Category: Herbs & Spices
We are back on the Spice Road and this time looking at star anise. What makes this licorice tasting spice so popular, even today?
Star anise is a spice that hails from southwestern China. It spread through Indo-China and Japan, ultimately finding its way into Europe and the rest of the world by the late 1500s. It is a medium-sized evergreen tree from the magnolia family. The fruit creates a star shape that can have up to eight points on it. The seeds are contained within this casing. The plant itself is highly decorative and can be grown for its beauty as well as its spice.
June 10th is National Herbs and Spices Day and we are focusing on Dill: a great summer herb that can add a lift of flavor to the dishes you cook. Dill has traditionally been used in pickling (dill pickles) and to delicately season fish, but it has so many other uses.
Epazote is the preferred herb in Mexican dishes. It adds a certain earthiness to food, providing a balance with flavors like lime and coriander. It helps relieve the beans of their natural gasses that cause flatulence in human beings.
Even though I grew up cooking in the Southwest all my life, I had not heard mention of using this plant for cooking. By the time I could reach the stove and stir the pot, my grandmother and other cooking teachers were using Mexican oregano instead of epazote. I heard about this herb (weed) for the first time while working in a country club in the middle of Phoenix. One of the chefs there introduced me and I am forever grateful.
What is the first thing a person does when a plate of food arrives for consumption? Or after you fill your plate up when it’s “family” style? Reach for the salt and pepper, of course. Most people know where salt comes from, but pepper? What really is in that pepper mill or shaker? We were taught to shake it on our food, but why?
Spices. We love them. We use them.
Nutmeg is a small round seed that comes from the inside of an apple looking fruit. It is encased in the “netting” of mace, another spice that has a variety of culinary uses.
Once spices became common and lost their mystique, (sometime between the 18th and 19th centuries) the fragrant and aromatic nutmeg was pushed back into the Bakers rack. After centuries of spicing meats and poultry, it became a base seasoning for desserts.
There’s that jar of cloves that sits on the back shelf of the pantry until winter comes, and baking cookies and cakes and mulling cider begins. Then, suddenly, there’s cloves; the star of the winter season bringing heat and warmth to our food, and our senses. Cloves, along with her sisters, cinnamon and nutmeg and next to ginger and pepper, were valued spices in ancient and medieval times for this reason.
Cinnamon was always on the shelf in my home growing up. Mom used it for everything from toothaches (just stick it on the gums) to cinnamon sugar on toast. She put it in a variety of dishes, which confused some of my friends and neighbors. Isn’t cinnamon a spice for baked goods? Pastries, apple pies, not spaghetti sauce and meat rubs.
I’ve been using cilantro in cooking for years. Growing up in the Southwest, it is easily accessible. I’ve always enjoyed the flavor, the smell, and the taste. What I did not know was the considerable health benefits linked to this one plant used as both herb and spice.
Turmeric is called the Golden Spice. It is a root, a rhizome of a plant in the ginger family. Turmeric is used as a spice, a coloring, and an healing herb. Its uses date back at least 4,000 years.
Turmeric needs rainy, wet places to grow. Once harvested, it is boiled, dried in ovens, and then pounded into a powder. Once in powder form, it is used in the process of dying fabrics, and in the kitchen as a main ingredient in most curries, and subzies (vegetables).