spices

Pickling Summer: Watermelon Rinds

When September rolls around with its cool mornings, I start looking for ways to bottle up summer – to keep it around a little longer. Watermelon evokes summer; a slice of fruit with the red juice running down your forearms is the perfect dessert after a barbecue. When a friend recently brought pickled watermelon rinds to a party, I knew that the recipe would be another way to extend the season’s flavors (check out basil butter and oven dried sage and lavender).

Buying a whole watermelon is economical (see cocktail and granita), and now the whole fruit including the rind can be utilized. Pickling the rind creates instant gratification, as the pickled rinds are ready to eat in about 12 hours. The ingredients are commonplace items that are usually available in a well-stocked pantry. The process of combining the pickling spices (cloves, peppercorns, allspice, and cinnamon), aromatics (fresh ginger and lemon) with the pickling liquid of sugar-water-vinegar mix requires little effort. Pickling is more of an art form, and the ingredients can be varied according to your preferences. However, the pickling liquid has to be sufficiently acidic with enough of the liquid covering the rinds to prevent any mold growth.

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Serve the pickled rinds as an accompaniment to burgers and hot dogs or as a side dish alongside hummus and olives.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds

Watermelon – 4 cups (about half of a medium-sized watermelon)

Water – 4 cups

Vinegar (plain or apple cider vinegar) – 3½ cups

Salt – 1½ tbsp

Sugar – ¾ cup

Whole cloves – 4-5

Peppercorns – 4-5

Whole Allspice – 4-5

Whole cinnamon stick – 1

Ginger – 6-7 slices

Lemon – 1, sliced

  • Cut the red flesh away from the rind, leaving behind just ¼-inch of the flesh close to the rind. Use the fruit to make granita or salad.
  • Peel the hard dark green, striped rind with a good strong peeler. Once the striped green rind has been peeled away and discarded, the paler green rind below is easy to remove. Scrape down until you have 1½-inch layer of the pale green rind left.
  • Cut the peeled rind into smaller cubes or slivers. Keep aside.
  • Boil 3½ cups of water. Add the salt to the boiling water.
  • Add the cut rinds to the boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes, until the rinds have softened. Remove and drain. Rinse the rinds with fresh water. Place the rinds in a fresh metal pan.
  • Meanwhile, mix the sugar with the vinegar and ½ cup of water until the sugar has dissolved. Heat the mixture.
  • Add cloves, peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon, and lemon and ginger slices. Boil the mixture for about 8 minutes.
  • Pour the vinegar mixture over the watermelon rinds. Place a plate (or weights) on the rinds to keep all of the rinds submerged in the pickling liquid. Cover.
  • Once the mixture has cooled, keep the pan in the refrigerator.
  • The pickled watermelon rinds are ready after 12 hours.
  • Pour the rinds and vinegar solution into a sterilized mason jar to store, making sure the rinds are submerged in the pickling liquid. Pickled watermelon rinds keep in the refrigerator for a week and longer.

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Mango Shrikhand – Yogurt And Mango Dessert

In my experience when writing a regular food blog, often two disparate food-related events culminate in a new recipe or a twist on a memorable flavor. This time around, it was a case of overripe mangoes in addition to excess yogurt from experiments with a starter culture. Combining these two ingredients brought back memories from my childhood in Bombay of a wholesome, custardy dessert – shrikhand.

Shrikhand (pronounced shreek-ind), from the western states of India, combines the velvety richness of thickened yogurt with hints of warm floral notes from saffron and cardamom and a crunchy finish of pistachio nuts. Similar to ricotta, the creamy strained yogurt also complements pureed fruits, which gave me the idea to pair it with mango. When I was young, my father would bring home a small box of freshly-churned shrikhand made at a roadside stall. This unpretentious shop was exactly what today’s gourmet hopes to find, tucked in a market selling everything from vegetables to plumbing equipment. At that time, shrikhand was expensive as the ingredients were all top quality; which is why we only ever received a small box! Making shrikhand at home was much easier than I had expected, and perfectly recaptured the taste of my memory. The silky, thick consistency of the strained yogurt pairs well with mango’s natural sweetness.

Shrikhand

Yogurt (32 oz) – 1

Mango – 1, peeled and pureed

Superfine sugar – 2 tbsp + more if needed

Saffron strands – 3-4

Milk – 1 tbsp

Cardamom powder – ½- ¾ tsp

Pistachio nuts – 10, lightly crushed

Cheesecloth or muslin

  • Strain the yogurt through a cheesecloth. Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together to form a bag. Suspend the bag high over a bowl, such that the whey liquid can drain out without touching the bag.
  • Peel, slice, and puree the mango. Put the mango pulp in a colander, to drain any excess juice.
  • Warm the milk for 10 seconds, and add the saffron strands. The milk should turn a warm yellow color in about 5-7 minutes.
  • Combine the strained yogurt, mango, sugar, saffron milk, and cardamom powder. Whip them together with a fork or whisk, until smoothly combined.
  • Divide and serve in small, individual ramekin- sized bowls.
  • Garnish with a few pistachio pieces.

Note: Use the best quality saffron and cardamom that you can get, as these flavors are subtle. Try the original shrikhand recipe (which uses no fruit) if you don’t have mangoes, adjusting sugar according to your taste.

 

 

 

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Trending Now: Turmeric

Turmeric is an ancient spice, used in both Indian and Chinese medicines, as well as in everyday cooking. When peeled, the fresh gnarled ginger-like rhizome (underground stem) reveals a bright orange flesh. When the fresh turmeric is dried and crushed, the spice powder adds a distinctive warm hue to a dish. The curcumin compound in turmeric is responsible for color, and is one of the ingredients sought after for its powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties. Turmeric is used in Indian and Asian cooking for exactly these reasons: to heal as well as to protect against possible spoilages, especially for meat. Turmeric is having its moment again, and trending now as a super food in the form of Golden Milk (or Golden Tea) and as supplements.

Golden Milk is a coconut milk-based drink, spiced with turmeric, cinnamon, and pepper. The tea is one of the many ways to add turmeric into a diet, and is especially powerful when combined with ingredients that boost the immune system. In Indian cooking, turmeric is always cooked in oil or ghee, along with other spices. When cooked in some fat, turmeric’s peppery aromatics are released while the raw bitter flavor mellows. Cinnamon, pepper, and ginger are also known as spices that fight against cold and sore throat, and this turmeric drink makes for a wonderful antidote to the cold weather.

Golden Milk (Golden Tea)

Vegetable oil – ½ tsp

Turmeric powder – ¼ -½ tsp

Ginger – 1-inch piece cut into slivers

Peppercorns – 4-5

Cinnamon – 1 stick

Coconut milk (unsweetened and light) – 1 cup

  • Heat oil in a small wok or pan.
  • Add ginger and sauté for a minute, or until aromatic flavors are released.
  • Add the turmeric, peppercorns, and cinnamon. Stir-fry for 30 seconds.
  • Warm (do not boil) the coconut milk separately.
  • Add the spice mixture to the milk and let them steep for about 10 minutes. Remove whole spices, if desired, before drinking.

 

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Suggested Daily Uses For Turmeric:

Salads: Add turmeric to make a salad dressing. Warm olive oil, and stir-fry a ¼ tsp of turmeric along with shallots or onions. Add red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix together.

Fresh Vegetables and Lentils: Add turmeric to the vegetable oil used to sauté onions and pepper and mix the spiced oil with vegetables and cooked lentils.

Eggs: Add mustard (color in mustard comes from turmeric) or turmeric to the hot oil before eggs are scrambled.

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Note: Keeping up with current trends, please check out my recipes on Pinterest and Yummly.

 

 

 

Injera: Communal Meal (Part 3)

Blogging about communal meals (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) made me aware of the importance of the main cooking pot: The flavors developed here enhance the taste of the accompaniments. In Ethiopian cuisine, the central “pot” is injera bread, which is both the dish that holds the accompaniments as well as part of the meal itself. Breaking bread becomes a communal experience as pieces of injera are torn to scoop up the side dishes that are piled in small mounds on the bread platter.

Injera is made from an ancient gluten-free grain called teff. Teff flour batter is fermented overnight and gives injera its characteristic sour taste. The cooked pancake-shaped spongy bread balances, both literally and figuratively, an assortment of cooked vegetables, lentils, and meat. Side dishes range from lightly spiced to the richly spiced flavors aided by the spice blend, berbere (pronounced burr-burr-ee). Berbere gives the meat stew (wot) and red lentil sauce its rich red color and complexity. Depending on family or regional traditions, there are at least 8-10 different spices in the berbere blend.

Proper etiquette requires that you eat with your fingers, working your way from the edges of the injera toward the middle. This has a practical aspect since the soft spongy center soaks up the sauce from the stew by the end of the meal.

Doro Wot – Chicken Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 4-5 tbsp

Onion – 2 large, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 6, peeled and minced

Ginger – 2-inch peeled and minced

Chicken –1 lb, washed

Berbere powder – 2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

Boiled eggs – 2 (optional)

  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes, until cooked down
  • Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat. Process the cooked onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor, until it becomes a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back to the pan and continue with the cooking.
  • Add the berbere powder and sauté for one minute.
  • Add the tomatoes and incorporate into the mixture.
  • Add the chicken. Cover and cook on low for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
  • Add the boiled egg during the last five minutes of cooking, so that it will absorb the flavors.

Misir Wot – Red Lentil Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 3-4 tbsp

Red lentils – 1 ½ cups, cleaned until water runs clear

Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 8, peeled and minced

Berbere powder – 1-1/2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

  • Heat a pan with oil.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the berbere spice powder and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook them until incorporated with the contents in the pan.
  • Remove from heat and process them to a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back into the pan and bring the contents to a simmer.
  • Add the lentils to the paste. Mix well, and add  3 cups of water.
  • Cook on low heat, until lentils are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add more liquid as needed, but the consistency of the lentil stew should be thick such that it can be scooped up with injera.

If you do not want to make all the accompaniments, make one meat or lentil dish with berbere spice and keep the rest of the accompaniments easy – such as a simple steamed greens or salad.

Suggested Accompaniments:

Red Lentil Stew

Ethiopian Green Salad

Marinated Beet and Potato Salad

Collard Greens

Steamed Kale

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Note: This time I used store-bought injera for convenience. I am planning to include a recipe as part of a series on fermented breads.

 

I was introduced to the three communal meals, the inspirations for the last few blog posts, by my friends (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) and relatives who had lived and worked in Ethiopia (injera). I would love to hear from you about your personal favorite communal meals.

HERBS and SPICES: Substitution or Omission

A. wanted to make the Fish in Coconut Sauce recipe from my last blog, but didn’t have any coriander powder. She wanted to know if she could substitute it with another spice.

A specific spice, like coriander, cannot be substituted with just another spice. Each spice has its own unique medicinal property – be it preservative, astringent, digestive, or antibacterial, as well as its own aroma. When the spices are combined, the aromatics act as flavor enhancers and work together to add depth to a dish.

However, note that a recipe will sometimes specifically label a spice as optional. This “optional” spice is used in negligible amounts and does not affect the overall flavor of that dish, in which case it can be omitted from the recipe. Alternatively, you can swap spices as long as you stay within the same family of spices. For example, if the recipe asks for black mustard seeds (available in ethnic stores), you can replace them with yellow mustard seeds (found in all grocery stores). They might lack the piquancy of the black mustard seeds, but they are in the same family of flavors. Cassia bark is cheaper than its distant relative, cinnamon, but it is coarser and less aromatic. Similarly, green chilies can be replaced by jalapeno, serrano, or scotch bonnet – depending on your tolerance for heat!

A spice can be a bark (cinnamon), the stigmas of a flower (saffron), a bud (pepper) a fruit (nutmeg), a seed (mustard), or an underground stem or rhizome (ginger). Herbs are the leaves and young stems of a plant, and in some cases, the leaves (coriander/cilantro) grow on a spice plant.

The use of spices and herbs started out in culinary history to flavor and preserve food at its optimum best at a time when refrigeration was uncommon. Spices and herbs continue to offer health benefits, keep food pathogens in check, and add zest to everyday foods. Herbs, like spices, were added to a dish because of their medicinal properties and fragrance. Tried and tested herb and meat combination such as rosemary and lamb, sage and sausage, or veal, basil and tomatoes have been passed down through the ages. As herbs are usually added toward the end of cooking, there is a little more flexibility with substituting herbs. However, it is important to choose similar flavors. Both rosemary and oregano have strong flavors, and work well with the equally bold flavors of meat or poultry. Chives are in the onion family and can replace leeks in egg dishes. Marjoram is a relative of oregano, and can replace oregano for milder flavored tomato-based sauces. Both rosemary and sage have a minty flavor, and can be used interchangeably with poultry dishes. If the herbs are added to a dish during cooking or are part of a marinade, stick to the recommended herbs in the recipe. Flat-leaf parsley and thyme can stand up to heat, and some herbs like bay leaf and sage develop spicier or deeper tones as they dry, so substituting a herb could result in unexpected outcomes.

Some common spice and herb mixes include Indian (garam masala, panch phoron, kaala masala, goda masala), Chinese (five-spice powder), Mexican chili powder, Ethiopian (bebere), Italian herbs, French (quatre-épices, herbes de provence, boquet garni), as well as mixed (pudding) spice, pumpkin pie spice mix, and mulling spices.

To summarize my answer to A.: Generally, omission is better than substitution. But, when whole spices can be purchased inexpensively and stored for long periods, and fresh herbs can be grown on a windowsill, why not use the originals?!