Notes from the Field

The Perfect Cup: An Herbal Alternative

floral_sonnets_herbal_tisaneIf you’re looking for a tea that isn’t tea, go herbal! All true tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, whereas herbal tisanes, also called herbal teas, are made from all manner of herbs and even spices. From peppermint and chamomile to ginger and cardamom- herbal tisanes offer a caffeine free alternative to black, oolong or green teas.

Whether you are health conscious or just looking for a broader range of flavor, herbal tisanes offer up a satisfying brew. Here are a few options from the World Spice selection.

Emerald Mist is a classic mint tea with licorice and ginger providing a sweet spicy body, perfect for warming up on a cold fall day. Floral Sonnets combines chamomile and other floral flavors with just a hint of spice to adding depth to this relaxing brew, and Copper Lemon combines hibiscus and lemongrass for a vibrant, zingy taste which can be enjoyed either hot or iced.

How to brew the perfect cup:

Use Loose Herbal Tea: Loose herbal teas are the best choice, and since they do not come in tea bags must be strained before drinking. Premium herbs are always reserved for loose tea, and the inferior relegated to the chopping block for bagged tea. You always get the best flavor with loose herbal tea because the water is able to circulate freely, bringing more flavor into your cup. Teapots, infusing mugs and simple strainers are all readily available to make brewing nearly as convenient as bags. This simple strainer is our favorite because it fits in a cup or pot and is easy to clean.

How Much Herbal Tea: The amount of herbal tea you use controls the intensity of flavor in your cup. We recommend beginning with one heaping teaspoon for every six ounces of water. If you prefer a cup that is stronger or more mild, you can adjust the quantity to your liking.

Water Temperature: Always use boiling water to steep herbal tisanes. If your water is below boiling, you won’t get the full flavor in your brew.

Steeping Time: Herbal tisanes are very forgiving, making them easy to brew. We recommend a four to seven minute steep. Since they have such vibrant flavors and lack the tannins that can make a bitter brew, herbal tisanes can be brewed longer without worry.

Milk and Sugar: If you have a sweet tooth. add your preferred sweetener to taste. The vibrant flavors of herbal tisanes pair well with sugar or honey, but easily stand alone. We do not recommend adding milk to herbal brews.

Caffeine Content: If you’re looking to cut caffeine from your cup, you’ve come to the right place. All of our herbal tisanes are completely caffeine free. Elsewhere, watch out for yerba mate tea, which contains caffeine, as well as herbal blends with black or green tea added in.

herbal_tea_label_600Herbal tisanes make a great gift and all three of the teas mentioned above are featured in our Herbal Tea Collection. You can discover more about black, green, and oolong tea, or about chai, in our other posts. If you have any questions, please feel free to let us know in the comments.

Categories: DIY, Notes from the Field, Spice Notes, Tea | 2 Comments

The Perfect Cup….

pearl_jasmineChoose and brew the tea that’s right for you!

Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, ceding the top spot only to water, and it’s not hard to see why. There are many delicious varieties of tea, ranging in flavor from the most robust black to the mellowest green. With all that variety it’s easy to find a good reason for a cup of tea, but it’s not always easy to pick the right one.

All tea varieties- black, oolong, green and white- come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, yet vary widely in terms of taste. The differences arise from when the tea is harvested and how the leaves are processed. Here are the primary characteristics, and a few choice examples, of each:

black_tea_assamBlack: Black teas have a strong, full-bodied taste. Malty, fruity, and smoky flavors predominate these robust teas.  Their warmth and body make them perfect for a morning pick-me-up, and they pair well with spices for chai. Black tea has the highest caffeine content of all the tea types.

Kalgar Estate Assam is an exemplary black tea, with a strong malty character and hints of cherry fruitiness. For those seeking a broader range of flavors, Earl Grey is flavored with bergamot oil for a balanced citrus flavor, and Lapsang Souchong is a Chinese black tea which is pine-smoked for a deep smoky aroma and taste.

golden_lily_oolongOolong: Oolong teas possess some of the most complex and varying flavors of the tea world, and are not unlike wine in their diversity and nuance. Falling into a flavor range between green and black teas, they can be sweet and fruity with honey aromas, woodsy and roasted, or green, fresh and floral in aroma.

Golden Lily falls on the lighter end of the spectrum, with a rich buttery taste featuring notes of honeysuckle and hay. Bai Hao is a darker oolong, and has a spicy, toasty character with hints of fruit. Baked Ti Kuan Yin falls somewhere between the two, and combines a robust, toasty flavor balanced with a lighter sweetness.

dragonwell_greenGreen: Lighter than black teas, with a medium to light body and a clean fresh taste, green teas often present vegetal or floral flavors. Green teas are notably refreshing and energizing in nature and are often the first pick for health conscious consumers. Green teas have less caffeine than black and are high in anti-oxidants.

Yin Hao Jasmine is a green tea scented with jasmine flowers for an intense, but not overpowering, floral character. The nutty flavor of Dragonwell is smooth and toasty, with a bit of sweetness, and Mao Feng has a rich, vegetal taste which softens over multiple steepings.

White: Only harvested from fresh buds in the early spring, our white tea presents a clear, delicate vegetal flavor similar to green tea but even lighter in body and taste. Like green teas, white tea offers a revitalizing lift in the cup.

White Peony presents a gentle grassy flavor, with the subtlest hints of toastiness and melon.

How to Brew the Perfect Cup

Use Loose Leaf Tea: Loose leaf teas are the best choice, and since they do not come in tea bags must be strained before drinking. Premium tea leaves are always reserved for loose tea while the inferior leaves are relegated to the chopping block for bagged tea. You always get the best flavor with loose tea because the water is able to circulate freely around the leaves, bringing more flavor into your cup. Teapots, infusing mugs and simple strainers are all readily available to make brewing nearly as convenient as bags. This simple strainer is our favorite because it fits in a cup or pot and is easy to clean.

How Much Tea: The amount of tea you use controls the intensity of flavor in your cup. We recommend beginning with one teaspoon for every six ounces of water, for all types of tea. If you prefer a cup that is stronger or more mild, you can adjust the quantity of tea to your liking. This is better than steeping longer because a longer steep can add unwelcome bitterness. It is worth noting that adding more tea will also increase the amount of caffeine present in the brew.

Water Temperature: Always use full boiling water for black tea and below boiling for the other types. Green, white and oolong teas should use water ranging from 180 to 200 degrees because using water that is too hot will vaporize the more delicate flavors. Specific suggestions can be found for individual teas on our website, but a degree of imprecision is fine, too- the important bit is “boiling” vs. “jut below boiling.” To get the right temperature you don’t really need a thermometer, just pull the kettle off the heat just prior to boiling. If you’ve let it go a little too long, simply pour the water into the cup or pot before adding the leaves, this will allow it to cool slightly.

Steeping Time: Steeping time is also a consideration in brewing the perfect cup. As tea steeps, it releases tannins which give tea its bitter taste. If tea steeps for too long, the tannins can overpower the other flavors present in the tea, and allow it to become bitter. Conversely, not steeping the tea long enough will weaken the brew. For black tea, we recommend using a three to four minute steeping time. Oolongs and green teas should steep anywhere from one to three minutes, while white teas should steep for only one to two.

Green, white, and oolong tea leaves can often be steeped multiple times, with new flavors emerging each time. Everyone’s tastes are different, so have fun experimenting and find which steeping of your favorite tea you like the best.

While all three T’s (time, temperature, tea to water ratio) should be considered when brewing, any or all of them can be adjusted according to your personal tastes in order to brew the perfect cup of tea for you. That’s it. Go forth and brew. Here are a few final tidbits to leave you with before you go.

Caffeine Content: Generally speaking, black tea has roughly one third the caffeine content of coffee, with oolong, green, and white teas containing less than black.

Milk and Sugar: The rich, malty flavors of black tea pair beautifully with milk or cream and a sweetener, but the delicate flavors of the other varieties will be overpowered by these additions. We recommend against adding milk or sweetener to green, white, and oolong teas.

Other Brews: While these represent the most common and classic types of true tea, Camellia sinensis, there is still more to explore. You can find out more about chai tea and herbal tisanes in our other blog posts.

black_tea_gift_setIf you’d like to share your love of tea with someone else, consider gifting our Black Tea Selections gift set featuring Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey, and Northwest Tea Time.

Categories: Notes from the Field, Spice Notes, Tea | Leave a comment

Sri Lankan Black Curry Chicken Banh Mi World Spice Cookbook Club is grilling, steaming and frying at the August 2015 Meet & Eat. We are all cooking from Andrea Nguyen’s classic Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More and her more recent and crazy-popular The Banh Mi Handbook: Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches. We are going to taste so many different types of banh mi, and this is perhaps the most anticipated maybe because we are all so fond of our Sri Lankan Curry.

From the author: When Viet people eat curry with baguette, they typically dip the bread into the spiced coconut-scented sauce. San Francisco chef Alex Ong sent me his recipe for this bewitching curry (the name comes from the dark-colored spice blend), insisting that it would be perfect stuffed inside a baguette for banh mi. He was right, but to avoid a soggy sandwich, I hand shredded the cooked chicken and recooked it in the sauce, allowing it to fry in the residual oil and become encrusted with the seasonings. It became like an Indonesian rendang or, as my husband put it, a curried chicken carnitas. It’s fantastic.


Sri Lankan Black Curry Chicken Banh Mi

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 6 sandwiches


  • 1/2teaspoon cardamom, ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cloves, ground
  • 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons coriander, ground
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • A hefty 3/4-inch (2-cm) knob of ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 slender stalk of lemon-grass, trimmed and coarsely chopped (2 to 3 tablespoons)
  • 1 large Fresno or jalapeño chile, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup (3.5 oz/115 g) coarsely chopped shallot
  • 1-3/4 pounds (800 g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons virgin coconut or canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/3 cups (330 ml) coconut milk


  1. In a small bowl, combine the cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, mace, cloves, cumin, and coriander. Set the spice blend near the stove. Use a mini or full-size food processor to finely chop the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chile, and shallot. Keep by the spices. Trim the chicken of large fat pads and set nearby.
  2. In a 4-quart (4 l) pot, heat the oil over high heat. When hot enough to sizzle a mustard seed upon contact, add all of the mustard seeds. Swirl or stir for about 10 seconds, until a few seeds crackle and pop, then add the shallot mixture. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring, until no longer raw smelling.
  3. Lower the heat slightly, add the spice blend, and stir for about 30 seconds, until toasty and a dark chocolate color. Add the chicken, turning to coat with seasonings. Add the salt and coconut milk, which should barely cover the chicken; add water if necessary. Adjust the heat to simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching; the pot contents will shrink to roughly half the original volume. Remove from the heat and let cool for 20 minutes.
  4. Transfer the chicken to a plate and hand shred, with the grain, into pinkie finger–wide pieces; set aside. Pour the sauce into a large nonstick skillet. Over high heat, vigorously simmer for about 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until reduced by half and pools of coconut oil dot the surface. Lower the heat slightly, then add the chicken and any accumulated sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, for 8 to 12 minutes, until the chicken has darkened to a rich brown and is coated with crusty seasoning; the sauce will no longer be visible and the chicken will gently fry in hissing oil.
  5. Cool slightly, then season with extra salt, if needed. For great flavor, enjoy the chicken slightly above room temperature in banh mi.
  6. Notes
  7. To let the rich, spiced chicken shine in a black curry chicken banh mi, use just a bit of regular mayo and omit or go light on Maggi. Add pickled shallots, chile, cucumber, and cilantro. Try as a regular banh mi or slider.
  8. Refrigerate for up to 3 days, reheating in a microwave oven or a skillet over medium heat, with a splash of water to moisten and refresh. Perfect for make-ahead banh mi. Instead of fresh chile, add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cayenne to the spice blend. Or substitute 2 tablespoons of a favorite curry powder for the spice blend (our Sri Lankan Curry would be perfect). If you have fresh curry leaf (Murraya koenigii), fry 5 or 6 large leaves along with the mustard seeds; remove the leaves before reducing the sauce

Banh mi handbook


The Banh Mi Handbook: Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches is one of the August selection for the World Spice Cookbook Club. The Banh Mi Handbook: Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches is currently available for purchase at our retail store.

Reprinted with permission from The Banh Mi Handbook by Andrea Nguyen. Copyright © 2014 Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photography © 2014 by Paige Green


Categories: Asia, Breads, Cookbook Club, Main Meals, Recipes | Leave a comment

Pan-fried Pork and Scallion Mini Buns (Sheng Jian Baozi) with Chile Oil

Panfried Pork and Scallion Mini BunsThe World Spice Cookbook Club is grilling, steaming and frying at the August 2015 Meet & Eat. We are all cooking from Andrea Nguyen’s classic Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More and her more recent, crazy-popular The Banh Mi Handbook: Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches. Sherrie from World Spice Retail is cooking up these mini buns, and we can’t wait to try them!

From the author: If you like pot stickers and steamed buns, you’ll love these spongy-crisp pan-fried treats from Shanghai, where typically they are cooked in humongous shallow pans (much like large paella pans) with wooden lids. These buns are made of yeast dough that is filled with an aromatic pork mixture and then fried and steamed in a skillet. Cooking under cover with a bit of water delivers plenty of moisture to puff up the buns. Ground beef chuck or chicken thigh can stand in for the pork in this recipe. A bāozi is a mini bāo (bun) and for that reason, I like to keep these true to their name and shape small ones. However, you can elect to form sixteen medium-size (23/4-inch) buns. Roll the dough circles out to 3-1/4 inches in diameter and use about 4 teaspoons of filing for each bun; increase the water and cooking time a tad.

There are several methods for making Chinese yeast dough, some of which employ starters and leavening, such as lye water and ammonium carbonate. Th is dough uses ingredients available at regular American supermarkets, and the results match the best I’ve experienced in China. Many Asian cooks employ—to great success—a cakey, snowy-white Cantonese-style dough made from low-gluten cake flour or from a quickie flour and baking powder blend. This dough is different; it has more depth, and its loft and resilience comes from combining yeast and baking powder; fast-rising yeast works like a champ. All-purpose flour with a moderate amount of gluten, such as Gold Medal brand widely available at supermarkets, is what I prefer for this dough. Use bleached flour for a slightly lighter and brighter finish.

Used in Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asian cooking, chile oil is easy to prepare at home, and it’s infinitely better than store-bought. Its intense heat enlivens many foods, especially dumplings, which benefit when chile oil is part of the dipping sauce or used as a garnish. Some cooks add aromatics, such as ginger, star anise, and Sichuan peppercorns, to the oil, but I like to keep the chile flavor pure. While you may use other cooking oils, such as canola oil, my preference is for the kind of peanut oil often sold at Chinese markets, which is cold pressed and filled with the aroma of roasted peanuts. It is texturally light, has a high smoking point, and offers a wonderful nuttiness that pairs well with the intense chile heat. Lion & Globe peanut oil from Hong Kong is terrific. Use just the infused oil or include the chile flakes for an extra brow-wiping experience.


Pan-fried Pork and Scallion Mini Buns (Sheng Jian Baozi) with Chile Oil

Yield: 32 small buns;1-1/4 cups chile oil


  • 1-1/2 teaspoons rapid-rise (instant) dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 12-1/2 ounces (2-1/2 cups) bleached or unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 pounds Basic Yeast Dough, preferably made with unbleached flour
  • 10 ounces fatty ground pork, coarsely chopped to loosen
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped Chinese chives or scallions (white and green parts)
  • 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon finely shredded fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup Chinkiang vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  • Light (regular) soy sauce (optional)
  • Chile Oil (optional)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/4 cup dried chile flakes or coarsely ground dried chiles
  • 1 cup peanut (or canola) oil


  1. Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the water, and set aside for 1 minute to soft en. Whisk in the oil to blend and dissolve the yeast. Set aside.
  2. To make the dough in a food processor, combine the sugar, baking powder, and flour in the work bowl. Pulse two or three times to combine. With the motor on, pour the yeast mixture through the feed tube in a steady stream and allow the machine to continue running, for about 20 seconds, or until the dough starts coming together into a ball. (If this doesn’t happen, add lukewarm water by the teaspoon.) Let the machine continue for 45 to 60 seconds to knead most of the dough into a large ball that cleans the sides of the bowl; expect some dangling bits. Press on the finished dough; it should feel medium-soft and tacky but should not stick to your finger.
  3. To make the dough by hand, combine the sugar, baking powder, and flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Slowly stir with a wooden spoon, moving from the center toward the rim, to work in all the flour. (Add lukewarm water by the teaspoon if this doesn’t happen with relative ease.) Keep stirring as a ragged, soft mass forms. Then use your fingers to gather and pat the dough together into a ball. Transfer to a work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, or until smooth, fingertip soft , and slightly elastic. (You shouldn’t need any additional flour on the work surface if the dough was properly made. Keep kneading and after the first minute or two, the dough shouldn’t stick to your fingers. If it does, work in a sprinkling of flour.) Press your finger into the dough; the dough should spring back, with a faint indentation remaining.
  4. Regardless of the mixing method, lightly oil a clean bowl and add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm, draft -free place (for example, in an oven with the light on) to rise for about 45 minutes, or until nearly doubled. The dough is now ready to use.
  5. Though the dough can be left to sit for an hour or so after it has doubled, it’s best to have
  6. the filling already prepared, especially if it requires cooking and cooling. Alternatively, punch down the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Return the dough to room temperature
  7. before using.
  8. To make the filling, combine the pork, ginger, and Chinese chives in a bowl. Use a fork or spatula to stir and mash the ingredients together.
  9. Combine the salt, white pepper, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, and water in a small bowl and stir to combine well. Pour over the meat mixture, then vigorously stir to create a compact mixture. Cover the filling with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes, or refrigerate overnight, returning it to room temperature before assembling the buns. There should be 1-1/3 cups of filling.
  10. Transfer the dough to a very lightly floured work surface, gather it into a ball if needed,and then pat it to flatten it to a thick disk. Cut the disk in half and cover one-half with plastic wrap or an inverted bowl to prevent drying while you work on the other half.
  11. Roll the dough into a 12 to 14-inch log, and then cut it into 16 pieces. (Halve the log first to make it easier to cut even-size pieces. The tapered end pieces should be cut a little longer than the rest.) Lightly roll each piece between your hands into a ball, then flatten each one into a 1/4-inch-thick disk.
  12. Use a wooden dowel–style rolling pin to roll the pieces into circles, each about 2-1/2 inches in diameter. The rim of each circle should be thinner than the center; keeping a 1-inch wide belly ensures consistent thickness all over the bun. The finished circle will thicken as it sits. Lay the finished circles out on your work surface, lightly dusting their bottoms with flour if you fear them sticking.
  13. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly dust with flour. To assemble a bun, hold a dough circle in a slightly cupped hand. Use a bamboo spatula, dinner knife, or spoon to center about 2 teaspoons of filling on the dough circle, pressing down very gently and keeping about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of the dough clear on all sides. Use the thumb of the hand cradling the bun to push down the filling while the other hand pulls up the dough edge and pleats and pinches the rim together to form a closed satchel. Pinch and twist to completely close. Place the bun, pleated side down, on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough circles and filling. Loosely cover the buns with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot for 30 minutes, or until about 50 percent larger than their original size. Meanwhile, make buns from the remaining dough and filling.
  14. While the buns rise, divide the ginger and vinegar between 2 bowls. Taste and if the vinegar is too tart, add water by the teaspoon. Set these at the table along with the soy sauce and chile oil for guests to mix their own sauce.
  15. To pan fry the buns, use a medium or large nonstick skillet; if both sizes are handy, cook 2 batches at the same time. Heat the skillet(s) over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of canola oil for a medium skillet and 1-1/2 tablespoons for a large one. Add the buns one at a time, arranging them, pleated side up, 1/2 inch apart; they will expand during cooking. (In general, medium skillets will fit 8 or 9 buns; large skillets will fit 12 or 13 buns.) Fry the buns for 1 to 2 minutes, until they are golden or light brown on the bottom. Gently lift to check the color.
  16. Holding the lid close to the skillet to lessen the spattering effect of water hitting hot oil, add enough water to come up the side of the buns by 1/4 inch, about 1/4 cup. The water and oil will sputter a bit. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, placing it very slightly ajar to allow steam to escape, so condensation doesn’t fall on the buns and perhaps cause their collapse. Let the water bubble away until it is mostly gone, about 6 minutes.
  17. When you hear sizzling noises (a sign that most of the water is gone), remove the lid. Let the dumplings fry for about 1 minute, until the bottoms are brown and crisp. At this point, you can serve the buns, crisp bottoms up like pot stickers. Or, you can use chopsticks to flip each bun over (separate any that are sticking together first) and then fry the other side for about 45 seconds, or until golden.
  18. Turn off the heat, wait for the cooking action to cease, and transfer the buns to a serving plate. Display them with a golden side up. Serve with the gingered vinegar, chile oil, and soy sauce. Eat these buns with chopsticks—they’re a little greasy on the fingers.Reheat left overs with some oil and water in a nonstick skillet, as you would a pot sticker.
  19. To make chile oil, put the chile flakes in a dry glass jar.
  20. Attach a deep-fry thermometer to a small saucepan and add the oil. Heat over medium-high heat until smoking hot (the temperature will top 400°F) and remove from the heat. Wait 5 to 7 minutes for the temperature to decrease to 325° to 350°F (drop a chile flake in and it should gently sizzle), and then pour the oil into the glass jar. The chile flakes will sizzle and swirl and then settle down.
  21. Cool completely before covering and storing. Give it a couple days to mature before using. Chile oil keeps for months in the cupboard.

Asian Dumplings


Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More is one of the August selection for the World Spice Cookbook Club. Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More is currently available for purchase at our retail store.

Reprinted with permission from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen. Copyright © 2009 Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photography © 2009 by Penny De Los Santos

Categories: Asia, Cookbook Club, Global Cuisines, Recipes, Snacky Bits | Leave a comment

Tostadas de Higado de Pollo con Cebollas Caramelizadas, Mango & Berros

What’s that? Chicken Liver Toasts with Caramelized Onions, Mango and Watercress! That’s right, the World Spice Coobook Club is going to Puerto Rico — at least our tastebuds are. This is one of the delicious bites being prepared for the July 1st Meet & Eat featuring “Cocina Tropical: The Classic & Contemporary Flavors of Puerto Rico” by Jose Santaella. We’re excited about this recipe because it looks delicious, and it uses annatto seed — a spice with which many people are unfamiliar. Annatto is frequently used in Latin American and Caribbean countries to impart a natural color and mild, earthy flavor to foods. If you think you’ve never had it, it’s also what makes some butters yellow and cheddar cheese orange.

From the authors: Chopped chicken liver is one of those delicious recipes that is a bit of a throwback to the days of elegant cocktail hours and dinner parties with passed hors d’oeuvres. Pate and terrine are back in fashion, and this dish falls right into step with them. The richness of the velvety liver and the sweetness of the caramelized onions get a tangy tropical hit from the mango with a bit of peppery bite from the watercress garnish. Serve as is for a small plate appetizer or spread the liver on smaller crostini for a perfect party bite.Chicken Liver Toasts from "Cocina Tropical"


Tostadas de Higado de Pollo con Cebollas Caramelizadas, Mango & Berros


  • For the Annatto Oil:
  • 1/4 cup annatto (achiote) seeds
  • 1 cup vegetable or olive oil
  • For the Tostadas:
  • 3 cups fresh chicken livers
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup light rum or brandy
  • 2 tablesppoons annatto oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 clove garlic, mashed to a paste in a mortar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 6 slices crusty bread
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt] and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
  • 1 bunch watercress


  1. For the Annatto Oil:
  2. In a small saucepan combine the annatto seeds and the oil and place over low heat. Bring the oil to a simmer, stirring the seeds around occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow them to cool for about 15 minutes before straining the oil through a sieve into a clean bowl or jar, discarding the seeds. Once cooked, the oil can be sealed and refrigerated for up to 3 months.
  3. For the Tostadas:
  4. In a large bowl, combine the livers, cream, rum, annatto,oil, oregano, and garlic. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to marinate.
  5. Meanwhile, heat the butter and onion in a saucepan over low heat and saute until caramelized, about 4 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. Toast the bread slices until golden brown and set aside.
  6. Drain the chicken livers, reserving the marinade,. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken livers and saute until cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. In a separate saucepan, bring the reserved marinade to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until the liquid has thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Roughly chop the livers. Put the cream mixture in a blender and blend until creamy. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Fold the cream mixture into the chopped livers.
  7. Place some of the chopped liver mixture on each piece of toast and top with a spoonful of the caramelized onions. Place a few pieces of the mango on top of the caramelized onions and garnish with some watercress leaves. Serve immediately.

Cocina Tropical

Cocina Tropical: The Classic & Contemporary Flavors of Puerto Rico is the July selection for the World Spice Cookbook Club. Cocina Tropical: The Classic & Contemporary Flavors of Puerto Rico is currently available for purchase at our retail store.

Reprinted with permission from © COCINA TROPICAL: The Classic and Contemporary Flavors of Puerto Rico by Jose Santaella, Rizzoli New York, 2014. Photography © 2014 Ben Fink. All rights reserved


Categories: Cookbook Club, Hot Topics, Latin America, North America, Notes from the Field, Snacky Bits | Leave a comment

Banana Upside Down Cake

This Banana Upside-Down Cake sounded so delicious that we just have to make it for our “Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond” Cookbook Club Meet & Eat!

From the authors, “In Brazil there are many types of banana cakes: cuca, a German cake with a rich, crumbly topping; banana bread; bolo cakes, which are sometimes made in a ring shape and often spread with cinnamon; and our favorite, the upside-down cake. Like the French tarte tatin, this indulgent cake is cooked with a layer of caramelized bananas at the bottom, then turned upside-down to show its sticky-sweet banana topping. Perfect as a teatime treat.”

banana upside down cake blog final


Banana Upside-Down Cake


  • For the banana caramel:
  • 11/2 cups superfine sugar
  • 4–5 ripe bananas
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • For the cake batter:
  • 2/3 cup soft unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 11/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 11/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup unrefined superfine sugar
  • 2 large ripe bananas, peeled and mashed


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a heavy 9-inch diameter springform cake pan, then line it with baking parchment.
  2. To make the banana caramel, put the sugar and 2/3 cup water in a heavy pan and cook over high heat until the sugar has dissolved. Let it boil until thickened to a golden-brown caramel, taking care not to burn it. Remove and immediately pour it into the cake pan, tipping the pan slightly from side to side until evenly coated.
  3. Peel the bananas and halve them lengthwise. Arrange them over the caramel in a neat pattern, trimming as necessary, then dust with the ground cinnamon.
  4. For the cake, sift together the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon into a bowl.
  5. Put the egg whites in a separate clean bowl and whisk to stiff peaks.
  6. Put the butter and sugar in another large bowl and whisk until light and fluffy. Slowly whisk in the egg yolks one at a time. Fold in the mashed bananas, followed by the dry ingredients. Finally, fold in the egg whites.
  7. Pour the batter into the pan and spread evenly with a spatula. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Remove and let cool for a few minutes before unmolding. (It is easier to unmold while it is still warm, before the caramel base hardens). Run a thin knife around the inside of the pan. Put a large flat plate over the top and, holding the pan and the plate, invert it, gently lift off the pan and peel off the baking parchment.
  9. Serve warm.


Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond is the June selection for the World Spice Cookbook Club. Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond is currently available for purchase at our retail store.

Reprinted with permission from Brazilian Barbecue & Beyond, published in 2014 by Sterling Epicure. Text © 2014 Cabana; Photography © 2014 Martin Poole. All rights reserved.

Categories: Cookbook Club, Hot Topics, Latin America, Notes from the Field, Recipes, Snacky Bits, Sweet Somethings | Leave a comment