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.............

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Mentha x piperita

Family: Labiate (Lamiaceae)
Origin: Peppermint was crossbred from water mint (menthe aquatic) and spearmint (m. spicata). This plant, with its intense aroma, has been popular since the end of the 17th century. It is also called tea mint or English mint.
Features: the plant grows to a height of 30 inches. Mint leaves are usually green, though sometimes they change to a reddish color similar to that of the shoot, or to a pinkish violet color in summer. The plant is reproduced from underground shoots. The most important substance in the plant is its essential oil, menthol.
Similar species: Spearmint, the ancestor of peppermint, is known for its high menthol content and was originally used to flavor chewing gum.
Location for growth: Mint needs partial shade with damp, rich soil. It can grow in sunny places if it is not too dry.
Cultivation: Peppermint has no seeds, unlike other mint types, and it reproduces only from its root shoots so to begin growing it you need to buy the first plant. Alternatively, ask a neighbor or friend if they have any mint shoot to spare.
Mint makes a good ground cover because it grows in thick clumps. The plants usually grow tall, and can be seen with other plants next to them. When blight appears, the plant should be cut back radically. It grows back quickly. Protect the plant against freezing in winter.
Harvest: You can harvest the leaves all season long. Cut it back before it blooms if you want to dry it.You should do this late in the summer.
Cuisine: The fresh leaves are used in herbal salads, sauces, soups, and vegetable or meat dishes. You can use it as a garnish that can be eaten. Fresh and dried leaves are used for preparing tea.
Health effects: The menthol contained in peppermint has calming effects and is good for relieving cramps. Peppermint tea soothes discomfort caused by digestive problems, and inhalations are used to get rid of a cold and stuffy nose.
Cosmetics: Peppermint leaves in a bath are refreshing, and good for skin pores. You can make peppermint body oil by mixing 1 handful fresh leaves with a pint of olive or almond oil. Allow to sit for 1 week.
Use for decorations: The scent of peppermint is pleasant and attracts many bees and buttefly.

The ‘Mitcham’ type, with its blue-green leaves, is probably the most famous of mints. It has a peppermint aroma and grows robustly. ‘Citrta’ smells like cologne. There are also types with lemony and orange scents.

You should avoid using peppermint if you have serious stomach problems. Some people are allergic to menthol. It would be better to choose fennel tea for small children suffering from stomach aches because peppermint’s high menthol content can cause breathing problems.


Kaempferia galanga

Familia: Zingiberaceae
Synonyms: -
Cuthchery or kencur or aromatic ginger is sometimes mistakenly called lesser galangal, although its correct English name is zedoary. This ginger-like root has a unique camphor flavor and should be used sparingly. Wash it and scrape off the skin before using. Dried sliced kencur or kencur powder can be used a substitute. Soak dried sliced in boiling water for approximately 30 minutes; use 1/2 - 1 tsp of powder for 1 inch fresh root. There is no real substitute - if you can't find it, add more galangal and ginger to the recipe.


Candlenuts are waxy, straw-colored nuts that are ground to add texture and flavor to spice pastes and curry mixtures. Raw almonds, cashews or macadamia nuts mau be substitutes.


Aloysia triphylla

Family: Verbena (verbenaceae)
Origin: The aloysia family comprises about 35 species. One of the most beautiful is lemon verbena, also known as the lemon shrub, which is sometimes known by its older botanical name Lippia tripylla. It is indigenous to Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.
Features: Outdoors, the shrub grows up to 16 feet tall, grown in a pot it is usually smaller. The lancet leaves (up to 4 inches long) have a strong lemon odor if you rub them in your hand. In summer, the plant produces small violet flowers in branched clusters (panicles), which also smell good.
Location for growth: Lemon verbena grows best in partial shade. A few hours of sun in the morning or evening suffice. As a rule, rich humus or potting soil is recommended when lemon verbena is grown in pots. In summer, it can also be grown outdoor, but do not forget to put it in a pot and place indoor before the first frost.
Cultivation: During winter, Aloysia needs a light, airy, frost-free environment, and temperatures from 35-40 F degrees are just enough. If you keep in a dark place it loses its leaves. In the winter, the plant needs only enough water to keep it from drying out, but in summer, the plant must be watered regularly. Before digging the plant up, you can cut it back sharply and pick off the shoots. These can be rooted at the temperatures of 70F. Pinch back the young plants several times so they can grow into small shrubs. Fertilize weekly from spring to late summer. The shrub is very vulnerable to aphids.
Harvest: As a rule, the leaves keep best when dried and stored in sealed bottles in a dark place. The extract is know as Herba Verbenae odoratae and can beobtained from a pharmacy.
Cuisine: The aromatic leaves can be used in many recipes. You can add a leaf to the water, for example, to spice boiled fish. Lemon verbena leaves are also a favorite ingredient in tea in France and Spain.
Health effects: The essential oils calm down and relieve stomach cramps. Added to tea they aid digestion. Leaves added to a bath release a relaxing fragrance.
Cosmetics: The essential oils are used in the production of perfumes and other cosmetics. You can dry the leaves yourself and use them in a potpourri.
Decorative uses: Grown in pots on your balcony or terrace, they not only look nice, but smell good too! Because of their lemony aroma, they should be placed near where you sit and relax.

Lemon and lime fans can grow their own trees. They need a warmer place than lemon verbena, but can be grown in pots without much effort. If you keep them in a sunny place at temperatures ranging from 60-65F during the winter, they will produce delicious fruit rich in vitamin C. The juice reduces fever, has antiseptic effects, and is suitable as an ingredient in drinks and foods. It can be added to salad
dressings, roasted meats, soft drinks, or cocktails. Lime peels is less useful, whereas ground lemon peel can be added to cakes, sauces, teas, or mulled wine.


Anethum graveolens

Family : Carrot (Apiaceae)
Origin: This plant – which was used as an herb and as a remedy by the Egyptians and Romans – probably came from Asia. In the Middle Ages, the Mongols brought it to Europe and since then it has spread widely.
Features: Dill is easily mistaken for fennel, as it has similar appearance and smell. It can grow up to 3 feet tall and its hollow stalks sprout smoothly feathered leaves. In late summer, the plant produces many small, yellow flowers in big umbels from which the dill seeds fall. These are round and when dried, they split into two pieces. A number of essential oils give the plant its distinctive aroma.
Tips for species: “Fern leaf dill”, with leaves similar to those of ferns, is especially attractive and can be harvested for along time.
Location for growth: Dill needs a warm, sunny place, and its smooth leaves should be protected against the wind. Grown in such a place, its aroma will be at its best. This somewhat demanding plant requires a soil rich in nutrients, which should be well watered but not overly wet.
Cultivation: Dill can be sown outdoors in April, and this can be repeated every 2 or 3 weeks so that you always have the fresh herb at your disposal. Dill is especially aromatic when it blooms. If you want to harvest the plants, it is recommended that you sow them in rows. If you want to let the plants mature properly, space them 8 inches from one another. Otherwise, the plants’s spreading roots will keep each other from developing fully. You can grow dill among vegetables, for example; sowing it among carrots and cucumber is a very effective means of repelling pests. The soil should be well tilled so that puddles do not form. It is easy to start dill and in following years it will grow back.
Harvest: The leaves can be cut off and used fresh through-out the whole year. They are especially aromatic if you cut them off after a sunny day. You can dry them or freeze them, but they tend to lose their distinctive taste. The seeds are ready to be harvested as soon as they turn brown. Cut off the seed heads and hang them upside down to dry. The mature seeds will fall out of the seed heads, so place a cloth underneath to collect them.
Cuisine: Fresh leaves give a special flavor to fish, vegetable dishes, sauces, and salads. It is best to chop them before adding them to dishes. Dill is also popular for flavoring vinegars and pickles.
Health effects: Dill seed tea helps against indigestion and flatulence. It also has a calming effect, and since it is a diuretic, it can be used for trouble with kidney stones. Mothers can use it to increase secretion of milk.
Decoratives uses: Dill is also used in decorative gardens because of its smooth stalks and pretty yellow flower umbels. It looks especially good when planted in beds with other perennials. Its smooth stalks may also be used in bouquets.

Wine with dill to help you fall asleep.
Boil a cup of white wine and add 1 tsp dry dill seeds. Strain the wine and drink it hot. Put leaves of Greek dill plants on your eyes to help you fall asleep.


Cuminum cyminum

Family: carrot (apiaceae)
Synonyms: comino, jintan
Forms of use: Cumin is native to the Eastern Mediterranean region and Egypt. Today, it is principally cultivated in North African and Middle Eastern countries, India and Mexico.
Aroma: Cumin taste is pleasant, fresh an d sharply aromatic. Its taste resembles that of caraway very remotely.
Use: Cumin is used particularly in Arab, Far Eastern and Latin American cuisines. It belongs among the spices used in Indonesian rice dishes and is added to many types of Indian chutney, mango chutney, for example. It is also used in Arab and Mexican meat dishes like chili con carne and it can be present in bread and cheese as well as in bitter and herbal liquor. Cumin is essential in spice mixes like garam masala, tandoori and curry.
Buying/storing: Cumin is available in spice stores either whole or ground. If whole seeds are kept in an air-proof closed container in a cool, dry and dark place, they will last more than 1 year. In powder form, cumin loses its aroma and taste quickly.
Properties: This creeping plant grows only 12 inches high and has dark green leaves and white – almost lilac - blossoms, which develop into fruits. Cumin is visually very similar to caraway. However, black cumin is dark coffee brown and is a spice as well as an herb.
Related species: Besides common brown cumin, there is black cumin as well. It is called Cashmere cumin and is used mainly in Iran, Pakistan, and in northern India, where it grows wild. Its seed are black and smaller than those of regular cumin.
Mythology; The Egyptians put cumin in the pyramids where they buried their pharaohs. Cumin was probably regarded as a medicine at the time. The Romans used it instead of pepper and ground it into a paste to use as a spread on bread. It was grown in cloister gardens under the reign of Charlemagne. In modern times, cumin oil is used in heavy, oriental perfumes.
Medicinal use: Eating cumin has very positive effects on digestion. It releases convulsions and brings relief in the abdominal area in cases of colic, diarrhea and dysmenorrhea. When used in greater quantities, it helps to cure the diseases of upper airways. Or chew a few cumin seed for about 2 minutes and spit them out! It stimulates the appetite, cleans blood and has a sedative effect. It was used to treat pulmonary diseases in ancient Egypt.

DID YOU KNOW……………………..
Pliny, a Roman scholar, mentions in his works that a rich Roman, C.Julyus Vinder, won the post of Propretor in Galicia through deception. He was drinking an extract of cumin and went to the Emperor Nero, promising him to appoint him heir of his property if the Emperor complied with his request and granted him the post. Thanks to the cumin, the greedy Emperor was disappointed.

Cumin is a suitable spice for mixtures because it goes well with other exotic spices. Cumin should be used reasonably because it has very strong taste. To intensify the taste of cumin, roast it in a hot pan without fat.


Coriandrum Sativum

Family: Carrot (Apiaceae)
Synonyms: Chinese parsley, cilantro
Form of use: seed, dried, whole and ground, and leaves, fresh, root
Origin: an herb native to and common in southern Europe and western Asia for thousand of years. Today, coriander is spread throughout the Mediterranean, the Netherland, the Balkans, Russia, India and America.
Aroma: the aroma of the fruit is pleasantly nutty and spicy. The smell and taste of coriander haulm as well as its roots is very strong and sometimes you must get used to it!
Use: coriander seeds are classic spices added to baked goods or used as a spice for dishes containing cabbage, potatoes and legumes. They enhance the taste of roast fish, poultry and meat dishes and complement chutney, plum jam and pickled vegetables as well. The herbs is mainly used as spice in Thailand, Indian,Mexican and Brazilian cuisines. Coriander seeds are added to liquors and vermouth and were used in beer production during the middle ages as well.
Buying/storing: coriander seeds, whole or ground, are available in the spice section of well-supplied and supermarkets. Green coriander is available in the vegetable section throughout the year.
Coriander seeds should be stored in an air-proof closed container in a cool, dark place to keep their aroma for up to 1 year. Ground coriander loses its taste very fast. The leaves and roots of coriander can only be used fresh because they lose their flavor if dried.
Properties: the 12-24 inch high plant is not picky about the quality of its soil. Its leaves are fan-shaped in the lower part and pinnate in the upper part. The blossoms form an umbel, bloom white and develop into globular, round, yellow-brown ribbed fruits. The diameter is 1.5-3 mm. The seeds are dried and ground after harvesting.
Related spices: coriander resembles parsley in many ways. Both their leaves and their blossoms are very similar and can be easily confused. Both herbs are used in a similar manner in cooking because their leaves tolerate neither heat nor drying. You can make broth from its roots.
Mythology: coriander is one of the oldest cultivated plants. It was mentioned in the Bible as one of the bitter herbs of the Passover feast. Seeds were discovered in archaeological finds among cultural relics from the Neolithic era. Traces of coriander found in the tombs of the Pharaohs show that coriander was also appreciated in ancient Egypt.
Medicinal use: coriander contains essential oil which help stomach and intestinal disorders and have a sedativeeffect on nerves. Coriander is flatulent because it stimulates the activity of intestinal musculature, causing interstinal convulsions and strengthening the stomach.

The aroma of coriander intensifies when the seeds are crushed in a mortar or roasted in a pan without any fat. Coriander goes well with cumin, chili, fresh mint and garlic.


Myristica Fragrans

Family: nutmeg (myristicaceae)
Synonyms: pala (Indonesian)
Form of use: seeds and episperm, dried, whole and ground
Origin: the nutmeg tree is a native to the Moluccas or New Guinea. Today, nutmeg is grown mainly in Indonesia, west India, Madagaskar and Mauritius as well as Brazil.
Aroma: the smell of nutmeg is pleasantly spicy, its taste is intensely spicy and slightly fiery. The taste of mace is milder. Mace can always replace nutmeg, but not vice versa.
Use: nutmeg is used to season everything salty, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach and cauliflower are better with a pinch of nutmeg. Thick vegetable soups, light sauces, eggs, fish and meat dishes can also be seasoned with nutmeg. Cheese fondues and eggnog are better with a pinch of nutmeg. Nutmeg is particularly good in sweet dishes like custards, puddings and stewed fruit as well as in Christmas cookies and punches.
Buying/storing: nutmeg is available either as whole or ground nuts and mace is available either ground or as yellow brown perianth. The powder is easier to handle and thus more common. Both spices are available in well-supplied groceries and greater selection of variations is available in spice stores. Nutmeg (as well as mace), should be kept in an airtight, closed container in a dry, dark place.
Properties: Nutmeg trees can live 100 years. In the wild, nutmeg grows up to 50 feet. Its cultivated from is pruned to a more accessible height of 20 feet to make harvesting easier. The tree only bears fruit starting from its eighth year of life and its yield increases up to the fifteenth year, when it peaks. Nutmeg is not the fruit of the nutmeg tree, its fruits is a seed similar to apricots. The period of ripening last 9 months – from blooming until harvest when the tree bears fruit. The fruit is thrashed with long wooden sticks. Fruit flesh, mace or nutmeg blossoms are separated and dried separately or together with the seeds (nutmeg).
Mytology: It is hard to say how long nutmeg was known as a spice in Europe. Martius (1794-1868), a natural scientist and explorer, tried to prove that mace was known to Plautus, a Roman writer, around 200 BC, and nutmeg to scholar Pliny in about 50 AD. Nutmeg was found in Egyptian mummy graves. Thus we know that ancient proved whether it was used as spice or only as a medicine or for occult purposes. Nutmeg and mace belonged, besides cloves and cinnamon, among the most expensive spices during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Medicinal use: Nutmeg plays as important role in folk medicine. Some people believe that if you carry it as an amulet or in a pocket, you will be protected from ulcers and boils. Nutmeg plays an important role in homeopathy even today.

1-6 teaspoons of nutmeg can be poisonous. The substances it contains are similar to mescaline and amphetamine in a human organism and can alter consciousness and even cause death.

Nutmeg is a spice best used only in pinches. Use it sparingly or the dish can taste soapy. Because nutmeg develops its aroma only when grated, it is a good idea to buy a nutmeg grater. Nutmeg loses its aroma when warmed, which is why dishes should be spiced only after cooking.


Dried kelp or konbu, probably the most important seaweed in Japanese cooking, is an essential ingedient in basic dashi stock. It has a dark brown color, often with whitish patches of salt and is sold in strips or small folded sheets. Wipe with a damp cloth but do not soak before using. When cooked, it expands into smooth, green sheets which are discarded before serving. One-inch (2 1/2 cm) squares of salted dried kelp (shio-konbu) available in plastic packets, are either enjoy as a snack or used as a savory accent in some dishes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Palm sugar or gula aren/jawa is a type of sugar made by boiling down the sweet sap harvested from cut flower buds of sugar or coconut palm trees. Palm sugar varies in color, consistency and sweetness from soft, gooey and creamy beige type which is sold in plastic jars to the crystallized hard and dark brown. Palm sugar sold in round disks or blocks wrapped in clear plastic or paper wrappers. The dark brown palm sugar is generally sweeter and more fragrant than the others. All can be used. If you cannot find it, substitute dark brown sugar or maple syrum for palm sugar. Hard palm sugar should be shaved or gratted into small cunks or melted in the microwave oven to measure before using. Store palm sugar in the same way as notmal sugar.


Illicium Verum

Star anise is a star-shaped, eight-pointed pod from an evergreen tree grown in northern Vietnam. It has the pungent flavor of aniseed or licorice. Used most often in soups (pho, in particular) or other recipes requiring long simmering. Star anise is available whole or ground. If use whole, discard before serving.

Family: illiciaceae
Synonyms: chinese anise, bunga lawang, pekak
Forms of use: fruits, whole or ground
Origin: star anise is native to southern China and North Vietnam. Today, it is cultivated in Cambodia, Laos, Japan, and the Philippines as well.
Aroma: star anise smells like anise but its taste is fuller, fiercer and deeper.
Use: In Chinese cuisine, star anise is used to spice pork, duck and goose meat. Europeans use it to spice gingerbread, stewed plums and pears and sweet dishes as well as Christmas tea and mulled wine. The oil is used instead of anise oil in candies and baked goods, ices and liquors.
Buying/storing: Star anise is available in spice stores or in well-supplied supermarkets. Whole fruits stored in an air-proof container in a dark, dry place will keep their aroma for a few years. Ground star anise loses its taste faster.
Properties: Star anise is definitely a beautiful spice. It is a star-shaped fruit of an evergreen tree, which can grow up to 26 feet high and live to be more than 100 years old. It bears red-brown, corky-woody, star-shaped fruit starting from its seventh year. You can find chestnut brown, glossy, seeds inside. A single star anise tree bears up to 88 lb of fruit in one year. When they are dried in the sun, they lose about three-quarters of their weight. It is not the seeds but the walls of the fruit which possess the flavor. Chinese anise is rich in essential oils, anethole in particular. It is used in food preparation and medicinally as a carminative. Star anise is unrelated to common anise.
Related species: Botanically, star anise is not related to anise, but they do have similar taste.
Mythology: Sir Thomas Cavendish, an English navigator, brought star anise from Philippines to Plymouth on sept 9th 1588. In Europe, it started as a tea spice in the court of the Russian tsar in th 17th century. Its genus name “Illicinum” is derived from the Latin word ‘illicere’, or ‘attract’.
Medicinal use: Chew star anise after eating to promote digestion and to freshen your breath. It should help with flatulence, coughing and bronchitis.

Insert a piece of star anise inside the chicken or duck and it will have spicy sweet aroma. Star anise can be combined with ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and soy sauce.


Cumin - jintan - or mellet yira is often added to curry pastes. The same thai name is use for cumin, fennel and caraway, which are all similar in appearance but sometimes leading to confusion.