Friday, January 27, 2006

Spicy Tomato Semolina : Indian Vegetarian Recipes

Indian Vegetarian Recipes

Spicy Tomato Semolina
(Tomato Rava Upma)
Tomato Green Chilli

Semolina (also called Rava in India) tempered with spices makes for a simple and delicious snack.
Change number of people to automatically recalculate ingredient amounts and cooking times.

Serves: 4
Cooking time (approx.): 11 minutes
Style: Maharashtrian

4 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) / butter
1 cup(s) semolina (or quick cream of wheat)
1 teaspoon(s) each of mustard and cumin seeds
1 sprig(s) curry leaves
1 teaspoon(s) ginger chopped
2 green chilli(es) slit / chopped
2 onion(s) sliced finely
1 large tomato(es) chopped
4 tablespoons coriander leaves
2 tablespoon(s) grated coconut if available
2 cup(s) hot water
salt to taste
fried cashewnuts to garnish

1. Heat half of the ghee (clarified butter) in a pan. Fry semolina, stirring continuously, to a golden color on medium / low level for about 2 minute(s). Keep aside.
2. Heat the remaining ghee (clarified butter) in a pan. Toss in the mustard seeds followed by the cumin seeds and fry till the seeds splutter fully. Add the curry leaves, ginger, green chillies and onions. Stir fry on medium level for about 3 minutes or till the onions are transparent and soft.
3. Add the chopped tomatoes and fry on medium level for about 3 minutes or till they are soft and cooked. Add half of the coriander leaves (reserving the rest for garnishing) and fry briefly till they wilt.
4. Mix in the semolina and salt. Add the hot water to this and mix well. Add more hot water if the mixture is dry. Cover and cook on low heat for about 3 minutes or till the mixture is almost dry.
Garnish with fried cashewnuts, grated coconut and finely chopped coriander leaves


* Ghee is very important to impart flavor to this dish. A combination of oil and ghee/butter can also be used.
* Green chillies can be increased if desired.
* It is better to heat more water than specified above in case it is required.

Serve hot with: Coconut Chutney (Nariyal Chutney)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Coconut Chutney

Coconut Chutney
A common South Indian dish which serves as an accompaniment
to an assortment of dishes from idlis and dosas to chitranna and vangi
bath. The taste of fresh coconut, curry leaves and hing, leaves behind
an intoxicating feeling on your tongue!

2 cups of fresh coconut, shredded
10 dry red chillies
1 sprig curry leaves
A large pinch of hing (asoefetida)
1/2 tsp methi(fenugreek) seeds
2 tsp udad dhal
2 tsp channa dhal
1 small tomato
Salt to taste

Heat some oil and add the dhals, curry leaves, hing, methi and red chillies.
Fry till done.
Add this to the coconut and tomato and blend into a smooth paste.
Add salt to taste.
Goes well with dosas, idli and plain rice.

Preparation : 10 minutes
Cooking: 3-4 minutes

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Slow Food

August 20, 2001

Slow Food


Long before demonstrators and police battled it out on the streets of Genoa during the G-8 summit, a potentially more influential attempt to guide the direction of globalization was slowly evolving about two hours' drive away in the countryside of the neighboring region of Piedmont in the foothills of the Italian Alps. In the small market town of Bra, in an area known for its red wines and white truffles, is the
headquarters of a movement called Slow Food, dedicated to preserving and supporting traditional ways of growing, producing and preparing food. If the French attitude toward globalization is symbolized by farm activist José Bové driving a tractor into a McDonald's, Italy's subtler and more peaceful attitude is embodied in this quirky and intelligent movement, which has taken up the defense of the purple asparagus of
Albenga, the black celery of Trevi, the Vesuvian apricot, the long-tailed sheep of Laticauda, a succulent Sienese pig renowned in the courts of medieval Tuscany and a host of endangered handmade cheeses and salamis known now only to a handful of old farmers.

Founded in 1986, in direct response to the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Rome's famous Piazza di Spagna, the Slow Food Manifesto declares that:

A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.

In its first years Slow Food, which has adopted the snail as its official symbol, was heavily concentrated on food and wine, and produced what is considered to be Italy's best guides to wine, restaurants and food stores. But in the mid-1990s Slow Food developed a new political dimension, called eco-gastronomy. "We want to extend the kind of attention that environmentalism has dedicated to the panda and the tiger to
domesticated plants and animals," says Carlo Petrini, the movement's founder, a tall, handsome bearded man of 54. "A hundred years ago, people ate between one hundred and a hundred and twenty different species of food. Now our diet is made up of at most ten or twelve species."

Worrying about the fate of the Paduan hen might have seemed a quixotic and elitist concern a few years ago, but with the lingering panic over mad cow disease, the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and the debate over genetically modified food, Slow Food--with its emphasis on natural, organic methods--has suddenly acquired a political importance and popularity that has surprised even its own leaders. Since 1995, when it began to defend endangered foods, the organization has grown from 20,000 to 65,000 members in forty-two countries. To press its political concerns, Slow Food has recently opened offices in Brussels, where it lobbies the European Union on agriculture and trade policy, as well as in New York, where it organizes trade fairs and tries to find markets for traditional food producers.

Two years ago, Slow Food flexed its muscles when the European Union tried to enforce uniformly rigid hygiene standards for all European food producers that were originally invented by the American space agency NASA. The standards have helped to keep astronauts from getting sick in space and are used successfully by corporate giants such as Kraft Foods, but would have imposed impossible burdens of reporting, paperwork and new equipment on thousands of small farmers, driving them out of business. Slow Food started a petition that was signed by half a million people, and eventually Italy obtained exemptions for thousands of artisan food makers.

As national boundaries disappear in Europe and become more porous elsewhere, food has emerged as an important source of identity, giving a new twist to nineteenth-century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach's famous phrase, "We are what we eat." But the secret to Slow Food's appeal is not that it offers a nostalgic backward glance at a world of vanishing pleasures. Globalization, in Slow Food's view, has the potential to help as well as harm the small food producer. On the one hand, globalization has the homogenizing effect of allowing multinational corporations to extend their reach to virtually every corner of the world. But at the same time, by making it easier for members of small minorities (beekeepers or Gaelic speakers) to communicate at a distance, it creates openings for niche cultures to thrive. Rather than being afraid of McDonald's, the Italians feel that they can take it on and win. "We are making the bet on quality," says Petrini. The international network that Slow Food is building is an example of what Petrini calls "virtuous globalization."

Although Slow Food's political dimension has become more prominent recently, it has always been part of its genetic makeup. The movement grew out of the gastronomical branch of ARCI (Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana), a national network of social clubs founded by Petrini that was closely tied to the Italian Communist Party. In fact, the dissident Communist newspaper Il Manifesto originally published the
gastronomical supplement called Gambero Rosso (the Red Crab), which evolved into Slow Food's authoritative restaurant and wine guides.

Notwithstanding these left-wing roots, Petrini has always believed that Slow Food needed to have a strong economic and commercial backbone. "When I was starting ARCIGOLA (the gastronomical section of ARCI),I went to see Ralph Nader in Washington. He took out a paper and pencil and said, 'With 1.4 million members, what you have here is a business.' At the time, ARCI had millions of dollars in debt because
politics dominated all decision-making. I saw that it was important to have an organization that was economically solid and self-sufficient." Slow Food's publishing arm quickly became successful. The Gambero Rosso guides to wine and restaurants have become the bibles of Italian gastronomy, much like the Michelin guides are in France. A top ranking in Gambero Rosso's wine guide virtually guarantees that a particular
vintage will sell out almost instantly. For the past six years, Slow Food has sponsored a biennial Salone del Gusto (The Taste Fair), Italy's largest food show, featuring some 550 food and wine producers. The Salone has become an almost obligatory event for thousands of the world's most important restaurateurs and wine
and food importers, and has provided an international market to hundreds of small producers whose goods,until recently, rarely left their village or region.

The effect of this kind of exposure became apparent when I visited a small mill about ten miles from Bra that is part of the Slow Food network. About twenty-five years ago, Renzo Sobrino--son, grandson and great-grandson of millers--took over an abandoned nineteenth-century mill with the idea of producing traditional kinds of cereals, grains and flours. Not only did he intend to use old-fashioned methods,
including a nineteenth-century millstone, for some of the grains, he also wanted to revive strains of wheat and corn that had fallen out of use. Sobrino tried to convince local farmers to grow a kind of corn called otto file (eight rows), which has eight large rows rather than the fourteen thin rows of most corn.
Although its thick, dark kernels are full of flavor, it was replaced by American hybrid corns that yield five or six times more corn per acre. Even though Sobrino was willing to pay farmers for their crop, many of them simply refused, considering him crazy. Local bakeries, which were his potential clients, only wanted to know the price of his flour and lost interest when they heard it was two or three times more expensive than most industrially produced flour. For many years, Sobrino had to supplement his income by using the mill to mix cement, grinding grain only one or two days a week. "I felt like a Don Quixote quite literally tilting at the great industrial mills," says Sobrino. But now he has all the business he can handle.
Williams-Sonoma has even proposed a contract so it can sell his flour and cornmeal in its stores and catalogues.

When you taste Sobrino's products, it is not hard to understand why. He offered me some five-day-old bread that was as soft and tasty as if it had come out of the oven that day. A Piedmontese baker named Eugenio Pol, who shares Sobrino's passion for traditional grains and methods, makes a whole-wheat bread that, although it contains no sugar, no beer yeast and no preservatives, is bursting with flavor and lasts
for up to two weeks. Pol gets orders for his bread from top restaurants that are several hours' drive away and has been approached by a Japanese company that would like to sell it in Tokyo. (With Slow Food's help, Pol is setting up a small school for teaching traditional baking methods.)

Producers like Sobrino and Pol have benefited not only from the Slow Food network but from a broad cultural change. Consumers have become more knowledgeable, discriminating, more health and environmentally conscious. Sobrino grinds an ancient Egyptian grain called kamut that is well suited to people who are allergic to wheat. "It didn't evolve like other grains and has fewer chromosomes and is good for people who don't react well to wheat," Sobrino explains. The kamut grain that Sobrino grinds was produced in the United States, which shows that "virtuous globalization" is a two-way street.

But can Slow Food become a mass movement, reaching beyond a relatively narrow elite prepared to spend more at specialty organic food stores? There are some reasons to think it might. Fifty years ago, in the aftermath of World War II, the average European family spent about one-third of its income on food.
Today it spends about 15 percent. In the United States the figure is even lower, about 10 percent. In Italy--the Slow Food nation par excellence--food constitutes 18 percent of the family budget, and according to a Slow Food survey, a large majority of Italians say they would be willing to pay up to 20 percent more for food in order to guarantee its quality. In a world where tens of billions are spent each year on such nonessential items as gambling, cosmetic surgery and pornography, there is clearly some wiggle room to spend a few dollars more a week on food.

As the European Union--in the wake of the recent food scares and, especially, with the prospect of enlarging its membership to include much of Eastern Europe--rethinks its agricultural policy, now is the time for Slow Food to have an impact. European agricultural policy was set in the 1950s, when hunger from the war was still a vivid memory. "The goal was self-sufficiency, and the emphasis was on producing quantity," says Mauro Albrizio, who heads the Slow Food office in Brussels. "Farmers were given subsidies according to the amounts they produced. The European Union would guarantee a price for, say, wheat that was a certain amount greater than the market price, since European farmers were somewhat less productive than American or Canadian farmers. The more you produce, the more money you make, and this encouraged intensive agribusiness practices that put a premium on quantity. There is no reward for quality, for the integrity of the process or the importance of the product to the area." Ninety percent of the EU's agriculture budget, some 42 billion euros--which constitutes 45 percent of the budget of the EU itself--goes toward this kind of price support. But with the prospect of enlarging the EU to include several countries of the former Soviet bloc, Europe's system of farm subsidies may have to be revamped.
"To simply extend the current price-support system to all of Eastern Europe would be impossibly expensive," says Albrizio. Various alternatives are now being discussed. Slow Food would like to see the price-support system gradually phased out and replaced by a more modest approach that would not favor quantity over quality. Farmers would receive a subsidy for the number of acres they have under cultivation,
and then decide whether they want to push for maximum productivity at a lower price or to concentrate on the high-quality goods that Europe is arguably best suited to produce.

The choice of quality over quantity would seem to have been reinforced by the mad cow epidemic and the recent experience of one of the breeds Slow Food has been trying to protect: the Piedmontese cow. Despite being greatly prized for their cheeses and the fine quality of their beef, the number of Piedmontese cows has decreased dramatically in the past twenty-five years from more than 600,000 to about 300,000, because of their lower productivity. They produce less milk than the more popular Holstein cows. And it generally takes Piedmontese farmers, using traditional feeding methods, about eighteen months to bring their cattle to slaughter, while cattle raised with the help of food additives and growth hormones can be marketed after just fourteen months. Thus the Piedmontese cow recently appeared ready to give way to the inexorable logic of agribusiness.

To prevent the disappearance of prized breeds and species, Slow Food has adopted the concept of the presidio, or defense battalion, creating a list of endangered foods and sponsoring strategies to try to save them, generally in the form of expertise and marketing help. In the case of the Piedmontese cow, Slow Food helped to organize a consortium of sixteen livestock farmers. Rather than urge them to expand their herds
and cut expenses to become more cost-effective, Slow Food encouraged them to agree to a series of strict protocols for natural and organic methods of feeding and raising the animals in order to produce the highest-quality beef. What might have seemed like a suicidal strategy a few years ago became a winning one last year when the first cases of mad cow disease were reported in Continental Europe. With beef consumption in Italy dropping by about 30 percent, butchers and consumers were desperate for meat that offered genuine safety guarantees, and demand for Piedmontese beef soared.
Naturally, Piedmontese beef costs somewhat more, about $4 a kilo instead of $3 for the more common breeds. "The average Italian eats about twenty kilos of beef (forty-two pounds) in the course of a year, and if you pay 2,000 lire more per kilo (about 50 cents a pound) for Piedmontese beef, that comes to about 40,000 lire ($18) a year--an entirely manageable cost for excellent-quality, safe meat," says Sergio
Capaldo, a local veterinarian who heads Slow Food's efforts on behalf of the Piedmontese cow. "Now, to a meatpacking company or even a butcher, a difference of 90 cents a pound makes a big difference, whereas to the individual consumer with his forty-two pounds a year, it means much less. So if we had an educated
consumer who chooses his beef the way he chooses his wine, the whole equation of cost and quality changes."

Once the consumer becomes discriminating, slow-growing cattle such as the Piedmontese breed begin to make sense. "The meat has less fat and cholesterol than many kinds of fish, including sole," says Capaldo. Indeed, according to US Department of Agriculture tests, 100 grams of Piedmontese beef contains 1.7 grams of fat, compared with 11.3 in standard kinds of cattle, and 95 calories, compared with 251 calories in
most beef.
That discriminating consumers may affect the way food is produced is not such an improbable idea. We are already seeing some signs of this in our own country [see William Greider, "The Last Farm Crisis,"
November 20, 2000]. "I think the United States is natural Slow Food territory," says Petrini. "You have a huge movement of organic food and the phenomenon of the microbreweries. Up until ten or twenty years ago, you had two large companies [Busch and Miller] that dominated the beer market. Now you have 1,600 microbreweries." Equally promising, he says, is the rise of farmers' markets and community-supported
agriculture, where a group of people in a place like New York City makes an arrangement with a farmer in upstate New York to deliver vegetables to the city once a week for six or seven months a year. New technology, such as the Internet, has eliminated the middleman in areas like stockbroking and bookselling, and the same may be the case with food. The Internet has been important in forming and knitting together community agriculture networks. "Community-supported agriculture and farmers' markets eliminate the mediation of the supermarkets," says Petrini. "It is biodiversity from the ground up, with a new class of farmers in direct contact with consumers. Alice Waters [founder of the famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California] is teaching schools how to create their own gardens. She's Slow Food down to her bone marrow." In fact, during the past year, Slow Food has experienced its greatest growth of new members in California. As a result, Slow Food decided to hold its first US conference in late July in San Francisco.

In today's prosperous, global consumer economy, Slow Food may have a message particularly attuned to the culture of the day: a kind of pleasure-loving environmentalism that does not reject consumption per se but the homogenization and high-speed frenzy of chain-store, fast-food life. The issues that animate the protesters of Seattle and Genoa, Petrini says, are very much part of Slow Food's concern with agriculture and cultural diversity. "I want Slow Food not to be merely a gastronomical organization but deal with problems of the environment and world hunger without renouncing the right to pleasure," he says. "The American gastronomical community simply contemplates its own navel" and has no political consciousness, while the American environmental movement has tended to have a self-denying, ascetic component that regards eating anything other than tofu as hopelessly selfish and decadent. "By now even the Food and Agriculture Organization has recognized that you can't talk about hunger without talking about pleasure," says Petrini. "At the same time, you can't deal with pleasure without being aware of hunger." Many of the foods that Slow Food is protecting, although treated as delicacies today, were peasant foods that were brilliant strategies to stave off hunger and contain worlds of knowledge about intelligent use of the environment. Their preservation and development may mean more than a few good meals.

Slow Dot Dot Com

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sichuan peppercorns.

Article by Barbara Fisher

Xanthoxylum piperitum.

Fagara. Hua jiao. Ma lar. Sansho.

Called by many names across Asia, the spice known to me as Sichuan peppercorns are the mature fruit of a medium sized shrub called colloquially "prickly ash" or "mountain ash." The fruits come in the form of a pericarp, which is the mature ovary wall which contains the seeds of the plant. The seeds are said by some to be bitter, however, this has not been my experience. On the other hand, their texture is less than stellar, and so if you can remove them before using the spice, particularly when it is to remain whole, then you avoid the rather sand-like grittiness they can impart to a dish.

Often there are little twigs or thorns present in among the pericarps which must be picked out carefully, as they contain no essential oils to speak of and are a choking hazard.

The little fruits range in color from dark brownish red to a bright brick color; I have found that the brighter the color the fresher they seem to be. The aroma is complex: floral with a strong hint of lemon (likely owing to the citronellal terpine found as a constituent of the essential oil) and a black pepper-like overtone. The flavor is equally multi-faceted; it is astringent and biting without being hot in the way of either black pepper or chile, but at the same time, it has a lingering herbal quality that always reminds me of the way a field of rosemary in bloom smells. In addition to the dancing bouquet of flavors and aromas present in the Sichuan peppercorn, eating the spice gives the diner a pleasant tingling or numbness to the lips and tongue that is both cooling and warming at the same time. This is a harmless, transitory effect; after eating, the sensation fades quickly.

Because the prickly ash is a member of the citrus family, and apparently can carry a very virulent disease called citrus canker; for a time in the recent past, Sichuan peppercorns were banned from being imported into the US. Apparently the ban had been in effect for a very long time, but had never been enforced. With devastating losses of Florida citrus crops due to a newer outbreak of the disease, the FDA began enforcing the ban vigorously, and apparently, some retail stores had their stocks forcibly removed and destroyed.

However, within the past few months, the ban has been lifted; it has been found that if the peppercorns are heat treated, any disease-causing organisms that it might carry can be destroyed, without much loss of flavor or aromatic quality.

As soon as I heard about the ban, I ordered about eight ounces of the spice, and managed to store it quite effectively in a way which preserved both flavor and scent. I had been given conflicting advice on how to keep it fresh; one source gave the standard advice to keep the spice in a cool dark place, sealed airtight, while another source insisted that I keep it in a loosely woven basket in a dark cool place in order to allow air circulation.

I went my own way and sealed the pericarps in air-tight double layered ziplock freezer bags from which I removed all the air. Then I bagged them again, so that four layers of plastic protected it from the cold and the light, and tucked them into my freezer. I kept the majority of the peppercorns this way, with only a small supply left out in a small sealed bottle for every day use at any given time, replentishing from the freezer as needed. This arrangement worked wonderfully; I managed to keep the peppercorns fresh and flavorful until the ban was lifted about a year and a half later. I just recently used the last of that batch and they had just begun to lose their characteristic zingy scent.

I have had good luck purchasing Sichuan peppercorns online through the CMC Company.

I heard it through some posts on Chowhound after the ban that CMC had a good supply of pre-ban Sichuan peppercorns left, so I clicked the link and purchased some. At that point, there were none to be found locally. When they came, they were a nice dark russet and very fragrant. I still have a few of them left, but have since bought new ones at the local Chinese market which were redder, and were so aromatic that after just picking up the bag, the scent lingered on my fingertips. Mmm: better than perfume!

I generally feel that if you can get them locally, you should inspect the Sichuan peppercorns carefully; as I noted above, they should be brightly colored, and the scent should penetrate the plastic or cellophane wrapper. I will not buy them in glass or plastic jars, because there is no way to gauge the smell through airtight containers. I have never failed in choosing them by either sticking with a tried and true supplier like CMC or trusting my nose to tell me a good batch from a bag that has been sitting around forgotten and lonely for years on the bottom shelf in the shop.

I seldom use them whole, as I do not like the texture of them, even in braised foods. I have also noticed that they give a sharper, more penetrating flavor when ground. Before grinding them, however, I always toast them in a small cast iron skillet over medium heat. I pour them in a single layer in the bottom of the skillet, and shake it constantly over the burner, though you can also stir them. This keeps the spice from scorching; scorched Sichuan peppercorns have an acrid, bitter pungency which is less than salutary. As soon as the color deepens slightly and the scent suddenly intensifies, they are ready. I pour them into a shallow bowl to cool before grinding them finely.

When I use them in stir fries, I like to do it in two stages; I put half the amount into the oil after it has just heated up, at the same time as I put in the scallions, garlic, ginger and chiles. This flavors the oil and allows the spices to meld together. Then, I add the rest right before serving, in order to preserve the lemony top notes of the spice and to deepen the darker bouquet of the peppercorn-flavored oil.

Since I haven't had time to stir fry in days, and I am going to pack my wok tomorrow (whimper, whine, sniff) I will not post a recipe of my own featuring my precious. However, I am giving a link to a recipe from Grace Young's Breath of a Wok, which I -have- made in the past and found to be a great way to feature the haunting and addicting flavor of Sichuan peppercorns.Tigers & Strawberries: My Precious

Friday, December 02, 2005

Indian Spices : Spices and Medicine : Anti-microbial Functions of Spices

Anti-microbial Functions of Spices

In all medical systems of Asia and Europe, spices have been used both as therapeutic foods and as medicines. Despite the contrasting opinions of different experts who insisted on their indications, there is little evidence of any specific benefit from most spices. Many pungent spices are unattractive to animals (excepting most, humans, many birds and some rodents), and they do have some antimicrobial, gastrointestinal, and mucus-loosening properties.

Billing J, Sherman PW. an evolutionary biologist and professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell, in his article (Rev Biol. 1998 Mar;73(1):3-49), "Antimicrobial functions of spices: why some like it hot" describes a study on this subject. The study addressed the facts - the varied approach in food preparation throughout the world, patterns of spice usage among various cultures and countries - What factors underlie these differences? Why are spices used at all? To investigate these questions and to establish the bacteria-spices connection, a study was conducted.

Sherman credits Billing, a Cornell undergraduate student of biology at the time of the research, with compiling many of the data required to make the bacteria-spices connection: A total of 4,578 recipes from 93 cookbooks representing the frequency of use of 43 spices in traditional cuisines of 36 countries; the temperature and precipitation levels of each country; the horticultural ranges of 43 spice plants; and the antibacterial properties of each spice.

These data were used to investigate the hypothesis that spices inhibit or kill food-spoilage microorganisms. In support of this is the fact that spice plant secondary compounds are powerful antimicrobial (i.e., antibacterial and antifungal) agents.

"The proximate reason for spice use obviously is to enhance food palatability," says Sherman, . "But why do spices taste good? Traits that are beneficial are transmitted both culturally and genetically, and that includes taste receptors in our mouths and our taste for certain flavors. People who enjoyed food with antibacterial spices probably were healthier, especially in hot climates. They lived longer and taught their offspring and others. We believe the ultimate reason for using spices is to kill food-borne bacteria and fungi."

In general it is claimed, Garlic, onion, allspice and oregano were found to be the best all-around bacteria killers - the most potent antibacterial and antifungal agents;(they kill everything), followed by thyme, cinnamon, tarragon and cumin (any of which kill up to 80 percent of bacteria). Capsicums, including chilies and other hot peppers, are in the middle of the antimicrobial pack (killing or inhibiting up to 75 percent of bacteria), while pepper of the white or black variety inhibits 25 percent of bacteria, as do ginger, anise seed, celery seed and the juices of lemons and limes.

However, there is lack of uniformity in findings, and this may reflect non-uniformity in source material. Furthermore, some fungi and bacteria use spices as supportive media for their growth. Although it is often claimed that exotic spices were sought as valuable food preservatives, this is not correct. Thus, simple pickling with common-place vinegar, garlic and mustard can preserve and flavor food almost as well as dehydrating and salting can. Honey and strong sugar soultions can also be used as food preservatives.

There is little evidence that pepper, cloves, nutmegs, ginger and other expensive spices were used as alternatives to garlic, etc. to preserve food or to delay the spoilage of cooked dishes. Their use in their countries of origin is not related to spices serving as an alternative to refrigeration, since they are usually added to fresh foods as flavors. In particular, they add zest to a bland diet based on rice and other high-carbohydrate vegetable staples. Indeed, the concentrations of spices that would be needed to significantly retard food spoilage by microorganisms would result in an overwhelming flavor, that may be worse than that of the decaying food.

However the micronutrient hypothesis - that spices provide trace amounts of anti-oxidants or other chemicals to aid digestion - could be true and still not exclude the antimicrobial explanation, Sherman says. However, this hypothesis does not explain why people in hot climates need more micro-nutrients, he adds. The antimicrobial hypothesis does explain this.

Top 30 Spices with Antimicrobial Properties:

* 1. Garlic
* 2. Onion
* 3. Allspice
* 4. Oregano
* 5. Thyme
* 6. Cinnamon
* 7. Tarragon
* 8. Cumin
* 9. Cloves
* 10. Lemon grass
* 11. Bay leaf
* 12. Capsicums
* 13. Rosemary
* 14. Marjoram
* 15. Mustard
* 16. Caraway
* 17. Mint
* 18. Sage
* 19. Fennel
* 20. Coriander
* 21. Dill
* 22. Nutmeg
* 23. Basil
* 24. Parsley
* 25. Cardamom
* 26. Pepper (white/black)
* 27. Ginger
* 28. Anise seed
* 29. Celery seed
* 30. Lemon/lime
Indian Spices

Caribbean Spice Blend

Caribbean Spice Blend

This is truely an all-purpose seasoning that can be used as a rub on meat, fish, or poultry, and sprinkled on potatos and vegetables. This blend of spices will add a taste of the Caribbean to any dish you prepare.

1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon powdered mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground thyme
1 teaspoon ground habanero
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

Combine all ingredients and let sit for an hour before using.
Store in a tightly closed jar in a cool place."

Papaya Salad : Caribbean Cooking Recipies.

Papaya Salad

4 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cups peeled, seeded, and grated green papayas
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Prepare the vinaigrette in a small bowl by combining the oil, vinegar, mayonnaise, garlic, salt, and pepper. Combine the papaya and vinaigrette in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and lime juice. Yield: 6 servings

Caribbean cooking recipies. A great source for a tropical recipe:

Caribbean Spices and Fruits : Import Origin

* The kitchen of the Caribbean has been influenced by many different cultures, and that is what makes it so varied and interesting.
* Okra, Pigeon Peas, Plantains, Callaloo, Taro, Breadfruit and Ackee are foods from West Africa to the Caribbean islands.
* Coconut, Chick-peas, Cilantro, Eggplant, Onions, and Garlic were introduced by the Spanish
* Oranges, Limes, Mangoes, Coffee and Rice were brought to Caribbean by the Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, British, and French
* The Papaya, Avocado, and Cocoa came from Mexico to the Caribbean.

# If one were searching for a culinary melting pot, the Caribbean Islands would surely qualify. Since the world ceased being flat, conflicting influences of indigenous and European cuisines have evolved here, forming the amazing combinations that make island cooking one of the most diverse and delicious found anywhere in the world.
# Foods that are most commonly associated with the region, include Jerked Chicken, Crab Creole, Frijoles Negros, Callaloo, and Banana Curry. Hot Chile Oil, Barbados Seasoning, and Peanut Sauce are just some of the special ingredients that give Caribbean cooking its unmistakable flavour. Here follow the cooking recipies. Another great source for a tropical recipe can be found in our interactive

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The History of the Spice Trade : 3 : Wars and new Spice Monopolies : America enters the Spice Trade : Modern Spice Trading :

Wars and new Spice Monopolies

Portugal remained dominant in the Far Eastern spice lands until the end of the 16th Century, when the Dutch entered the competition in earnest. Van Houtman and Van Neck, each in command of expeditions to the Indies, made friends with native sultans, and organized trading posts which eventually gave their country a monopoly in the early 17th Century. With the Dutch conquest of Malacca in 1641 the Malay Peninsula and northern Sumatra canie under their control.
In 1650 they took over the cinnamon trade in Ceylon; in 1663 the best pepper ports of the Malabar Coast were theirs. Before the end of the 17th Century Macassar on the Island of Celebes and Bantam in Java were added to make the Dutch complete masters of the immensely profitable spice trade.

The Dutch ruled the market with a rod of iron. If the price of cinnamon fell too low in Amsterdam, they burned the spice. They soaked their nutmegs in milk of lime, a process which did not affect flavor, but supposedly killed the germ of the nut. This was to prevent nutmegs from being planted elsewhere.

France's role in spice trading was generally a minor one, not backed by its government. French sea captains out of Dieppe had quietly made their way down along the coast of Africa by 1365, some 50 years before the Portuguese got there. They did not manage to create a rnonopoly as did the Arabs, Venetians, Genoese, Portuguese and later the Dutch, They did, however, help destroy the century-old Dutch spice monopoly when, in 1770, the French contrived to "kidnap" enough cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg plants from Dutch possessions to begin spice-growing in the French islands of Reunion, Mauritius and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean and in French Guiana on the north coast of South America.

Meanwhile, the great sea-faring English people were not idle. They, too, were looking for routes to the riches of the East. In 1527 British merchant Robert Thorne wrote to Henry VIII suggesting a search for the "Northwest passage" to India and the Indies: "The Spaniards hold the westward route, by the Straits of Magellan; the Portuguese the eastward, by the Cape of Good Hope. The English have left to them but one way to discover- and that is by the North." These attempts led them to important discoveries in North America, but not to the lands of spices. Yet, navigators such as Lancaster, Cabot, Cavendish, Raleigh, Drake and the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, made England a power at sea. In 1600 the British East India Company was chartered by Queen Elizabeth, with spice cargoes as its big objective. Where the Dutch controlled the East Indies, the English were gaining supremacy on the mainland of India itself. In 1780, the Dutch and the English fought a war, which was to be ruinously costly to the Dutch East India Company. In 1795 the English took Malacca and a year later all Dutch property and trading centers except Java. The Dutch East India Company had to be dissolved in 1799.

America enters the Spice Trade
On June 23, 1672, the first colonial American took an active part in spice-trading: Boston-born Elihu Yale - later to give his money and name to the great university - arrived in Madras, India, as a clerk of the British East India Company. There he established contacts on which he built afortune in spices.

It was not until a century later that America entered the spice trade in a big way. Father of the American spice trade was a dashing Yankee sea captain named Jonathan Carnes. Sailing on one of the early American trading voyages out of Salem in 1778, he discovered places in the Orient, principally in Sumatra, where he could deal directly with the natives, thus circumventing the Dutch monopoly. He convinced the Peele family of Salem to back him and in 1795 made a voyage, which yielded 700% profit in spices.

This sent America into the spice competition so actively that between 1784 and 1873, about a thousand vessels made the 24,000 mile-long trip to Sumatra and back. In 1818, when the pepper trade was very brisk indeed, 35 vessels made the long and dangerous trip. It isn't at all surprising to learn that the pepper trade furnished a great part of the import duties collected in Salem (which at one point were enough to pay five per cent of expenses of the entire U.S. government).

Pirates finally put America out of the oriental trade.Merchant ships were raided and destroyed time and again. The idealistic young United States government decided it would be improper to back the spice trade with naval protection in foreign waters.

Modern Spice Trading

Throughout history, the country that has controlled the spice trade has been the richest and most powerful in the world. Although fortunately these aromatic plants are not so costly today as they once were the traditional rule follows.

In the 19th Century Great Britain's maritime prowess gradually established her as the leader of the spice trade, and London's Mincing Lane became the spice-trading center of the world. Since then dominance in this ancient trade has once again changed hands. The United States is now the prime figure in world spice buying and New York is its center.

"Record U.S. Spice Imports in 1983" announces the Foreign Agriculture Circular of the USDA for 1984. Some 385,000,000 pounds of 36 to 40 different spices, herbs and aromatic seeds were imported.

This makes the U.S. the world's largest importer and consumer of spices used to season food products. Every year we buy more spices, so that spice consumption has risen 126 percent since 1961 when we imported 170,698,000 pounds.

The zooming spice use is due to several factors: High-income levels, increasing population, a growing demand for "convenience" food items and changing consumer tastes. Also, the rising consumption of dietary foods has added to the demand, for a pinch of one spice or another can make them more palatable for the consumer. Food manufacturer and processors are learning to rely on distinctive spicing to make their products more flavorful than competitive brands.

Most of our spices are imported, but approximately 190,000,000 pounds of aromatic products are grown in the United States, with California the leader. Domestic spices include capsicum peppers, paprika; such herbs as basil, tarragon, mint, parsley, sage and marjoram and seeds such as mustard, dill, fennel and sesame. Dehydrated vegetable products-onions, garlic, chives, shallots, bell peppers, parsley and mixed vegetable flakes - account for a high percentage of our domestic poundage.

Imported spices enter the U.S. through the ports of both coasts, but by far the largest volume comes through New York. They usually arrive in the whole form. They are first inspected for cleanliness and must pass U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the American Spice Trade Association standards before they are allowed to clear the port. After that, they go to spice grinding plants where they are further inspected, cleaned, processed and packaged.

Various types of mills are used in spice grinding because of the wide variety of materials, which must be processed; i.e. leaves, seeds, bark, etc. By use of mechanical sifters the miller also regulates the fineness of the grind. Today, the spice industry also offers extractives of spices in which the essences are concentrated from the raw products. These are available in various forms to meet specific flavoring needs. Included are essential oils, oleoresins and compounds containing these plus natural spices and other ingredients.The History of the Spice Trade

The History of the Spice Trade : 2 : Arab Monopoly : Spices in the Middle Ages : Age of Discovery

Arab Monopoly

For centuries, since 950 B.C. (or earlier), the Arabs were the masters of this dangerous but lucrative trade. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Ezekiel 27-22, it is recorded: "The traders of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; they exchanged for your wares the best of all kinds of spices, and all precious stones and gold". The Arabs kept Europe completely in the dark as to the source of many of the Oriental spices.
Actually, they bought their spices from the Indians and from Chinese and Javanese merchants who put into Indian ports. But when questioned by would-be rivals from Europe, they would tell shuddery tales of the dangers they faced in gathering the spices in mysterious far-off lands.

Islam gave great impetus to the Arabs' activities in the spice trade. Mohammed, born about 570 A.D., married a wealthy spice-trading widow and as his Islamic missionaries made their way throughout Asia they spread their faith at the same time that they gathered up spices.

To understand the amazing prestige of spices in ancient times we must remember for one thing that food was neither good nor palatable. There was no cattle fodder that could be stored, so beef was killed in the autumn and salted. There were no potatoes; no corn, tea, coffee or chocolate. There were no lemons with which to prepare refreshingly acid beverages, and neither was there sugar with which to sweeten them. However, a dash of pepper, a little cinnamon or ginger, mixed with even the coarsest dishes, could make them palatable. The demand for spices spread like a wave over Europe - even beyond the fringes of civilization. As ransom, when he lay siege to Rome, Alaric the Visigoth demanded 3,000 pounds of pepper and later, an additional tribute of 300 pounds annually. The barbarians from the north were quick to learn that spices kept their meat fresher and thus lessened the supply problem during their constant forays.

Spices in the Middle Ages

Whether spices came by sea or by land, they had to come by way of Cairo, Egypt. "Whoever is lord of Cairo," said the merchant pilot, "may call himself lord and master of (Christendom. . . and. . . of all the islands and places where the spices grow), since of necessity all merchandise of spicery from whatever direction can come and he sold only in the land of the Sultan."
From Cairo the spices were shipped to Alexandria and there they were bought and shipped by the Venetians, and the Genoese, who rode the crest of swelling demand for spices to fabulous wealth. The spice trade, calculated to supply the demands of medieval trans-Alpine cookery, was great not only in volume but in value, it has been assessed as worth, at the very least a million ducats annually. A single big Venetian galeasse returning from Alexandria with her holds full of spice-sacks would carry cargo to the value of 200,000 ducats.*

During the Middle Ages in Europe, a pound of ginger was worth the price of a sheep; a pound of mace would buy three sheep or half cow; cloves cost the equivalent of about $20 a pound. Pepper, always the greatest prize, was counted out peppercorn by peppercorn. The guards on London docks even down to Elizabethan times, had to have their pockets sewn up to make sure they didn't steal any spices. In the 11th Century, many towns kept their accounts in pepper; taxes and rents were assessed and paid in this spice and a sack of. pepper was worth a man's life.

One day, in the year 1271, a young Venetian set out with his father and uncle on a 24-year journey which was to take them all over Asia, as far as fabled Cathay, or China. His name was Marco Polo and his book of traveler's tales was to lead to the downfall of Venice, the destruction of the Arabian Empire, the discovery of the New World and the opening of trade with the Orient.

Not only had the Polos' wanderings taken them to the rich court of Kublai Khan, "Zipangu" and the land of the Tartars, but Marco Polo was able to tell of the hot countries where he'd seen spices grown. He wrote of Java, "from thence also is obtained the greatest part of the spices that are distributed throughout the world." He told of the door to India, Ormus, "Whose port is frequented by traders from all parts of India, who bring spices and drugs. . . These they dispose to a different set of traders, by whom they are dispersed throughout the world." He described the kingdom of Dely as a place that "produced large quantities of pepper and ginger, with many other articles of spicery."

Age of Discovery
Suddenly European merchants realized these places could be reached by ship. Much of the mystery had had been removed from the lands of spicery, and Europe was awakened to a new quest. First Portugal, then Spain and England, then Holland and eventually even the newly founded United States entered one of history's most exciting contests. During nearly four centuries, the major western powers
raced each other to the Orient and battled each other for control of the spice-producing lands.

The little seafaring country of Portugal now claimed Ceylon, the East Indies and finally the Spice Islands themselves and became for a time one of the richest nations of Europe.

Meantime, spices contributed their most important gift to western peoples. They lured men into the discovery of a great New World. Christopher Columbus, Genoese mapmaker and day-dreamer, carrying Spain's colors into the drive for spices, made his famous voyage across the Atlantic and discovered America. The only aromatic plants he found in the Western World, however were capsicums, "plenty of aji, which is their pepper, which is more valuable than pepper, and ‘allspice or pimenta,’ a tree whose leaf had the finest smell of cloves that I ever met with." Thus wrote Dr. Chanca of Columbus's expedition.

Spain's delayed entry into the spice race was speeded up not only by Columbus, but five years later by the navigator-explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who was successful in making the first trip to the east by heading west across the Atlantic in 1519. Although Magellan himself was killed in the Philippines two years later and four of the five ships of the expedition lost, the remaining ship, the Victoria, returned to Spain with enough spices to pay for the entire expedition. Nevertheless, Spain continued the spice quest only briefly, King Charles of Spain selling his rights to the Spice Islands to his brother-in-law, John III of Portugal. The gold of the Incas proved a stronger attraction to the Spaniards.The History of the Spice Trade

The History of the Spice Trade : 1 :The Spice of Antiquity

If we can believe a favorite myth of the Assyrians, whose chiseled stone tablets represent the earliest written records yet discovered, at least one spice was known before our world was created! These early peoples, who lived thousands of years before

Christ, claimed that their gods were drinking sesame seed wine at a gathering held just before they made the Earth.

From the hieroglyphics on the walls of the pyramids, to the scriptures of the Bible, we find constant mention of the important part spices played in the lives of the ancients. Some of the spices, herbs and seeds we know today, were cultivated by the early peoples of the western world, our word, "aroma" was the ancient Greek word for "spice".

Along the trade routes of antiquity went caravans with as many as 4,000 camels bearing spices and the rich merchandise of the East, plodding along from Goa, Calicut and the Orient to spice markets in Nineveh and Babylon; Carthage, Alexandria and Rome. Joseph, of the coat of many colors, was sold to spice traders by his envious older brothers: "And behold, a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt."

The route from Gilead to Egypt was part of the "golden road to Samarkand" traveled for hundreds, almost thousands of years, bringing pepper and cloves from India, cinnamon and nutmeg from the Spice Islands (or Moluccas), ginger from China.

For hundreds of years frail ships clawed their way along the Indian coast, past the pirate-infested Persian Gulf, along the coast of South Arabia and through the Red Sea to Egypt. Those were typical ways of bringing spices from the Orient to the Western world in ancient tunes. As early as the days of Tiberius Caesar they discovered that ships scud-ding before the blast of the monsoon - the seasonal wind from the Indian Ocean, blowing east in summer, west in winter - could bring their spice cargoes to market in record time. Shipwrecks and storms brought large losses and there were constant robberies, but the risks were outweighed by the eventual profits for, as might be expected during the highly developed Greek and Roman eras, spices were in great demand.

So costly that only the wealthy could afford them, spices nevertheless were used in every conceivable way. Many and varied were the aromatics, which seasoned the delicacies served at Roman banquets. Medicines required great quantities of spices and herbs, as witness the writings of Hippocrates, Theophrastcs, Dioscorides and Pliny. Bay leaves (or laurel) were woven into crowns for Olympic heroes; spice-scented balms were used after baths; spice-flavored wines were popular; incense made of spice was burned in temples and even along the roads.The History of the Spice Trade

Caribbean : Fish Cakes or Rissoles

Fish Cakes or Rissoles

1 1/2 cups steamed or left - over fish
1 cup of mashed potato or provision
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1 tablespoon parsley
bread crumbs and flour
1 tablespoon onion (chopped)
1 egg
Salt and Pepper to taste
Oil for frying

Flake and mash the fish. Add the potato, seasoning and lime juice. Beat egg and put half of it in the mixture. Shape the mixture into cakes with a spoon. Dip the cakes in the rest of the egg. Roll in bread crumbs and flour, and fry in deep or shallow fat. Fish Cakes or Rissoles

CARIBBEAN : Spiced Sweet Potato Soup : Spices, Chillies, Spice Blends

Spiced Sweet Potato Soup


• Cayenne Pepper ½tsp
• Celery Stalks 3 chopped
• Cinnamon Bark 2"
• Coriander Seeds 1tsp ground
• Garlic Cloves 4 chopped
• Leeks 2 chopped
• Onion 1 chopped
• Peanut Oil 2tbsp
• Poudre De Colombo Spice Blend 2tsp
• Roasted Peanuts 200g plus 2tbsp for garnish
• Single Cream 1tbsp
• Sweet Potato 1 large
• Tomatoes 3 roughly chopped
• Vegetable Stock 900ml / 2 pints
• White Cumin Seeds 1tsp ground


1. Boil the sweet potato until very tender.

2. Meantime, heat oil and stir-fry onion, celery, leeks, garlic & cinnamon for about 15 minutes.

3. Add Poudre De Colombo, Cumin, Coriander & Cayenne and cook for another 5 minutes.

4. Stir in tomatoes & Peanuts and cook for 5 more minutes.

5. Now get that stock in, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

6. Back to that sweet potato - Scoop out the flesh and mash until smooth.

7. Add to soup & cook for 5 minutes more.

8. Adjust the heat to just short of boiling, stir in the cream & serve.
Spices, Chillies, Spice Blends

CARIBBEAN : Fish Coconut Curry : Spices, Chillies, Spice Blends

CARIBBEAN Fish Coconut Curry

Serves: 4


• Coconut Milk 250ml
• Fish Steaks 4
• Garlic Clove 1 finely chopped
• Green Mango Few pieces sliced
• Groundnut Oil 3tbsp
• Lime Juice From half a lime
• Onion 1 chopped
• Poudre De Colombo Spice Blend 4tsp
• Sea Salt To taste


1. Heat the oil, add the onion and garlic and fry them lightly but do not brown.

2. Add the Poudre de Colombo and cook for 3 to 4 minutes more.

3. Mix in the coconut milk, lime juice and mango, and cook until thickens.

4. Add the fish steaks and cook for about 7-8 minutes until the fish is just cooked.

5. Season to taste with seasalt.
Seasoned Pioneers Ltd.� -� Spices, Chillies, Spice Blends

Indian Cuisine- food and recipes

"Most Indian cuisines are related by similiar usage of spices. Often, Indian cooking is distinguished by the use of a larger variety of vegetables than many other well-known cuisines. Within these recognisable similarities, there is an enormous variety of local styles.

In the north and the west, Kashmiri and Mughlai cuisines show strong central Asian influences. Through the medium of Mughlai food, this influence has propagated into many regional kitchens. To the east, the Bengali and Assamese styles shade off into the cuisines of East Asia.

All coastal kitchens make strong use of fish and coconuts. The desert cuisines of Rajasthan and Gujarat use an immense variety of dals and achars (preserves) to substitute for the relative lack of fresh vegetables. The use of tamarind to impart sourness distinguishes Tamil food. The Andhra kitchen is accused, sometimes unfairly, of using excessive amounts of chilies.

All along the northern plain, from Punjab through Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, a variety of flours are used to make chapatis and other closely related breads. In the rain-swept regions of the north-eastern foothills and along the coasts, a large variety of rices are used. Potatoes are not used as the staple carbohydrate in any part of India.

Modern India is going through a period of rapid culinary evolution. With urbanisation and the consequent evolution of patterns of living, home-cooked food has become simpler. Old recipes are recalled more often than used. A small number of influential cookbooks have served the purpose of preserving some of this culinary heritage at the cost of homogenising palates. Meanwhile restaurants, increasingly popular, encourage mixing of styles. Tandoori fish, mutton dosas and Jain pizzas are immediately recognisable by many Indians in cities."
Indian Cuisine- food and recipes: Mumbai/Bombay pages:



Ingredients for Plantain Cakes
6 large green plantains
Oil for deep frying
Salt & pepper to taste

Ingredients for Spinach Dip
2 bundles/parcels spinach
6 limes
1 bulb garlic
6 red seasoning peppers
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Method for Spinach Dip
De-leaf, chop and blanch spinach in boiling water. Drain.
Place in food processor and make paste.
Remove and place in serving dish.
To make garlic dressing, squeeze limes.
De-seed peppers and chop finely.
Peel garlic bulb and pound or grind to a paste.
Place limes, pepper and garlic paste in containers with lid. e.g. jam jar or bottle.
Add salt and pepper and olive oil.
Shake well until combined.
Pour unto spinach paste and mix well.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Method for Plantain Cakes
Peel plantains and slice into 1 "discs".
Marinade in salt and pepper brine for 1/2 an hour.
Remove from brine and dry on paper towels.
Deep fry in hot oil and pound sharply with a quart bottle filled with water to create flat discs.
Return to hot oil and fry until golden brown.
Serve piping hot with spinach dip accompaniment.