Friday, August 27, 2010

July CK Digest

Last Thursday, we cooked some amazing food. Lots of new friends showed up to cook with Amy and me, and we all made dishes based around the theme for July, which was the bold use of delicious spices. All our recipes are attached, but as always, don't feel confined by them; just use them as ideas to cook whatever you do find when you go shopping.

I got some spices from my favorite spice shop, which happens to be World Spice. Shopping there is a little like going to church for me, especially when I don't know exactly what I'm going to get. I chose the following:

Tellicherry Black Peppercorns (ground medium-coarsely) - These are black peppercorns that are grown on India's Malabar coast, which is a really good place to grow them, and only the largest, ripest top 10% of peppercorns can be labeled "Tellicherry," after Mount Tellicherry on the coast. They're richer and smokier than regular black peppercorns, and I think they're worth the trouble of going to a spice shop to get. Even though OK, yes, it's not really trouble to me. The medium-coarse grind is a compromise: it won't go stale as quickly as more finely-ground pepper, but at the same time the pieces won't so big that they would be unpleasant to bite into. Grinding it fresh for each use is of course best, but getting it ground medium-coarse works pretty well.

Chimichurri Spice (ground) - Chimichurri is actually a sauce. It's a spicy, vinegary marinade for grilled meat made with oil, garlic, herbs and spices that originated in Argentina and Uruguay, so this is a dry spice blend that's inspired by the flavors in chimichurri sauce. It's got one of my favorite dried chiles in it, the Aji Mirasol chile pepper. *Drool* The name "mirasol" means "looking at the sun," and it's got a sweet, heady, floral spicy flavor. Breaking one open and smelling it feels like standing in a sun-drenched field of wildflowers where chile peppers are also growing.

Pakistani Curry Powder - There's a Madras-style curry powder with a pretty standardized flavor that's been marketed around the world for some time, and it tastes pretty good. But there are tons of unique recipes in existence for curry powders, with a wide variety of flavors. This one from Pakistan is sweeter then most of them, with a mellow kick of anise rounded out with clove, cinnamon, cumin and coriander. I thought it would go well with the eggs in the Zanzibar Egg Curry (below), and I think it totally did.

Masala Kala - Like curry powders, masalas are a family of spice blends that can vary widely. They're typically used in Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani cuisines. Garam masala is the one you usually see and smell when you pass by an Indian restaurant. Masala Kala is kind of like Garam Masala, but different in that it features flavors from Maharashtra, India's mid-western coastal state. Coconuts grow there, among other things. So this spice blend has a heightened flavor profile due to the sweetness of toasted coconut meeting the spice of guajillo chile peppers.

World Spice has its own descriptions of these spices and spice blends on its website here.

We used the Tellicherry pepper as a flavor in a Black Olive & Cashew Tapenade made with anchovies, olive oil, parsley and garlic. We learned about the importance of the pulsing technique when using the food processor (turning the processor on and off quickly several times, rather than leaving it on) to make a spread that's homogenized but still has texture. And we used the same spice in our dessert (Black Pepper Strawberries), juxtaposing the sweetness of strawberries with the smoky spice of tellicherry peppercorns.

The Chimichurri Spice flavored the braised chicken in the Chimichurri Braised Chicken & Cashew Salad, and complemented the vibrant flavors of the fresh bell peppers, lemon juice and parsley really nicely. We used the Masala Kala to flavor a blend of crushed potatoes and vegetables in a kid of tomato gravy, which gets served over a toasted bun in India as the light meal called Pav Bhaji.

And lastly, we made a curry unlike any I had ever made or seen before, a Zanzibar Egg Curry using the slightly unorthodox Pakistani Curry Powder. It also has a kind of thick tomato sauce binding together quarters of hard-boiled eggs, which we served over simple roasted potatoes. The eggs made the curry really substantial and took on the flavor of the vegetables and spices beautifully.

We made a lot of delicious food. Thank you to everyone that came, and I hope to see all of you in September. That's right, the August Pike Market Community Kitchen will be cancelled because I'm going to be out of town. But we will have a great one on September 16th.

In the meantime, if you came to the community kitchen, you went home your portion of these spices. I want you to come up with some new dishes using them; they all would go well with a wide variety of foods. If you didn't come, just go out and find a couple of interesting spices to take home. Taste them, think about their flavors and make something delicious with them. Here's the trick: write down what you're doing when you cook and make it into a recipe. I know this part is kind of pain when you're in the middle of creating, believe me. I've had a hard time getting into the habit of writing recipes, but doing so has proven very rewarding, mostly because it makes it possible to share my cooking with lots more people. I want your ideas too, so go and create, then show me what you came up with!

I'm always available for cooking questions; don't be shy.


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