As Angelina mentioned in her ode to Yotam Ottolenghi, there are several cookbook authors whose new works always have a reserved place on our shelves. Naomi Duguid is one of those authors. Her books are always gorgeous, her prose is eloquent without being too dense or wordy, and her topics are always fascinating. Duguid’s works are one part travel guide, one part traditional cookbook. We have explored the Indian subcontinent with her in Mangoes & Curry Leaves, probed the lesser known provinces of China in Beyond the Great Wall, and delved into Southeast Asia in Hot Sour Salty Sweet.
Her newest work, Burma: Rivers of Flavor, continues where Hot Sour Salty Sweet leaves off, pulling back the curtain on an isolated country with a rich culinary tradition. Burmese cuisine has been described as a blend of Indian, Chinese, and Thai, but it has a distinctive style all to itself. Shallots, shrimp (fresh and dried), and small salads are all common. There is a heavy focus on fresh ingredients, but many of the recipes are perfumed with warm, sweet spices like cassia, cloves, nutmeg, and star anise. Burma is also a cuisine that favors a heavy dose of heat, and gets this from India red chile flakes, Japones, Indian cayenne, Tellicherry black pepper, and Szechuan peppercorns.
I had the opportunity to see Naomi Duguid speak last year at the Book Larder in Fremont. We all learned about the foods of Burma, from mohinga (a fish stew with rice noodles that is often eaten at breakfast) to laphet thoke (a fermented tea-leaf salad that’s considered Burma’s national dish), as the staff prepared several recipes from the book. However delicious the food was though, the most impactful moments came when Duguid discussed the changes she had seen in Burma through the years. She was repeatedly moved to tears as she spoke about Burma’s transition away from the rigid military dictatorship that has been in power since 1962 and the recent thawing of relations between Burma and the U.S. Naomi’s care shines through in Burma’s beautiful photographs and warm paragraphs.
Eggs Benedict is a classic, there’s no denying that, but “classic” is perhaps not the word I’d use to celebrate my funny, youthful, and adventurous mother! For my mom, poached eggs will sit atop crisp potato pancakes, under a blanket of creamy Orange-Tarragon hollandaise sauce. The sweetness of the orange peel plays against the anise notes of the tarragon in this classic French combination, made whole with shallots and Tellicherry black pepper. The sauce is so sumptuous, and the crunchy fried potatoes make a perfect vehicle for it. Not to mention the eggs- nothing says “love” like a perfectly poached yolk, don’t you know! Mother’s Day is May 12th, so make Mom breakfast, and let her know how sorry you are for your teenage years.
“Salty” is one of the five basic flavors that the human palate can detect, along with sweet, sour, bitter, and “umami.” A baker might tell you that salt makes “sweet things, sweeter,” but more specifically, salt clarifies all flavors. The human mouth is saline, or salty, to begin with, so in order to begin to taste the more nuanced flavors in our food, the salt level in the food first has to match that in our mouth. The wisest of chefs know that the goal with a sprinkle of this prized mineral is not necessarily to achieve a salty flavor, but to elevate and complement all of the flavors in a dish. Here are a few of our favorite varieties, and what we find to be their best uses!
We love Alderwood Smoked Salt, arguably the most dramatic of our offerings. Fine grains of Pacific sea salt are cold-smoked over locally-harvested alder wood chips to achieve a charcoal grey color, and a distinctive smoky aroma and taste. Shop visitors consistently describe Alderwood Smoked Salt as a “campfire in a jar.” The spice team finds that Alderwood Smoked Salt makes meat dishes somehow “meatier,” and enhances grilled flavors both inside and out. We also love it on heartier vegetables like eggplant and squash.
Murray River Flake Salt is another shop favorite. This flaky, apricot-colored salt is harvested from a dry river bed in Australia. The flakes are delicate, and almost crispy when eaten whole. We love to bake with this salt, as it mostly dissolves easily, but often leaves just a smidge of crystal behind, so one stumbles upon a tiny bit of salt as they make their way through dense banana bread or peanut butter cookie.
Sel de Mer, the aged scotch of salts! This French grey salt is light grey in color, and its medium-sized crystals tend to clump together with its high moisture content. The subtle flavor is deep and earthy, and is right at home atop fish of all kinds. We also prefer it over all others on our caprese salads, for the great contrast in texture between the crisp tomatoes, the creamy mozzarella, and the crunch of the salt, not to mention how well the heartiness of the flavor plays against the sweetness and acidity of the balsamic vinegar.
Black Lava Flake Salt is as delicious as it is visually intense. The pyramid-shaped crystals are black in color, rendered so because of natural charcoal deposits. This salt is best used as a finisher, as all of what makes it unique would be lost once dissolved. We like its assertive flavor sprinkled on slices of fresh cucumber seasoned with a dash of sweetened rice wine vinegar, as well as a whimsical addition to a fresh watermelon and mint salad- the crystals appear to be watermelon seeds at first glance!
As we often remind you, there are no wrong answers in food! (Well, okay, sometimes…) Any of these salts could lend a fun update to a standby dish. Salts are a wonderful way to break in to the world of experimental cooking and seasoning, and make a great gift for both the seasoned (yes, pun intended!) chef, and the novice foodie alike. Happy cooking!
The book section of the shop is ever-evolving. Some books we keep ordering and selling for years, and we count on their presence in the shop like trusted friends. For others, our love affair is brief, but we never carry a book that we aren’t excited about. With a shop full of cooks, all with varying palates and preferences, we end up with a pretty impressive spread of titles that span the globe in origin, and run the whole spectrum of cooking difficulty.
Every now and again, we come upon an author- or group of- whose every work we just have to have. You know the kind- every photo mouth-wateringly composed, every recipe introduction rich in back story and promise of sweet reward, and every combination of ingredients tantalizing and inspiring. Yotam Ottolenghi is just such an author. His cookbook “Plenty” is a work of art in the arena of vegetable cookery, so when his latest book about the flavors of his homeland, written in combination with Sami Tamimi, was published, we were first in line for a copy.
“Jerusalem” begins with a nod to the diverse population of the city, with its Greek, Russian, Tunisian, and Eastern European immigrants, and reveals the ways that they infuse their culinary histories in to the local, making for a varied and rich local cuisine. The book then eases in to the first chapter, “Salads”. The dish we find most exciting? Kohlrabi salad with mint and sumac… crisp kohlrabi in a creamy, tangy yoghurt dressing? Yes please! These first recipes are interspersed with the history of za’atar and information on some ingredients Westerners are likely to be unfamiliar with.
The recipes only get more impressive from there. Wade through the various spreads and dips in to the meat section, and be dazzled by the likes of Braised Quail with Apricots, Currants, and Tamarind, accented with crushed fennel seeds, Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad, and the dish so phenomenal looking, they used it for the cover- Braised Eggs with Lamb, Tahini, & Sumac. Every page is more delightful than the last, and every recipe the spice test kitchen has attempted has turned out phenomenally.
Whether you have yet to experiment with the flavors of this diverse region, or even if you’re a seasoned veteran of Middle Eastern cuisine, this book has something for you. If eating more vegetables was near the top of your New Years resolution list, you’d be wise to arm yourself with a copy, as so many of these recipes feature creative and simple ways to enjoy the most basic market staples (all expertly spiced, of course). We can’t say enough good things about this book, and are sure it’s soon to become one of your favorites, as it has ours. Order yours on worldspice.com, or visit us in the shop to flip through a copy with an e’er hungry spice merchant.
Historically speaking, spices have played a large part in the colonization of the world. Most of us remember from the fourth-grade pageant that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue at the behest of Isabella and Ferdinand in search of black pepper, and that spices are what prompted Vasco de Gama to sail directly from Europe to India. But what of herbs and spices for the common folk?
Reflective of common concerns of the day, many ancient texts reference the properties of herbs and spices in protecting from the supernatural. Ancient Romans called basil “basiliscus” for its supposed ability to ward off a fearsome, dragon-like creature known as a basilisk, who could kill a person by looking at them. Dill was burned to clear clouds and stop thunder, or hung in bunches by the door to dissuade witches. If one had been struck by a spell, drinking dill water was considered a remedy. Marjoram was also considered a witchcraft inhibitor, while it was believed rosemary under the pillow kept the demons away.
Rosemary was also thought to be a memory enhancer, leading ancient Greek students to weave sprigs in to their hair during exams. Cinnamon was often used by psychics to increase vibrations and psychic awareness, along with lemongrass to increase abilities, and star anise to clear the mind, making it more receptive to visions. Saffron has historically been used to treat depression, while sage was reputed to make those who consumed it smarter.
Herbs and spices are also deeply rooted in romantic tradition. Basil, chamomile, clove, coriander, ginger, junip
Several of us spice merchants could use that rosemary memory enhancer, but for the most part, we find the culinary properties of our spices magical enough! We can’t comment on how effective any one of the above mentioned “treatments” are, but we can tell you that any one of our spices or blends can cure a terribly pervasive and common malady- that of bland food! What ever you use our wares for, though, we hope you do so in good health.
We have an enchanting story to share…it tells the tale about the very special saffron that comes to us from the folks at Fair Trade Morocco.
Fair Trade Morocco is a small importing business founded by Randy Thompson and Felicia Cain. While volunteering with the Peace Corps in Morocco, Felicia and a fellow volunteer met with a local association that was interested in exporting the exquisite saffron grown in the Suktana region of Morocco. Randy and Felicia have collaborated with the saffron association and the community of Taliouine, Suktana, to provide the highest quality, sustainable product to the U.S. market.
The saffron is harvested in October and arrives in our store, not long after, personally delivered by two Peace Corps volunteers. We get giddy over the beautiful, certified organic, aromatic threads. We ooh and ahh, take zillions of photos, talk about saffron laden recipes, inhale the luscious bouquet and carefully place the saffron in 1 gram jars for our customers.
Oh yes, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Always has been and probably will always be. Here at the shop, we are often asked about the price of our saffron by the ounce. We normally sell it in smaller quantities, by the gram, and the staff was shocked to realize that it would cost $520 for just one ounce!
The beautiful yellow, orange, and red stigmas from the small purple saffron crocus must be handpicked from the center of the flower, each crocus provides only three stigmas and it takes 14,000 stigmas to yield one ounce of saffron. It can take 40 hours of picking, a full work week, just to pick a couple pounds. Luckily, one gram is more than enough to enjoy this exotic spice.
The golden threads of saffron infuse both an elegant flavor and a golden color into recipes. Saffron is part of the culinary culture in many different regions of the world. In India saffron is an indispensable ingredient in many recipes of rice, sweets and ice-creams. It is also used in Ayurvedic medicine and in religious rituals. In Saudi Arabia, a real Arabic coffee should have saffron and cardamom. In northern Italy and southern Switzerland, saffron is essential in the preparation of a traditional Risotto. In Sweden it is a traditional to bake saffron bread on the day of St. Lucile. Bouillabaisse, a fish stew from Provence in France, is traditionally served with a saffron broth. Finally, in Spain saffron is an indispensable ingredient in such famous dishes as Paella, Fabada or Pote Gallego.
That’s our Saffron Story…..we hope you enjoy both the story and the saffron as much as we do.
Easter can be the time for pastel-dyed confections, day-glo-hued eggs, baskets filled with cheap, plastic toys, waxy chocolate, and dapper-dressed rabbits intent on stuffing you with all of the above… unless you’re World Spice! We’re big believers in featuring the earth’s natural gifts, and with a host of spices and teas to choose from, we decided try our hand at the season’s chosen craft of dyeing eggs. What resulted were beautifully dappled eggs in a rainbow of subtle spicy hues. Below are our favorites, and a bit of our process, too!
The vibrant yellow you see, is of course, from turmeric. The pinkish color is from beet powder, which we expected to make a more intense color, but instead came out as closer to a dusty rose. Hibiscus flower tea made the periwinkle color right in the middle, but combining beet powder and hibiscus made the intense indigo up in the left-hand corner. The hibiscus was so intense that if another of our experiments didn’t work, we soaked them in the hibiscus after, and came up with all sorts of odd colors, some even close to black!
We used white vinegar for our mordant, but you can use cream of tartar, as well. Distilled water works better than tap for dyeing, too. We were less than scientific in our measurements, but a good ratio is two tablespoons of mordant per four cups of water, and about a half cup of dyestuff. Bring mordant and water to a boil with your spice or tea to dye, turn off the heat, and allow the eggs to soak for at least half an hour, but in the fridge as long as overnight for the best results.
To make designs on your spice and tea dyed eggs, you can draw on the shells with beeswax prior to dyeing, or wrap the egg in rubber bands for a fun batik effect. To increase the dappled look, marbleize your egg by adding a drop of oil to the dye liquid. If you prefer a smoother look, strain the dyeing liquid before soaking the eggs. Which ever you do, be sure not to stir or shake up the eggs when they’re soaking, or you’ll disturb the setting of the mordant, and they won’t color as deeply. Happy Easter from the World Spice team!
We were recently asked by another spice company to change the name of our Montreal Steak Spice because they owned the rights to the name. Well, okay….
We had to brainstorm a new name, take the labels off of jars in gift sets, redo the store displays, and adjust our website all in a very short amount of time. We were busy! While all of this change was taking place, I recalled a quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, ‘We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.’ Change can be good, our store displays are fresh and new our website got a nice update, we have a fantastic new name for one of our earliest blends and an outstanding recipe to go with it. Introducing……Le Quebecois Steak Spice (applause, applause)!
Paying homage to the Canadian Provence were the blend originated, Le Quebecois Steak Spice showcases both the French flair for deft seasoning, and the British love of beef. While usually associated with steak, we tried it in these vegetarian mini pies with great success – you know how how we love to play with our food! Bon appétit.
We never cease to be amazed by the sheer variety of tastes, aromas, and appearances among different spices. Grow the same plant a few countries away and the miracle of different air, water, and soil gives each crop its own unique character. It’s almost as though they have distinct personalities, which rather suits our varied staff, and even our eccentric old building.
For those of you who order from us online and haven’t had the pleasure of visiting us in person, our shop sits in one of Seattle’s older buildings, the venerable Fix Building. Built in 1910, its exposed brick walls and quirky corners invite all sorts of discovery, and it has provided the perfect backdrop for our message of exploration through food.
And, though we love our building and all of its idiosyncrasies, the time for updating is upon us. We’re working on reducing the number of oddly placed stairs and steps and improving the shop’s flow, so those customers who wish to linger and sniff no longer have to be in direct competition with those who need to be in, out, and cooking in under a minute. We’re looking into expanding the staircase to the downstairs, and most excitingly, adding a fully-operational commercial kitchen for spice demonstrations and cooking classes!
Last week, a few spice merchants stayed late in to the evening to tear up our aging carpet, in an exploratory mission to determine what lay underneath. We’ve found plywood subfloor, and LOTS of glue… but a solid surface to begin construction on a shiny new floor. Folks who visit us in the next few months will be ordering their spices in what amounts to a construction zone, though we’ll try to make it as painless as possible for you, and make sure you still have access to every thing you need to make your cuisine unforgettable! We can’t wait to show you our new look and make shopping for spices even more enjoyable than it already is.
By now most bagel lovers in Seattle have discovered Eltana and as an ex-pat from the East Coast, I can tell you it is about time. The perfect crust on their bagels comes from being boiled in honey water and then baked in a wood burning oven; yielding a hint of sweetness with a very light smokiness that is out of this world. Of course, they use our spices in many of their dips, spreads & salads too which always makes for a superior schmear.
With a recent spice delivery, I found Daniel, one of the founders of Eltana, working on something new that was too good not to share. He was making tuna salad using our Kharcho blend. This rare mixture of spices is typically associated with the hearty stews of the former Soviet state Georgia, and its unusual flavor profile often leaves folks wondering what to do with it. When I tasted this Kharcho Tuna Salad, I was sold. This is no ordinary tuna salad. Daniel starts with high grade albacore tuna which is cooked in house before getting mixed with all kinds of delicious goodies, including our Kharcho. I haven’t been able to pry the secret recipe from him yet, but if he does share it, we will pass it along. Until then, we’ll see you at Eltana!