Ras el Hanout

2019-02-27 09:21:33

Ras el Hanout

If you are bored of using the same old spices over and over again, or looking for something different and more exotic to add to your spice rack, Ras el Hanout is a tantalising option. It is a spice blend commonly used in North African cooking, and features especially heavily in Moroccan cuisine. Literally translated as “head of the shop”, the Arabic phrase actually refers to the best spices the store has to offer. Most spice merchants will have their own secret blend, but a typical Ras el Hanout contains a mixture of: cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, clove, paprika, nutmeg, mace, turmeric, allspice and peppercorn. Sometimes ginger, fennel, lavender, orris root, chufa, ash berries, dried rosebud, or Monk’s pepper may be added. The result is a very convenient addition to dishes, as you only need to measure out one thing instead of many spices.

Ras el Hanout is not spicy, but has a pungent, earthy, and vibrant aroma and flavour. The cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg also add a sweet accent. It makes a fabulous lamb rub, can be used to roast chicken or flavor burgers and is a flavoursome seasoning in marinades, stews and tagines, or mixed into couscous.  Try it sprinkled over popcorn for a savoury snack; or stirred into plain yoghurt as a delicious topping for grilled aubergines or baby marrows, or as a dip. 

The health benefits of Ras el Hanout depend on the particular blend of spices used. 

Moroccan Baked Eggs

Serves 2-4

Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1tsp Ras el Hanout

Pinch of ground cinnamon

1tsp ground coriander

800g cherry tomatoes, halved

4tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

4 eggs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 200 C. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft. Stir in the spices and cook stirring for 1 minute. 
  • Add the tomatoes and season well with salt and pepper. Simmer for 8-10 minutes.
  • Stir in 2tbsp of fresh coriander.
  • Divide the tomato mixture between 2-4 individual ovenproof dishes. Break an egg into each dish. Bake for 10 minutes or until the egg whites have set. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes if you would like your egg yolks to be less runny. 
  • Scatter over the remaining fresh coriander and serve.

 

This dish will make a scrumptious breakfast, as well as a quick, easy light supper if served alongside a leafy salad. 

Pepper

2018-11-27 09:23:41

Pepper Recipe

Pepper is one of the oldest spices known and has been called both the ‘king of spices’ and the ‘pearl of spices’. It was so valuable at one point in history, that it was even used as currency. The pepper plant (piper nigrum) originated in India and production has now expanded to Vietnam, Ceylon, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil.

The Difference Between Types of Peppercorn

  • White, black and green peppercorns come from the same plant. The peppercorn comes from the berry of the plant which is picked and dried. The unripe berries of the plant are used to make black pepper whereas white pepper comes from ripened berries which have been dried and had their outer skin removed. Green peppercorns are the unripe berry, which are pickled before drying to retain the green colour of the berries.
  • Pink peppercorns come from the Brazilian pepper tree so are not related to the other types of pepper at all. 

Pepper has long been used in ancient Indian medicine to treat various conditions such as gastric ailments and asthma. However, scientific research is lacking. Pepper is best known to reduce the secretion of acid in the stomach and therefore is thought to help with indigestion. Furthermore, pepper has proven antioxidant properties and may enhance the absorption of other phytochemicals in other spices. Animal studies have shown that it can prevent heart disease, diabetes, inflammatory diseases and cancer, but human studies have not been completed as yet. Also, pepper has antimicrobial effects and can be used as a preservative and a non-toxic deterrent for insects and rodents. 

In cooking, pepper is versatile. When added near the end of the cooking process pepper will enhance most dishes. It is delicious used as a crust on meat and chicken and pairs wonderfully with lemon juice on fish, chicken and vegetables. Freshly ground black pepper on strawberries or watermelon adds a modern touch.  

Piperine is the active ingredient in pepper and is responsible for the pungent properties we associate with it. Piperine becomes less active once the peppercorn is ground so best to grind your peppercorns freshly.

This recipe makes delicious chicken breasts without all the added preservatives, salts and sugars found in shop bought sauce. The chicken can be sliced and served with salad as a light meal or main meal and makes great leftovers for lunch the next day.

Homemade lemon pepper chicken

Ingredients

2 skinless chicken breasts

1 lemon, zest and juice

2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (even better if ground with a pestle and mortar)

½ cup chopped fresh coriander

1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped

Season with salt

2 tsp olive oil

Lemon wedges for serving

Method

  • Pre-heat oven to 180C. Place coriander, zest of half the lemon and juice of the whole lemon, garlic, ginger, salt and olive oil in a bowl and mix together. Butterfly the chicken breasts and cover with the lemon pepper mixture. Leave to marinate for 10-15 minutes.
  • Place the chicken breasts in a greased oven proof dish, cover and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  • Serve with fresh lemon wedges and fresh coriander.

Ring the changes: Use this sauce as a marinade for other meat and fish and try it as a dressing for steamed green vegetables.

Onion

2018-07-08 13:38:17

Onion

Depending on how it is used in food, onion may be considered a vegetable or a spice. As a spice, onions flavor more dishes around the world than any other spice. The flavour they offer depends on preparation details and can include a whole gamut of aroma and pungency from mild and bitter to sweet and mellow. Also consider all the different varieties of onions regarding shapes, colours, and sizes, and things get even more interesting. 

From the health perspective, onions have appeared in the pharmacopeias of many traditional medical systems with uses ranging from antiseptics and treatments for colds and flu to treating allergies and scars. Closely related to garlic, they too have many important phytochemicals (e.g. quercetin and allicin) that assist in the prevention of several chronic diseases including some cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even osteoporosis.

Let’s get back to how to use onions for flavour. I have decided to include a recipe for caramelized onions as they offer incredible depth to a variety of dishes. Here are some examples: 

  • Pasta: spaghetti with green olives, gnocchi and sage; 
  • Eggs: frittatas, scrambled eggs, omlettes, asparagus tarts, quiche
  • Soup: French onion, chicken noodle, tomato and bean soup, mushroom soup 
  • Meats: brisket and other beef, chicken, fishk dishes like stews, curries, stir fries; pork tenderloin,  
  • Dips (e.g. hummus, cream cheese, yoghurt & chives)
  • Sandwiches, burgers and pizzas 

Since onions have a high concentration of water and sugar, the key to caramelizing them is to see that this released at a slow and steady rate. There are several ways to do this, and you will find recipes with all sorts of ingredients (like balsamic vinegar, salt, stock, sugar etc.). I am all for fewer ingredients and keeping things simple and allowing the food to offer its inherent flavours. 

Warning: this recipe requires patience as it takes about 30min for the onions sugar to caramelize. If heat is too high, they will burn.

Caramelized Onion

Ingredients

2 onions – sliced about 0.3 cm (sliced too thinly they burn) (about 2 cups) 

30 cm pan (does not have to be non-stick)

1 tbsp olive oil or  1 tbsp butter/mixed with oil 

1-2 tbsp water

Method

  • Heat pan over medium-low. Keep it to that temperature for the whole process.  
  • When the oil/butter has melted, add onions, stir to coat, cook for 5 minutes. 
  • Stir and repeat until about 30-40 minutes, or until onions are sweet, tender and reduced
  • The onions will be ready when they have turned a deep brown colour and are much reduced from when started. Very soft but not quite mushy. 
  • At the very end of the cooking process (when the pan is dry) add a tablespoon or 2 of water as this releases all the flavour. Cook, stirring until the water has evaporated, onions are coated, and the pan is clean.

TIPS 

  • Don't overcrowd the pan as the onions will steam and produce water.
  • Using a combination of oil and butter you get a higher smoking point plus the richer flavor. Note that the more fat you add, the more onions will fry rather than soften.
  • When buying onions: look for bulbs that are firm and uniform in colour and that have a lot of layers of thick papery skin that is tight over the surface of the bulb. Crisp and dry. 
  • When storing onions: room temperature is best, in an open container e.g. wire mesh basket with good ventilation, away from potatoes (otherwise absorb the moisture and gases and will spoil)
  • When preparing onions: To minimize watery eyes when you cut them, refrigerate for at least half an hour before cutting them (or you can put them in the freezer for 10 minutes). This is better than cutting them under cool running water which washes away the allicin. 

Note that the spice “onion seeds” is also known as Nigella seeds but is from a different plant and is unrelated to onion. 

 
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