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November 23, 2010

Cardamom pods (Recipe: mulling spices for wine or cider)

Mulling spices

One lovely thing to know about cardamom pods:

In Arab cultures, cardamom pods placed in the spout of a coffee pot flavor the coffee, and guests are often shown the pods first as a sign of respect. The larger and greener and more plump the pods, the more highly revered the guest. The cuisines of many countries incorporate cardamom, which has been used in Indian cooking for more than 2,000 years. Thanks to the Vikings, cardamom found its way to Scandinavia, where it's very popular in baked goods like pulla bread.

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October 31, 2010

Filé powder, a Pantry Special (Recipe: gumbo ya-ya)

Gumbo ya ya

When Ted and I moved to a wooded part of Rhode Island, we never intended to become gumbo filé farmers. We didn't know that in our woods, among the pine and oak and maple, we would find several sassafras trees, or that sassafras -- often associated with the southern states -- actually is native to New England. And we didn't know that we could make filé powder from the dried, pulverized leaves of our very own sassafras trees. Filé (pronounced FEE-lay, and also called gumbo filé) lends an exotic, flowery, "root beer" flavor to gumbo, and when stirred in at the end of the cooking (as it always should be), it acts as a thickener. Though filé is most often associated with Cajun and Creole cuisine, it was the Choctaw Indians who first used it in their cooking, long before the Acadians arrived in Louisiana. I use it for gumbo, of course, and to thicken stews and lentil soups.

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September 14, 2010

Fennel seed (Recipe: linguine with sausage, peppers, leeks and tomato)

Linguine with sausage, peppers, leeks and tomato

 A fun thing to know about fennel seed:

Did you ever wonder about the large bowls of mixed seeds and what looks like candy at the entrance to most Indian restaurants? It's called mukhwas, which means "mouth smell". After a meal, on the way out the door, you spoon a bit into your hand and chew. Typically, mukhwas contains a variety of seeds, including betel leaves, rose petals, cardamom, clove, pumpkin seeds, roasted coriander seeds (dhana dal), dried mint, and -- my favorite ingredient of all -- roasted or candy-coated fennel seed. Mukhwas cleanses the breath, but also aids in digestion, cools you after you eat spicy food, and helps control what Julia Child used to call the rooty-toot-toot.

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September 9, 2010

Cumin (Recipe: chickpea falafel) {vegan}

Falafel

A fun thing to know about cumin:

Since the Middle Ages, people have believed that cumin -- one of the "warm" spices, along with cinnamon, allspice and coriander -- is a food of love. They carried cumin in their pockets when attending wedding ceremonies, and married soldiers were sent off to war with a loaf of cumin bread baked by their wives. Cumin was thought to keep lovers -- and chickens -- from wandering, and to ensure a happy life for a bride and groom who carried cumin seed in their wedding ceremony. And, I guess, to ensure that the couple always would have their chickens. And eggs.

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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