A. had a sore throat during my last visit, so I made her my mother’s remedy – a ginger and cinnamon infusion made with grated ginger shavings, a cinnamon stick, and sweetened with a dash of honey. Infusions have long ago come out of medicinal closets and are now staple cooking embellishments. They are turning up with ultra-hip allure as hibiscus-infused teas in gin cocktails or Serrano infused vodka in spicy cocktails. An infusion is simply a “tea” made by pouring boiling water, alcohol, or oil over herbs, spices, or other plant parts. The resulting “tea” when added to a drink or dish add yet another subtle layer – a fragrant flourish to the final dish. Aromatic lemon rinds and cinnamon inspired my two infusions below – one with seafood and the other in a soup.
Infusions are made with unfussy ingredients such as lemon peels, slivers of fresh ginger, cinnamon, or rose petals (pesticide-free petals from your garden are best). I had previously used lemon zests (many!) to make Limoncello, and the fragrance on my fingertips remained with me for a long time. As I am partial to lemon’s lingering aroma and flavor, I use the fruit often in savory dishes. A lemon zest and herb infused oil adds summery hints to a seafood salad, instantly enlivening plain cooked shrimp and steamed mussels. The infused oil adds an understated flavor without overwhelming the delicate taste of seafood.
Cinnamon showcases its aromatics best in an infusion. In Indian cooking, cinnamon is stir-fried to release its warm tones. However, if cinnamon is added to a simmering soup or stock, the fragrance overpowers the dish and masks the finer flavors of the vegetables. Butternut squash, a fall feature in farm stands and supermarkets, has many nutritive qualities and makes for a good soup. The squash, being somewhat bland, benefits from a cinnamon-infused cream which gives the soup a smoky warmth and flavor. Infusions are easy to make — just as simple as brewing a cup of tea with fresh tea leaves. An infused cream is made by pouring gently-heated cream over some whole cinnamon sticks and allowing the mixtureto steep for couple of hours. Easy, but the new ingredient adds a quiet complexity to the soup.
Olive Oil – 2 tsp
Butter – 1 tbsp
Lemon – 1
Tarragon – 1-2 sprigs
Shrimp – 6 large, deveined
Mussels – 12
Scallops – 6
Salt and pepper – to taste
- Zest and juice the lemon. Keep both separately.
- In a frying pan, heat 1 tsp. each of oil and butter. Once it starts to smoke, turn off the heat.
- Add the lemon zest and tarragon sprigs to the hot oil. Let it steep for half-hour.
- Steam the mussels.
- Cook the shrimp, either grill, broil, or quickly dip in boiling water and remove.
- In another pan, heat the remaining oil.
- Add the scallops. Cook each side for about 2 minutes.
- Mix the shrimp, mussels and scallops together.
- When ready to eat, toss them with the lemon-herb infused oil and lemon juice.
- Season with salt and pepper.
Butternut Squash Soup
Cinnamon sticks – 2
Cream – ½ cup
Butternut squash – 4 cups of cubed squash or half a squash
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Onion – 1, chopped
Ginger –1-inch, peeled and chopped
Carrots – 2, cubed
Low sodium stock – 2 ½ cups
Salt and pepper –to taste
- In a pan, heat the cream gently. When it starts to simmer, remove it from the stove.
- Add the cinnamon stick to it. Keep aside for about two hours.
- Peel the butternut squash. This is the hardest part of the recipe as the skin is tough. However, it is cheaper to buy the whole squash, and you can toast the seeds — which can be added for a crunch in the soup or eaten on its own.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan.
- Sauté the onion and ginger for a minute.
- Add the cubed squash and carrots. Stir fry until mixed well with the onion and ginger.
- Pour the stock and 1½ cups of water. Bring it to a boil.
- Simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the squash can be mashed easily.
- Strain the vegetables from the stock and grind them in a food processor until you have a creamy mixture. Add it back to the stock.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Just before you serve, drizzle the cinnamon infused cream. Decorate with toasted seeds.
Note: Infusions can be used right away (cream-based) or they can be stored for later use (herb-infused oils).