Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Adding spice to one's life!

When I take time to think about preparing food with care and creativity... maybe for a special occasion ... and sometimes just because one feels better when some effort is made.... the thing I start with is the herbs and spices I wish to use or seek out.

I am just back from a trip to Sydney via Newcastle where I found time to share  conversations and delicious plates of delectable foods with quite a few different friends over the twelve days I was away.

I arrived in Newcastle on a windy, rainy evening in time for dinner ... a big bowl of delicious soup my friend had cooked. Next morning the children and I visited the nearby community garden. 

Local restaurant staff who've cultivated some things for their kitchen at this garden were to be seen foraging for the day's special finds and happy to chat with us.

They pointed out these garlic flowers were very pungent and one flower equal to a garlic clove.

Another friend cooked up a dinner (small pic below) with wonderful Morroccan aromas... the preserved lemons stayed on my mind and I then bought some when in Sydney so I could savour them again.

In Sydney I got to taste dishes from Malta, Turkey, Greece, Morrocco, Hungary, Thailand, Vietnam, Italy and no doubt more if I could recall. So often the unique combination of herbs and spices are what adds  dimension to the flavours that distinguish these various cuisines.

My fascination with Ethnobotany arises out of this engagement with the histories, plant heritages and cuisines of countries and people from all around the globe. Eating at diverse tables is one way to be introduced to this global panorama of cultural and biological diversity.

Visiting places like Vietnamese restaurant Phamish whilst on my holiday was a treat indeed... one blogger I found tonight wrote about his fav dish here and I can agree it was excellent. My friends and I shared some dishes and this was one of them.

Duck and Prawn Pancakes: Filled with roast duck, prawns and fresh Vietnamese herb $21 (3 pieces)

read the Design review for Phamish
When living in Melbourne (1988-2000) the Vietnamese eating precinct in Richmond was not far from my home-base in Collingwood. My local street then filled up with Vietnamese grocers and cheep cafes so I became very familiar with the wonderful spices and herbs that were featured in the daily dishes. 
Phamish is an inner city Sydney restaurant with higher prices than those humble places I once habituated ...but when I say higher prices I don't mean steep nor poor value. It was a memorable offering!

what spices go best with what foods?
image found here.
This image gets me thinking about what I have stored away in my cupboard. I try to use things reasonably quickly as they taste fresh if not left too long.

One thing I was ever so pleased to do this time I visited Sydney was go to 745 Darling St, Rozelle to the famous Herbie's spices... a wonderful store pictured below.

above photos from here
Herbies is .... Ian (Herbie) Hemphill and Liz Hemphill who've been associated with spices for over 40 years. A quick visit to their website will tell you why this is a much respected business and so appealing to a wide customer base.

One of the publications to come from Herbies is pictured below. I've borrowed their books frequently from libraries over the years... really should have my own copy of this one I think.

Of course it smells wonderful stepping into this shop. Then the visual takes over ... and ones senses are brought to life. When I went in on Saturday Liz Hemphill was working and I talked with her about my homage to the seed project hoping it might be possible to take some photographs. She was extremely gracious and helpful and I was able to take the following photographs of some of the australian native spices they carry as well as other stock.

The Wattleseed they use is from Central Australia ... Acacia aneura ... and it is safe to eat unlike many other species. 

Herbies kindly give good information online re all their products:
WATTLESEED Roasted and Ground 15g
WATTLESEED Roasted and Ground 15g 
Other Common Names: Mulga Botanical Name: (Acacia aneura) 

Description & Use: There are only a small number of edible wattles, the others being poisonous, therefore the gathering of one’s own Wattleseed should only be conducted under expert guidance. The Wattleseed of culinary use is always roasted and ground, a process that gives it an appetizing coffee-like aroma and taste. Wattleseed flavours ice-cream and desserts, and when used with other spices such as Coriander Seed, imparts a pleasant, barbecued taste to meats, especially full-flavoured seafood such as Salmon and Tuna.

Chocolate Wattleseed Biscuits:

300g self raising flour

125g caster sugar

25g cocoa powder

250g soft unsalted butter

3 tsp Herbie’s ground wattleseed

Sieve flour, cocoa and wattleseed

Cream butter and sugar then work in flour mixture (will look dry but will bind into dough)

Roll into small balls and place on greased baking sheets then press down with back of a fork

Bake at 170C for 5 mins then turn down to 150C for 10-15 mins

Transfer carefully to wire rack to cool and harden (each batch should make 35-40 biscuits)

Another indigenous spice is the Pepperberry: Tasmannia lanceolata.

Other Common Names: Australian Native Pepperberry, Mountain Pepperberry, Mountain Pepperleaf. Botanical Name: (Tasmannia lanceolata) 
Description & Use: Both the berries and leaves are used from this Australian Native shrub. Pepperberries are dark-blue to black in colour and have an intensely strong pepper bite that is accompanied by a mineral-like aftertaste that lingers and builds in heat over a period of about 5 minutes after consumption. Use with care, about one tenth the amount one would use of conventional pepper. The pepperleaf is far milder and gives a pleasant, Australian outback taste to food when used as a substitute for normal pepper. Sprinkle onto chicken and fish with ground Lemon Myrtle leaf and a little salt.

One wall behind the counter was set up for show and tell purposes. Kind of like the spice shelves one would have in ones dream kitchen yes? Reminds me of pots of paint really.
Last year at the Eden Project in Cornwall UK we painted with paints made from spices
which I mentioned on this post

spice paints

 The colours are most appealing...subtle and sensuous.

Interesting to know how many kinds of edible pepper there must be.

This bundle of cinnamon is how it is transported ... the scent is only released when the sticks are broken.

 Here are some of the indigenous spices from Australia:

This one below I had to purchase... it smelt unbelievably delicious. I gave a packet of this today to Richard, the artisan baker at Brewbakers because I thought he might put it to good use.

Interesting the part that species have played in medicine and the history of the world for that matter. Much has been written, even quite recently, on the spice trade.

The spice mix in the middle jar is a tribute to the locality where the shop is based. Darling Street extends from Rozelle into Balmain... a central and picturesque part of Sydney.

If you can't get to this shop sometime then do go visit the website... they send things via mail!

I have to apologise for not having time always to post my own stories and photographs at this Homage to the Seed blog.  However, on the other hand, there is a dearth of important seed related stories that I am tracking daily through online sources and feel its important to share through this blog so I do hope you will follow here whenever you can and share the stories that speak to you...reblog them elsewhere if possible.

Always great to read your comments.

Have an excellend week... and add a little spice won't you!


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! You made me long for the rosemary and lavender in my Seattle garden. Your spice shop looks wonderful. I would love to see the cinnamon in person. And the food! YUM the food.

pRiyA said...

What a fabulous post with so many fascinating finds which I never knew of - the garlic flowers, wattleseeds, the picture of cinnamon sticks, strawberry gum....
Coming from India, I cannot imagine food without spice, and this post is quite a revelation that there are so many more beautiful spices than the ones we commonly use here.

ronnie said...

love the spices (and herbs.... which given my climate I can grow more readily) thanks for a rippa post

Sophie Munns said...

Some wonderful aromas Mary... very tempting.
Iowa I thought would be OK for growing those herbs ...but not so?
Feeling inspired?

Ah... your time in Brisbane didn't introduce you to wattle seeds Priya... I guess its not that common in the average household! The strawberry gum was new to me ... just wonderful!
But as you are no doubt quite the spice queen coming from India and I'm sure I could learn a lot from you! Must pop over soon!

Ronnie ... your garden must be bursting with herbs... all that good south coast soil and expertise!

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