Next up on The Spice Train will be sesame! The tiny seeds are one of the oldest known spices and sources of oil, dating back to at least 3,000 B.C. Their high oil content makes sesame seeds delicious but also causes them to go rancid after a few short months (I learned this the hard way…), so be sure to keep them in the fridge. Recipes coming soon!
If you like your pizza crust crispy and thin as a cracker then you’ll love this recipe. I had been trying to figure out how to make a good pizza crust for years until I came across lavash, a tasty Middle Eastern flatbread. Lavash is soft, very thin and bakes up deliciously crispy in minutes. It also freezes well and thaws very quickly. In other words, it’s the perfect pizza base. For this recipe I topped the lavash with sumac spice-rubbed grilled chicken breast, a few vegetables and some cheese. I recommend you serve this pizza with tzatziki – enjoy!
- lavash bread (to be found in Middle Eastern food stores)
- one boneless, skinless chicken breast
- one tablespoon sumac
- one teaspoon yellow mustard seeds, ground
- one teaspoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- canned artichoke hearts
- sun-dried tomatoes
- sliced zucchini
- grated cheese (I used a mix of cheddar and gruyere)
- green onion for garnish
- Whisk sumac, mustard seed, chili, salt and pepper together in a bowl and rub on the chicken breast.
- Grill the spice-rubbed chicken, then cut into chunks.
- Sprinkle the lavash bread with vegetables, cheese and chicken and bake in a 350-degree oven until the cheese is melted (about 10 minutes).
- Sprinkle with green onion and serve by itself or with tzatziki.
I’ll start the sumac series with this easy, quick and very delicious spice-marinated chicken kebab recipe. Sumac adds a wonderful lemon flavor here but is at the same time not as harsh as actual lemon juice would be. (It also doesn’t seem to break down the meat during the marinating process like actual citrus juice would). I recommend you serve these kebabs with salad, black olives, pita bread and maybe some hummus. Enjoy and if you decide to make this recipe let me know what you think of it!
- 1 tablespoon ground sumac
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I used actual cinnamon and not cassia)
- 1/2 teaspoon tandoori (you can substitute generic curry powder if you don’t have tandoori)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- vegetables of your choice (I used tomatoes and shaved zucchini)
1. Mix sumac, salt, pepper, cinnamon, tandoori and oil together in a bowl.
2. Cut the meat into 1 1/2-inch chunks, add to the spice/oil mix and marinate for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.
3. Thread vegetables and meat onto skewers and grill until the chicken’s internal temperature registers 165 degrees F.
Middle Eastern flavors are rumored to become a hot thing in 2014 (along with pigeon meat !?!) so I figured I’ll jump a month ahead of the trend and experiment with sumac. The dark red spice is widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine, packed with healthy flavonoids, and has a citrusy flavor. (In fact, sumac was the Romans’ acidic ingredient of choice before lemons arrived in Europe). Even though sumac is probably best known as one of the main components in the spice blend za’atar (a mix of sesame seeds, various dried herbs and sumac), it also works well as a spice rub or sprinkled on hummus and even salads. Recipes coming soon!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone, here in the U.S. and abroad! If you’re wondering what to do with turkey leftovers I suggest stuffing them into a grilled sandwich along with cranberry sauce, grated gruyere and a bit of homemade orange tarragon mustard. I threw in some fresh tarragon as well and used a walnut cranberry bread for extra fruitiness. It was really delicious. Enjoy yourselves and I’ll see you back here soon!
For this easy, no-bake apple crisp I did an actual side by side comparison between the real cinnamon and cassia. The difference was very apparent and for me cinnamon won hands down. Despite the modest amounts I used cassia was overpowering (as I think it always is) and one-dimensional. The real cinnamon added complexity while still letting the other flavors come through. Anyway, it’s an easy recipe for a quick but delicious dessert and you won’t even need to fire up the oven!
- 2 tablespoons + 1/2 tablespoon butter
- 3 cups 1/2-inch chunks of peeled apples (about 4 apples; Gala work well)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet.
- Add the apples, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of dark brown sugar. Stir until well combined.
- Put the lid on and let the apples cook on medium to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are soft but still have their structure. (About 7 minutes).
- In a bowl, combine remaining sugar, oats, walnuts and sesame seeds. Mix well.
- In a small, non-stick pan melt the remaining butter, then add the walnut mix and brown for a few minutes until crunchy. (Do this on relatively low heat and watch closely, it will burn easily).
- Serve apples in a bowl and sprinkle the topping on.
I’ve got a hearty stew with a subtle Christmas-season flavor for you today. According to my Flavor Bible beef and cinnamon are a match so I gave the two a try and was surprised at how well the flavors worked together. Now, a few things are absolutely crucial about this recipe: First, the slightly sweet cinnamon absolutely needs the spicy corn bread for balance. Without the corn bread the dish isn’t complete, with it, it’s delicious (in my opinion, anyway). So don’t skip the jalapeño corn bread. :-)
The second crucial part is that you get a chuck roast (which comes from the animal’s shoulder) rather than anything from the round (which is the thigh). The difference between these two cuts of beef stew meat is huge – round ends up tough and bland compared to the rich and flavorful chuck (not to mention that beef from the round makes you exercise your jaws while chuck melts in your mouth). Other than that, everything is straightforward.
For the stew you’ll need:
- vegetable oil
- a 2-pound chuck roast, cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes
- salt and pepper
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon (I used the true cinnamon, not cassia)
- 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1 bay leaf
- two sprigs of thyme
- 1 cup of sliced carrots
- 1 cup of peeled, cubed potatoes
- 1-2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
- Pat the meat dry and season with salt and pepper
- In a Dutch oven, brown the meat in a little vegetable oil on all sides. Sear the meat well but watch out not to burn it. (Unless you have a very large pot you’ll need to do this step in batches, if you crowd the pot the meat will just steam and not brown).
- Remove the meat and set aside.
- Add the onion to the pot and cook until translucent.
- Add the cinnamon and stir around for a few seconds until combined with the onion.
- Add wine and chicken broth and stir to bring all the brown bits in the pot into the liquid.
- Add bay leaf and thyme.
- Add the meat (and its juices) back into the pot.
- Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low, put the lid on and simmer for an hour and a half.
- Add carrot and potato and continue to simmer for another hour.
- Dissolve one tablespoon of cornstarch in a little bit of water and add to the boiling liquid. If the result is not thick enough for your taste, mix up more cornstarch and add.
- Add the frozen peas and let them warm up for a few minutes.
For the jalapeño cheddar corn bread you’ll need:
- vegetable oil
- 1 jalapeño, diced (including seeds and ribs)
- 1/8 cup diced onion
- 1/2 cup frozen or fresh corn
- 1 cup corn meal
- 1 cup flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
Corn bread directions:
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Saute onion and jalapeño together in a little bit of vegetable oil until the onion becomes translucent.
- Mix jalapeño, onion, corn, corn meal, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cheese together in a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, sour cream, milk and butter.
- Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.
- Fill the batter into a greased 10-inch diameter cast iron pan and bake for about 25 minutes.
I had never given much thought to pickles until recently when I ate a phenomenal burger that was phenomenal not because of the actual burger but because of the pickle that was perched on top of it. Rather than just tasting sour this pickle had a really complex spicy flavor with hints of cinnamon and clove. It was a delicious match for the meat, cheese and vegetables (bison, brie and whiskey onion, to be exact!). I tried to create something similar in my own kitchen and the following recipe comes pretty close.
I had never pickled anything before so I started out with general directions from EatingWell.com. Their instructions simply involved making a brine, adding the cucumbers and spices to it and letting the whole thing sit in the fridge for 24 hours. No canning! I liked that. I made up my own mix of spices that, of course, included cinnamon. (I decided to use the true cinnamon as opposed to cassia). The result was really good, the pickles were crunchy, the cinnamon and clove flavors came through nicely and were balanced by the acidity, sweetness and a hint of spiciness from the pepper, mace and mustard seeds.
- one 2-cup jar with lid
- a few baby cucumbers or one regular cucumber
- one bay leaf
- one cinnamon stick (the real cinnamon, not cassia)
- 1/2 teaspoon mace
- 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper corns
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons salt (try to use a salt that doesn’t contain any anti-caking agents, otherwise your solution will turn cloudy)
- Cut a small slice off the blossom end of each cucumber because the flower contains an enzyme that will soften the pickle.
- Cut the cucumber(s) (quarter or slice them) and put them in the jar
- Add all spices to the jar
- In a saucepan combine vinegar, water, sugar and salt. Boil the solution for 2 minutes. Fill the hot brine into the jar (I recommend using a funnel).
- Put the lid on (not too tight).
- Refrigerate for 24 hours before eating.
- Store in the fridge for up to a week.
What we have been buying here in the United States as cinnamon for the past century is actually not cinnamon but cassia, a reddish-brown bark that comes from a different tree than actual cinnamon does. As long as you’re looking at whole sticks of the spice you can easily distinguish the two. Cassia sticks (in the first photo) are rolled from individual thick layers of bark and have a hollow inside, like a straw. Cinnamon sticks (also called Ceylon cinnamon to indicate their origin) are made from several thin layers of bark and are much more brittle (and for some reason also longer).
Both spices contain the same main oils but in different proportions and that causes their flavors to be quite different. I bought a jar of each and could already tell them apart just by taking a whiff. Cassia is warmer and sweeter than cinnamon but also less complex; cinnamon has an evergreen tree aroma that cassia is missing. I’ve started to experiment with some savory cinnamon dishes and will post recipes soon!
The above question popped into my head while I was zesting a lemon the other day. Taking a look around the internet I came across several slightly different definitions and I chose to present to you the broadest one I found: The American Spice Trade Organization defines a spice as “any dried plant product used primarily for seasoning purposes.”* I was pleasantly surprised that this and nearly all other definitions I saw included herbs, opening up more opportunities for this blog! Bay leaves, lemongrass etc., you’re no longer excluded. :-) (However, fresh lemon zest is unfortunately out).