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Everyone knows the holidays are steeped in culinary traditions, but who says you can’t steal from others? Pickled herring from Denmark, for example, defies the usual U.S. holiday fare that goes something like this: Roast a plump turkey for Thanksgiving. Simmer a pot of cranberries for Christmas. Chill magnums of champagne for New Year’s Eve. What happens, though, when you cannot bear the thought of doling out another spoonful of moist cornbread stuffing or pouring another round of cinnamon-dusted eggnog?
When I reach my limit with tried-and-true seasonal dishes, I look to what people in other countries make and eat during this festive period. Considering that my friends’ and family’s backgrounds are an amalgamation of different cultures, I don’t find it a stretch to include a taste of Scandinavia, Great Britain, the Mediterranean or Southeast Asia on my holiday menus.
Over the years, I’ve incorporated English mince pies and plum puddings; meringue-based Norwegian garland cakes; and the anise-flavored Greek bread Christopsomo. I’ve also introduced the Portuguese Christmas Eve staple buddim do bacalhao, or baked salt cod, and the Czech custom of eating baked carp on Christmas. This year, thanks to Danish friends and a recent stay in Denmark, I’ll add pickled herring to the holiday buffet table.
Pickled herring long a part of Danish culture
A staple of Danish cuisine, pickled herring dates to the Middle Ages, when fishermen caught and preserved massive quantities of small, oily-fleshed, saltwater fish known as herring. The fish became a valuable commodity for Denmark, one so important that it garnered the nickname “the silver of the sea.”
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Herring, particularly pickled herring, remains popular in Denmark. You will come across it in markets; at sidewalk food stalls; on koldt bords, the equivalent of the Swedish smorgasbord; and in tony restaurants. Dinners frequently begin with a herring course, and no smørrebrød platter would be complete without pickled herring.
If you’ve not tried this seafood specialty, you’re missing quite a treat. Velvety soft and delicately sweet, it almost melts on your tongue. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, low in contaminants and garnering an environmental “eco-OK” rating from the Environmental Defense Fund, it’s tasty, wholesome and relatively guilt-free. Even the most diehard herring skeptics must concede that this is one delectable fish dish.
Pickled herring begins with salted herring fillets. The fillets are soaked in cold water for six to 12 hours to remove the saltiness. They are then placed in a marinade, where they usually steep for at least 24 hours.
The basic marinade consists of vinegar, sugar and spices. However, Danish cooks have crafted countless recipes featuring such ingredients as sour cream, chives, mustard, dill, sherry and tomatoes.
For ardent home cook and culinary hobbyist Gilad Langer, no dish tops karrysild, or curried herring. Here curry paste is combined with mayonnaise, sour cream, sliced apple and spices such as crushed coriander and mustard seeds. The herring macerate in this mixture for at least an hour. The mildly spiced fillets are then served atop a piece of lard-slathered dark rye bread with optional slices of hard-boiled egg.
“For the holiday meals, people typically spend some time on making special marinades, while the everyday meals are kept to the common recipes, red [vinegar and sherry], white [plain vinegar] and curry herring. In any case, Christmas lunch and parties always have pickled herring,” says Langer, a former longtime resident of Hillerød, which is 30 minutes north of Copenhagen.
It’s said that a shot of Danish aquavit should be drunk alongside pickled herring and that it aids in digestion, washing the herring down into the stomach. “The aquavit, which means ‘water of life,’ really brings out the fishy taste and is an important part of the social etiquette of the traditional Danish lunch,” Langer says.
Along with aquavit, the fish marries well with a variety of ingredients. Cold, boiled potatoes, sliced onion, egg, tomato, apple, chopped pickle, chives, crème fraiche and a good, cold beer all complement its smooth taste.
Pickled herring is a common filling for open-faced sandwiches, or smørrebrød. For these sandwiches, cooks typically use rye bread as the base. However, rye crackers and flat or whole-grain breads are delicious alternatives. While some Danes swear by lard, others employ the less-controversial butter as their smørrebrød spread.
I encountered the following pickled herring recipe at a heritage festival in the eastern Danish city of Helsingør. Famed for its 15th-century castle Kronborg, which served as the setting for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Helsingør will also be remembered, at least by me, for its extraordinary herring offerings.
For the first marinade:
1 pound skinless, salt-cured herring fillets
8 ounces white vinegar
3 ounces water
1 tablespoon salt
For the second marinade:
8 ounces granulated sugar
20 white peppercorns, crushed
20 whole allspice, crushed
1 large white onion, chopped
1 large red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf, crushed
1 small bundle of fresh dill, chopped
1. Soak the herring fillets in cold water for six hours, changing the water once or twice during this time. When finished, pat the fillets dry with a clean cloth.
2. For the first marinade, whisk together the vinegar, water and salt. Place the herring fillets in a shallow baking dish and pour the liquid over them. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight.
3. Remove the dish from the refrigerator and drain the marinade into a bowl. In another large bowl, stir together the original pickling liquid and the sugar, peppercorns, allspice, onions, lemon zest, ground pepper, bay leaf and dill.
4. Alternating between layers of herring and marinade, fill a lidded glass jar or container with the fish. Make sure the herring is neatly packed and not floating about. You may need to drain off or withhold a bit of liquid. Don’t skimp, though, on the onion, spice and herb mixture.
5. Seal and refrigerate the container for at least 24 hours or up to three days before serving.
Photo: Pickled herring. Credit: Kathy Hunt
Like most caffeine addicts, I’m a bit fussy about my first, second and third cup of coffee of the day. Bold, crisp and scorching hot, it must perk me up physically and mentally for the long hours ahead. Recently, I added one more criteria for my coffee: It must do some good not only for me but also for the surrounding community.
An afternoon spent at Generoasta Coffee and Café in Warrendale, Pa., prompted this new rule. Tucked into an upscale shopping center in the North Hills suburb of Pittsburgh, the spacious yet inviting, modern coffeehouse has a simple mission: Do good, have fun and drink coffee.
In keeping with this goal, Generoasta features eco-sourced, house-roasted beans and organic, fair-trade teas. It utilizes reclaimed building materials, such as trash cans crafted from discarded 19th-century oak and walls clad in repurposed barn wood. It recycles and uses biodegradable serve ware.
More than just a cup of coffee
Along with advocating greener living, the coffeehouse devotes a large chunk of its 2,600-square-foot space to promoting and supporting the neighborhood’s nonprofit organizations. Through information sheets, display cases and a flat-screen television displaying details about local charities, Generoasta seeks to educate and encourage generosity in the region.
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“We wanted to develop something new, get the community involved with the local charities and remove the greatest impediments to being charitable — time and money,” says Generoasta co-owner and former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Eric Ravotti.
Ravotti points out that at Generoasta, customers don’t spend any more than what they would normally pay for coffee or lunch. Rather, for each purchase made, consumers choose between three nonprofits, dropping a plastic chip into the oversized, charity coffee cup of their choice. Based upon customer selection, the coffeehouse then distributes a portion of its proceeds to each group. It makes it very easy for folks to help out in their neighborhood.
The giving doesn’t stop here. The 7-month-old Generoasta also holds benefits for the featured organizations. It recently hosted an art gala and auction for the Mars Home for Youth in Mars, Pa., and a summer community day dubbed “Cause for Paws,” which aided a low-cost spay-and-neuter program.
Each charity receives six months in the spotlight. After six months have passed, three new organizations are showcased. This next round is based upon customers’ suggestions, and the suggested groups have different missions than the previous trio.
Pairing charity with coffee isn’t a new concept. In Great Britain, at least 150 coffee shops have begun offering “suspended coffee.” Based on a movement that originated in Naples, Italy, and quickly spread to other parts of Europe, customers are encouraged to buy a drink for themselves and one for someone who cannot afford a warming cup of joe. The extra coffee is “put in suspense” until someone comes in and requests it.
Coffee shops around the globe have been known to hold donations days. On a specified date, a percentage of the profits are passed on to local, national or international charities.
In the U.S., Housing Works Bookstore Cafe remains a forerunner in the realm of philanthropic coffeehouses. The shop based in New York City’s SoHo district has been brewing lattes; serving soups, sandwiches and sweets; and selling used books to aid New York City’s HIV/AIDS-afflicted homeless for more than a decade. The cafe is run by volunteers and donates 100% of its proceeds to its progenitor, Housing Works.
Like Housing Works’ cafe, Generoasta has more than good intentions in store for its customers. It is likewise devoted to wholesome, flavorful food and drink.
T.E.D. sandwich for Thanksgiving
At Generoasta you can have “Thanksgiving Every Day” with the T.E.D. sandwich. Here, sliced, roast turkey, cranberry chutney and moist stuffing are piled high upon toasted and buttered farmhouse bread. Paired with sliced apples and caramel for dipping, it is a whimsical and delicious repast.
In the mood for a sweeter or more fanciful treat? Try the French toast with maple mascarpone and fresh berries or “Fat Man in a Tiny Parka,” one of an assortment of “javalanches” — frozen, blended coffees.
You can also just opt for a mug of house-roasted Kenya AA, Guatemalan or Celebes Kalossi, an earthy yet zesty and bold bean from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Have no doubt. The roasters and baristas there know how to make a good cup.
At the end of the day, Generoasta fosters generosity through coffee. “We’d like to change lives for the better, cause other companies to take notice and inspire them to do the same,” Ravotti says.
It’s a noble mission, one that’s set to succeed at Generoasta Coffee and Cafe.
Top photo: Generoasta Coffee and Cafe in Warrendale, Pa. Credit: Generoasta Coffee and Cafe
I grew up in a largely Italian-American community outside of Pittsburgh where, at least once a week, I ate pasta. When Sundays rolled around, my family would queue up in the long, snaking line outside Ladies of the Dukes, where, for more than 40 years, local, Italian women prepared and served homemade meals of spaghetti, cavatelli, ravioli and zesty red sauce. Because this feast happened only once a week, customers would bring along stockpots to fill with take-away dinners. Unquestionably, we were passionate about pasta in my hometown.
In recent years I’ve had a troubled relationship with this childhood love. Spurred by the desire to eat more healthfully, I abandoned the traditional semolina-and-water combo for whole-grain pastas. Chocked full of fiber, minerals and vitamins, these new spaghettis seemed both sensible and wholesome. Described by my husband as resembling “wet cardboard,” they have not, however, been the most appetizing to eat.
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My family is not alone in its struggle to adapt to these newcomers. In fact, our complaints seem fairly universal. We all crave the neutral flavor and al dente texture of regular pasta but with the added nutritional benefits that whole grains provide. What I don’t want is an overwhelmingly sweet or nutty taste or a limber consistency, traits that whole-grain pasta possesses and that clash with my heartier pesto, white and red sauces.
Around the time I decided to chuck whole grains altogether and return to traditional pasta, I came across an unusual organic farro fusilli from the Italian Alps. It was unique not only in its firm form and subtle, pleasing flavor but also in its mountainous origins. Dried pasta does not normally hail from northeastern Italy.
According to food historian and cookbook author Francine Segan, southern Italy produces and consumes more dried pasta than the rest of the country. “Because it was a poor man’s food and the south was poorer but also because the south grows the best grain — Puglia is called the ‘breadbasket of Italy‘ — and the air currents and water are ideal for pasta making, more than half of Italy’s pasta is produced in the lower third of the country,” says the author of “Pasta Modern” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013).
As a result of its proximity to Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, northern Italy has far more in common with the cuisines of these regions than with the rest of Italy. Instead of pasta, people there eat dumplings, polenta and spätzle, Segan says.
Northern Italy takes pasta challenge
Although making and consuming dried pasta may not be the norm in the north, Valentino Felicetti decided in 1908 to do just that. Reputedly because of a challenge from a southern Italian friend, Felicetti started a small, eponymously named, family-operated company in the Valle di Fiemme of the Dolomites Alps, says great-grandson and current head Riccardo Felicetti. Lucky for me that he accepted this dare; Felicetti Monograno produces the whole-grain fusilli that I’d adored.
Working with fresh spring water, mountain air and locally farmed soft wheat and barley, Felicetti’s first creation was a short pasta similar to rigatoni. Today the company uses what Ricccardo refers to as ancient grains, durum wheat, kamut or Khorasan wheat and spelt, which Italians call “farro.”
Organic whole grains, pure spring water and clean air of this idyllic region are what set Felicetti apart. “Polluted air or water would release within the dough a strange taste,” Riccardo says. He adds that, along with the pristine, local water, unspoiled Dolomites air is pumped into the production site.
Could the air and water have the much affect on taste? Yes and no. “The influence of water and air should be zero. Pasta should taste like the grains. Pure spring water and clean air will not influence the taste of our pasta,” Riccardo says.
That’s where my struggle to find both healthful and palatable pasta existed. Many brands claim to offer whole-grain products, but too often they’ve added fillers to their mix. Instead of merely air, water and grains, the pastas are enriched with modified starch and a host of other ingredients. These extras taint the taste and texture, resulting in one of those dreaded “wet cardboard” meals.
With this knowledge, my culinary crisis ended. I’m now happily eating pasta — nutritious, tasty and whole-grain-only pasta — again.
Farro Pasta With Jerusalem Artichokes
Pasta ai topinambur
Recipe courtesy of Francine Segan and “Pasta Modern.”
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided.
4 to 5 large Jerusalem artichokes
1 pound farro pasta, long or short
3 to 4 tablespoons pine nuts
Parmesan or other aged cheese, grated
1. Sauté the onion in 2 tablespoons of oil until golden. Meanwhile, scrub the Jerusalem artichokes with a brush, then thinly slice. Add to the onions and simmer over a very low flame until very soft.
2. Cook the pasta until al dente.
3. Purée the onion-artichoke mixture with 2 tablespoons olive oil so it’s smooth like pesto.
4. Return the purée to the pan and toss with the pasta for a minute or two, adding a little cooking liquid if dry.
5. Serve topped with pine nuts and grated cheese to taste.
Top photo: Various types of pasta. Credit: Kathy Hunt
Blame it on the cheap, tinny fruit cocktail that my elementary school cafeteria doled out, but until recently, I was a holdout on peaches. As a kid, I knew them as the bland, stringy, yellow cubes that floated in a bowl of cloyingly sweet syrup or that cascaded down a mound of flavorless cottage cheese.
Fresh, sliced peaches proved no better. Fuzzy on the outside, they had a tough, red strip at the center of every piece. Someone had done a lousy paring job, one that had scarred me for quite a while. It took a chance encounter with the flattened, white-fleshed, freestone Saturn to change my mind about this stone fruit.
Saturn peaches have more sugar, less fuzz
Taste, fragrance, texture and ease of eating were what won my heart. Smaller, sweeter and more aromatic than other varieties, the Saturn peach possesses everything that the fruit of my childhood did not: juicy, luscious flesh; an abundance of peachy flavor with just a hint of almond; and a bold, floral scent. Bite into this ambrosial gem and you experience the best that peaches have to offer.
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You can, in fact, sink your teeth right into an unpeeled Saturn. Its thin skin has little to no fuzz so you don’t have to remove the outer layer before consuming. If you hate peeling peaches and getting sticky juice all over your hands, arms, clothes and countertop, this is a huge selling point.
Additionally, you won’t need to wrench out or cut around a large pit. Its small, spherical pit doesn’t cling to the flesh and can be removed easily. Just cut the fruit in half, twist the halves to separate and pop out the pit.
Saturn peaches get their name from their bagel-like shape, which many believe resembles the rings of Saturn. Their squashed appearance has also earned them the monikers of doughnut, saucer and galaxy peaches. The pale yellow-fleshed version has been dubbed, fittingly enough, “Sweet Bagel.”
Although its form may be unusual, the origin of its shape is not. It arose out of a natural genetic mutation that produced a flattened, rather than globular, peach. Emerging in South China at least 200 years ago, it was known as pan tao, or “flat peach,” and was reputed to be the preferred fruit of emperors. Centuries later it’s winning fans in the United States.
Saturns thrive at Pennsylvania farm
An hour northwest of Philadelphia, in Boyertown, Pa., family-owned Frecon Farms has been harvesting Saturns for close to 20 years. During that time, these growers have watched customers tentatively sample the traditional, round peaches and then ultimately fall for the extremely sweet, flat variety. Steve Frecon points to the higher brix count of these peaches as a reason for their popularity; brix refers to the amount of sugar present in the fruit.
Although Frecon favors eating Saturns right out of his hand, he also advises using them as a replacement for Mandarin oranges in salads and dressing them with a bit of vinaigrette.
“Because of their low acidity and high sugar count, which burns off during cooking, these peaches aren’t as good for baking or preserving. They are best fresh,” he says. Yellow peaches, he adds, are better for cooking.
Should you opt to feature Saturns in a salad or pair them with other foods, keep in mind that they go nicely with almonds, apricots, honey, pistachios, pork, plums, walnuts, white and red wine, and champagne.
In spite of all its wonders, the Saturn does have its downsides. More fragile than other varieties, it bruises easily. When gathering Saturns at Frecon Farms, the peaches must be placed in shallow, half-bushel containers to prevent indentations in the fruit. Additionally, if they aren’t carefully plucked from the tree limbs, the peaches’ skin may tear at the stem.
Once picked, they should be quickly consumed. These guys don’t have a long shelf life and soon start to over-soften. However, with peaches this delicious, they won’t linger on your kitchen counter for long.
Saturn peaches are in season from July to late August, so gobble them up while you can.
If you can’t track down apricot liqueur, you can always omit it. This will leave you with a classic Bellini.
2 Saturn peaches, pits removed and cut into chunks
1½ ounces apricot liqueur, divided
Place the peach chunks and apricot liqueur in a blender and purée. Pour the mixture into two glasses and top with chilled champagne.
Top photo: Saturn peaches: Credit: Kathy Hunt
If I asked you to think of an exotic delicacy, you might envision mounds of marbled white truffles, plump fugu fish, ruby red mangosteen or spiky durian fruit. Most likely, barnacles will not pop up on your imagined menu.
Members of the crustacean family, barnacles usually get dismissed as “those hard things that cling to submerged rocks, pilings, docks and boats.” Yet, along the coasts of Spain and Portugal, barnacles, specifically gooseneck barnacles, or percebes, are considered a delightful culinary treat.
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Also known as a stalked barnacle, the gooseneck possesses a brown, leathery, neck-like appendage. This sinewy tube spurred the medieval myth that, once the barnacle grew to a certain size, it would fall into the ocean and geese would hatch from it; hence the name “gooseneck.”
Although its neck is extraordinary, what I find more peculiar is the triangular, claw-like, shell-clad foot through which the barnacle filters its food. Because of it, I cannot look at a plateful of this shellfish without envisioning the feet of dinosaurs, aliens or Godzilla. Nonetheless, these weird images have not stopped me from trying this Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic specialty.
If you can move beyond the odd exterior and concentrate on the coral-colored meat beneath, you’ll find tender, sweet-smelling, lobster-like flesh. This is what entices intrepid fishermen to make precarious climbs and dives along cliffs and craggy coasts and pry the barnacles off of the sea-battered rocks.
My initial, cautious taste of gooseneck barnacles occurred in the seaside town of Cascais, Portugal. There, dining with local friends, I abided by the “when in Rome” rule regarding food and plopped a plump, steamed barnacle onto my appetizer plate. I then turned to the gooseneck gourmands at my table to find out what to do with this unusual creature.
How to eat barnacles
To eat a gooseneck barnacle, you must first peel off the brown skin encasing its neck. Grasping the shell-clad foot, tear the skin downward from the point where it meets the shell. It should come off in one piece, almost as a sock would slide off a foot, and reveal peachy, juicy flesh. Be sure to have a napkin nearby. As you pull off and discard the skin, you can expect to receive a splash of salty water.
Using the bony foot as a handle, dip the peeled neck into a little bowl of melted butter or fragrant garlic aioli. Bite off the dressed meat and chew. It is that easy. It is also surprisingly delicious.
Along with steaming, barnacles respond well to boiling or grilling. They can be eaten raw but usually are cooked for a few minutes, until firm to the touch, and then consumed. Once cooked, they have a pleasant, briny flavor that does, in fact, remind me a bit of lobster as well as of crab and shrimp. Similar to these crustaceans, barnacles go nicely with butter, garlic, lemon juice, paprika, parsley, thyme and white wine.
Not everyone in Portugal adores gooseneck barnacles. Portuguese food-lover and IT professional Miguel Baptista, who resides in Cascais, remains daunted by the barnacles’ bizarre appearance and method of eating. “Like snails, I can’t get past the ‘how they look’ factor. And can you really eat something that kicks food into its mouth with its feet?” he asks, adding, “And I don’t like to eat geese, either.”
Baptista may be in the minority. The demand for this delicacy in Spain and Portugal has resulted in overharvesting in these countries and poaching in French territorial waters. What local barnacles remain can cost as much as 150 euros, or roughly $199, for 1 kilogram. Price and scarcity aside, fans continue to consume them in the summer harvest season and as part of Christmas feasts. Nothing stops a diehard barnacle buff.
Although harvested on a small scale in Washington state and British Columbia, Canada, gooseneck barnacles have yet to catch hold of American palates. Until they do, they shall remain the first food of which I think when someone says, “exotic delicacy.”
Steamed Gooseneck Barnacles With Lemon-Parsley Butter
Should you be fortunate enough to find gooseneck barnacles, you can prepare them in this simple manner.
Serves 2 to 4 as an appetizer
24 gooseneck barnacles
1¼ cups vegetable stock
Freshly squeezed juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1. Under running water, rinse and rub off the barnacles so no sand or dirt remains. Place the washed barnacles in a colander to drain.
2. Place the vegetable stock in a medium-sized stock pot and bring to a boil. As the stock is heating, mix together the lemon juice and zest, parsley, pepper and butter in a small bowl.
3. Set a steamer basket over the bubbling stock. Lay the barnacles in the basket, cover the pot and allow the crustaceans to steam for four minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove from the basket and place on a platter. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with the lemon-parsley butter for dipping.
Top photo: Gooseneck barnacles. Credit: Flickr / Don Whitaker
Whether you love to travel the globe or prefer to vacation a bit closer to home, chances are that if you enjoy cooking you’ve purchased at least one kitchen item as a souvenir. In my case I’ve dragged an 8-quart couscoussier, terra cotta tagines and filigreed tea glasses across Morocco and schlepped copper serving bowls throughout Northern India. I’ve also shoved bottles of potent Czech Becherovka into wool socks and wrapped an Italian-made mezzaluna in pajamas before heading to the airport. Nearly empty when I arrive at my destination, my bag bulges beyond capacity by the end of a trip.
In recent years I’ve become savvier about my mementos. Rather than cram another platter into my battered suitcase, I instead fill it with exotic seasonings. Back home, I restock my global pantry and revitalize my cooking with these colorful ingredients. (Check the U.S. Customs list to see which spices you are allowed to bring into the country.)
Spices of the world can liven up almost any dish
Packed with zesty, spiciness, harissa remains a favored culinary keepsake. This fiery, red chili paste is a staple of Tunisian cooking and has become increasingly common in neighboring Algeria and Morocco.
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To make harissa, North African cooks pound together hot chili peppers, coriander, caraway, cumin, garlic and salt and then cover the mixture with olive oil. They use the powerful paste to enliven couscous, salads, vegetables, breads, soups and tagines. Enliven it does! A smidgen adds tremendous zing to a plate of grilled veggies, fish or pita.
No less exciting is the dried, reddish stigma of the crocus flower, saffron. Considered the costliest of all spices, saffron originated in West Asia but today more than 80% of the world’s supply comes from Spain and Iran. Its high price tag is a result of its laborious cultivation; workers must handpick 70,000 flowers to get 1 pound of saffron.
Is it worth paying more than $20 for a meager gram of these pungently fragrant threads? Absolutely! Saffron possesses an unusual spicy, mildly bitter taste and a unique, almost grassy aroma, which are impossible to duplicate. It’s also soluble in liquid and provides a beautiful golden-orange hue to countless dishes. Present in an array of cuisines, it’s indispensable in bouillabaisse, Milanese risotto, paella and Persian saffron rice pudding.
Fortunately, like harissa, a little saffron goes a long way. Because it’s such a powerful spice, you need only a thread or two to enhance your cooking.
Ghee a memorable selection
A far gentler flavor comes from Indian ghee. Ghee is clarified butter that has been simmered until all the moisture evaporates and the remaining milk solids adopt a nutty, caramel-like taste.
Ghee originated from the desire to keep butter in the sultry Indian climate. It can, in fact, be kept at room temperature for several weeks, refrigerated for six months and frozen for a year.
In addition to its long shelf life, ghee has versatility in its favor. Nancy Rohrer of Simply Ghee in Lancaster County, Pa., notes that it complements a host of ingredients. “BBQ mesquite seasoning and ghee is especially good for grilled chicken, fish, even corn on the cob. A ‘chai spice blend’ is outrageous dropped into hot cereal or warm rice pudding right before serving. Mixed with honey, ghee is wonderful on roasted sweet potatoes or acorn squash, ham and as a spread on bagels, muffins and pancakes. Just right out of the jar is delish and reminiscent of very refined caramel popcorn!” say Rorher, who, along with Bev Martin, owns and operates the handcrafted ghee business.
Another India-inspired pantry mainstay is tamarind. Derived from the hard, brown fruit pods of the eponymous evergreen tree, the sweetly piquant tamarind has been compared to a mixture of prunes and oranges, lemons and dates or apricots and raisins. Sold as a dried paste, compressed cake, concentrate and whole, fresh pod, the stringy, reddish-brown pulp is a staple of Indian, Southeast Asian, Latin American and Caribbean cuisine.
Tamarind piques taste at every turn
Rich and versatile, tamarind imparts a pleasant tanginess to chutneys, sauces, jams, syrups, candies, curries and fish dishes. When mixed with sugar and carbonated water, it becomes a refreshingly tart drink. When combined with shallots, chilies, anchovies, cloves, vinegar and molasses, it transforms into Worcestershire sauce.
When restocking my stash of seasonings, I always include a jar of galangal root. A member of the ginger family, the fibrous and peppery galangal is grown throughout Southeast Asia. It plays a prominent role in Thai, Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian and Cambodian cooking.
With its sweet, piney fragrance and slightly spicy taste, galangal peps up such soups as Thai tom ka gai, such stews as Indonesian rendang and such curries as Cambodian amok trey. It also flavors sauces and, when sliced, serves as a zesty garnish.
Like the unwieldy couscoussier that I later saw for sale in New York City, galangal as well as the other ingredients can be purchased online or from well-stocked, spice or international markets. So, whether you’re off to foreign soils or headed down the street, this summer stock up on an assortment of global seasonings. They’ll add a dash of flavor and exoticism to your cooking throughout the year.
Top photo: Spices for sale at a souk in Luxor, Egypt. Credit: Kathy Hunt