As grown-ups snored through the hot afternoons in rooms cooled with wetted, sweet-smelling vetiver curtains, the unsupervised children were on every branch of every mango tree, armed with a ground mixture of salt, pepper, red chilies, and roasted cumin.
Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey
One of the culinary joys of being in the States is the variety of food from many traditions. Spices, and spicy Asian, Mexican and Indian food, is what I miss most back home, where even the most basic ingredients aren't available. But I'm making up for it over here, with curries, burritos, and rice noodles as our regular dinners. Whereas at home I cook with fresh herbs from the garden - rosemary, basil, thyme, oregano, savory, marjoram - over here I indulge in a range of less familiar spices: cumin, cardamom, coriander, curry, ginger, chili and my absolute favorite, fresh cilantro.
A few spice related culinary facts:
- Quick & Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey (the author of the above quote, from her memoir of a childhood in India) a must-have book for Indian food lovers who don't have a whole lot of time to cook. All recipes take about 30 minutes to make, and are absolutely wonderful. We've tried: Shrimp with Garlic & Chiles, Onion Fritters, Curried Tuna, Green Lentils, and tonight we're having Lamb Vindaloo, and Rice with Peas and Dill. Yum!
- rice noodles how-to: I've finally learned how to cook rice noodles in a simple and very tasty way, thanks to chef extraordinaire cousin Anne who shared her method. I've always tried to cook them like italian spaghetti, in salted boiling water, and was disappointed by the gooey mess that resulted. Rule #1: read the cooking instructions. In fact, most rice noodles should be soaked in unsalted, lukewarm water. Drain well, and add Anne's magic mixture (for 1 lb noodles):
• ¼ c sesame oil, 2 tbs olive oil, ½ c soy sauce, 1½ tsp red pepper flakes, ¼ c roasted sesame seeds, 1 bunch of green onions, chopped. Now your rice noodles are ready for whichever sauce you like: steamed mixed vegetables or grilled meat chunks, shrimp or roasted peanut topping (or a combination of them all).
- Penzeys is my favorite spice store. I've bought spices from them for over fifteen years, and they've invariably been fresh, with an exceptionally long-lasting aroma. The Penzeys catalog is a delight to thumb through, and includes some great recipes and interesting spice info. Also, each time I've placed an order, Penzeys has always thrown in a nice gift of one of their spice blends to try. I've just stocked up on spices to bring back home ... along with the yarn, the massive pine cone, and the blue jar ... How will we fit it all in our bags?!