What would a dish without spices? I am sure that the answer is ... too plain a.k.a boring......... !! And it's true that spices enrich our food and our lives, too. That's why I include assorted spices below, just to make sure that your life is not too plain or too bored to live.............

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Family: Potato (Solanaceae)

: -
Forms of use: fruit with seeds, dried or ground
Origin: Columbus brought the paprika plant back from his first voyage to America. It is cultivated mainly in the Balkans, Hungary, in the Basque areas of Spain and France as well as in South and Central America.
Aroma: depending on the quality, it is mildly aromatic up to very hot.
Use: you can see that paprika is the Hungarian national spice; paprika steak, szegedine style goulash, Serbian rice meat, and paprika chicken are classic dishes which could not have become famous without paprika. It goes well with beef, pork, lamb and poultry. Many fish, soups, egg and cheese dishes and salads require paprika.
Buying/storing: paprika is available in every grocery. Four different degrees of quality are available. Store it in an airproof container in a cool, dark place. It loses its aroma in about 1 year, becoming brown and stale.
Remarks: Paprika is an annual which grows up to 24 inches high. It has wide, deep green leaves and yellowish-green blooms. Narrow, 4 inch long, deep red siliquas are pointed. There are more than 30 types of paprika, mild and spicy, wild and cultivated. They differ considerably from one another. Be careful not to confuse them.
Related species: Paprika is closely related to vegetable pepper and chilli siliqua is a close relative as well.
Mythology: “Sweet like a sin and hot as a devil”is what they say about the taste of paprika. Its reputation as a spice with healing properties caused it to spread like wild fire in the Old World, conquering Spain, the Balkans, North Africa as well as India.
Medicinal use: paprika is rich in vitamin C and carotinoides. It promotes appetite, strengthens blood circulation, protects blood vessels and has anti-thrombus properties. It supports the secretion of digestive juices and has antiseptic as well as perspiratory effects in high doses.

Do you know….. that harvested paprika siliquas are dried and ground. Ripe siliquas have little flesh and juice, but contain seeds on partition walls inside. The walls and seeds are particularly rich in capsaicin. The more walls and seeds you grind, the hotter the paprika powder. You can distinguish five degrees of taste, quality, and hotness in paprika:
Select paprika : it contains the best fruits, is mildly aromatic and gives an appetizing red color to dishes. This type is the proper choice for people who do not like to make their food too hot. It is used industrially to color tomato puree and tomato ketchup.
Sweet paprika: is the most common type. It is very spicy and mildly hot and colors dishes dark red.
Semi-sweet paprika: it has much more spicing power and, therefore, goes well with nutritious meat dishes like mutton roast and Hungarian goulash.
Red Paprika: it is the hottest paprika you can buy and is mostly used in Hungarian and Viennese cuisines. It colors dishes deep red.
Hot pepper: its taste is extremely sharp. It is produced of fruits, seeds and partition walls and is not available in some counties.

Tips for cooking:
Never add paprika to hot fat or the sugar contained in paprika caramelizes. Season dishes only at the end of cooking. The sweeter and milder the paprika, the sooner you can add higher amounts of it to the pot.


Family: Ginger (zingiberaceae)

Synonyms: Canton ginger, zingiber officinale,stem ginger, gingembre, gengibre
Form of use: Root, fresh, dried, ground into powder or pickled
Origin: The ginger plant is a perennial grown in the tropics. It is probably native to southern and central Asia. The plant is cultivated in India, Indonesia, China, Japan, Australia, South America and Nigeria.
Aroma: The taste of ginger is spicy, fruity and aromatic. It smells spicy and sharp.
Use: Ginger is a common spice in Asian cuisines. However, it has been popular in England as well since the heyday of the British Empire, which stretched over much of Asia during the 19th century. Ginger is used to season curry dishes and stews, poultry and lamb as well as fish and seafood. Ground ginger enhances gingerbread, rice milk and fruit salad.
Buying/storing: Fresh ginger is available in the produce section of well-supplied supermarkets. Ginger lasts for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. Ginger powder is found among the spices in most grocery stores. If closed in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, it will last for months. Pickled ginger is available in Asian specialty stores. Refrigerate after opening.
Properties: Ginger is a reedy plant sometimes more than 3 feet high. It has narrow leaves and buds from which individual yellow-red blossoms develop. It contains essential oils and resin (galangol, alpinol), which cause its distinctive taste. More precisely, it is the rhizome, known as “ginger root’’ although it is not a root botanically speaking, which gives ginger its taste.
Mythology: In 500 BC, Confucius, a philosopher, seasoned dishes with ginger. Daily consumption of ginger was believed to guarantee long life.
Medicinal use: Ginger tea and ginger baths are prescribed in Asian alternative medicine for rheumatism, muscle pain or colds. Ginger stimulates the appetite, promotes digestion and relieves stomach cramps.

Tips for cooking:
Fresh ginger is peeled and then grated or cut into very thin slices. Use it with discretion: its spiciness differs depending on its age.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Family: Potato (Solanaceae)

cabe hijau

Synonyms: -
Form of use: fruit, fresh and dried as well as crushed and ground
Origin: All chili spices and peppers originated from the so-called bird pepper, chili tepin. Although native to Central and South America, chili plants are now cultivated almost everywhere.
Remarks: Depending on the particular form, chili fruits are round and pointed, green, yellow or red. They are green when unripe and eventually turn red. However, the green fruits can be used for eating and seasoning as well. Furthermore, they all contain much capsaicin, vitamin C and A.
Related species: the ‘foremother’ is capsicum tepin. All chili siliquas, spice pepper and vegetable pepper originate from it.
Medicinal use: the Indians used chili as a medicine. Chili promotes blood circulation, has antibacterial properties and if consumed in high doses, induces perspiration.

Did you know……. There are hundreds of varieties of chili. They can be divided into five species:
- Capsicum annum: most common types of chili, such as vegetable pepper and spice pepper, pepperoni and peperocini, belong to this kind. Only one bloom hangs from the branch of a plant up to 5 feet high. Most types like jalapenos chili, New Mexican and Ornamental Piquin, belong to Capsicum annuum.
- Capsicum frutescens: 1-2 or (rarely) up to 4 upright blooms can grow from a branch. The fruits grow upright later. Very hot, wild types like Tabasco belong to this group.
- Capsicum pubescens: It is only conditionally frost resistant form (up to 23 F). It has distinctive leaves, violet blooms and mostly black seeds. The most common types are Rocotoand Manzano.
- Capsicum chinense: this variant with big leaves has 2-5 blooms on each branch. Habanero and Scotch Bonnet are the best-known representatives of this group. The reinforcement of calyxes is typical.
- Capsicum baccatum: this species has big leaves and one bloom per branch.It is resistant to cold up to 32 F and comprises only hot varieties. Red Sevina, a Habanero special culture, is the hottest of all.


Artemisia dracunculus
Family : Aster (Asteraceae)

Synonyms: Estragon, French Tarragon, green sagewort, silky wormwood, false estragon
Form of use: leaves and young sprouts, fresh and dried, crush and ground
Origin: tarragon is probably native to central Asia, specifically Siberia. It has been familiar in Europe since the Middles Ages and is now cultivated all over the Northern Hemisphere.
Aroma: tarragon has a sweetly pungent, slightly peppery aroma with the flavor of anise.
Use: tarragon is added to many classic sauces like béarnaise or tartar sauce. It goes well mainly with light poultry dishes, stewed fish and simple egg dishes. This herb is used in salad dressings and mustard sauces very often as well.
Buying/storing: It is always better to buy fresh tarragon because its aroma is most intense. Wrap it in a moist towel and store it in a freezer bag in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for 2-3 days. If you must use dried tarragon, but only small quantities and store it in an airproof containers in a dark, cool place.
Properties: Tarragon is a 4 ft high perennial herb with many branches. It has many stem less, round or slightly toothed and slightly lances late leaves. Tarragon is very seldom seen in bloom: it has little yellow blossom forming in panicle.
Related species: French tarragon (Artemisia redowski) is its closest relative and is a spice as well. However, its taste is bitterer and therefore it is less popular.
Mythology: the translation of the word ‘dracunculus’ refers to its mythological significance: ‘little dragon’. People in the Middle Ages were convinced that tarragon functioned as an antibody against poisonous animal bites.
Medicinal use: the tea of tarragon blossoms and leaves promotes and supports kidney functions.
Fines Herbs: Did you know that tarragon is, next to parsley, chives and chervil one of the ‘Fines Herbs’, a classic French herb mix? This mix is available fresh or dried. The herbs are always contained in the same proportions in the mix. It is better to use fresh herbs. Omelets and scrambled eggs, cream soups, fresh cheese, cottage cheese and butter are often seasoned with “Fines Herbs”.
Tarragon Mustard: Tarragon mustard is definitely the most popular aromatized herbal mustard. It is native to France. The taste of this mustard is very fine and goes well in salad dressing or with light, fine dishes like stewed fish.

Tips for cooking:
The herbaceous stems of tarragon can be cooked if preparing broths or stews. However, the leaves should not be cooked for a long time or they will lose their aroma.
Tarragon goes well with homemade condiments. You can also use it to enhance mustard.


Citrus hystix
Family: Rue (rutaceae)

Synonyms: Leech lime, jeruk limo, Ichang lime, makrut, jeruk purut
Forms of use: leaves, fresh and dried, fruits, peel in particular
Origin: Kaffir lime tree is native to Southeast Asia and is especially widespread in Thailand and Indonesia.
Aroma: the smell of kaffir lime leaves as well as the peel of its fruit is strongly reminiscent of lemons.
Use: kaffir lime leaves are an important spice in Thai as well as Indonesian cuisine. They are used to spice soups, dips and curry, fish and poultry dishes.
Buying/storing: both fresh and dried kaffir lime leaves are available in Asian stores. Fresh leaves can be stored in a bag in a refrigerator for a few weeks. Dried leaves should be stored in an airproof container in a cool, dark place. They lose their aroma after about one year. Therefore, do not buy the leaves in large quantities.
Remarks: the kaffir lime tree is little, only up to 9 feet high. The leaves have a very peculiar petiole with a wing as large as the leaf blade itself. Their surface is glossy dark green and light green underneath. Round citrus fruits develop from little white blossoms. Their peel can be used to season as well.

Tips for cooking:
Kaffir lime leaves go well with coconut milk, ginger, galangal, garlic and chili. Whole kaffir lime leaves are cooked and removed from the dish before being served. Sometimes they are minced and placed in a dish. When you want to stock up on kaffir lime leaves, freeze fresh leaves. They maintain their aroma best this way.


Family: capparaceae

Synonyms: common caper, bush caper
Forms of use: blossom buds, fresh, in a brine, oil or vinaigrette
Origin: the caper bush is common throng horn the entire Mediterranean region. The ancient Egyptians were familiar with it. The best caper are grown in Marseille, Nice and on the Lipari Islands, north of Sicily.
Aroma: the smell of capers is slightly spicy and slightly sour. Combined with brine, the taste becomes slightly acrid and piquant.
Use: Capers are used in sauces and remoulades as well as in tartar sauce and salads. One puts this spice into veal dishes, such as the popular Vitello tonnato, in Italian cuisine.
Buying/storing: capers are available in every well-supplied supermarket. They can be stored in airtight jars in brine for at least 1 year. Their quality and price correspond to their size, smaller capers are finer and pricier.
Properties: the thorny caper bush grows about 3 feet high. Its leaves are round, smooth and slightly pointed. Its blossoms are white-pink and have markedly long purple anthers. Caper bushes often grow wild and tend not to be too picky about soil quality and water. Today, caper bushes are grown on large plantations, mainly in Turkey, Morocco, Spain and on Majorca. Unripe, still closed buds are harvested. Let the buds wither slightly and put them in oil, salty water, vinegar or into a mixture made of vinegar and salt.
Related species: during hard times, the buds of marsh marigold (caltha palustris) or Indian cress (tropaeolum majus) were used as substitutes for capers. Despite the fact that they are not botanically related, they contain similar substances which imitate the taste of genuine capers.
Medicinal use: the ancient Greeks knew the positive effects of capers on improving appetite, promoting digestion and strengthening the stomach. Capers can alleviate coughing or be used externally for eye infections. Spleen diseases are healed with capers as well.

Caper fruits, caper berries or caper apples are canned in the same manner and are rarely available. Their taste is very intense. They can be distinguished from capers because the fruit is attached to the herbaceous stem. Ideal with antipasti.

Capers are divided into quality classes:
Gruesas (more than 13 mm), Fines (11-13mm), Capottes (9-11 mm), capucines (8-9 mm), Surfines (7-8mm), and Nonpareilles (the smallest capers are the most precious and their diameter is less than 7mm).

Tips for cooking:
To preserve an open jar of capers, add a little olive oil before closing the jar. The oil will prevent the capers from becoming moldy and extend their durability. Add capers to a dish only at the very end of cooking because they lose their flavor if cooked longer.