Our trip to Morocco, covered pretty well in the last Newsletter, had one further result that we can now announce. There is a tree native to Morocco known as the Argan tree, which bears a fruit that looks something like a plum. The seed of this fruit has an oil-rich kernel, which is roasted, ground and hand-kneaded to release the most wonderfully rich, sweet and nutty oil – known, sensibly enough, as Argan oil. After a few hassles, we have imported some of the highest quality hand-processed Argan oil from the producers in Morocco, and it’s available for your culinary pleasure from Herbie’s Spices. (Don’t confuse it with cosmetic Argan oil, which is a lower grade.) It’s available in 25 mL ($7.25) and 100mL ($25.50) bottles. As delicious as Argan oil is, we’re afraid that if you have a nut allergy, you’d do best to keep away from it.
Argan oil is sensitive to heat, so it’s at its best used for salad dressings, and as a finishing drizzle over a tagine (such as the recipe we gave in the Winter 2008 newsletter) just before serving. When we visited the Argan processing plant, which employs many women from the local village, we had the most amazingly memorable goat tagine, and there is no doubt that the Argan oil contributed to this being the most delicious meal we ate in Morocco. Toss Argan oil through your cous cous instead of oil or butter for a totally delicious flavour burst, or drizzle Argan oil over grilled figs.
Speaking of Christmas, as usual we have our Gift Kit list included with this newsletter. You’ll see there are some new kits on the block since last year, namely the Super Salt-Free for the diet-conscious, and Thrilling Grilling – Barbecue for Blokes to celebrate the fact that real men do indeed cook. And our popular Take Five , with five of our best selling blends with five recipe options for each, and we took $5 off the price as well. In this troubled financial year, perhaps more than ever, your friends and family will appreciate a gift that is useful and helpful in planning inexpensive, tasty food, while you’ll appreciate the fact that our prices haven’t gone up in the last three years, so you can buy 2, 3, or 5 kits for just $100 or less, depending on what you choose!
What’s new at Herbie’s? Chai Spice! Herbie was in India several weeks ago filming a series of segments on spices for FRESH on Channel 9, and was impressed with the invigorating effects of a head-clearing Chai Tea made for him by the chef at Spice Village for Herbie’s sore throat (from talking too much no doubt). You can add ¼ of a teaspoon of Chai Spice to a cup of tea, or if want a strong brew, add a whole teaspoon per cup. Chai Spice contains black pepper, ginger, cassia, cardamom, long pepper, cloves and amchur and far more natural and authentic than those dreadful syrups that try to pass for Chai.
We have been making our own bread for the last couple of years. It’s a pleasant chore once every fortnight, which gives us two loaves of delicious bread perfect for toasting. Once the loaves have cooled, they are sliced, placed in plastic bags, and frozen so that we can just take out what we need, fresh every time. Take care that they do not over-rise before baking, or the top will fall a little. These humble home-cooked loaves have achieved a certain amount of fame amongst family and friends, so at their bidding, here is our recipe.
LIZ’S STAFF-OF-LIFE BREAD
200 g wholemeal bread flour
250 g crusty white bread flour
550 g multigrain soy and linseed bread flour
20 g amaranth
50 g LSA mix (ground linseed, sunflower and almond – I add ground hazels too)
30 g pepitas
½ teaspoon ajowan seed
1 teaspoon each nigella and black sesame
2 teaspoons each white poppy, blue poppy and golden sesame seeds
2 teaspoons dry yeast
600 mL warm water with 1 teaspoon salt dissolved in it
50 g extra flour, for dusting surface whilst kneading
Pile all the dry ingredients on a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. Pour in salted water, a slurp at a time, stirring. Bring in more of the flour walls as you add more liquid. Once all liquid has been used, knead the dough for 12 minutes, sprinkling a little more flour if it becomes too sticky. Place kneaded dough into a large bowl (I use the Kenwood bowl) which has been lightly oiled, and loosely cover with oiled cling wrap. Leave in a warm, draught-free place for about 4 hours or until doubled in size. Turn out onto a clean floured surface, give one or two kneads and cut into two pieces. Make each half into a loaf and place in prepared tin or on a baking tray, leave in a warm, draught-free place to rise 45-60 minutes, while oven heats to 250 degrees C. Spray loaves with water mist, make a slit across the top, bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 220 C and cook a further 25 minutes until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool before storing.
Things like amaranth, LSA and pepitas are available from the health-food section in the supermarket, or at a specialty health food store. The seed spices, of course, are available from Herbie’s! If you can’t find any of the ingredients, or want to add something of your own (like whole sunflower seeds, perhaps), you can adjust the recipe, so long as the total weight is the same. If you have a water heater in a cupboard, as we do, it will be the perfect spot for leaving the dough to rise. Just think how your neighbours would love a freshly-baked loaf of home-made bread as a little Christmas treat … much better than a bottle of wine!
We have all watched with alarm and an awful sinking feeling as our Australian dollar, through no fault of its own, falls lower and lower in value. And as everyone knows, a low-valued dollar means that anything imported costs us more, as most prices are quoted in US dollars. Although we buy Australian-grown products when we can, there are many herbs and spices that are not grown commercially in Australia, and we have no alternative but to import them. As the cost of imported products increases, so does our cost of living, and we have given our hard-working staff an increase in their wages to help them cope. You can imagine that it all affects our running costs, and price rises are, sadly, inevitable. But we will do our utmost to maintain our current prices until after Christmas, so you might be well-advised to check your pantry and stock up before the new year.
We have noticed another by-product of higher costs. We have been offered some very poor-quality spices … rejected, of course, as they don’t reach our high standards. Watch out for sumac blended with ground (tasteless and gritty) seeds and enhanced with artificial colour to compensate! “Dodgy” is the word that comes to mind! So remember, the alternative to a price rise is to lower the standards and buy cheaper, and you know that at Herbie’s we won’t follow that path.
We wish you all the most seasoned of festive seasons and a herbaceous new year,
Herbie and Liz