Hi everyone, I hope you are all well! It seems like forever since the lockdown began, but now at last things are opening up a bit and things are getting a bit more like normal – although there’s a way to go yet, light at the end of the tunnel I guess. It’s certainly been a difficult time.
This week we’re returning to the Spice Mountain Summer Larder, and this time we’re concentrating on green veg, that healthy and tasty stuff the kids never seem to want to eat! Green veg is so nutritious, and despite what the kids say, when prepared properly few foods are more satisfying. We’ve selected a few different greens (space precludes us from looking at all of them!) and as usual will be sharing with you our favourite ways of preparing them, and of course how to give them the Spice Mountain touch. Our recipes include a sumptuous Sunday brunch dish, Eggs Florentine, which come to think of it I quite fancy today!! So I’d better get cracking before the morning’s gone, and let you get on with enjoying this newsletter.
Until next time, stay safe!
Spice of the Week
A hugely popular spice nowadays, this dark red burgundy beauty is most commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisines where it is used as an all purpose seasoning or for sprinkling on salads and rice. With its lovely tangy, citrusy flavour, sumac also makes an excellent rub for grilled meats and especially fish, or it is delicious when mixed with yoghurt and other spices such as chilli, cumin or coriander to make simple marinades & dressings. For something a little different, try adding a dash to the top of hummus for a new taste. You can also use a sprinkling of this lovely fruity spice as a garnish in the same way paprika is sometimes used. Try it in salads or sprinkled over buttery rice.
We offer two varieties of Sumac, Lebanese & Turkish. The Lebanese Sumac has a more intense lemony flavour and is our favourite!
This Week's Recipes
This mild curry is typical of the state of Kerala, India’s Deep South, where it is always part of a Veg Thali, the delicious meal of several curries served on a tray at once. The neutral flavour of cabbage is perfect for thoran as this means the flavour of coconut, spices and curry leaf can assert themselves. It is a dry curry, with no added water, so the goodness of the cabbage will be retained. Having said that, you can use whichever veggie you prefer for thoran – green beans, carrot or green peas are all options.
This recipe is our take on the classic Eggs Florentine, giving it the Spice Mountain touch! A sinful mixture of eggs, cheese sauce and spinach, this is a perfect Sunday brunch dish when served on toasted muffins. We use Aleppo pepper flakes in the cheese sauce, to give it colour and a warm little tingle on the palate, and also add a touch of Porcini mushroom pieces for some umami earthiness.
For a truly decadent experience, and to make that ultimate brunch, serve this with some smoked salmon and a glass of bucksfizz – nice! This recipe serves 2.
One of the soups included in this month’s feature, this is a delight. The ingredients are simple, but it does take a little time and patience to do it properly. Based on potatoes and curly kale, it is a Portuguese dish – the name translates loosely as ‘green soup’. Also essential is a generous amount of garlic, plus of course the Spice Mountain touch – a good sprinkle of our new Patatas Bravas blend. The resulting soup is rich and satisfying, the starch of the potato contrasting with the slightly bitter flavour of curly kale. The chorizo used in our recipe is optional – a vegetarian caldo verde is no less enjoyable. The soup is substantial enough to be enjoyed for lunch with a hunk of crusty bread.
‘You can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your greens!’
This not-so-subtle form of culinary blackmail is a childhood memory for many of a certain age. Trying to work your way through a heap of steaming, malodorous gloop which used to be sprouts or cabbage, cooked until every last drop of nutrition has gone, as Mum and Dad happily tuck into their apple pie. As the years pass and horizons broaden, however, most of us come to love our greens. This is even more true when we begin exploring other cuisines, where green veg means a lot more than just the previously mentioned sprouts and cabbage. For example the display of greens in an Asian market will include dozens of different varieties – amazingly, nearly 1000 different plants with edible leaves are known.
Greens are undeniably good for you; they are typically low in calories and fat, and high in protein, fibre, minerals and vitamins. They are also very tasty, especially when you know what to do with them, and this is where Spice Mountain can be of help to you. We’re going to have a look through a selection of greens (not just leaves, we’ll be exploring the likes of broccoli and green beans too), seeing how spices are used with them around the world and just how delicious this nutritious food can be.
You can have your pudding when we’re finished!
Spinach – Native to central and Western Asia, Popeye’s favourite food is one of the most commonly eaten plants, enjoyed all over the world. In early history it travelled to India and China (fascinating fact – today China produces 90% of all spinach eaten), and it made its way into Europe with the Moors, through Spain. It is one of the healthiest greens, packed with iron and other minerals and also high in vitamins. It can differ widely in flavour from fairly neutral to deep and earthy. Baby spinach is best eaten raw, and is used widely in salads – a nice dressing for this is made with olive oil, orange juice, a pinch of cumin and Sicilian Orange Salt. It works very well with beetroot in a salad, and in its homeland Persia they do this seasoned with Advieh spice blend. Our Beetroot Powder is a very good addition to this recipe.
European spinach highlights include one of our favourite dishes in the world, Espinacas con Garbanzos. This Spanish recipe is a throwback to the days of the Moors, a stew of spinach and chickpeas cooked with shedloads of garlic, cumin and smoked paprika. In Greece they use spinach to make the famous Spanokopita, spinach and feta cheese filo pastry pies seasoned with dill, parsley, garlic and black pepper. And we mustn’t forget the classic Florentine preparation, which involves spinach along with a cheese sauce to top poached eggs. A sprinkle of Aleppo pepper to garnish will do this lovely dish no harm at all, and a version can be made which adds dried Porcini pieces to the cheese sauce.
Middle Eastern cooking uses lots of spinach, and it is commonly just sauteed with spices and olive oil. One recipe uses cloves, allspice, coriander and cinnamon, along with plenty of pine nuts, and is topped with a tablespoon of yoghurt. This one works best with baby spinach. A similar preparation for leaf spinach is spiced with black mustard seed, cumin and cayenne for a bolder flavour. There are Arab recipes which are very similar to the Spanish one we mentioned earlier, and the local spice blends including zatar, baharat and dukkah all pair well with spinach too.
In India spinach is known as saag or palak, and there are literally dozens of recipes using it. The most basic would be the restaurant staple Saag Bhaji, sauteed with onion, garlic and spices. However there are variations with other ingredients added; Saag Aloo adds potatoes (our Bombay Potato blend is perfect for this) and Saag Paneer adds cubes of Indian cheese (we like to spice this version with Tikka blend). Spinach is also used in meat dishes in India, acting almost as a thick sauce in the classic Saag Gosht which often also includes Methi leaf and always uses plenty of Garam Masala. Another dish spinach often turns up in is Pakhora, where it is usually combined with onion (our recipe for Onion Bhaji works just as well with a handful of spinach added to the mix) but often also potato, deep fried in a chickpea flour batter.
In the Far East, as is true with most green leaves, spinach is generally stir-fried with whatever spice is popular in the area concerned. In China this usually involves garlic, ginger and soy sauce, keeping it simple. If any other spice is added, it tends to be a sprinkle of chilli flakes. In Thailand the method is the same but the chilli gets ramped up and fish sauce and white pepper are added. And in Malaysia and Singapore, spinach is sometimes cooked with tamarind pulp and trassi (shrimp powder) for a much bolder flavour.
Spice Mountain stocks an excellent Spinach powder, great for the store cupboard.
Cabbage – Another vegetable popular worldwide, cabbage is a brassica, related to broccoli. It can be eaten raw or cooked, and is rich in vitamins and minerals, especially in its raw state. And when cooked, it is usually cooked quickly – there is little in life more unpleasant than overcooked cabbage! This could be why there are so many pickled cabbage preparations, from coleslaw to sauerkraut through to Korean kimchi. Coleslaw is usually a fairly simple affair, but can be spiced up with the addition of Jalapeno (or their smoked version Chipotle) chilli. Sauerkraut relies on kosher salt, caraway and peppercorns to balance the fermentation, and the German version often includes juniper berries. This lovely dish is a perfect partner to pork. Kimchi is prepared in a similar way, but for spicing relies on garlic and the Korean chilli Gochugaru, which gives it a real touch of fire.
When it comes down to cooking cabbage, there are so many ways! As an accompaniment to a meat dish, say a roast dinner, it pays to keep it simple and stick to butter, black pepper and a seasoned salt such as our Lemon, Chilli and Fennel. But cabbage comes into its own as a main ingredient, for example in stuffed cabbage where its leaves are used to encase minced meat and/or rice. This is popular in eastern Europe and Savoy cabbage is the best variety to use. The dish is topped with a rich tomato sauce featuring plenty of mixed herbs.
We love Indian cabbage dishes, especially those from the south of the country which involve coconut. Thoran is a typical south Indian dish, where the cabbage is quickly stir-fried with Kerala curry blend, mustard seeds, curry leaves and dessicated coconut (this is featured in the recipe section of this newsletter, if you’d like to give it a try). Another of our favourites is Kottu, the Sri Lankan dish of chopped paratha bread, which usually involves cabbage for a bit of crunch. Both of these have the usual garlic, ginger and chilli involved.
Chinese cabbage is a variety of the vegetable, long rather than round, and its leaves tend to be less chunky than its cousins. It isn’t just enjoyed in China of course, it is found on the shelves everywhere. One interesting Chinese use is as part of the filling for potsticker dumplings, along with minced pork, and there is a lovely recipe from Szechuan where cabbage is used alongside braised pork, spiced with chilli bean paste and garlic.
South American and Mexican cuisines tend again towards pickling cabbage in one way or another, rather than cooking it. A favourite is a curtido salad, where shredded cabbage and carrot is pickled with jalapeno chilli and Mexican oregano and used as a topping for tacos and tostadas. Versions of this are popular all over the area with various tweaks – in Peru they add lime juice. We make a version using our Mexican Chilli Lime blend, which works perfectly and is great for the buffet table.
Kale – Closely related to cabbage, kale is a hardy brassica which has leaves that can take plenty of cooking, unlike many greens. This doesn’t mean it isn’t used raw, but when it is it tends to be as part of a smoothie; raw kale is absolutely packed with goodness, high in minerals and vitamins, so gives smoothies a real boost. Cooked kale loses much of this, but still has very high values for vitamins A, C and K. There are a fair few varieties of kale; curly kale, with very wrinkled leaves, is common and this is part of the wonderful Portuguese soup Caldo Verde (featured in the recipe section above), cooked with potatoes, olive oil and (when we make it anyway!) chorizo sausage. A similar dish is the Italian ribollita soup from Tuscany, which uses the cavolo nero strain of kale alongside hearty veg, beans and bread. Our Italian herb mix is a great seasoning for either recipe, and our Arrabbiata blend will give a chilli twist. One reason kale is used in these hearty soups is that unlike many greens, it grows well into Winter so finds its place in cold weather favourites. There is a recipe where kale is cooked with sausages and barley, seasoned with rosemary, which is another good example. And we mustn’t forget Colcannon, the Irish dish of mashed potatoes mixed with kale then finished with butter and black pepper. Kale crisps are also very good indeed, and you could flavour these with a sprinkle of either Cajun seasoning or Hickory smoked salt.
Spice Mountain stocks an excellent Kale powder, great for the store cupboard.
Lettuce – Possibly the most ubiquitous green leaf of all, mainly due to its use as the base for so many salads. There is a very wide range in types of lettuce, from the exceptionally neutral iceberg through to the strong, peppery rocket, and it is almost always used raw. As with other greens, this preserves the nutritional benefits which in lettuce include significant amounts of vitamins. The exception to this rule is China (interestingly, it is said there is a cultural aversion to eating raw leaves in China), and here lettuce is cooked in the same way as spinach and other greens, often using sesame seeds as a garnish.
Anything nutty tends to go nicely with lettuce. It is used as a garnish for Malaysian Satay, working very well with the spicy peanut sauce, and lettuce is a perfect addition to the Middle Eastern Falafel wrap. Stronger tasting lettuce, such as Cos or Frisee, appreciate a dressing with plenty of oomph and a classic vinaigrette made with mustard and black pepper is perfect. And at the top end of the strength scale, rocket due to its powerful pepper flavour gets on very well with orange, so a dressing made with orange zest and a touch of fragrant spice (Ras el Hanout would be a good option) is very pleasant.
There are a few nice dishes made with cooked lettuce. It can be braised with butter, peas, mint and cream, and this makes a nice side dish to a chop or steak. Diced bacon can be added to good effect, and if you wanted to get some spice into it, a sprinkle of either Aleppo or Mignonette pepper would work wonders.
Broccoli – One of our favourite vegetables, full of healthy flavour and crunch. Again packed full of nutrients, it can be eaten raw or cooked, and is particularly good for stir-frying. You can do this Chinese style, with soy sauce, garlic, ginger and a sprinkle of Five spice powder, and it also works really well with Japanese Shichimi Togarishi or Szechuan spice. When steamed or slightly boiled (overcooking broccoli should definitely be a criminal offence!), it can be seasoned with Lemon Salt, Lemon Pepper or even better a sprinkle of Sumac. This method is best with either Tenderstem or Purple Sprouting broccoli, as the deep grassy flavour of the vegetable works so well with anything citrus. Perhaps our favourite broccoli dish though is Tagliatelle Alfredo, a rich and sinful pasta dish with chicken and cream, seasoned with Tomato and Basil salt and plenty of black pepper.
Green Beans – Another worldwide favourite, green beans are prized for their texture as well as their flavour, giving body and crunch to a dish. Green beans differ from the other beans in that they are eaten in their pods, harvested while still immature. They typically have a grassy, faintly sweet flavour and can be matched with pretty much anything, as is evident from the vast range of recipes which includes them.
The Indians do amazing things with them, for instance a common Gujarati recipe which uses heaps of black mustard seeds along with chilli, garlic and a pinch of sugar. Green beans can be paired up with Chaat Masala, a beautifully fruity sweet and sour blend, and a great curry can be made using green beans and our Mauritius Masala, with plenty of tomatoes. Down in Kerala coconut inevitably shows up, and green beans can be cooked in the Thoran style we came across earlier.
In Malaysia and Indonesia a common veggie side dish is Sayur Lodeh, mixed vegetables cooked in coconut milk with spices such as lemon grass, kaffir lime and galangal. The veg can be anything you have handy, but it is particularly good when done with green beans. This recipe also includes shrimp paste, and the Malaysians also make a really good stir fry of green beans and this umami-packed ingredient.
Many of Spice Mountain’s blends and seasonings will get on well with green beans, and perhaps our four favourites would be Tunisian Tabil, Lebanese Zatar, Zanzibar Curry blend and Japanese Gomashio. But rest easy, as whatever your favourite blend is, it will work with fresh, crunchy beans.
Garden Peas – A fresh-picked pea (this includes good quality frozen peas, which are iced within hours of picking) doesn’t need much doing to it, as it should be full of sweet flavour. Interestingly, the garden pea was something of a luxury a couple of centuries ago, whereas now it is one of the most popular of vegetables. In the West a high proportion of domestic freezers will feature a bag, due both to their flavour and the ease with which they can be prepared. Green peas get on very well with herbs – parsley or chervil, mint, tarragon and thyme are all used to dress them, usually alongside butter or olive oil. In more spicy ways of cooking, peas are often used to give colour and a bit of flavour to rice dishes such as Biryani and Pilau. They feature in a few curries too, notably Aloo Mattar where they are cooked with potatoes (try our Pav Bhaji blend for making this) and Mutter Paneer, cooked in a creamy sauce with Indian cheese (we always call this one Cheesy Peas, and like to make it with Korma curry blend). Peas also work really well in a Thai Green curry, and they can be used to give their vibrant colour to so many dishes.