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Mad About Spices

  • A Saucy Journey

    Some of the most famous culinary dishes in the world are made with sauces without them, the dish wouldnt exist. For example, Eggs Benedict wouldn't be Eggs Benedict without the Hollandaise sauce, and the classic lasagna and moussaka dishes wouldn't be the same without the renowned bchamel sauce. But a sauce doesn't just have to be thick and creamy; it can also be spicy like the sassy Mexican salsas and pesto sauces.

    IMHO, a sauce is as fundamental to great cuisine as is the preparation. So I decided to take you on a cyber trip around the world to visit a few countries to discover some of the unique sauces used in cooking. Continue reading

  • You Say Tomato I Say Tomahto

    Tomatoes come in all sizes and shapes the Beefsteak variety, Oxheart, Plum, Pear, Cherry, Grape or Campari, to name a few. And of course, there are hundreds of ways that tomatoes can be eaten, but mostly the tomato can be consumed raw, or cooked (as in sauces), or as a beverage. Wow! Talk about your all around food.

    Some researchers believe that the word tomato may have come from the ancient Aztecan word for tomatl meaning the swelling fruit -- and in botanical terms, the tomato is considered a fruit. After the Spanish explorers brought tomato seeds from Mexico back to Spain, the seeds had spread throughout Europe and as far as southeast Asia -- the rest, as they say, is history. A big "thank you" to those fearless explorers for introducing that part of the world to the tomato -- otherwise we would never have enjoyed such a romantic love affair with the classic Italian pasta sauces or the rich Bouillabaisse of France. Continue reading

  • Burger Paradise

    The all American hamburger is a national treasure -- a juicy, beef patty, sandwiched between two fluffy, buns topped with mustard and mayonnaise, some lettuce, cheese, and tomato . . . and you are in burger paradise.

    Even though the hamburger derived its nomenclature from Hamburg, Germany, it took the Americans to evolve the burger into becoming the worlds most popular pleasure food. With literally hundreds of upscale restaurants and major burger chains offering up a wide variety of the most unique burgers to choose from, its no small wonder that the burger has earned its renowned popularity. Continue reading

  • Tagine Treasure of the Desert

    The nomadic tribes of North Africa have been traveling across deserts and mountainous terrain for centuries, setting up camp and using tagine (or tajine) pots as portable cauldrons for cooking stews over an open-fire pit. The method might have been slow, but the meal was an all-in-one feast, much like a modern-day crockpot -- for these desert peoples, it was a matter of survival.

    Tagine derives its culinary name from countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. These North African countries have a rich culture steeped in Arab, Berber, European and other African influences -- specifically the tagine pots, which are as significant to their cookery as a wok is to Asian cuisine. Continue reading

  • The School Project

    A week ago, Shuli and I had participated as volunteers at our sons school. This joint effort involved students from Kindergarten through the third grade.We had the great pleasure of demonstrating how various spices were used in ancient times as dyes and for cooking. Each child was given the opportunity to dye a muslim bag with turmeric,choose from a large array of spices to make their own Havdalah mix, and use a mortar and pestle to grind spices for making Israel's famous za'atar spice blend.The children sprinkled the za'atar mixture over sour cream and olive oil and it was served to the entire school as an accompaniment to their delicious school lunch, much of which was prepared by the students on-site .

    The following day when the muslin bags had dried, the Kindergartners filled the bags with their spice blends making their own b'samim bags (same as potpourri bag) for Havdalah, which is a Jewish religious ceremony that marks the symbolic end of Shabbat and holidays ushering in the new week. The ceremony is usually celebrated at home with family and friends and includes three blessings: over wine, spices, and lighted candles. Continue reading

  • Hawaj: The Curry of Yemen

    In a previous article we featured one of our top selling signature spices called Hawaj for Coffee, which is a mixture made up of cloves, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. Our other top seller is Hawaj for Soup a favorite spice blend used in many traditional dishes and is considered to be the curry of Yemen.

    As in all popular cuisine, the spices used in preparing a particular dish become synonymous to that culture just as India is equated with curry, Hawaj spice is to Yemen. Thank goodness these great recipes are passed on to the next generations of families that carry on with the traditional dishes that are associated with that culture. Continue reading

  • Turmeric The Golden Wonder of Herbs & Spice

    Most of you who enjoy cooking probably have turmeric in your spice cabinet right now. And even though you may use it often, what you may not know is that this common item is one of the worlds best all around herbs.

    Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and is a perennial relative of the ginger family. Its tough brown skin and deep, orange-red fleshed rhizome is dried and ground into a powder. Although most usage of turmeric is in the form of root powder, the leaves of turmeric can be used to wrap and cook food which imparts a distinct flavor. This usually takes place in areas such as southern Asia where turmeric is grown locally, since the leaves used are freshly picked. Continue reading

  • Paprika Series Part 3 - Moroccan Paprika Oil

    When I was growing up, I wondered why my mom's food looked so colorful and shiny red. I always noticed a bottle of red hued oil on the counter but never realized that this was her secret ingredient paprika oil.
    Continue reading

  • Paprika Series Part 1 - Capsicum Annuum

    It is my pleasure to present a series of posts about one of my favorite spices -- paprika. The first part will be about the spice and its origins. The second part will be about my husband's mother, who lives in Israel, and has a paprika farm.

    Paprika refers to the Capsicum fruit which is a bell pepper. When it is dried and ground into a powder it is then used as a seasoning in many cuisines from around the world to add color and flavor to the dishes. The major producers of paprika are Spain and other Mediterranean regions, South America, India, Hungary and California. But Israel has emerged to join this well-established group as a serious paprika grower. I asked one of the farmers that we do business with to tell us about the process of cultivating paprika, the varieties that are produced and about the differences in various paprika peppers. Continue reading

  • Paprika Series Part 2 -- Shuli's Mom and the Paprika Farm

    In 1949, Shuli's mother immigrated from Yemen to Israel where she had settled in the Negev (the desert region of southern Israel) with her family. Her history with paprika peppers started about 30 years ago, when they were farmers growing vegetables and running a dairy farm. Shuli's father used to go to the spice market on a regular basis to buy spices for his wife. When he returned with his purchases, they would often complain about the quality of the spices. One day when Shuli's dad came home from the spice market, he informed his wife that they were going to open a spice shop! Soon afterward they opened their very own spice store which they proudly called Tavlinai Ha Bayeit(Home Spice).

    Shuli's mother began searching around for quality sources of whole spices to buy which she would then grind on a daily basis. Yet, the paprika peppers she bought were still not up to the standard of quality she was looking for. So she decided to start growing her own peppers. At first she planted a small quantity -- about 1 acre. Soon after that, the quality paprika she produced became so popular she had to plant more up to 10 acres.The paprika farm included the whole family, and along with her husband, the children also helped out. Right after school they would have to do weeding, planting, harvesting or grinding chores. Each child had his/her daily tasks to finish before they could go out and play. Continue reading

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