Healthy Salad

 

IMG_5647

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ingredients:

150g chopped rocket
200g diced cherry tomatoes (red & yellow)
1 1/2 onions sliced
1 lime juiced
1/2 pomegranate, seeds removed
200g freshly grated coconut
1/2 tsp chili powder
3-4 chopped fresh chili (Optional)
1 tsp Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (coarse)

The straightforward recipe, mix everything to the bowl, season to taste, stir well. If you like it spicier, give a full tsp of chili powder or add more fresh chili. I love it just a hint of chili powder.

This recipe includes diced onions, if you are strict Vegan, you can replace with cucumber. I prefer this version of the salad, more refreshing because of the freshly grated coconut. Further, Pomegranate seeds are juicy, sweet and sour, bursting after you chew it.

The best served immediately once prepared, even you keep in the fridge, it doesn’t keep long. It is not an impressive vegetarian recipe, but it is one of my healthy dinner selections. Try it if you have freshly grated coconut!

Vegan’s Spices

Vegan Spices logo

Last week, I was lucky that I met a friend and his mom in my shop. They were collecting some spices before they went back to America. He is a “Vegan.” He produced many vegan recipe books. His name is Healy Youngton.

Although I work in this spice business for many years, I do not have a clear picture of Vegan’s food preparation. I know some of them can not take garlic, onion, milk, and egg.

I took the opportunity to update him on my current project at Jack’s Spice Kitchen – “Cooking Video.”

Healy said he would “like” my cooking video after I posted it on Youtube. I appreciated his support.

I started to think about Vegan’s cooking after I saw Healy. Maybe this is the time for me to make a complete crackdown on Vegan’s food. After many days of research and hard work, my conclusion is that Vegetarian diet is not a new recipe. “Where shall I begin?” The idea was very fragile. I need a “MEAT FREE” mindset.

Recently, the Vegan foods are famous that many people are venturing into Vegan cooking. I am not a vegetarian. However, I am trying to look for my inspiration in the vegetarian dish.

Vegetarian foods must be something unusual! Many people converted into a vegetarian lifestyle.  Today, vegetarian is a “Culture.” The trend that people follow and workship. The new branding happens in the food industry.

Is this the signal of change?

The fundamental of a vegetarian concept is practiced due to rituals and religious activities, purifying the soul of greed, hatred, and destruction, developing our inner peace and compassion.  However, the purification does not limit our mind and soul but physically transform into food. How do you cook? What do you eat?

I think that a “REVOLUTION” of belief was created, beyond the original. Vegan’s theory is the new lifestyle. A Vegan practitioner must be able to let go the original, sacrificing now and reborn in new life.

A choice of killing a chicken for food, right by your hand or starve to death, which one will you choose? Easy answer, right? My wife will pick up the second option. The ideology is not as pure as quoted by Shakespeare “To be, or not to be, that is the question”? Anyway, we better look into my actual topic “Vegan’s Spices.”

Spices are long used ingredients in vegetarian foods, to balance the ph level, improve the taste of food. Before we have the refrigerator, we preserve cooking with spices. No doubt that spices are rich in nutrition and medical benefits.

The checklist of Vegan’s Spices, first to make sure all resources are free from animal-related substances directly or indirectly. The borderline is similar to “Organic food” checklist in our market. It depends on the trustworthy of a supplier.

Second, I would like to highlight the “Five Acrid and Strong-smelling Vegetables.” Some Vegans, they are very strict to determine the ingredients of “Five Spices” which contain strong-smelling taste because of its tendency to excite human senses.

Garlic, Onion, leek, Allium (Chives, Spring Onion) and Asafoetida.

I had a bad experience with Asafoetida, an excellent ingredient to replace garlic and onion for vegetarian foods, especially for dhals, beans, and earthy taste plants. I strongly recommended it to a Chinese Vegan. She cooked it, but the garlic-onion taste from Asafoetida shocked her. She immediately thought that I tricked her with garlic-onion powder.Unexpected! I learned a good lesson to be more careful in future.

However, the “Five Spices” restriction is binding to some Vegans only. We will stick with the first checklist in general. I listed the top 10 spices for vegetarian food.

1. Turmeric                           6. Coriander
2. Ginger                                7. Star Anise
3. Chili                                    8. Cinnamon
4. Paprika                              9. Tamarind
5. Cumin                               10. Peppers

The favorite spice blend is Vegetarian Curry powder; the other curry blends are depending if you are mimicking fish curry. The spices blending method varies from meat, seafood, and vegetables.

Before the main menu, I prepared a “Healthy Salad” for a starter. The simple recipe to tune into my world of vegetarian cooking.

Nutmeg Nowadays

IMG_3025

“In the Banda Islands, ten pounds of nutmeg cost less than one English penny. In London, that same spice sold for more than £2.10s. – a markup of a staggering 60,000 percent. A small sackful was enough to set a man up for life, buying him a gabled dwelling in Holborn and a servant to attend to his needs.” from Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: How One Man’s Courage Changed the Course of History. 

I like this paragraph from the author, Giles Milton. The book described “Spice Trade in the seventeenth century.” A beautifully told adventure story and “NUTMEG” a fabulous valuable spice in Europe.

Today, the glorious moment of Nutmeg already faded.

Nowadays, Nutmeg is no longer the expensive spice that will make you rich as what we read in Nathaniel’s Nutmeg.

Do you think that Nutmeg will disappear or extinct in the human world? The fact is that we no longer depend on “Nutmeg” nowadays to preserve our food, we have the freezer.  In fact, we have created many new technologies to store our food. The powerful medicinal properties of Nutmeg that men would risk their lives to obtain it because it would cure the deadly disease. Nowadays, we have discovered and invented many medicines to replace nutmeg. Nutmeg used to be an essential ingredient in food and beverage industry, nowadays, we created many different chemicals to flavour our food and drinks.

In our daily cooking practice, do you know how many people are really using Nutmeg as their magic spice? In my spice shop, Nutmeg is the slow-moving spice, especially the whole Nutmeg seed. Recently, I noticed that many customers are using it for traditional medicine. Local people usually name it “JAMU”- a herbal medicine from varieties of natural ingredients.

When I started to write about Nutmeg, I remembered one of my old friend who was an importer and exporter of Nutmeg. He traded Nutmegs from Indonesia to EU countries. He got a huge storage place to store Nutmeg, brokering the future price of Nutmeg in the world market price. You may imagine he must be wealthy and cool!  INTERESTING! EXCITING! I did feel the same way many years ago. I thought he must be an expert of Nutmeg. He would know every single method or details about How, Where, When or Why that you should use Nutmeg.

The reality, he was a talented “BROKER.”

The future of NUTMEG…

 

 

 

How much will you pay for spices?

How much will you pay for a kilo of turmeric powder? RM10, RM 20, RM30 or less than RM5. I always confused about my thoughts for the value of spices. How do we judge the price of each item? The standard costing formula, we add in everything we do from the farm until retail market. The cost included farming, crops treatment, research, grading, cleaning, logistics, storage, production, research, marketing, distribution & promotion. If we make it details, how much do you think a spice will be?

I would say that the price is beyond the value I can sell on the market, regardless which market segment, from upstream to downstream. Even a break-even point is a myth.

The recent pressure on economy slowing down; food cost increased beyond our control. The impact is no longer an indirect factor; it is directly influencing our daily activities. How to save more? How to select the best option? Lower price better quality?

Do you think that spices and herbs are essential “add-on” to our food as an enhancer of taste? I remembered that I was once furiously promoting spices marination as an “added” value of meat. Simplifying the process of cooking and provide better value to consumers. We successfully achieved our “target” because the trend of ready-to-cook (RTC) was growing. I was luckily made it on time to advance the business into marination. Did we manage to change our food preparation habit? Will you buy a turmeric marinated meat to save your cooking preparation time?

In reality, everything is “pre-assumed” with a price. For example, turmeric powder is RM15 per kilo in the market. If you try to sell higher than this amount, people will think that you are trying to gain more profit. Some consumers will consider to buy it due to the quality concern. In general cooking, turmeric is for colouring, as long as you make it yellow. Therefore, some yellow turmeric powder is RM5 or lower. Do you believe it?

Yes, this range of product exists and high in demand.

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth of Turmeric

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My first idea of turmeric is “curry”. I remembered that an Indian man commonly asked “What type of curry? The local language is “Curry apa? He used to roll a brownish paper and wrapped into a cone shape to keep the curry powder. He skillfully mixed a few types of powder together.

Importantly, I must say the magic word “tak mahu pedas!” before he did anything. The Indian man shakes his head. I thought he did not like it anywhere when I said “Less Spicy”.

My family originally not a curry lover. The main culinary practice at my hometown also not a curry based cooking. The truth, I thought Tumeric was curry until many years later after I started to cook. I realised that “Turmeric” is a different ingredient.

I also knew the truth reason “Why” the Indian man shook his head many years later. He wanted to tell me that he could make it less spicy!

Authentic Cinnamon? Cassia or Ceylon Cinnamon?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Many types of Cinnamon are available in the market, which one is the real one we are using? Most frequent question after we have learned about the varieties of Cinnamon and the health concern about “coumarin” contain in Cinnamon. “Coumarin” is a kind of natural chemical substance comes with the plant. Here, I believe that everybody can search the net; it is easy!

Many years ago, the Indonesian Cinnamon dominated the whole local market, and not many people know about Ceylon Cinnamon. The real cinnamon for everyone is Cassia Cinnamon, our household taste in daily cooking. The Ceylon Cinnamon from Sri Lanka is a newcomer. People valued it as another kind of cinnamon, less pungent, expensive and doubtful about its potential. I thought I had a wrong starting point. I was in a state of selling shoes at a place where people is barefoot, different knowledge and unfit to local custom, but I believe it was a great business opportunity.

My first encounter about Ceylon Cinnamon had changed my life. I had a deep feeling about Ceylon Cinnamon, and I always use Cinnamon as my opening topic when I do a sales talk. However, I remembered one occasion that I was so embarrassed where I was trying to show my best Ceylon Cinnamon to a France Chef, many years ago. Unexpectedly, she turned down my conversation because she could not accept the smell of cinnamon. No matter it was Cassia or Ceylon. I made another appointment and cleared out all my cinnamon from my spice bag before the next meeting. I learned that Ceylon Cinnamon is my personal preference spice, but not the absolute for others.

The point I would like to highlight is “Authentic” flavour. The value originally used by the people. The “Original Flavour”. The selected ingredients or method of cooking which forms a genuine character. In other words, “Authentic” is a part of people living pattern. The way we eat and our lifestyle. Some people may have a different experience and changed the original taste. Therefore, the flavour is a complexity of living. It is beyond our ordinary senses, a creation of many things.

Now, I have majority customers use Ceylon Cinnamon because it is real, sweeter aroma, good for health and it is the diabetic medicine from natural remedies. So, my clients like the Cinnamon? Do they change their original eating behaviour?

Authentic cinnamon is not the important matter because we value the facts in reality. The aroma and taste of Cinnamon are the secondary consideration. The flavour differences are strictly the cooking concerns.

Last, before I put an end to my Cinnamon topic, I share my real life experience with you. I like Cinnamon because it smells good and comfortable. I use it in my cooking recipes. My favourite masala tea with Ceylon Cinnamon. Try to love spices and discover the natural flavour. Search for your spice starter.

Cinnamon, My Inspiration

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If we search “Cinnamon” on the internet, we will find tonnes of cinnamon related information. Many stories inspired by Cinnamon, trades, foods, drinks, lifestyle, memories, health, history &, etc.

My Cinnamon story began from Sri Lanka; my very first spice guru who brought me into spices business. Sometimes, I thought that “Cinnamon” naturally is given a miracle power. An ordinary tree that we have used it since 2500 years ago.

My first encounter about Cinnamon is not because of its medical benefits, without any idea about Cinnamon; I discovered that it smells comfortable and relief, I believed the sweet flavour caught me in the first place. I remembered that my wife and I were on the way to down south of Sri Lanka. We took a rest halfway because of motion sickness. We spotted some workers were working on some wood craftings. The wood smelled so good that I forgot I was motion sickness. I never thought that was Cinnamon. Maybe it cured my dizziness. That was my first experience about Cinnamon.

The other thing amazed me was the process of making the quills, it is so labour intensive. I could not believe that Cinnamon stick must be hand crafted. My spice journey started here. I would like to say that was a fantastic coincidence.

Star Anise, The Chinese Spice

sths

It is a Chinese spice and representing the aromatic flavour of Chinese cuisine. Naturally, it is a flower pod which dried under the hot sun before it has fully ripened. The unique and beautiful spice, It shapes like the star, a complete eight horns stretch out from the centre. Each carpel carries a seed inside, light brown oval shape. The profile of Star Anise is a combination of fennel and anise, sweet aromatic. It is an essential flavour in all Chinese kitchen.

The next idea came to my mind is Chinese Five Spice, the lovely spice mix. The traditional spice blends in our modern cuisine. Star Anise plays a significant aroma in Chinese Five Spice. Without Star Anise, Chinese Five Spice will never be its original. That is the reason I said it is “The Chinese Spice”. We can get it easily in a general grocery shop nowadays. Many difference type of branding and authentication, quite a headache sometimes to select the best Chinese Five Spice.

Now, I blend my spice mix. Along the mixing quest, I discovered many possibilities of doing it. This spice blend has a combination of five basic grounded spices, Cinnamon, Star Anise, Cloves, Fennel and Szechuan pepper. Some versions are more than five type of spices, depending on personal preference, nutmeg, mace and white pepper. All these are pairing amazingly to increase the flavour complexity, but I prefer to the original five.

When I blend the Chinese Five Spice, I always remembered my taste of childhood, my favourite dish, “Pineapple chicken”. My grandmother used to plug a juicy pineapple from the house backyard and cooked with the leftover chicken. I was trying to resemble that recipe quite a few times, but the outcome was not the one I remembered.

Finally, I successfully cooked the dish with an added Star Anise and Chinese Five Spice. Leftover chicken marinated with Chinese Five Spice and 2-3 pods Star Anise add into cooking. The flavour of Pineapple Chicken twisted beyond my words can describe, a mouth-watering dish, serve with white rice.

This Chinese New Year comes early. I believe that Star Anise will be the magic spice again in many Chinese kitchens, the secret ingredient! I wish to share some of my records about the Star Anise.

How to select the right Star Anise?

The best Star Anise is light brown to dark brown. 8 carpels with a seed inside each. Size in between 2-3cm. The best harvest is the autumn crops. As far as my search until now, natural treated Vietnamese Star Anise is the best. Good spices require a proper care harvest and handling so that the aromatic property is reserved.

4dscn8299ok
Whole Pod – Vietnamese Star Anise
2dscn8304-ok
Natural Dried Star Anise

In the local market, we will always get the lower quality. I manage to differentiate the grade of Star Anise after many years of experience in spice trading. I strongly advise not to use this category. It is unbelievable cheap. The colour is abnormal. It smells stinky. At least a seed must be inside one of the pods. If you can not find a single seed, the Star Anise is unadulterated.

3dscn8338ok
Lower Grade Star Anise

Furthermore, the Star Anise will not turn into an unacceptable black colour; it only happens if bad harvest, the crops went bad or not properly handled. If we are looking for Star Anise grounded, purchase from your trusted supplier. The untrusted source is risky. We do not know the purity and grade. Try to avoid from the unknown seller.

 

1dscn8286
Local Market Star Anise

 

My spice checklist, I will check the spices from a few parts, physical appearance, aroma, taste and flavour. I am pretty sure that you will able to find out the different. Enjoy the spices adventure! I wish that my notes are helpful to you or whoever has an interest in cooking and spices.