Tag Archives: cumin

All about eggs

It wasn’t until I was 18 and had declared myself a vegetarian that I learned to love eggs. They were cheap and they were easy. Besides, my mother had gifted me a handy little omelette pan with a Teflon surface and a hinge down the middle. With a little butter, a bowlful of beaten eggs and some grated cheddar, I became a master omelette maker.  You couldn’t really screw up.  I’d cook both sides of the pan until the eggs set, grab the handle and flip right over left to create a covered semi-circle pan with a perfect omelette hidden inside. Voila!

Once I moved to a real omelette pan, without the help of my hinged pan crutch, I discovered the complexity of omelette making. It was the fillings and my overwhelming greed for them, that was my ruin. The more onions, bacon, sausage, veggies and cheese I piled inside, the harder it became to make The Flip.

IMG_2092Truth be told, my problem was the eggs.  I really didn’t like them plain. If I’d practiced with a bowlful of very frothy, very beaten eggs, and had let them slide into a buttery, perfectly heated cast iron pan, they might have had a chance. They just needed time and singularity, so their eggy selves could focus on setting rather than accommodating all those interlopers.

But no.  I wasn’t liking that.

So I moved on to the frittata, which requires no flip and invites a lot of flavour pairings. Tomatoes, basil and goat cheese. Onions, potatoes and gruyere.  Spinach and feta.  Chorizo, sage and fingerling potatoes. The list is endless.  But still, we’re talking eggs which are either perfectly cooked or instantly ruined. The time between the two is a millisecond. I’ve made many a loaded frittata enwrapped in dry, rubbery, unappealing eggs. Ick.

IMG_2088So I moved over to poaching. Again, I was saved by a gizmo.  This time it was my grandmother Nonnie’s poaching pan, a lovely deep, copper bottom saucepan fitted with a rack in which four egg saucers nestle inside.  One fills the pan with water, covers with the egg rack and follows with a lid. Once the water comes to a boil, the hot little saucers are ready to be buttered and loaded with a freshly cracked egg.

Sensible cooks turn off the heat to manage this feat, but I preferred to dab a bit of butter inside each poaching, steaming cup, pick it up and swirl. I’d burnt my fingers doing this for serial years, swearing profuse profanities, believing all short order cookers made similar sacrifices.

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Credit: Nick Nausbaum

Then a plumber set me straight.

He had just repaired a toilet upstairs and was passing through my kitchen during a particularly raucous swearing and poaching event. He shook his head and asked,  “You don’t like to use a fork, huh?”

I shot him such a mean look of incomprehension, I’m not sure why he bothered… but he did.

“Here’s how ya do it,” he said, taking a fork and placing the middle two tines into the slot above each flat lifting surface. Woa, the fork became a handle. This mechanical feature had eluded me my entire poaching career with this pan!

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Credit: Nick Nausbaum

“I like my  yolks well done,” he said as he waved the hot poaching cup perilously close   to my face.

I, too, used to like my yolks dry and thoroughly cooked, encased by a jiggly, gelatinous white. But real egg lovers like their yolks runny, seduced by that golden, buttery elixir as it spreads over toast, rice or potatoes.

Thus, the hash.  Nick told me about his recipe the other day. It’s a hearty start to the day and makes great leftovers.  Besides, the pan is loaded with everything but eggs until the last five minutes.  Nick’s Hash needs a big, oven-safe skillet to take on all the ingredients. It must include potatoes to get dubbed a hash and doesn’t have to rely on sausage, bacon or ham. Plus, it stars black beans which call out for other southwest flavours like hot peppers, cilantro and even avocado.

Best of all, the egg cooking portion is a no-brainer. Make room in this hash for eggs by making little wells that can contain their roundness but are forgiving if it’s a bad break.  The eggs will commence cooking the minute they nestle into their wells but they will all come to the finish line at the same time thanks to your preheated oven. Just three to five minutes at 400 F promotes even egg cooking as the cheese bubbles up and turns golden brown.  Because it’s not all about the eggs, is it?

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Nick's Hash

It’s always a challenge to cook eggs for a crowd. Here’s a filling take on brunch that’s easy to assemble and finish in the oven. Sliced avocados are nice on the side.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 roasted Yukon gold organic potatoes, skins on, chopped

1 jalapeno, chopped

10 grape tomatoes, quartered

½ tsp each ground roasted cumin, smoked paprika

1 cup grated Monterey Jack or Cheddar

2 cups black beans

4-6 eggs

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh coriander, finely chopped

Avocado, sliced or cubed

Preheat oven 400 F.

In a cast iron or oven-safe skillet heat oil, sauté onions, bell pepper, potatoes, jalapeno, cumin and smoked paprika for 5 min. or until potatoes are browned. Add tomatoes and sauté until the tomato juices release. Turn off heat. Distribute  cheese and black beans evenly over the surface. With a spoon, create a well for eggs and crack them in. Bake in oven for 5 minutes or until eggs have set.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve garnished with fresh coriander and sliced avocado.

The rub on spices

Decades ago, I warned Toronto Star readers in my “Taste of Asia” column to throw out any ground spices and herbs in their cupboards older than six months. I said they were past their prime. Defunct. Bad stuff.

No one likes a bossy food writer, so I tried to soften the tone and replace visions of global spice carnage with a gentle challenge: Close your eyes, open a random bottle and take a whiff.IMG_2593

“If you can’t smell anything, toss it,” I cajoled.

Well, I’m still on a spice rant after all these years. Commercially dried and ground spices and herbs lose most of their je ne sais quoi the moment they are harvested and processed, for it is at this juncture that their flavour-filled essential oils begin to degrade.

It gets worse.

When herbs and spices are ground into a powder, they are exposed to the ravages of oxidization and time… especially if they fall into obscurity in a deranged spice drawer like mine.

Luckily, mine underwent a radical makeover last week. I threw out all the wizened and yellowed dried red peppers, aroma-less ground powders of dubious distinction and the contents of any package, bottle or tin box that landed in said drawer prior to 2015 – with the exception of nutmeg.IMG_2545

I’m the proud owner of some relatively ancient nutmeg nuts, encased in shells and decorated with a fancy filament of mace. They come from Grenada and I began to horde them after several culinary visits to the Spice Island of the Caribbean. Alas, these nutmegs have broken all my self-imposed “Spice and Herb Guidelines”. They demonstrate incredible flavour once I hack off the shell with the blunt end of a knife and finely grate with my Cuisipro rasp.IMG_2586

The places this nutmeg goes! Sometimes it’s just a sprinkle over a Grenada-style rum punch. Or, a teaspoon into garam masala bound for a Punjabi-style curry. So alive are my nutmeg relics that a taster at my table recently detected a single smidgen slipped into a creamy, rich Yukon gold potato gratin.

Despite an undeniably close connection to the ever-popular nutmeg, mace is one loner of a spice. It boasts a well-known affinity with pumpkin, but just doesn’t seem to pop up on the recipe radar otherwise. You can imagine my glee, when I stumbled on a rub recipe calling for a whopping teaspoon of the stuff. I had some whole mace at my fingertips and was ready to put it through the grinder.

IMG_2545I simply peeled the lacy filaments off my whole nutmegs and placed them in my trusty spice blender that has continued to get revved up over all the cumin, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom (green and black), peppercorns, hot peppers, coriander, all spice, fennel and fenugreek I have been feeding it for the past three decades.

In went the mace filaments and out came a surprisingly pumpkin-toned powder that tasted more pungent and citrusy than its soul-sister nutmeg. When I closed my eyes and did a side-by-side sniff of the two, it was difficult to tell them apart. No wonder McCormick spice’s web site suggests putting either one in many of the same destinations, be it custards, eggnog, spice-filled quick breads or dusted on steamed veggies like carrots or sugar snap peas.IMG_2546IMG_2550

Back to the rub, which I spotted in my beloved Joy of Cooking but as per usual, put my own riff on. I chose it not only for the mace, but all the roasted cumin and cracked peppercorns.

Admittedly, cumin is my favourite. Sometimes I grind it raw, but I’m more apt to first toast the seeds in a dry frying pan over medium heat until they start to smoke. (Dry-frying spices is a risky venture as there’s a fine line between browning and burning. It helps to keep a sample of raw cumin seeds nearby as you dry-fry, to offer a visual comparison.) I like to grind the cumin seeds while they’re hot so as to savour the hot cloud of nutty cumin smoke released when the lid comes off.

IMG_2554I used my Thai mortar and pestle to crack or coarsely grind the black peppercorns used in this rub. To add authenticity, I took my hulking mortar outside, placed it on my back deck and visualized the northern Thai town of Fang where I saw countless fine cooks squat and pound – a satisfying way to approach this kitchen tool and more effective than placing it on a kitchen counter.

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Last but not least, salt. If you like smoky flavours, check out Salish, an Alderwood smoked sea salt.

 

 

Smokey, toasty pork rub

Get out your spice grinder and have some fun concocting this gorgeous mixture. Whole nutmeg nuts can be found in Kensington or St Lawrence Market or Little India. Try this on grilled pork chops, baby back ribs or slow-cooked pork shoulder. Rub one tablespoon per pound just prior to cooking or better still, rub and refrigerate overnight.

½ cup sweet or smoked paprika

¼ cup ground roasted cumin

¼ cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup cracked/coarsely ground black peppers

2 tbsp hot cayenne powder

2 tbsp sea salt

1 tbsp chile guajillo molido (or any mild chile powder)

1 tbsp smoked salt

2 tsp mace

© 2015 Madeleine Greey

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A Vij’s attack

Who knew that a night at the movies would set off a torrent of onion, ginger and garlic chopping, a spice drawer purge and some of the most sumptuous curries I have ever created in my kitchen? I didn’t. But recently I paid an exorbitant $35 to watch a TIFF Food in Film movie called The Lunchbox and forgot all about my sticker shock once the reel began, reveling in the click-clack of Bombay trains coursing over tracks as thousands of freshly packed, hot tiffin boxes made their way to hungry civil servants, just in time for 1 pm lunch.

The Lunchbox charmed with a sweet, unexpected love story based on a lonely wife’s kitchen wizardry. As she dipped into spice baskets and seductively licked a smear of sauce off the palm of her hand, I too, longed to dive back into my kitchen and suffuse it with the perfume of cardamom and nutty richness of toasted cumin.

IMG_1594But after the last credits rolled and the lights turned on, out stepped CBC’s Matt Galloway and the owners of Vancouver’s Vij’s restaurant holding microphones, ready to discuss the film on the stage before us.

Galloway and Vikram Vij both gushed unabashed foodie enthusiasms saying their thoughts always centred around food, from morning to night, yet Vikram’s wife, Meeru Dhalwala said, “Sure I love food… and our lives revolve around it, but I get sick of it, too!”

Galloway and Vij’s heads both snapped in her direction.

“Don’t look so shocked,” she said. “I love my kids, too. And get sick of them, also,” she giggled.

I was instantly hooked. She talked about the blood, sweat and tears she put into the writing of her two cookbooks and why her restaurant kitchens are staffed by women only.IMG_1589

“We tried a male chef once. He had tons of experience but his ego got in the way. I really care about the ambience of my kitchens. It needs to be calm and creative when we are cooking- not full of yelling and fear.”

I figured anyone who had such a fine philosophy about food, children and kitchen ambience, was my kind of cook and I instantly nabbed a copy of Vij’s At Home.

I started with cauliflower, the lowly crucifer vegetable that plays a pivotal role in The Lunchbox and is generally adored by Indians. Aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower) is a standard you’ll find in most cookbooks and Indian restaurants. I’ve made it many times and have always felt a little let down by the results. It takes a lot to push this plain white veggie with its sulfurous odor into the realm of “Ah ha!” but Meeru’s Spicy Cauliflower Steak does just that. Her culinary tricks include half a cup of oil (I cut that in half), a slow braise in a rich sauce and a goodly punch of whole cloves.

It didn’t hurt that I used one of the finest brands of pureed tomatoes: Mutti made IMG_1394in Parma, Italy. This passata (tomato puree) is sweet, luscious and has a Hindi-kind of ring to it.

The Vijs had mentioned on stage that they drink wine with every Indian meal they prepare and that their default – or other favourite cuisine – is Italian. The more I perused their cookbook, the more I sensed a Parma-Punjab fusion going on. Such as “Ground Fennel Seed Curry”, in which a rich marriage of fennel, tomato puree and cream creates the perfect sauce for fish, seafood or chicken. Among Indian cookery, this dish is super easy and fast. You decide whether to serve it plain (vegetarian) or drape it luxuriously over some protein. Serve on basmati rice or even linguine.

Ground Fennel Seed Curry:Photo courtesy of Vij's at Home

Ground Fennel Seed Curry: Photo courtesy of Vij’s at Home

Ground fennel seed curry

The difference between mediocre and fabulous Indian cooking lies squarely in the treatment of spices. Buy whole (except turmeric!) and grind in a coffee or spice grinder. Don’t store ground spices for longer than a month or two. BJ Supermarket (1449 Gerrard St East, near Coxwell) has every exotic spice you’ll ever want and more. Recipe adapted from Vij’s at Home (Douglas & McIntyre, 2010)

6 tbsp fennel seeds

1/3 -1/2 cup cooking oil

2 cups pureed tomatoes

1 tbsp (or less) salt

1 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground fenugreek seeds

2-3 tsp crushed dried chilies

4 cups water

1 cup cream

Heat a 10-inch heavy-bottomed frying pan on high for 1 minute. Add fennel seeds, and stirring regularly, cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until slightly dark and fragrant. Pour roasted seeds onto a plate and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Grind the fennel seeds in a spice (or coffee) grinder. Set aside 2 Tbsp ground fennel seeds for this recipe. Store the remaining seeds in an airtight container in a dark cupboard or drawer for use in other dishes.

In a medium pot, heat oil on medium for 1 minute. Add ground fennel seeds and stir continuously for 30 seconds, or until fennel begins to foam lightly. Carefully and immediately add tomatoes, stirring well. Add salt, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek seeds and crushed dried chillies and sauté for 5 minutes, or until oil glistens.

Pour in water and cream. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Gently poach a pound of fish fillets, shellfish or chicken pieces in this sauce until just done. Serve over basmati rice or pasta.

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Cod in fennel curry sauce and cauliflower steak.