The Spice is Right: Ancient Spices Round-Up Part I

I chose ancient spices as the theme for the first Spice is Right event because I thought it would allow participants to have a lot of fun deciding what exactly I meant by “ancient spices.” I wanted the first event to be wide open, lots of fun and offer a great diversity of entries, and I was not disappointed.

Even though there are definate trends in what folks considered an ancient spice–saffron, for example, was popular–the myriad ways in which it was used and the very different recipes in which it was presented have showcased the unique vision and cooking styles of the bloggers who took the time to participate.

Diversity is also apparent in the bloggers who took part in this event; I am happy to see a large contingent of food bloggers from India here, but I am also thrilled to note more than one participant from Germany and a Swedish food blogger taking part, as well as Canadians, Americans and folks otherwise from all over.

This post is the first in a series of three round-up posts; I sometimes find that really huge round-ups with more than a dozen or so photographs and paragraphs get a bit overwhelming to read. So, look for a second post tonight or tomorrow, and the third after that.

I want to thank you all for making this a success, and now, I will get out of the way and present the first batch of recipes and posts for your reading pleasure.

Meena, the energetic author of Hooked on Heat was the early bird in this event; she sent me the very first entry. She interpreted “ancient spices” to mean her earliest memories of the scent of her mother’s cooking, and that meant saffron. Specifically, she mentioned the intoxicating scent of saffron in her mother’s biryani, a delicious casserole of rice cooked with a korma curry. However, Meena, instead of presenting biryani for her entry, decided to showcase saffron in Kesari Gosht (Mutton/Lamb in a Saffron-flavoured Sauce) that both looks and sounds utterly divine.

I love the way that blog events open up our eyes to the efforts of new bloggers we would not have otherwise met. Julie, of Urban Drivel has only been blogging for a few months, but she gamely stepped up to the plate and sent in a delicious entry featuring curry powder. Why did she choose to feature curry powder? She lists a fantastic set of scientifically noted health benefits inherent in curry powder, that include protection from melanoma and Altzheimer’s. Rock on, curry powder! And if that was not enough to make us want to rethink an old standard of the spice rack, she includes a delicious recipe for Curried Chicken in Lettuce Cups.

Another food blogger new to my experience, Jocelyn of She Spills the Beans (love the blog title, btw!) chose to interpret “ancient” to mean a recipe from a very old culture, in this case, the Moghul empire period of northern India, which is the time in which the Persians ruled from the 16th through the 19th centuries. Ahh–a woman after my own heart, I say, for I have to admit a special fondness for the yogurt, fruit and spice-laden recipes of the Mogul court. Instead of the usual meat-heavy main dishes, Jocelyn, a vegetarian, instead found some lovely locally grown baby turnips at Whole Foods and made Baby Turnips and Greens in a Moghul-Style Sauce. They sure look pretty!

Alexandra of Catching Points joins a food blog event for the first time, and I am honored it is The Spice is Right. While she chose to highlight mint, which is technically an herb, and not a spice. I don’t mind, because she gives us such wonderful historical details in her post, such as the finding of a breads made with mint in Egyptian tombs dating to 1200-600 BCE, which points to its very early cultivation. That certainly qualifies as ancient! To really bring out the pure flavor of mint, she uses the fresh leaves in a drink which is very popular now, the Mojito.

My good friend and longtime reader, Elizabeth the writer of Blog From Our Kitchen, decided to feature nigella seed, also known as kalonji, a seed that has a long history of use in India, and the Middle East. She tells us that it is even mentioned in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, which is very interesting. (I am always fascinated with literary and biblical references to food.) The little black seeds are noted for their distinctive crunch and oniony flavor, so Elizabeth shows them to great effect in her recipe for Onion Pillau, a dish of seasoned basmati rice. (I bet that her pillau would pair beautifully with Meena’s lamb and Jocelyn’s baby turnips and greens for a lovely Indian supper.)

Vineela of Vineela’s Cuisine, brought to my attention a spice I had never heard of before: Sundakkai, which is known in English by the odd name of “Turkey Berry.” She tells us that after it is picked it is soaked in buttermilk, and then dried in the sun, and that it has a salty, bitter flavor. As fond as I am of bitter greens like endive and mustard greens, and as much as I like bitter melon, (which apparently is very like the flavor of Sundakkai), I will have to try to find some of these little fruits and give Vineela’s hot and sour tamarind gravy a try. The recipe for Sundakkai Vatral Kozhambu looks delightful, and I imagine that as Vineela says, it is delicious with steamed basmati rice.

R.L. of Cooking Within My Grasp sent an entry on coriander, which is the seed of the same plant that makes cilantro. Coriander, she tells us, makes up the bulk of many Indian spice mixtures, providing a citrus aroma that is warming and provides carminative benefits. (That means that it is good for helping digest legumes and other gas-producing foods.) The recipe for Coriander Flavored Rice includes some chile, black pepper, urad and channa dal and aromatic curry leaves in addition to the coriander; I think it must be a dish that is not only nutritious, but absolutely ravishing in scent.

My dear Indira of Mahanandi has gifted us with a fascinating look at the cuisine of her native region, Andhra Pradesh. She tells us about a tamarind-chile sauce called pulusu, which she describes as tasting as if an ‘old western’ kind of faction war happened between tamarind and dried red chillies.” The two strong flavors compete for attention from the palate, with the only mediator being the vegetable cooked with them, in this case, baby potatoes. The recipe is simple to execute, and turns out looking gorgeous. I think that I will have to try Baby Aloo in Tamarind-Chilli Sauce (Aloo Pulusu) soon as new potatoes are one of my favorite seasonal vegetables.

Dejamo, the knitting author of Dejamo’s Distracted, picked one of my very favorite spices of all time, cumin. She chose it in large part because it had great personal meaning to her, but she also found that it has a very long history in the Middle East, India, China and the Mediterranean region. While it was used in Egypt for embalming, I am more interested in the health and life-giving properties she outlined in her excellent post, especially since that means I can eat lots of the Red Kidney Bean Curry, Rajma Masala, she made for us, which featured both ground and whole cumin seeds.

Petra of Foodfreak brings us a second look at saffron, which is the stamens of a lovely crocus flower native to Greece. She took her inspiration from a Elizabeth Rosin’s cookbook, Blue Corn and Chocolate, which outlines how the foods of the New World were adopted into the cuisines of the Old World, and then how, with immigrants, the fusion foods migrated back into the New World. All of this talk of moving over the ocean back and forth has made me hungry (pregnant women are always hungry), which is good, because Petra’s Saffron Potato Rolls look marvelous, and would perfectly sate my never-ending craving for carbs.


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  1. Many thanks for round up.

    Comment by R — April 18, 2006 #

  2. Love the chatty roundup style, Barbara! We do seem to have a bit of Indian potluck serendipity in this set, don’t we? It all sounds delicious…can’t wait to see the next set.

    Comment by Jocelyn — April 18, 2006 #

  3. What wonderful posts and dishes! I’m eager to see the rest.

    Thanks again for such a wonderful challenge, Barbara. I can’t wait to see what the next one is.


    Comment by dejamo — April 18, 2006 #

  4. What a great collection — and you say there’s more to come??? You obviously struck a good note with ‘ancient spices’ Ms Fisher …

    Comment by Alanna — April 18, 2006 #

  5. I am really blown away by the number and quality of entries for this first blog event. Wow–folks–you all really sent me some great stuff.

    As for the next theme–it will be announced after the third round-up post is done. I never really appreciated how long these round-ups could take to write, but they are fun and a challenge–well worth doing, that is for certain.

    Comment by Barbara — April 18, 2006 #

  6. Hi Barbara, I’ve bookmarked few recipes to try and I am very keen on trying that ‘coriander flavored rice’ entry.
    Not only educational, some of the posts included history of the spices also. Loved reading all the entries and you are doing wonderful job with the roundup.

    Comment by Indira — April 19, 2006 #

  7. […] The Spice Is Right: Ancient Spices Round-Up Part I […]

    Pingback by blog from OUR kitchen » kalonji (aka nigella seed)... we adore good food — April 20, 2006 #

  8. Great round up, Barbara!! I love it when it takes me several days to go through because I get so distracted by the various dishes featured.

    And you’re right, our onion pilau would probably go very well with Jocelyn’s turnips. And if only I liked lamb!! (I’ve tried; I’ve tried!) Hmmmm, maybe if we made Meena’s Kesari Gosht with goat….


    Comment by ejm — April 20, 2006 #

  9. Hi Barbara,
    Thank u.And iam going thru all those recipes which is a good collection of all spices from various parts of the world.

    Comment by vineela krishna — April 20, 2006 #

  10. Thanks, everyone. I am glad to hear that we are having fun learning so much about spices–there is a lot to learn on the subject, and everyone is doing a great job bringing their own experiences and expertise to bear here.

    And we are getting a great recipe resource, too!

    Elizabeth–I bet that Meena’s recipe would be good with goat, too. I don’t see why not. Venison is even a thought….

    Vineela–I am glad you are enjoying the roundup–I hope you find some good new recipes to try. I know that when I am stuck with no idea at all of what to cook for dinner that it sometimes helps to see what my online friends are cooking….it nearly always inspires me to new cooking creativity.

    Comment by Barbara — April 20, 2006 #

  11. […] ‘The Spice Is Right: Sweet or Savory?’ Round-Up Part i […]

    Pingback by blog from OUR kitchen » Spice is Right#2 (What to do?!) black pepper... we adore good food — May 21, 2006 #

  12. […] Barbara, over at Tigers and Strawberries, has invited food bloggers to participate in an event centered on the uses of a variety of spices. For the first three rounds, I was a passive onlooker, reading the entries and gleaning inspiration from those who contributed. But when she announced the most recent edition, The Spice Is Right IV: It’s Too Darned Hot!, using chiles in any form, I knew I’d have to get off the sidelines and get in the game. We love spicy food around here, especially in the summer. (Mostly because it gives us the excuse to pair our food with very cold, fun beverages.) […]

    Pingback by Weekly Dish » Blog Archive » The Spice is Right: Chile — July 13, 2006 #

  13. I was happy to find more recepies with cardamon.I really like a lot of spieces, specially the one we can use in cakes.I like to prepare cakes.I will read sometimes your lovelly notes and recepies.

    Comment by ibi — January 30, 2007 #

  14. Nicely summed up. Good post

    Comment by Indian Blogger — March 20, 2007 #

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