We’ve had a suggestion that we should give a little more guidance on how to use some of the spices, so we’ll keep that in mind and try to include a few in each Newsletter.
Spicy Delema – a Guide
There’s a little confusion about cinnamon and cassia – how they are similar, and what makes them different. Botanically, they are “cousins”, with the cinnamon coming mostly from Sri Lanka and cassia from China. Cinnamon bark from mature trees is ground to make a dark, fairly rough cinnamon most likely to be used in savoury applications, while cinnamon quills are curls of the underneath layer of bark from young branches, which are used whole or ground in cakes and stewed fruits. Cassia bark is sometimes available as a blackish, flat piece about the size of a band-aid, although the better quality cassia looks similar to a curl of cinnamon quills, but thicker and harder. When it is ground, cassia has a highly fragrant cinnamon aroma which makes it the baker’s choice for things like cinnamon donuts, spiced fruit buns and sweet breads. It’s quite logical, then, that other names for cassia are Saigon cinnamon and baker’s cinnamon. If you buy Cinnamon Sugar from the supermarket, you have a 50-50 chance of getting Cassia Sugar instead!
India, Spice and the Moghuls
The continent whose cuisine depends more on spices than any other is probably India. The commonly used foods vary from region to region: in the tropical south, fish, coconut and bananas abound, while in the fertile Bengal regions, grains, tomatoes and other vegetables are plentiful. Southern dishes are often hot with fresh ginger and pepper, and the food of the Andhra region is spicy and hot with chillies, while food in the north is generally said to be milder, with a more complex blend of the seed spices, and a more judicious use of heat. However, throughout India, the most commonly used spices – mustard seeds, chillies, cumin, asafoetida, curry leaves, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom – remain fairly consistent.
Moghul food refers not so much to any particular area of India as to the food of the conquering Moghuls or Mongols, who came from Persia in 1526 and founded a powerful dynasty whose courts throughout the north and centre of India brought about a melding of Hindu and Persian cuisines. As a show of wealth and sophistication, the meals created for the Moghuls and their guests often contained expensive nuts, chicken, saffron, cream and yoghurt unavailable to the common people. Aromatic spices such as cardamom, fennel seed and cinnamon were used with rose water, almonds and dried fruits to make sumptuous, extravagant rice and meat dishes.
We currently have in stock a two fascinating books about Indian cuisines, Bengali Cooking – Seasons and Festivals by Chitrita Banerji ($22.95), which divides the culinary year into seasons and provides a wonderful window to the way of life in this area, and Moghul Cooking – India’s Courtly Cuisine by Joyce Westrip ($29.95). Either or both can be ordered at a cost of $5.00 postage and packing – or $3.00 postage if the order is in conjunction with an order for spices.
We’re making a change as we go into our second summer. Our hours are now 10.00am to 6.00pm Monday to Friday, and still 9.00am to 4.00pm on Saturday. We hope that it will now be convenient for some of our customers to call in on the way home from work.
Gift Kits – The perfect present
We’ve been reviewing and revamping our spice Gift Kits in time for Christmas. New to the range in a luscious aqua box is the “Sea Foodie”
Gift Kit with some favourite seafood recipes and spices for the summer. Recipes include a fabulous authentic fish stew from Kuwait, as well as Lyndey Milan’s classy Bream with Cumin and Harissa, and a tasty, easy-as-pie redfish curry. Others in the range are: · True Blue Aussie Kit – an all Australian kit in a natural drought-coloured box, with easy recipes. A popular gift to send back to the Old Country … or any country you like!
- Moroccan Kit – same exotic purple box and Moroccan spices, with good fail-safe recipes.
- Indian Summer Kit – the perennial favourite with great recipes, in thewarm and summery orange box.
- Hot and Spicy Kit – one for the dedicated chilli freak, in a sizzling red box.
- Vegetarian Kit – a canary-yellow box full of spices and non-meatr ecipes.
- Comfort Food – a cosy green box with yummy feel-good recipes and the spices to match.
All the kits are $24.95 plus $5.00 postage and packing, and can be sent anywhere you like with your message in a gift card direct from Herbie’s. We can attach a phytosanitary declaration to smooth the way for kits going overseas.
What New at Herbie’s?
What’s new at Herbie’s? We have finally developed a Laksa Spice Blend, and it’s so quick and easy we use it all the time! The recipe is on the pack, so that you can assemble it by simply having a few fresh ingredients and the all-essential coconut milk. The laksa recipe calls for Shrimp Powder, so if you don’t already have some in your pantry, you’ll need to order some when you order the Laksa. There’s been demand for genuine smoked paprika, and we now have Sweet Smoked Paprika and Hot Smoked Paprika from the La Vera region of Spain.
A Rather Grey Matter – Black Pepper
You might wonder why ground black pepper is grey rather then black.Here’s the reason – get a sharp knife and carefully cut a blackpeppercorn in half, and you’ll see it’s white in the middle, with a black outer shell. Now if you grind something that’s mostly white, it can’t make a black powder! Very dark ground pepper is often the result of cheap hollow shells (called “light berries” in the trade), and it doesn’t have much flavour. Maybe the reason so many recipes call for “freshly ground black pepper” is that there have been too many experiences of very black, flavourless ground pepper. Good quality ground black pepper should be used with the same confidence we have when using ground cardamom, fenugreek, cinnamon, or any other spices. Add good quality ground black pepper to a spice mixture and enjoy the difference!
As usual, an updated order form is included with your Newsletter.
Unfortunately, some prices have had another climb, due in some cases to scarcity of good product, caused in part by droughts and bushfires in SE Asia, floods in China, and a crop failure in South Australia.
We’re getting excited about the trip to India (22nd January to 4th February next year), and bookings are looking good. If you’d like to do the trip with us, phone your enquiry to our travel agent, Ossie Pitts, on (02) 9438 3033.
Meanwhile, have a spicy Spring season!
Herbie and Liz