hot, we’re delighted to report that chipotle chilli powder is back in stock!

For locals, we’ve just created our first-ever spice blend for a football team. Check out the Tigers spice – it’s great on a grill or a salad, with a bit of bite, naturally! Happy spicing ….