Friday, December 31, 2010

Ras el Hanout (North African Spice Blend)

"Ras el hanout" means "top-shelf" in Arabic.  This seasoning is used in many North African foods.  Like curry powders and berbere, there are regional variations - but more importantly, each cook may make their own signature blend, with potentially over 100 ingredients. My blend is based on ingredients that are more or less readily available in the U.S. - if not in your grocery store, then at a local Asian or Mediterranean market.     

Typically this blend might replace the spices in your favorite tagine , but I find that many stews can be successfully reinvented by using ras el hanout.

Makes about 8 oz.

Ingredients

3 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 Tbsp white peppercorns
24 allspice berries
4 tsp cardamom seeds
6 cloves
10 rosebuds (dried)
12 cinnamon sticks
12 blades of mace
3 Tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp aniseed
8 Tbsp turmeric
8  Tbsp dried pepper flakes
1/2 tsp lavender
1 tsp saffron
1 Tbsp ginger powder

Preparation

1. Add all ingredients that are not seeds to a non reactive bowl (glass or ceramic). In the ingredient list - begin with rosebuds and continue to the end.

2. Heat skillet.  Add all seeds (ingredients up until cloves). Turn heat to low or medium, and toast until fragrant, frequently shaking (about 1 1/2 minutes).  Remove immediately from heat and add to the other spices.

3. Grind in a spice blender in small batches until powder.  Pour all batches in a non reactive bowl, and stir together when finished.

4. Store in tightly sealed glass jars.  To take advantage of the freshness, use within two weeks.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Easy Ethiopian Lentil Stew

An easy, fragrant stew; allow yourself 1 1/2 hours to prepare, but most of this will be waiting time.  You can cut the cooking time by replacing the water and dried lentils with a can of cooked lentils in a pinch; just delete step 3 and add after the carrots and potatoes are finished.

In the absence of berbere, and if you don't have time to mix up your own, try substituting your favorite curry - the taste will be different, but also delicious!

Ingredients

1 Tbsp  canola oil
2  red onions, chopped
3  garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp  berbere spice mix 
1 cup water
2 veggie bouillon cubes, low salt
1  cup  dried small red lentils, rinsed
1 20 oz can diced tomatoes
2 medium carrots, sliced into 1/2 inch slices
1 potato, cubed into 1/2 inch cubes
salt to taste
1/4  cup  finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional) for garnish

Preparation

1.  In a medium pot, heat oil. Reduce to medium low heat, then add diced onion. Saute for about six minutes, until beginning to get transluscent (not brown), then add garlic.  Continue to saute for four more minutes.  Add berbere. Mix and allow spice to heat through until fragrant, about 1 1/2 minutes.

2.  Add water, bouillon, tomatoes, and lentils. Simmer for 30 minutes.

3.  Add carrots, potatoes, and salt.  Cook until all are soft, about another 20 minutes.  Taste and add more berbere, salt, or cayenne pepper if desired.

4.  Serve with flatbread or basmati rice, and garnish with the fresh cilantro if desired.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Berberé (Ethiopian/Eritrean Spice Mixture )

Berberé, like any curry, has many regional inflections - and every cook has their own recipe, many containing over 30 ingredients. While this is a dry blend, berberé pastes are also often made, using fresh peppers. 

This can be used to flavor any stew (recipes to follow). I also often spray strips of root veggies with olive oil, then sprinkle berberé on top and roast. 

This year I mixed up large batches and filled assorted jars collected from thrift shops for holiday gifts- include a few easy suggestions as well as a more involved recipe.

Ingredients
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
12 whole cloves
1 tsp cardamom seeds
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp whole allspice
1 1/3 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
12 small dried red chiles
4 small cinnamon sticks
2 whole nutmeg
1 tsp dried ginger
1 Tbsp tumeric
1 tsp sea salt
3 Tbsp sweet paprika


Preparation

1. Heat a dry skillet. Reduce heat to low and add whole spices, in batches if necessary. Toast until fragrant, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from skillet immediately, and place in glass bowl to cool.

2. When seeds have cooled, add remaining spices to bowl and stir.

3. Add the spices to an electric spice or coffee grinder in three batches; pulse 4 times, then grind until powdered. Pour into a bowl, and stir all three batches together when finished.

(Hint : of course we are supposed to have two separate grinders for coffee and spices, but sometimes we don't have space or money for that luxury! I use the same grinder: I just clean well before and after, and enjoy the fact that my coffee is spicy for a week or so! )

4. Store in an airtight glass container.
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Curry Powder

In honor of the incomparable pleasure of eating dishes with freshly roasted spices!  There is a tremendous difference from prepared curry powders, which use a limited number of ingredients and have been ground weeks, months, or even years before. 
I often make spice blends in fairly large batches and then freeze portions of it... that immediate freshness is gone within two weeks at room temperature, though there will still be more flavor than in store-bought blends.  I also use this recipe for making gifts.  Include a note with some easy ideas (sprinkling over roasted root veggies, on hummus, etc.) as well as with a detailed recipe for a more complex curry dish.
These days one stop at a well stocked Asian market should get you all of these spices at a reasonable price.  The cardamom and saffron are the only two expensive ingredients... However, if you don't want to buy large packages, many Whole Foods stores carry all of these spices (except the saffron and onion seeds) in bulk, so you can buy smaller amounts for a reasonable price as well.
Ingredients
3 Tbs cumin seeds
4 Tbs coriander seeds
4 Tbs ground turmeric
1 Tbs cardamom seeds
1 Tbs mustard seeds
1 tsp onion seeds
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 Tbs white peppercorns
4 cinnamon sticks
2 tsp whole cloves
1 whole nutmeg
1 Tbs ground ginger
2-4 tsp cayenne powder
2 pinches (about 8 whole threads) saffron

Procedure
1. Heat a dry skillet.  When it is hot, reduce the heat to low and add all of the ingredients that are not powdered (be sure that there is no more than a single layer in the skillet at once).  Toast the seeds until fragrant, about 1-1 1/2 minutes. Remove the seeds immediately to a glass bowl and allow to cool.
2. Once the toasted spices have cooled, add the powdered spices to the bowl and stir.
3. Add the spices to an electric spice or coffee grinder in three batches; pulse 4 times, then grind until powdered.  Pour into a bowl, and stir all three batches together when finished.
(Hint : of course we are supposed to have two separate grinders for coffee and spices, but sometimes we don't have space or money for that luxury!  I use the same grinder: I just clean well before and after, and enjoy the fact that my coffee is spicy for a week or so!)
4. Store your curry powder in an air-tight glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Keep in a cool, dry place.

Monday, December 20, 2010

DIY Holiday Gifts

Working on a series of spice blends and trying out my mobile phone in the process... Recipes to follow!