09/10/2008

Vegan MoFo Day 9: Spice up your life (People of the World)

HAH! Get that song stuck in your head all day suckers!
(although I actually like that song but I'd never admit it to anyone) Geri and her pals aside - I wanna talk about Spice and not in the Dune sense either. I think most vegetarians and vegans have a well stocked Spice supply. Spices can change a meal into something magical - a pinch of this here and a sprinkling of that there. Spices are dried parts of aromatic plants, usually tropical and include Seeds, Flowers, Leaves, Barks and Roots. They are warming and aromatic and conjure up a thousand images with the power of their colour alone. Once upon a time Spices were valued as highly as gold and acquiring them has influenced history dramatically. Possession of the spice growing islands and territories meant world trade and power. Nations fought wars over occupation of these spice territories, slavery followed and political power shifted from east to west when Spices started to be carried mainly by sea rather than transported by caravans overland, so that the seafaring nations became rich and powerful and built up empires. Spices were used for their healing properties, for cosmetics, for preserving food and also for religious purposes. So we owe a lot to these Spices and we should honour them with the respect they deserve. I am a spice freak, probably because I am a lover of Indian cooking and I probably love Indian cooking because they use and incorporate such a cacophony of the wonderful Spices Nature has provided us with. Hmmm...which came first - my love of Spices or my love of Indian food? For anyone who is intimidated by using Spices in your cooking what follows are a few of my favourite Spices with a brief description. I hope you find this informative and useful. Cardamom has a delightfully pleasant aroma, faintly reminiscent of Eucalyptus. It suits sweet and savoury dishes alike and is often an ingredient in curries. If you want to use this in a curry buy the Seeds as whole and break them up and grind them yourself, add a little (about half a teaspoon) to your curry, taste, and add more if you wish. It is easier to add more than it is to take away. Which is true of all Herbs, Spices and Seasonings - but you already knew that right. This Spice is a wonderful addition to a Fruit Salad Syrup. Simmer together 150ml of Water with 150ml Maple Syrup. Add the juice from half a Lemon and a quarter of a teaspoon of ground Cardamom. When cool strain over your favourite Fruit Salad and give it a wake-up call. Black Cardamom is as far removed from it's namesake as cheezly is from cheese. When I first tried this Spice it reminded me so much of Vick's Vapour Rub that my mum used to rub on my chest at the first sign of a cold - so straight away it evoked happiness and comfort. It is best used for flavouring Rice when added whole after the Rice is cooked and left to permeate each grain with its intoxicating aroma. Star Anise is as beautiful to look at as it is to be inhaled. Such a pretty pretty Spice. Now I'm no fan of Aniseed but these little babies always make their way to my Onion Rice everytime. This Spice is very popular in Chinese cooking and it can also be used in baking and Jam making where an aniseed flavour is required. Try it! Cinnamon is one that everyone knows about. Used in countless recipes and loved by everyone I don't think this needs any dialogue except that I urge you to try it in savoury dishes and not just sweet. A sprinkling in Chili or in Curry works wonders. Cloves are Christmas in a jar! There is no other way to describe it's smell. It is used in so many Christmas recipes from Mince Pies to Figgy Pudding that everyone will know it as soon as they smell it. Such a wonderful Spice with so many uses besides festive cooking. An essential ingredient in Mulled Wine and Hot Toddy's and also complements Fuits such as Pears, Apples and Plums. It is used in making one of my favourite sauces - Bread Sauce. HURRAH! Bread Sauce Ingredients 1 Medium Onion 4 Slices White Bread (this is the ONLY time I eat white bread) 2oz Vegan Margarine 1 Pint Plain Soy Milk 5 Cloves Salt Freshly Ground Black Pepper Method Peel the Onion and slice off the end that isn't the Root. Gently push each Clove around the outside, near the end that you just chopped off. Place in a saucepan chopped off side down and pour over the milk. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 10 mins. You will have to stir this a few times. Place the lid on the pan, take off the heat and set to one side for half an hour. When cooled take the Cloves out of the Onion and dice the Onion up into chunks - discard the Root end. Roughly break the Bread into chunks and add to the Oniony Milk - return to the heat and cook for a few minutes stirring continuously. Take off the heat, add the margarine and season to taste. Serve. Yellow Mustard Seeds are one of life's little treasures. They have a pleasant slightly nutty flavour yet mysteriously enough they have no aroma until you cook them. Whole Yellow Mustard Seeds are used in Curries and Breads as well as being used in numerous pickling recipes. Be careful when adding these to hot Oil - see my post here. Chillies are well known by everyone as well but I have included them here because I know a lot of people fear them. Used correctly they add a wonderful flavour to so many recipes that I urge everyone to incorporate them into your cooking somewhere down the line. The Seeds are what make this vegetable hot - so a really good tip is to not use the Seeds - simple huh! You will still get the full flavour from just using the flesh of this Plant and maybe when you are a bit more confident you will start to add a few Seeds as well. Be REALLY careful when handling this vegetable. Do not touch your face or eyes - whether it's dried or fresh, and always thoroughly wash your hands afterwards. I had fully intended on making Indian food for dinner tonight but I completely forgot that today was a Red Day (National Holiday). All the shops are shut so I was unable to buy Onions and Spinnach - BOO! But the good news is I have leftover Chili - YAY! Todays song is Dakota by The Stereophonics (I'm having to fight the urge to download The Spice Girls - I will be strong)

12 comments:

seitanismymotor said...

Thank you for all that useful information! Beautiful pictures. I didn't know there was a diffrence between black and green cardamom. Thank you.

Vegyogini said...

Fantastic post about spices! The seitan on my blog is baked in a 9x9 pan. It got very puffy and filled up the entire pan, but it's got a great seitan texture. I'm a horrible photographer, which is probably why it looks so big. ;)

Lisa -- Cravin' Veggies said...

Jeni... I love this post! I am totally bookmarking it for future reference! Thanks!!!

...barbara... said...

hello bread sauce....i want to try...

this post is beautiful....spices can be so pretty....star anise has sparked creativity in the kitchen and on paper, same with freshly grated nutmeg....mmm spices...

i hope you like the tuna...

and yes, i now have the spice girls stuck in my head :)

evestirs said...

so that photo was looking down at the street, an old banana peel, and a snubbed out cig.

half pint pixie said...

Arghhhh... not that song!!!

I love cardamoms, I spent about 1/2 an hour yesterday trying to silently grind a load of them in a mortar & pestle as LP slept. I managed it, and the smell was sooo good!

The bread sauce looks yummy, I've never had bread sauce. Very sheltered life, obviously :)

Jeni Treehugger said...

Aww thanks guys.
I'm trying so desperately to take better photos but it is hard with the shitty camera I've got.
Breade Sauce is the best and y'all have to try it. It goes so well with a Roast Dinner!

Anke said...

a dash of cinnamon in a tomato sauce also works wonders. i learnt that from the half-italian mum of an ex which did the best tomato sauce in the world (better than at any italian restaurant!) a hint of cinnamon and sugar WAS her secret.

Jeni Treehugger said...

Mwahahahaha!!!
It's our secret now!!

Little Pea said...

My love for Indian food came before my love for spices. I didn't realise the beauty of spices till i started cooking indian.

you didn't include Garam Masala! (which is a spice mix, but still...)

Eve Love said...

i'm spice freak too. love this post...

Green Eyes, Green Heart said...

If you confess to loving that song, *I'LL* confess to loving that song!! :)

~Erin @ "Vegan & the City"