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romancing the spice . . .

  • 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

  • The Spices of Morocco

    Agriculture, history and the Berbers (Morocco's earliest indigenous inhabitants), have all joined to produce one of the worlds greatest cuisines.

    Historically,North Africa was a stopping point on the spice trade route between Europe and the Far East. As a result, North African cooks adopted many spices into their cuisine. The freshness and variety of spices are crucial in North African cooking. People can buy freshly ground spices and fresh herbs in the souks (marketplaces lined with open-front stalls), typically found in the old quarters of cities. Sellers display great mounds of spices, creating a rainbow of colors and delicious array of smells. The markets also abound with fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, fish, fresh and dried fava beans and lentils, grains, and jars of olive oil. The souk is a feast for the eyes and nose. Continue reading

  • Za'atar Is Here

     

    Two months ago, we imported our first shipment of the pure za'atar herb from Israel, and we just can't say enough great things about this king of herbs. For years we have been planning on how we would blend za'atar in the traditional way, and now we have finally succeeded.

    Very often we were asked, what is za'atar? Is it a spice blend, a wild herb, a particular kind of dip or condiment?Za'atar is both a herb and a spice blend of ground sumac and toasted sesame seeds. It is a relative of the oregano family and native to the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions. The blends vary from region to region, but, generally, the flavor is herbal and nutty. Both herb and spice blend are very popular throughout the Middle East and the recipes for such prized mixtures were highly guarded secrets that weren't even shared with family and relatives. Continue reading

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