Friday, 14 January 2011

Healing Spices

Indigenous peoples knew the powers of plants and spices to heal. After all, aspirin came from a tree. In our bottled and packaged world we sometimes forget that these plants hold innumerable traits to prevent and heal common diseases. Every time a fruit or veggie is profiled for its nutrient superpowers, we run out and stock up. But did you know your spice cupboard holds more anti-oxidants and phytonutrients than your fruit bowl?

Me neither.

Until I read Healing Spices. What a treasure trove of information about delicious and exotic spices; what their curative powers are, how to buy, store and use them, and what other spices they accent and complement.

There are 50 recipes with which to try out your new-found spices, a section on spice blends, (including Chesapeake Bay Seafood Seasoning, which I am really excited about), and a section of colour photographs in the middle so that you can identify spices which may be new to you.

The book is well organized and well researched. Indeed the author, Bharat B. Aggarwal PhD, has his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkley, did a post-doctoral fellowship in endocrinology at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco, and has been with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, as professor of cancer research, biochemistry, immunology and experimental therapeutics, and director of the Cytokine Research Laboratory since 1989. In his ten years as molecular biologist and cancer researcher at Genentech Inc., he made many major scientific discoveries, has lectured all over the world and has been featured in innumerable newspapers and magazines. So, we get the idea he knows of what he speaks. 

In our KitchenPuppy test kitchen, we made the Chai Masala (a favourite!) and Coconut Meatballs with Peanut Sauce (so flavourful and delicious!).
Feel free to try them out in your home this weekend, and start on a healing spice journey of your own.

Healing Spices
How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease

Bharat B. Aggarwal PhD, Debora Yost
Hardcover, 336 pages

Spiced Milk Tea
Known as chai masala or simply chai, this spiced beverage, which is sold by chai wallahs (tea vendors) all over India, is now popular worldwide. Although you can find chai blends in the supermarket, you can create a much better flavor and experience by making your own.

10 cardamom pods or ½ teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 one-inch cinnamon stick
4 white peppercorns
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 cups low-fat milk
3 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups water
4 bags black tea

1.    Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and discard the pods. Dry roast the cardamom seeds, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, and fennel seeds in a hot skillet until they release their fragrance, about five minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. Put them in a spice grinder or mini food processor and grind to a fine powder.

2.    Put the milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the ground spices, brown sugar, and ginger.

3.    Heat the water in another pot and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and steep the tea bags for three minutes. Pour the tea into the milk mixture and simmer one minute. Let the chai rest for a few minutes. Strain and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Coconut Meatballs with Peanut Sauce
These meatballs are based on sate lalat, a dish that is popular on the Indonesian island of Java. (However, the dish originated on the island of Madura, off the coast of Java.) It makes a nice hors d’oeuvre. The peanut sauce gives the meatballs a tropical flavor, but they are moist enough to serve without it.

Peanut sauce:
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup creamy peanut butter
1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Thai curry paste (optional)
½ teaspoon Madras Curry Powder (p. 284) or commercial curry powder
½ cup warm water

1 pound 90 percent lean ground beef
1 cup dried or fresh (sweetened or unsweetened) shredded coconut
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons black vinegar or 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons extra-virgin coconut oil or olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

1.    To make the peanut sauce: Combine the coconut milk, peanut butter, brown sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, curry paste (if using), and curry powder in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth.

2.    Gradually whisk in the warm water and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Set aside to cool. Serve room temperature.

3.    To make the meatballs: combine the beef, coconut, ginger, vinegar, turmeric, allspice, cumin, one tablespoon of the oil, the lime juice, pepper, and salt in a large bowl. Form into one-inch meatballs. Keep your hands moistened with water to roll the balls.

4.    Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and fry the meatballs, turning frequently, until lightly browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Makes about 30 meatballs and 2 cups of sauce.