It is that time of the month again–time to reveal to the world what my food blogging friends have come up with to play the game of “The Spice is Right.” This month, our theme is “Fresh and Local,” and the idea is to take a spice that local to wherever our participants are, and pair it with some of the fresh, local bounty of the farms of their own area.
I know that this is a particularly hard challenge; most true spices, (as defined as the aromatic bark, root, rhizome, seed, fruit or flower of a plant, often dried, used to flavor other food) are not exactly thick on the ground anywhere else by the Spice Islands and India. Thus, quite a few bloggers have stretched the spice definition to include herbs, which are the aromatic leaves (fresh or dried) used to flavor other foods. This is fine with me–I knew that folks were going to have to work a bit harder on these entries, and I do not mind. This time around, I am much more interested to see what is locally fresh and in season around the world than following the letter of the challenge.
But enough of the boring stuff! Let’s get into the meat of this post, where I talk about what everyone around the world has cooked up for us to enjoy in words and pictures.
Meena, my good friend of Hooked on Heat, gets the Early-Bird Award for this edition of “The Spice is Right;” two days after I announced the theme, she had mailed me her entry. What is it? Spicy Lamb Burgers cooked on the grill, and boy do they look nummy. I make a similarly spiced ground lamb kebab from India called “Chappli Kebab” that people like to eat rolled in whole wheat pita, and dressed with fresh tomatoes, green chutney and a spicy yogurt sauce–but I have to give Meena’s version, served on buns a try, too. I can almost smell the delightful hardwood charcoal fragrance wafting from the beautiful photo she sent in, and I can taste my tongue dancing with the flavor of locally grown green chiles and garlic. Thank you for a great post, Meena, and I can’t wait to fire up our grill and see how these taste here in Athens!
Isis, who lives and blogs Yambalaya from France, not only made something fresh and local for this challenge, but she canned it, thus preserving it for the long blustery winter days ahead. Now that is thinking ahead to eat locally all year around! Her Courgette Chutney looks delicious and is chock full of produce from her very own garden, and is filled with native French herbs and spices, such as estragon (tarragon) and coriander seeds. Unfortunately, her chile peppers were not ready to go into this batch of chutney, but she promises that her very own home grown spice will go in the next batch sometime this month. Courgette, by the way, is the French word for zucchini, and no offense to the Italians, from whence the more familiar English term comes, I think courgette sounds prettier. Isis–thanks for a lovely entry, and keep on cooking!
Christine, of Christine Cooks Vegetarian has sent in a lovely post that evokes the scent of Hatch Green Chiles of New Mexico. What does she use these beautiful verdant gems in? Does she make posole, a native New Mexican stew of lime-treated corn? No. Does she make a bean-filled chili? Nope. How about Chiles Rellenos? Nada. No, Christine goes her own way and instead of going with something inherently New Mexican for her entry, she takes inspiration from Italy and uses all of the local goodies that desert agriculture offers: chiles, garlic, tomatoes and cheese, and turns it into Southwest Crostini! “Crostini” means “little toasts” in Italian, and she presents us a toasted, open faced sandwich of cheese, tomatoes, chiles, squash, herbs and avocadoes. Dang, but they look and sound fantastic–Chrstine–thank you for a wonderful entry, even if you made me hungry while I wrote about it!
Hadar, who blogs Vegetable Adventures from Tel Aviv, and who I am honored to call “Little Sister,” has given us a very simple recipe that highlights the natural flavors of the vegetables in it in her post, “Vegetables, Olive Oil and Peace.” Every ingredient in Green Beans and Roasted Red Peppers With Garlic is local to Israel, (except, perhaps, the optional balsamic vinegar) particularly the olive oil which is from trees over a hundred years old. The resulting dish is filled with the flavors of the Mediterranean, and the hope and prayer for peace in the region, and soon. It is a lovely dish, and reminds us all that sometimes, the very best flavors are not the most complex, but instead, the most simple. Thank you, Hadar, for touching us all.
I want to introduce everyone to Anita, a brand new blogger and very articulate writer who offers us A Mad Tea Party (ah, it appears that she is also a fan of one of my favorite books from childhood!) from the great and growing city of Dehli. In her post, “Simple Potato Curry,” she gives us a glimpse into how life is changing in her home city, the traditional ways of using a sill-batta–a grinding stone–for grinding wet curries in smaller, non-urban communities, as well as giving us a recipe that not only looks lovely, but sounds amazing in its description. There is so much history in her post and I can almost taste the potato curry by reading about it and looking at the photographs–thank you for a great debut entry, Vinyas, and I hope to see more from you in the months to come!
Lucette, the lady who brings us Cooking Vintage from Cleveland, has cooked up a really interesting sounding cool-you-off-and-warm-you-up soup for us this time around, using local ingredients and a recipe inspired by the work of another blogger, “The Serendipitous Chef.” Fiery Cool Cucumber Soup has everything I would want in a summer dish: it is cooling, it has chiles and lots of garlic, herbs and spices in it. Oh, and it has yogurt–one of my favorite dairy foods in all the world. Her local spice comes from her own garden: coriander seeds, harvested from her own cilantro plants, which she grows along with other herbs and garlic in her yard. A woman after my own heart! She also gives us an overview of interesting and entertaining facts about cilantro/coriander in her post as well, making it not only tasty, but educational, too. The best of both worlds, Lucette–thank you!
Debi, of Dejamo’s Distracted, admits that she got so distracted by the “local” part of the challenge, that she forgot about the “spice” portion of specifications, and so, ended up using totally non-local black peppercorns, and local rosemary, which is an herb, but not a spice. My response–it is fine, dandy and okay, because her Lamb and Apricot Stew looks and sounds to die for. And, as she recounts in her post how much fun she had sourcing the local ingredients from her greenmarket, I cannot help but be happy that I sent her on her errands, because not only did she have fun with her hunting and gathering, she put together a dinner using some of her favorite ingredients. That is all okay by me, Debi–thank you for such a gorgeous-looking and sounding entry.
Jennifer, the South Louisiana blogger behind The Weekly Dish, has got a fine and tasty representative of the spicy South Louisiana cuisine that is rightly hailed as delicious all over the world to show us this month. Even though it was hot and steamy and messy and sweaty work, she brings us a recipe for Fried Zucchini, which, for years, was about the only way my Dad would willingly eat a green summer squash. Now, mind you, the way that Jennifer makes it is far tastier sounding than the version I grew up with that was seasoned only with salt and pepper. Hers is spiced with local Louisiana cayenne and paprika–hot and sweet red peppers, and the batter is flavored with tangy buttermilk. Mmmm. I can smell the crispy browned crust and the cayenne now! Thank you, Jennifer, and I am glad you found all the sweaty messy work worth it when you sat down to eat!
Meeta, the blogger behind the lovely photography and recipes of German food blog, What’s For Lunch, Honey?, is a woman after my own heart. She declares up front in her entry that she loves Thai food. Well, I can’t blame her for that–Thai food is some of the best on the planet. What does she bring us? A chicken curry with a coconut-peanut satay sauce: Coq au Coco. For the local spice, she cheated a tiny wee bit and used her own homegrown cilantro leaves, an herb, instead of a spice, but that is okay. It was a difficult challenge this time around, so we are bending the rules. Besides, who can resist this dish? So colorful with so many veggies and chicken, with lots of flavors running wild over the palate. Thank you Meeta–and I look forward to seeing what other goodies you come up with to share with us in the next few months!
Haalo, the adventurous cook and writer of Cook (almost) Anything Once is from Australia, which means that while we northern hemisphere folks are rolling in summer’s bounty, she is not quite as fortunate. But, even though it is winter, it is still Australia, and so there are lots of wonderful winter vegetables in evidence, and she uses them to good effect in conjunction with a native Australian spice, Mountain Pepper. As I understand it, it is from the same genus of tree that produces Sichuan Peppercorns and Sansho pepper in Japan, but it is a different species. The fruits of the tree are used, as are the dried and crushed leaves–and this is the part that Haalo used in her knock-down gorgous Roasted Vegetable Frittata. A frittata is kind of like an Italian tortilla–meaning the Spanish egg dish, not the Mexican/Native American flatbread, and is a great way to make a stunning and tasty brunch or supper dish. I bet the mountain pepper leaves really sparkled in it, too! Thanks, Haalo–that sounds fantastic!
Ulrike, living and blogging in Northern Germany where she writes the excellent Kuchenlatein, went all out in her quest for fresh, local ingredients. She used her own homegrown thyme and tomatoes in her offering, and she sourced local dairy products and flour as well. All of these lovely ingredients went together to make an absolutely jewel-like Tomato Tart With Cheese Crust. Look at how pretty it is! And not only that, but it sounds mouthwateringly delicious and very full of fresh flavors. In addition to the recipe, Ulrike gives us step by step photo guidance on how to blind-bake the tart crust, and shows us pics of how her garden grows, including a peek at her happy garden gnome at his post where he guards her prolific tomato plants! Thank you, Ulrike, for sharing a generous glimpse of your life and home with our readers!
Elizabeth, the Canadian gardener and blogger who brings us Blog From Our Kitchen, featured what I was going to feature, if my cilantro plants had not bolted and then been drowned by heavy rains last month: fresh coriander seeds. Coriander, as some of you know, is a seed that is often used in Indian curries, but is also used in Western baking and in Mexican dishes. What some may not know, it is the seed of the cilantro plant, and if you let your cilantro bloom into pretty lacy umbrels of frothy white flowers, it will produce seeds that if you don’t gather them, will sow themselves in your garden, and thus, become self-perpetuating. I like that about cilantro. What you also may not know is that you can eat the seeds green, before they ripe and dry out. What did Elizabeth make for us with her coriander seeds? A summer treat: Corn on the Cob with Lime and Garam Masala–one of my very own favorites! Thanks, Elizabeth, and I look forward to seeing what you bring us next time around!
Emily, the author of Brooklynmili, went all out with the definition of “fresh and local” and procured all of her foodstuffs for her entry from within the foodshed of New York City. Everything in it was from within 117 miles of the city, with most of the foodstuffs being made within a handful of miles of her home. What does she bring to the table? Something beautiful indeed–Kimchee Stirfry. A concoction of noodles, kimchee, fresh tomatoes from her garden, farm fresh eggs and local tofu, the dish is a sight to behold, and I suspect, has a flavor to stir the soul and senses. Thank you for a great entry, Emily, and I look forward to more goodies from you in the future!
Kathryn brings a lot of her expertise as a nutritionist and herbalist to her Australian food blog, Limes & Lycopene, and I find it gives her writing a unique voice that is always fun to read. Here she tells us about a unique Australian bush spice–wattleseeds. What a great name! She tells us that it has an interesting flavor, somewhere between dark chocolate, coffee and hazelnuts, and it is most often used in sweet recipes. However, she used it in a spice blend that included sesame seeds and cashew nuts, and used it to flavor baked ricotta cheese that was used to top roasted vegetables in a recipe called Baked Wattleseed Ricotta Stack. It looks and sounds delicious, Kathryn, thank you so much for sharing it with us! Now, we just need to know if we can get wattleseeds where we live!
And finally, we come to my fresh and local posts. Yes, I did two recipes, each one with mostly local ingredients. First up, is a quick pasta saute featuring my own homegrown chiles as the spice, and homegrown tomatoes and basil mixed with garlic, onion and haricot verts from the farmer’s market. I call it by the unglamorous, but accurate name of Penne With Haricot Vert, Tomatoes and Caramelized Onions, but even if it isn’t fancy, it -tastes- fancy and that is what matters.
And my second offering, posted just a couple of days ago is a version of pico de gallo–a fresh, uncooked salsa from Mexico, that I made, once again, with my own homegrown chiles, and a plethora of locally harvested vegetables, especially heirloom tomatoes in a range of colors and flavors. In reference to its brilliant colors, I named it fancifully, Macaw Pico, and it tastes amazing on fresh goat cheese quesadillas made with corn tortillas.
That’s it for this month’s “Spice is Right!” As always, I want to thank the food bloggers who have come together this month from all over the world to share the bounty of their local areas in a plethora of creative and spicy recipes.
Tomorrow look for a post describing next month’s theme, and a discussion of the fate of event over the next few months while I am busy giving birth and caring for a newborn. Until then, goodnight and good cooking!
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