It’s important to choose the right wine to mull, and through much “research,” we”ve settled on Pinot Noir as the optimum choice. It’s fairly robust, so stands up to the spices, but the less expensive varieties are not so nuanced so as to make covering their intricacies with spice, criminal. Look for one whose shelf-talker boasts a larger body, and hints at black or red cherry flavors that will complement the star anise in the Mulling Spice.
A good-quality, unfiltered apple cider is all that’s required for heavenly spiced cider. As the apple capital of the world, Washington state farmers markets are chock full of cider choices, and we’ve yet to find one that disappoints. A few even pair other local fruits with apple- try apple-cranberry, apple-cherry, or apple-blackberry. Simply substitute a quart of apple cider for the wine in the recipe below, and perhaps omit the sugar, depending on the variety of cider that you choose.
It’s also possible to combine these two delights- Winter Sangria, anyone? Add one bottle of wine to four cups of apple cider, along with 1/4 cup of honey or brown sugar, and 1/3 cup of freshly crushed Mulling Spice. Steep for twenty minutes before straining and serving, and don’t forget the cassia stick stirrers!
“Do you have shawarma spice?” is a request we hear often – and if you’ve tasted it, you know why! If you’re yet unfamiliar, shawarma is an Arabic and Middle Eastern street food, traditionally prepared on a rotating spit over an open fire. The open flame cooks the meat to juicy perfection on the inside, with a crisp crust on the outside. Slivers are sliced off the spit all day long, and stuffed in to pitas overflowing with tomatoes, cucumber, tahini, or hummus. It’s a “four napkin” sandwich – meat juices running together with creamy sauce, punctuated by crisp vegetables and fresh herbs. It’s even the official food of superheroes, if you believe 2012′s “The Avengers” movie… and we do!
Spice merchants are curious merchants, so with the first inquiry, we were pouring over cookbooks to find exactly what would be in a Shawarma blend. We turned to Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem for our initial inspiration and reveled in the heavy use of spices, including, cloves, cardamom, fenugreek, cinammon, nutmeg, fennel, cumin, star anise, sumac, and coriander just to name a few. Our test kitchen is without the traditional rotisserie setup, so we grilled our marinated shawarma instead. Tucked in to warm pitas with all the traditional accompaniments, we’re confident that our version will earn Iron Man’s seal of approval, and yours too.
Thanks to its’ luxurious ingredients, this pasta is fancy and decadent enough for special occasions, but is simple enough to be thrown together quickly. Rather than an elaborate sauce, the pasta is dressed with cream flavored by all of the dishes’ components. This makes for a rich-tasting effect that feels far lighter than a traditional cream sauce. It’s worth noting that this is one of the few recipes in which I advocate not toasting the pine nuts, because it is my experience that the toasted flavor doesn’t complement the saffron, and actually competes with it. You can, of course, use any shape of pasta, but I find that penne rigatè- the penne with the little ridges- holds the perfect amount of sauce. Each element in this pasta represents one of the tastes detectable by your palate, so the result is a beautifully balanced, crave-worthy dish.
If you thought that the Easter fun was over far too soon, not to fear! Greek Easter is this coming Sunday, and awash with delicious traditions all its own. Not to be missed are these tasty little pockets of meat, rice, and nuts, expertly seasoned with our savory and tangy El Greco blend. They’re called “dolmas” in the singular, and “dolmades” when referring to the scores of them you’ll eat once you’ve had a taste of their perfect balance of Mediterranean flavors, all wrapped in a convenient little two-bite gnosh. All of the ingredients ought to be readily available in most markets, including grape leaves, which often come in cans or jars. If you’ve got a grape vine over an arbor, fresh work wonderfully, too; just poach them a bit of salted water with a half a lemon thrown in. Admittedly a little time-consuming, the dolmades can be prepared 2 to 3 days before serving, and refrigerated or frozen until you’re ready to use them. If you do freeze them, they can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator, and gently heated with a little broth or water before serving. You’ll find them more than worth the effort! Kalo Pascha!
This hearty stew hits it on all notes — the high acid of the tomatoes and wine play against the sweetness of the deeply caramelized onion and fennel, the brine-y olives render the seafood right at home, and the Piment d’ Espelette… oh, the Espelette! The perfect balance of heat and complexity that clarifies this bounty of flavor, and unites it all in delicious harmony. If my fish-monger has them, I’ll often throw in a few oily little fish, like fresh anchovies or sardines, too… Just sear them whole, skins and all, in a bit of olive oil and add to the serving dishes.
Spice merchant Christmas is coming a little late this year, but it is well worth the wait! The current crop of Piment d’Espelette has arrived at our doorstep, ready to transform our soups, stews, rice pilafs, and most especially egg and fish dishes with its mild heat, and fruity, almost tomato-like flavor. A single sampling of this precious spice leaves no question as to why we are so excited by its arrival!
Piment d’Espelette (pepper of Espelette) originates in the area that joins the southwestern-most corner of France with northeastern Spain, a region historically known as Basque country. Piment d’ Espelette bears the distinction of being the only spice recognized by the AOC, or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. The AOC guarantees that products which bear its seal will be produced in traditional manners, and originate only from their traditional region (Champagne is a classic example). Therefore, only the superior pepper grown in the ten, tiny approved Basque villages may be labeled “Piment d’Espelette.”
Visits to this picturesque region in late summer and early fall yield visions of festoons of peppers, drying against white stucco houses as they have for centuries. Each October, the end of the Piment d’Espelette harvest is marked by a vibrant festival, complete with parade, that draws upwards of 20,000 tourists. There, the peppers are sold fresh, pickled, or dried and ground, as we carry it. At only 4,000 on the Scoville scale (as compared to 40,000 for Indian Cayenne), Piment d’Espelette’s mild flavor is the cornerstone of the traditional Basque stew piperade, a piquant concoction of peppers, tomatoes, onions, and on occasion, ham and eggs.
In keeping with Basque tradition, we consume our Piment d’Espelette seasonally; making way for the new crop when it comes. The Basque have another tradition worth imitating- that of the txoko, or gastronomical society. Generations of Basques have gotten together to cook, sing, and experiment with food in thousands of private clubs. Pick up some of the freshest and most flavorful flakes of Piment d’Espelette available in the United States by the ounce, or sweetly packaged in a 1/2 ounce jar for your next txoko, or meeting of your foodie friends. On egin!