It’s been a season of exposure and more exposure for us here at Herbie’s. Never at a loss for words where spices are concerned, Herbie has been spreading the word … at the National Dietitian’s Conference, where flavour without danger was the theme, and at Food Of Orange District’s food festival, where he brought the spice message to a luncheon at Selkirk’s restaurant. Naturally, our own Spice Appreciation Classes continue one evening a week (alternate Wednesdays and Thursdays), and in response to demand, we have scheduled an Advanced Class on three dates between now and Christmas.
Tourism NSW is planning a Food and Wine Festival to happen in Sydney during the last week of June, and the Balmain/Rozelle area has been chosen as the “Eat Streets” area of Sydney for the Festival. We at Herbie’s were given an unusual commission, to create a special spice blend to exemplify the character of the Balmain/Rozelle area. This has been quite a fun project, and after considerable thought about how a certain character “tastes”, we came up with a blend which is not cuisine-specific, combining earthy elements in acknowledgment of the area’s strong working class background, the native flavours that grow naturally in the area, and the light, Asian-inspired touches favoured by so many of the area’s excellent restaurants. (As you know, we already have our superb Ras el Hanout blend, and we were tempted to call this one “Rozelle Hanout”, but decided it was altogether too corny!) We’re delighted with the result, which teams very successfully with prawns, chicken, fish, lamb, and even roast pork!
Three Colours Fennel
You may have noticed we have three different fennel seeds in our range. The plain ones you probably already know, a fairly large golden-coloured sweet seed with a distinctive anise/licorice flavour. The sugar-coated seeds are the same seeds coated with candy – sometimes they are larger than other times, and this is because there are two crops in a season. The first crop is larger and more succulent, while the second crop after a dry season yields smaller seeds. (Why do we call them Lakhs and Crores? Because in India, a lakh is 100,000 and a crore is 1,000,000, so it’s just one-upmanship on 100’s and 1000’s!) The third fennel seed is known as Lucknow fennel. It is a vibrant green, and so sweet and flavoursome that it is served after dinner like the sugar-coated ones, but it doesn’t need candy to embellish it. Fennel seeds are traditionally served after a meal because, like dill and caraway (their cousins in the umbelliferae family), they play an important role in aiding digestion. You can add them to your chi tea masala for an interesting variation.
Learning from You
We love to receive feedback from our mail order customers. We’ve learned that you can add half a pack of Dukkah to a fish batter with highly successful results, and that a really delicious foccacia is started with a brush of olive oil and za’atar, after which you add the toppings of your choice. And while we’re on the subject of Lucknow fennel, our customer and friend Franz was inspired to create this version of Naan bread, as follows:
Franz’s Regal Peshawari Naan
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1 teaspoon gluten powder
- 2 teaspoons active brewer’s yeast
- 2/3 cup Attiki country style yoghurt
- 2 tsp poppy seeds
- 1 tbs Lucknow fennel seeds
- tsp sesame seeds
- tsp ground cardamom seeds
- teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon each salt & sugar
- 2/3 cup milk, lukewarm
- 1 egg, beaten
- 4 tbs dried currants
- 1 tbs coarsely crushed pistachio nuts
- 1 tsp pine buts
- 1 tbs rosewater
- Preheat the oven to 230 degrees C.
- Put the flour, gluten powder, baking powder, salt, sugar, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, pistachio and pine nuts, fennel seeds and cardamom into a bowl. Make sure the roasted nuts are cold when you add them to the flour.
- Crumble the yeast and mix it with a little of the milk.
- Beat the yoghurt into the remaining milk, add the rosewater and heat this mixture until lukewarm. Stir in the yeast paste.
- Gradually add this mixture to the flour and mix to a dough. Knead well, then add the egg and knead thoroughly again. Cover the dough with a damp towel and leave in a warm place to rise until double in size. This will take about 90 minutes.
- Break the dough into 8 pieces, roll into balls, then flatten with your hands. Place on baking sheets and bake for about 12 minutes or until the bread is puffed and blistered. Serve hot.
So, What’s New at Herbie’s?
We’ve finally tracked down file powder for your Creole and southern United States dishes, so those of you who have asked for it … we’ve got it! File powder is made from sassafras leaves, and is a dull green powder with a fairly neutral cut-grass aroma. Its main use is as a thickening agent in dishes such as gumbo, giving a “gummy” consistency.
Dry Old Limes – Yum!
Skipping halfway across the globe, we also now have “black lime” for your Middle Eastern menus. These are whole limes dried on the tree, varying from a blackish-brown to yellow. Inside the tough, dry skin, the flesh is black, sticky and amazingly aromatic. Our friends in Kuwait use the limes in three ways: ground to a powder; whole in fish stews, using a skewer to pierce holes in the skin; or broken into pieces, with the seeds removed and discarded, then added to a stew or fish stuffing. Imagine adding it to a bouillabaisse, or even to osso bucco! Try a whole one in the cavity of your next roast chicken.
Also new are whole dried barberries or berberries, bright red berries about the size of a pomegranate seed, with a tart, fruity flavour. Used in Afghan rice dishes, they can also replace the dried plum aloo bokhara in northern Indian food. In western cooking, they have been added to fruit pies to add a dash of sharpness to the sweetness of the other fruit.
And finally, we’ve found some whole Kashmiri chillies whose bright colour is so valued in curries.
The Comfort of Spices
The “Comfort Food” Spice Kit mentioned in the last Newsletter has come to fruition, with easy, old-fashioned recipes for food that will keep you warm! Busy cooks can prepare a slow-cooking dish for tomorrow night while tonight’s grill is cooking, popping it in the oven as they sit down to tonight’s dinner, and turning the oven off at bed-time. Tomorrow night, just reheat it and enjoy! Like all kits, it retails for $24.95 plus $5.00 postage.
Enjoy cooking up a cosy storm on these wintry evenings and weekends, and happy spicing!
Herbie and Liz