All Things Assyrian
The Spice of Life

I have always been fascinated with spices as a youngster, and as I grew and began cooking they took on a whole new meaning. In recent times I have focused on learning more about spices, their health benefits and regional significance. Popular items like cinnamon, ginger, pepper, and turmeric I've found are flavor boosters that can make any meal taste better, help you stay thin and even fight diseases.

Based on my research, I can reveal that man began to use spices around 5000 B.C. when someone discovered that some leaves gave meat a good flavor. By 2300 B.C., the Assyrians, in one of the earliest known written records, wrote that their gods drank sesame seed wine before creating the earth.

Spices became a form of currency that sent intrepid adventurers onto unknown oceans to find new places, people, and trade routes. The spice route drew Marco Polo to China and brought the exotic spice trade to Europe. Christopher Columbus set out to find a short route to the source of oriental riches and spices and found the New World. The British Raj occupied India to enjoy and export its wealth -- its spices and teas. Columbus, Magellan, and Vasco de Gama were all searching for spice routes and supplies.

Spices not only enhanced foods and beverages but were considered wealth. In 1505 the Portuguese discovered Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and its important supply of cinnamon (only now are we learning about cinnamon as a disease-fighter). In about 1519 Magellan's expedition circumnavigated the globe. His surviving ship returned in 1522 with enough spices on board to finance the entire voyage.

There are a number of spices being found to inhibit the growth of microbes: cinnamon, cloves, mustard, allspice, bay leaf, caraway, coriander, cumin, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and, to a lesser extent, black pepper, red pepper, and ginger. One of my personal favorites is cayenne which comes from the Cayenne region of French Guyana where it supposedly sprung. The name itself is a Tupi Indian name. Cayenne is now grown primarily in Mexico, India, East Africa, and the U.S.

Take some time to explore and experiment with the wide variety of spices available locally -- either dried or fresh.

Cooking is about sharing and having fun in the process so allow me to share the great recipes from Roscoe's Kitchen and be sure to listen to Star 106.5FM every weekday at 6:20 p.m. E-mail us at roscoeskitchen@ivoryglobalpromotions.com with your comments and recipes so that we could share your experiences and creations with our audience.

CHICKEN IN A CASHEW NUT SAUCE

This chicken dish has a deliciously thick and nutty sauce, and it is best served with plain basmati rice.

2 medium onions

2 tbsp tomato puree (paste)

50 g/2 oz/1/3 cup cashew nuts

1 1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1 tea spoon garlic pulp

1 tsp chilli powder

1 tbsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp turmeric

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp natural (plain) low-fat yogurt

2 tbsp corn oil

1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)

1 tbsp sultanas (golden raisins)

1 lb chicken, skinned, boned and cubed

6 oz button mushrooms

1/2 pint water

1 table s chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) for garnish

Cut the onions into quarters and place in a food processor or blender and process for about a minute

Add the tomato puree (paste), cashew nuts, garam masala, garlic, chilli powder, lemon juice, turmeric, salt and yogurt to the processed onions

Process all ingredients in the food processor for a further 1 to 1-1/2 minutes.

In a saucepan, heat the oil, lower the heat to medium and pour in the spice mixture from the food processor. Fry for about 2 minutes, lowering the heat if necessary.

Add the fresh coriander (cilantro), sultanas (golden raisins) and chicken and continue to stir fry for another minute.

Add the mushrooms, pour in the water and bring to a simmer. Cover the saucepan and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes.

After about 10 minutes, check to see that the chicken is cooked through and the sauce thickens. Cook for a little longer if necessary.

Serve garnished with fresh coriander (cilantro) and plain Basmati rice.

PORTUGUESE PORK

This dish displays the influence of Portuguese cooking on Indian cuisine

4 oz deep fried onions, crushed

4 red chillies, or 1 tsp chilli powder

4 tbsp vindaloo masala paste

6 tbsp white wine vinegar

6 tbsp tomato puree (paste)

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp crushed mustard seeds, or 1/2 tsp mustard powder

Salt, to taste

1 1/2 tsp sugar

2 lb boneless pork spareribs, cubed

1 cup water

Plain boiled basmati rice, to serve

Place all of the ingredients except the water and rice in a heavy steel pan and mix well. Marinate for about 2 hours.

Transfer to a frying pan (skillet), add the water and mix well. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Serve hot with plain Basmati rice.

GLAZED GARLIC PRAWNS (JUMBO SHRIMP)

A fairly simple and quick dish to prepare, it is best to peel the prawns (jumbo shrimp) as this helps them to absorb maximum flavor. Serve as a main course with accompaniments, or with a salad as an appetizer

1 tbsp vegetable oil

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

3 tomatoes, chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp crushed dried red chillies

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tbsp mango chutney

1 fresh green chilli, chopped

15-20 cooked king prawns (jumbo shrimp), peeled

Fresh coriander (cilantro) sprigs

2 spring onions (scallions), chopped

Preparation is a breeze and when you are done they will think a professional chef prepared dinner

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and add the chopped garlic.

Lower the heat and add the chopped tomatoes along with the salt, crushed chillies, lemon juice, mango chutney and chopped fresh chilli.

Finally add the prawns (shrimp), turn up the heat and stir fry these quickly, until heated through.

Transfer to a serving dish. Serve garnished with fresh coriander (cilantro) springs and chopped spring onions (scallions).

Serve hot as an appetizer or as a main course.

TANDOORI CHICKEN

A most popular Indian/Pakistan chicken dish which is cooked in a clay oven called a tandoor; this is extremely popular in the West and appears on the majority of the restaurant menus. Though the authentic Tandoori flavor is very difficult to achieve in conventional ovens, this version still makes a very tasty dish.

4 chicken quarters

3/4 cup natural (plain) low-fat yogurt

1 tsp garam marsala

1 tsp ginger pulp

1 tsp garlic pulp

1 1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/4 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander (cilantro)

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp salt

Few drops red food coloring

2 tbsp corn oil

Garnish

Mixed salad greens

Lime wedges

1 tomato, quartered

Skin, rinse and pat dry the chicken quarters. Make 2 slits into the flesh of each piece, place in a dish and set aside.

Mix together the yogurt, garam marsala, ginger, garlic, chilli powder, turmeric, ground coriander, lemon juice, salt, red coloring and oil, and beat so that all the ingredients are well mixed together.

Cover the chicken quarters with the spice mixture and leave to marinate for about 3 hours

Preheat the oven 475 degree Fahrenheit. Transfer the chicken pieces to an ovenproof dish.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked right through and browned on top

Remove from the oven, transfer onto a serving dish and garnish with the salad leaves, lime and tomato

ROAST LAMB WITH HERBS

This dish originates from southern Italy, where lamb is simply roasted with garlic and herbs

3 lb leg of lamb

3-4 tbsp olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half

2 sprigs fresh sage, or pinch of dried sage leaves

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, or 1 tsp of dried rosemary leaves

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup dry white wine

Cut any excess fat from the lamb. Rub with olive oil. Using a sharp knife, make small cuts just under the skin around the meat. Insert the garlic pieces in some of the cuts, and a few of the fresh herbs in the others. (If using dried herbs, sprinkle them over the surface of the meat).

Rub the remaining fresh herbs all over the lamb and allow it to stand in a cool place for at least 2 hours before cooking. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the lamb in a baking pan, surrounded by the herbs. Pour on 2 tbsp of the oil. Season. Place in the oven and roast for 35 minutes, basting occasionally.

Pour the wine over the lamb. Roast for 15 minutes more, or until the meat is cooked. Remove the lamb to a heated serving dish. Tilt the pan, spooning off any fat on the surface. Strain the pan juices into a gravy boat. Slice the meat, and serve with the sauce passed separately.

SPICE OF THE WEEK: SAFFRON

The world's most expensive spice is the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, which is native to Asia Minor. It takes 250,000 flowers to make just one pound of saffron. Fortunately, only a small quantity of saffron is needed to flavor and color a dish, whether sweet or savory. Saffron is sold as strands and in powder form, and has a beautiful flavor and aroma.

www.thenassauguardian.com


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