Posts Tagged ‘Indian cooking’

A Journey Through Back To True Korma Recipes (Part 1)

Monday, October 25th, 2010

When I made the Chicken Tikka the other day, I also made a Lamb Korma.  The end result was nothing like the British Kormas that I had been used to, so I decided to investigate the concept of the korma further.  The first thing to say is that I liked to alternative korma style that I had stumbled on, and secondly that the British korma has little linkage back to the true korma.

What seems to have happened is a story of early British curries.  When the curry house started appearing in a wave in the 1960s – 1970s, the style of cuisine was rural Bangladesh and these early “Indian chefs” realised soon that their new clientele wanted inter alia a range of curries that included a hot curry, a medium one and a mild one.  These morphed into the Anglo-Indian vindaloo, chicken tikka and korma classics of modern British-style Indian food.  For us Brits, korma now means a mild, creamy meat dish, whereas the true korma originated out of the Islamic courts of the Moghuls and other Muslim rulers of India over the 10th to 16th centuries.  This korma from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is a rich banquet dish that is showy and uses lots of yoghurt together with expensive flavourings like cardamom, nutmeg, rose water, saffron and nuts like almonds and dried fruits.

My first trial was a variation on a simple korma, called Korma Narendra Shahi, which is slightly sweet and mild, with a pretty rose water flavour which some might not like, but is something I enjoy and is a key flavour of Arabian and Indian banquet-style-food; if the rose flavour is an issue just reduce the levels of rose water you use.  It is based on a recipe from one of my favourite little gems of Indian cooking “Cooking Delights Of The Maharajas” by Digvijaya Singh; this is a collection of recipes collected from the Royal kitchens of India by Mr Singh who really would be the Maharaja of Sailana, hence he was able to collect these recipes and continue his father’s quest to find some of the best recipes from his contemporaries’ households. 

The next korma recipe will be a mash-up between two of the really fine recipes in the same book, mixing up the Persian style Korma Shiraz with a recipe for Korma Asafjahi from the kitchens of the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1905 and will follow in my next blog…

Recipe for Korma Narendra Shahi

500g / 1lb lamb chopped into 2cm / 1 inch sized peices
2tbsp + 2tbsp ghee, sunflower oil or vegetable oil
500g / 1lb onions, half chopped finely and the other half sliced thinly into rounds
115g / 4oz plain yoghurt
¼tsp – 1tsp chilli powder (vary this to taste, but it is meant to be mild)
1tsp cumin seeds (or powder)
3 green cardamom pods, broken open
Pinch of turmeric
1 pinch of salt
A pinch of saffron diluted in warm water
30ml / 2tbsp rose water
1tbsp fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1tsp garam masala

Start by dry frying the cumin seeds, if you are beginning with whole ones. When nicely toasted, crush them in a pestle and mortar.  Make the saffron infusion by placing the saffron filaments in a mug or glass and pour over newly drawn water that has just been boiled and leave to infuse for 30 minutes then strain out the saffron.

Heat the ghee in a frying pan and add the onions and fry gently until translucent.  Add the chilli powder, cumin powder and salt and fry together for 1 minute, then add the yoghurt, stir well and cook for about 10 minutes at a gentle simmer with the lid on.

Korma Sauce With Light Creamy Look

Korma Sauce With Light Creamy Look

While you are frying the onions, start frying the lamb pieces in ghee in a separate frying pan.  Cook these quickly to brown and seal the edges.  When ready, which should be as the korma sauce is finishing its 10 minutes’ initial cook, add the lamb to the sauce, cover and cook at a medium heat for 1½ hours.  Lift these pieces of lamb out of the ghee with a fork or slotted spoon, i.e. leave the fat behind.

When the meat is tender, which should be after about 1½ hours, simmer with the lid off to let the liquid dry up almost completely.  Now add the remaining ingredients (saffron, rose water, coriander leaves and garam masala) and stir until warmed through.

Homemade Korma Narendra Shahi

Homemade Korma Narendra Shahi

Serve straight away, or even better leave a day and eat the next day when the flavours are much more subtle and have infused completely through.

Recipe For Chicken Tikka Masala

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010
Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

We had to rearrange our weekend as our daughter got chicken pox mid week, which meant her birthday party needed to be rearranged, childcare and cover at work needed to be sorted.  So with no baking to do for the weekend, I felt like making some of the Anglo-Indian curry classics  We start with the quintessential of fusion meals, Chicken Tikka Masala, which has become one of the icons of modern British food.

I like it in part because it tastes good, but also because it really is one of those evil meals that makes use of ingredients that I would never normally touch – Heinz tomato ketchup and Heinz tomato soup.  I know you can make a more authentic Indian sauce without these ingredients, but that misses the point about Chicken Tikka Masala, i.e. that it is tandoori chicken with a lightly spiced tomato-curry sauce using quick-to-hand ingredients; you can feel the panic of the chef who invented it – what do I do to make a tomato curry sauce? Oh I know tomato soup, tomato ketchup, tomato, cream and some spices with a dash of sourness from vinegar and see what happens.

So here is my version, which can be made hotter but this is designed to be child-friendly rather than adult-authentic, so if you want some heat added just add 2 – 4 green chillis to the tikka masala sauce and you should be okay.  Also, you could circumvent all the spices by using a tandoori masala for the chicken-yoghurt marinade and a tikka or Madras curry powder in the tikka sauce.

We also made lamb korma which I will write about soon.

Axel’s Chicken Tikka Masala

Stage 1: To marinade and roast the spiced chicken

1tsp organic paprika
½ tsp cumin seeds, dry roasted then ground in pestle & mortar
½ tsp nutmeg powder
½ tsp coriander powder
¼ tsp yellow mustard powder
1tsp garam masala
4 green cardamom pods, opened so the flavour from the seeds comes out
1 green chilli (medium heat), deseeded and chopped
2tbsp lime juice
3tbsp plain yoghurt
500g / 1lb chicken breast, chopped into 2cm / 1 inch cubes

Spices For Tikka Marinade

Spices For Tikka Marinade

Firstly prepare the spices, dry roasting the cumin and deseeding the green chilli.  Add all these to a metal or glass mixing bowl.  Stir in the lime juice until you have a paste, then add the yoghurt and mix through all the flavours. 

Finally, with the best chicken you can find or are happy buying, chop this into cubes and then add to the spicy marinade and stir through throughly.  Cover with clingfilm and leave in fridge to infuse with the flavours.  I try and leave it overnight but a minimum of 3 hours is fine. 

Chicken Pieces Infusing With Spices In Yoghurt Marinade

Chicken Pieces Infusing With Spices In Yoghurt Marinade

As for chilli, you can increase or decrease those quantities to suit your desire for heat; as we have two children, they are not too enamoured of over hot food so I tend to keep the heat quotient down for them.

On the next day, while you are making the tikka masala sauce, roast these curry flavoured chicken pieces by placing them evenly on a baking tray and cooking in a 180C / 350F oven for 20 – 25 minutes until nicely browned.

Roasted Tikka Chicken Pieces

Roasted Tikka Chicken Pieces

Stage 2: Making the tikka masala sauce

2tbsp ghee or sunflower/vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 large onion (1½ medium onions), chopped finely
½ sweet pepper (red or green), chopped into small dices
1cm / ½ inch fresh ginger, grated
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp medium curry powder
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp coriander powder
¼ tsp chilli powder (or more to taste)
1tbsp white wine vinegar
4tbsp chopped tomatoes from a tin
1tbsp tomato ketchup, ideally Heinz as it should be slightly sweet
175ml  / ¾ cup tomato soup, once again ideally Heinz as the colour and sweetness is right
100ml / ½ cup single cream
½ tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped finely
½ tsp sea salt, or chaat masala

Spice Mix For Tikka Sauce

Spice Mix For Tikka Sauce

Start by preparing the spice mix that is needed for the sauce, i.e. the fresh ginger to coriander powder in the list.  When done, heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a frying pan.  Add the onions and garlic cloves and fry gently for 3 minutes until starting to get translucent, then add the chopped bell pepper and fry for another 2 – 3 minutes.  Add the spice mix to the onion-garlic-pepper and mix throughly and fry for about 1 minute. 

Gently Fry Onions, Garlic And Ginger In Ghee

Gently Fry Onions, Garlic And Ginger In Ghee

Now add all the liquid ingredients to the onion mix and stir completely – that is the white wine vinegar, chopped tinned tomatoes, tomato ketchup, Heinz tomato soup and single cream.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 15 minutes.  Then add in the garam masala, fresh coriander leaves and chaat masala/ salt.

Stage 3: Fusion Time – bringing it all together

As a final stage, add the roasted spicy chicken pieces to the tikka sauce.  Stir it together and let cook together for about 15 minutes.

Homemade Chicken Tikka Masala

Homemade Chicken Tikka Masala

Serve with rice and naan bread.

Food Blogs Round Up – August 2010

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

It is the height of European Summer so a number of the food blogs are in holiday mode.  In spite, or perhaps because of the summer, Julia Parsons at A Slice Of Cherry Pie has been making Tuscan Style Soup.

Aran of Cannelle et Vanille fame has been holidaying in her native Basque country in Northern Spain.  She has posted some gorgeous photographs of her family and of just over the border into France

At Chocolate and Zucchini, Clotilde Dusoulier has been baking sourdough bread; I am not a great bread baker, nor a big fan of bread itself, but I do like sourdough, so perhaps I should give this a go.  She has also baked an Apricot Blueberry Cobbler which is so classic American that it evokes a homely feeling of on the range, plus I like the idea of using orange flower water.  Cobblers are not something I have come across until I started reading food blogs, but will definitely get an outing sometime over this winter to check out whether these fruit puddings with a sort of biscuity dough will enter the family repertoire.  At Orangette this month, there is a great looking recipe for Berry Cobbler.

At Cooksister, Jeanne has been enjoying lots of exquisite looking restaurants in London and South Africa, plus quaffing wines at an exclusive wine tasting event in London town.  I liked the simplicity of the recipe for Pan-Fried Fish Fillets With Capers On Pesto Mash, as I imagine the capes nicely offset the fish tastes, and the slightly old fashioned charm of Gammon Steaks With Spicy Caramelized Pineapple and Crispy Duck Breasts In Wild Cherry Balsamic Reduction.

David Lebovitz has been enjoying the protests by the Communists in France for local food, while offering up a great recipe for that classic – Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Helen at Fuss Free Flavours has baked some amazing looking Brioche, fittingly while holidaying in France, as well as a healthy looking version of Coronation Chicken – much healthier than the full on version we tried from Xanthe Clay recipe earlier this month.

At Lemonpi, Y Lee has been spending her staycation baking cakes like this delicious looking Carrot Cake and some intriguing Skillet Cakes, i.e. cakes baked in a pan. At Mahanandi, I am nervously lusting after making the Red Chilli Pickle as it looks mindblowingly hot, as well as the wonderfully simple Semiya Upma which is an Indian vermicelli-based vegetable stir fry.  There is also an intriguing recipe for Badam Beerikaya, which is a vegetarian dish based around Chinese okra or beerikaya which can probably be done with any smallish gourd.

In mid August, we harvested our small offering of corn grown in the garden.  We ate them boiled lightly, then sprinkled with fleur de sel and drizzled with melted butter.  However, I wish I had noted the recipe for Sweet Corn Pancakes at Smitten Kitchen as that looks a luxurious take on a morning pancake; I love the idea of riching up the batter with buttermilk, which is not something I use although my mum loves her buttermilch.  And Deb’s Fresh Tomato Sauce is one of those labours of love of harvest time; homemade tomato sauce really does taste so much better than shop bought tomato pastes, although the time and effort to make them is a huge barrier to wanting to do it too often, as I have found as your yields are so tiny.  I have to confess to usually making my own tomato sauces and salsas etc using a tin of chopped tomatoes as the starting point as it is much less depressing on the effort front.  And all can be rounded off with a really satisfying American Blueberry Muffin – love them, but I still call them a bilberry here in England even though strictly they are a different plant, but closely related.

Ree Drummond at The Pioneer Woman Cooks has modern takes on classic recipes like Burgers, Raspberry Crisp, Fried Round Steak and homely Cinnamon Bread.  Plus the Mushroom Burgers that this superlady has been trying on the meat eating husband.

And finally, I am tempted by the recipe for Sweet Portuguese Bread at Wildyeast.  I would like to try it alongside the Brioche recipe at FussFreeFlavours, as I am intrigued by what the differences in flavour and texture will be.

June 2010 Food Blog Round Up

Monday, July 5th, 2010

At Chocolate & Zucchini, there is a delicious sounding recipe for sablés from Yves Camdeborde’s book Dimanche et Famille.  Clotilde Dusolier’s blog then sent me around various links on her site to several other biscuit recipes that sound fantastical, with amazing flavour combinations like Matcha Shortbread Cookies (which remind me I must do something about launching my green tea salt blend) and sablés croquants poivre et noisette (crisp hazelnut and pepper sablés), which has a wondrous flavour combination of pepper, rose water and hazelnuts that must be skirting fairly close to flavour and textural overload for the senses.  Finally, catching the end of the them of my update from last month, there is a recipe for a Rhubarb Tart With Lemon Verbena, combining another intriguing version of sweet pastry dough, plus my favourite early fruit – rhubarb – and then lemon verbena, which sounds great as a variant on lemon peel which is what I would usually use as the tart flavour for stewing the rhubarb.

At Cook Sister, there is a variation on the standard summer veg tarts that I have always cooked, called a Zucchini, Tomato Pesto Tart, which fits neatly alongside the French Tomato Tart that I found at David Lebovitz’s blog last month.  I will have a go and see if it will fit into my repertoire, even though I am not a fan of pesto, which I find tends to add an unnecessary hint of bitterness to food.  She also played with pesto for an Asparagus Salad With Pesto, which sounds an intriguing variation on the simple way we normally eat asparagus, sprinkled with a bit of salt and some butter.

At David Lebovitz’s blog, who seems to be suffering from the heat in Paris (my body temperature gauge falls apart when the temperature gets above 10oC, which is one of the reasons I failed to like living in London), he has a delicious and easy sounding Almond Cake recipe.  We like the words “easy” and phrase “hard to mess up”, but I’ll give that statement a run for its money.

Helen at Fuss Free Flavours is a women with my style of cooking, with a different way of preparing asparagus that I will definitely try next asparagus season.  A year, however, sounds a long wait for it, so I will try and rootle out some asparagus that’s still just about in season here in the north.  I think the mix of the slightly charred taste will go well with the bitter-sweet flavour of asparagus.  And she serves plain and simple with salt and butter; perfection.  And I love the idea of making your Elderflower Cordial on Midsummer Night like some sort of new age pagan ritual, plus it is basically free food that earths you to the soil.  And while never a fan of tofu, I am a fan of Ottolenghi so I will try the Black Pepper Tofu recipe although I might reduce the chile and increase the black pepper a bit as our kids will never survive that intensity of heat.

At just the food blog, there is a great and wholesome Cold Multigrain Salad that will make you a lifetime of food for lunches during the week.  And it has  next to no calories to boot.  It mixes three grains – pearl barley, wild rice and quinoa – and in the dressing melds together the umami kick of soy, with the uber sweetness of agave and cider with the heat from some chile flakes.  I reckon you could do a neat variation switching pearl barley for bulgur wheat.

Mahanandi’s recipe for Bean Sprout and Peppers makes great use of the bean sprouts that we have been growing over the last few weeks, and does something more exciting than chomping on them raw or in a salad.  I reckon that I would put a few different types of bean sprout into the mix, for example sprouted fenugreek seeds and chickpea seeds to give it more variation in texture.  And I love the colours and taste of aubergine (a.k.a. eggplant or brinjal) and the recipe for Brinjal Cilantro will get on the list for our next full on Indian meal as we are always struggling with inspiration for new flavours, rather than being unadventurous and sticking to the familiar.  When our tomatoes come out, I will have a crack at the simple Green Tomato Chutney recipe.

At Not Without Salt, there is a great Perfect Pizza At Home recipe, which is great fun family food.  I usually start by making the pizza dough and tomato base, then let the kids finish it off, so you get a random flavour, but one also that the children cannot complain about as it was their creation in first place!  I would be tempted to use a 50:50 mix of durum and bread flour rather than 100% all-purpose flour (plain flour in UK).  At Dana Treat, there’s a perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that’s worth noting as it was created with Ashley of Not Without Salt.

The theme for summer seems to be coming through as galettes and tarts, so at Smitten Kitchen there’s a gorgeous sounding Zucchini and Ricotta Galette plus some great links through to earlier galettes with the Wild Mushroom And Blue Silton one from 2006 winning a place in my dream for a new take on my classic summer tart recipes.  Her Lamb Chops With Pistachio Tapenade caught my hungry eyes and is tempting me to cook some up next weekend, yet I might be tempted to try a version with toasted pine nuts – maybe 50:50.

At The Pioneer Woman Cooks, I love the sound of Spinach With Garlic Chips as a variant on our stock in trades of Spinach With Nutmeg or Spinach With Toasted Cumin.  And The Best Coffee Cake Ever reminds me that I started trying to find the best coffee cake ever and stopped after one average attempt…laziness crept in and I must get back to it, although I was looking for a coffee flavoured cake not a cake for afternoon tea or coffee time, although the Mystery Mocha pud gets closer to the flavours I am after for my dream coffee cake.

Another great recipe from Ottolenghi was posted at The Wednesday Chef of a variation on potato salad – Potato Salad With Yoghurt And Horseradish.  Yotam Ottolenghi is certainly on message for recipes with everyone at the moment, and I love the idea of adding some tartness to potato salad which can get a bit samey.  We often use a mayonnaise-yoghurt-horseradish mix for smoked fish and crab salads and this sort of fits into that vein. 

As I wonder through [sic – I spelled this incorrectly first time round and I like the metaphor] the food blogosphere I am constantly surprised at the new ways of tweaking some of my old favourites in our kitchen, reinspiring me to recreate and revisit things like the summer vegetable tarts that I have make for years now, as well as to try and improve on the trusty old pastry recipes that I have made since my mum taught me how to bake oh-too-long-ago. 

But I am in awe at how beautiful everyone else’s creations look and how great their photography is, while my food looks like a dog’s dinner and the photos like some amateur hack from a one horse dorp (which I suppose I am).  We’ll get better at it, but I can never expect to reach the dizzy heights of the wonderful photos on blogs like Cannelle et Vanille, Mahanandi,  or The Pioneer Woman Cooks and The Wednesday Chef.

May 2010 Food Blog Round Up

Friday, June 4th, 2010

This month definitely has a seasonal theme of Spring to it.  Everyone has recipes for rhubarb, all of which are so much more inspiring than the classic Rhubarb Crumble that I blogged about this month and the rhubarb compote that we have been living on.  The Rhubarb Raspberry Betty from The Wednesday Chef will probably even get an outing in the next few days.

CookSister is a fusion blog from a South African living in London, so this month has seen her start series on restaurants and other things in South Africa to celebrate the upcoming South African FIFA World Cup 2010; something we’re all very excited about here in our household with every type of Panini card and sticker book being collected (yes Panini is not just a type of bread).  What caught my eye, though, was a recipe for Rhubarb, Strawberry and Ginger Tarts.  I love rhubarb and, being English, don’t see that it would be a fruit/vegetable devised by Terry Pratchett etc etc but will live with being laughed at.

David Liebovitz has two delicious looking recipes – one for tomatoes and the other an Ottlolenghi recipe.  I was drawn most to the colours and earthy tastes that I anticipate from the French Tomato Tart, which would be a great summer sun or picnic food, or round a long table at a family gathering and cool glasses of white wine.  The Ottolenghi recipe is Fried Beans With Sorrel and Sumac which is a great sounding recipe and uses delicious sumac; for those who might be struggling to find sumac or zaatar, Steenbergs sells both and the zaatar was rehashed recently with help from Yotam Ottolenghi.

Mahanandi is a beautiful blog full of Indian recipes that make your mouth water and inspire you to make delicious Indian cuisine, as well as some amazingly gorgeous garden and flower inspiration.  There is a fantastic set of photos of gardenias from Mahanandi’s American garden that are so pure and beautifully formed.  I love their recipe for Zucchini Zunka and will definitely trying to do this myself – I am always struggling to inspire the rest of the family to enjoy zucchini / courgettes here, and this will just be perfect.  I think I will, also, combine it with the healthy green colours of her Green Bean and Green Peas masala.

At Smitten Kitchen, I once again found a rhubarb recipe and this time loved the Rustic Rhubarb Tarts, which I will definitely file away in my mind as something to try this year/next year.  However, it’s the Carrot Salad With Harissa that I am going to do first; I love carrots as a vegetable and in carrot cake, but have always struggled with it sitting insipidly, shredded in a salad.  This recipe, with its bite and kick from harissa, might just lift the chore of eating a healthy salad to something acceptable.  And to round it all off, I am a sucker for cakes and baking so the Pecan Cornmeal Butter Cake will soon get an outing.

In New York, The Wednesday Chef has the exotic sounding recipe for a biscuit that’s made like bread with the long Greek name, Paximathakia Portokaliou, but I don’t think I will ever get around to making these.  And then it’s got to be her Rhubarb Raspberry Betty recipe that I think I’ll make this week when my parents come down from Northumberland; my father loves a good pudding and adores rhubarb.

New Indonesian Pepper Just Arrived at Steenbergs

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I read a book last year called “The Scents of Eden” by Charles Corn – it’s a history of the spice trade.  It was great as the perspective was different from the histories that I had read in the past which always wrote them from the angle of European spice traders – including British, Dutch and Venice.  It’s written for an American audience and talks about the first American exploits into Indonesia and the history of Salem (other than it’s infamous one about Salem’s witch trials), plus the founding of Yale University with the proceeds of Elihu Yale’s generous gifts of East Indian exotic and books; none of which I knew much about except the odd snippets here and there.

As much of the spice trade had been carved up between Britain and the Netherlands, there were slim pickings for relatively new global traders like America.  As a result of this together with happenstance, most of the original spices for the American market came from Sumatra, with the result that the new and growing US developed a love for the intensely hot black and white peppercorns shipped in from the East Indies – now Indonesia.   It was in 1790 that Captain Jonathan Carnes sailed back his ship the Cadet after 2 years “lost at sea” and had found Sumatra.  So here we are experimenting with Indonesian flavours rather than the Indian style pepper that we usually deal with.

Steenbergs Lampung Black Pepper comes from a small region called Kota Bumi in Lampung Utara on the southern end of Sumatra in Indonesia. Here spice farmers still use the old farming practice of growing pepper vines on shade-growing trees. Glossy leaved pepper vines grow up the trunks of tropical shade trees providing protection from heat and harsh sunlight. On the forest floor, nitrogen-fixing legumes are planted in rings around the pepper vines, providing a constant source of nutrients and protecting valuable biodiversity such as beneficial insects that act as natural protection against diseases that affect these pepper vines.  While not certified organic, these spice farmers are having a damn good stab at earthy, natural farming.

The black pepper berries themselves are incredibly pungent when grown like this, developing intense heat like chilli pepper fruits.  The quality of this Lampung black pepper compared to the kit you get from high street stores is amazing – like the difference between home grown tomatoes and the junk you get from the supermarket. Steenbergs Lampung Black Pepper comes from only 1% of the total available pepper harvest in a shade-grown pepper field, with higher quality Steenbergs pepper berries specially selected and harvested at the peak of ripeness.

Steenbergs Lampung black pepper has a bold, pungent flavour – even stronger than Malabar black peppercorns like Steenbergs luxury black pepper berries.  Lampung black pepper starts warming with a classic aromatic, appetising flavour before I got a sudden numbing heat on the tongue that built in intensity around the mouth; the heat lingers a bit but leaves an appetising, mouth-watering taste for a good 5 minutes.  Steenbergs Lampung black pepper is versatile like all good pepper and great with red meat, poultry, grilled vegetables, marinades and dressings, soft cheese and even on strawberries!

Steenbergs Muntok White Pepper – a close relative of Lampung black pepper – is a normal vine pepper but one that has been grown exclusively for making white pepper.  This white pepper is grown in the hills behind the village of Muntok on the Indonesian island of Bangka.  The pepper growers wait until the pepper berries have matured a bit longer than those in Lampung so that they are mainly red and so give a fuller flavour and then start the harvesting.  The pepper farmers use traditional bamboo tripods to climb up the trees and then hand-pick pepper fruit spikes of red ripe pepper berries.  These fruit spikes – that are reminiscent of bunches of grapes – are packed into rice sacks and soaked in slow running streams that flow down from the mountains above.  Seven days later the outermost skin of the pepper has disintegrated and the peppercorns are piled together for a traditional trampling called Nari Mereca or the Pepper Dance which is a bit like the classic stamping on grapes to make wine – the technical name for this process is a rather bland decortication. The dancing separates the peppercorns from the fruit spike and after a final washing the berries are left to dry in the sun where they naturally will bleach to a creamy white. 

Muntok white pepper smells faintly foisty but nowhere near as badly as some white pepper which smells of dirty, sweaty football socks – yuck – and doesn’t have that warming aroma that you would expect from black peppercorns.  The white peppercorns are crunchy to bite on and quickly build to a numbing heat that makes your eyes water – I started coughing but god was it a great feeling – and the heat numbed the mouth and top of the throat.  Muntok white pepper is perfect with pork and veal, poultry, white fish and shellfish, rice and pasta, steamed vegetables, blue cheese and great in white and cheese sauces.

PS: I wouldn’t advise anyone to chew on the Muntok white pepper on its own as it really was numbing and hot, but the Lumpung black pepper would be fine – I only chew on these things because it’s what I do.

Steenbergs Launches New Design For Spice Tins

Friday, February 5th, 2010

At Steenbergs, we have been doing a lot of work trying to refresh parts of our organic spices and seasonings range.  Now we have relaunched our spice tins into a bright new label and an elegant rolled tin.

Steenbergs new spice tins

Steenbergs new spice tins

Part of what we have been seeking to do is to pull out parts of our long list of spices and seasonings that can either sit as a standalone range, such as our Home Bakery products (which we relaunched in August 2009), or added value blends that differentiate Steenbergs in the spices and seasonings world. 

We have a range of over 200 blends that we make in small batches by hand which is way more than industrial spice blenders and packers can hope to do – they just don’t have the ability to work on small batch runs nor the inclination.

So during 2009 we redesigned the spice tin, which was originally a spice dabbah made for us in Mumbai in India, to a rolled tin that is now being made for us in China.  This new tin was launched in mid 2009 and looks much smarter and more elegant than the old tin that we felt was a bit shiny and the shapes of the actual dabbahs were inconsistent.

In the latter part of 2009 and through to early 2010, we have created a new look label for a few of our most popular blends – Steenbergs Signature Blends.  These labels are brightly coloured, individual for each seasoning and now include a recipe idea.

The labels were printed last week and are now launched on the web site and will be officially launched at the forthcoming Organic & Natural Products Show at Olympia in April 2010. 

They have great shelf presence and we expect to add maybe another 5 – 10 more over the next 2 years.  The blends that are currently available are:

Organic Fairtrade 4 colour pepper
Organic Fairtrade curry powder
(a new blend!)
Organic Fairtrade garam masala
Organic Harissa with Rose Petals
Organic Herbes de Provence
Organic Italian Herbs

Organic Mixed Herbs
Ras al hanut

Tell us what you think, and what other Steenbergs products we should add to this range of Signature Blends – I am thinking China 5 Spice, Dukkah, Jamaican Jerk and Mexican Chile Powder.

Hot Chili From Steenbergs

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

The snow may have gone but it’s cold, dreich and miserable.  But after a manic Christmas, it’s given me time to do some of the boring, but necessary, things of business life – stocktake inputting, stock valuation and pricing review, plus I’ve just done the first cut of our Q4 2009 Fairtrade returns which will keep them happy.  I’ve still got to do stock reconciliations and new price lists – most things are going to stay the same price.

But on the upside, I have been able to do some of tastings and stock reviews that I have been wanting to do since October/November last year, and you will start to see some of these additions and tweaks to our product range over the next couple of months.

One of the key things we will be doing is going back to our roots – Steenbergs as your secret ingredient, the place to find those things that you just cannot find on the high street, a place for the exotic ingredients that dreams are made of.  Somehow we want to get the excitement of finding these mysterious ingredients onto our web site experience and not just in my mind, mad that it already is.

So we will introduce a new concept for us of web exclusive products, which are lines that we will not sell to retailers or Ebay customers of ours.  These are the wacky products that we have spent a lot of time and effort to track down, so we don’t want other people to get the benefit of our hard work.

Birds Eye Chillis Growing

Birds Eye Chillis Growing

As a start, we have begun by widening our range of chilli products.  We used to have quite a good range of these, but our supply chain wasn’t very good, and we also were concentrating on building Steenbergs raw materials activities and trying to build on success with retailers.  Perhaps we went awry and too far away from our roots, i.e. away from being good, old fashioned spice merchants!

So for chilli heads, we now can provide a wider range of chillis:

Ancho chilli: this comes from Mexico and is chile poblano ripened and dried.  A great quality ancho chile is flexible and neither damp nor dried out.  It is a deep red (although they can get really quite dark, blood red) with a wrinkled shiny skin – it’s 11cm long and 7-8cm wide.  Ancho chiles have a sweet, fruity, slightly acid flavour and while generally they are mild, they can shock you and be individually very hot.

Bird’s Eye chilli: these chillis come from Uganda and are sometimes called pili pili or peri peri chilli and I’ve even heard it called mistakenly Devil’s Penis chilli and is probably related to chile pequin.  They are bitingly hot with a Scoville rating of 135,000SHUs and have a flavour that’s reminiscent of dry hay.

Hungarian cherry chilli pepper: these are your classic chilli for making goulash.  They are packed full of flavour yet are quite mild with a bit of heat at 10,000 SHUs, so they’re like a mildy hot paprika.  Hungarian cherry peppers are traditionally smoked and are a deep tobacco brown in colour.

Chilpotle chilli (or more correctly chile chilpocle): this is one of my all time favourite spices.  It is a jalapeño that has been ripened to a deep red on the plant and then smoked dry.  Its name derives from the Nahuatl chil (chile) and pectli (smoke).  They have a tobacco brown colour and are wrinkled with a smoky general flavour and aroma together with a very picante taste.  Great used whole to flavour soups or blended into a mole or a salsa or tomato sauce that’s got a bite, which you can then use as sauce for chicken dishes or even as a spicy base for a Mexican style pizza (now that’s serious fusion cooking).

Facing Heaven Chilli

Facing Heaven Chilli

Facing Heaven chilli (chao tian jiao):

what a romantic name for a chilli and comes from the fact that its pods grow upwards towards the gods in heaven.  These come from Sichuan in China and are the quintessential chilli of Szechuan cookery, and have that heat you would expect from a medium heat chilli, but full of the umami you would get from Sichuan peppercorns – they sort of fizz and fizzle on your tongue like space dust.  They have a rich red colour and pointed cone shape like a witch’s hat.

Habanero chilli: habanero chile is usually used fresh in Mexico (and traditionally from the Yucatán Peninsula), but we’re not set up for fresh products, so a dry version will do us just fine.  It was the hottest chilli until Naga chilli came along but it has an appetising flavour, although some of the depth of flavour is lost in the drying process, with a serious afterburn.  It’s heat rating is in range of 100,000 to 350,000 SHUs, which is damn hot.  One neat way to use habanero is to make a sauce, say a mole or tomato sauce and then infuse the habanero in it for a short while to give the sauce a light piquancy – in Mexico this is “to let the chile take a walk through the sauce.”

New Mexico red chilli: this is the staple chile of the United States and is used earthy red chile sauces and are an integral part of enchiladas, tamales, pozole, meat and egg dishes in southwestern states of the USA.  It starts as the dried long green chilli of New Mexico and has a light, sweet flavour, and then is field-ripened to a scarlet red and then dried to get the New Mexican red chile.  If you lived in new Mexico, you would find a range of chiles with rural names like Anaheim, Big Jim, Espanolas, Rio Grande and Sandia.  The main production areas are in the dry valleys of the Rio Grande River in the southern part of New Mexico and in the cooler north, where the heart of the biggest chilli growing region is from Hatch to Las Cruces in the south; in the north they are grown around Chimayo north of Sante Fe.

Naga Jolokia chilli (sometimes bhut jolokia): this a mega hot chilli and I mean mentally hot.  It was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the hottest chilli ever at 855,000 SHUs, so be warned this is dangerous.  We all togged up in latex gloves, masks etc to pack this one and lived to tell the tale.  It originates from Nagaland in the far reaches of India on the border with Burma; it’s a harsh climate for a harsh chili.  We used to get some of Assam tea from near here on an estate called Banaspaty but supply became difficult with kidnappings of the estate managers!

At Steenbergs, we also have a range of pure chilli powders – cayenne pepper, chilli powder, smoked paprika and paprika – and loads of blended chillis from nearly every continent of the world (I don’t think the Antarctic have invented a traditional blend yet), but especially our Mexican Chile Powder, Harissa and New Mexican Chile Powder. 

To help you with your home cooking of Mexican food, we have brought in oregano direct from Mexico to complement our European oregano.  Mexican oregano is Lippia berlandieri rather than Origanum vulgare, and is closely related to lemon verbena; it has a stronger oregano flavour than good, old European oregano.

Note: I apologise for the almost schizophrenic use of chilli, chile and chili, but this is blatantly to get coverage under as many different types of search as possible.

Recipe For Pumpkin Pie

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

What to do with all that lovely pumpkin that you’ve got after scooping out your pumpkin, or just because they are such good value discounted in those shops that have overstocked.  This year we’ve made a classic pumpkin pie – which was deliciously indulgent – and a warming pumpkin soup.

Pumpkin pie with cream

Pumpkin pie with cream

Here’s our Steenbergs sweet and traditional pumpkin pie recipe that has the texture of cheesecake with the warm spices of winter – cloves, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.   It uses Steenbergs organic Pumpkin Pie mix that I invented, so I make no apologies for using it in the recipe, however you can make your own using equal amounts of cinnamon and ginger and half of each nutmeg and cloves.


375g/ 13oz shortcrust pastry
3 medium free range eggs
425g/ 15oz puréed pumpkin (either canned or make it yourself – see later for making your own)
195g/ 6½oz Fairtrade golden brown caster sugar
¼tsp sea salt
3tsp Steenbergs organic Pumpkin Pie spices
335ml/ 11½ fl oz evapourated milk

1.  Preheat the oven to 200oC/ 400oF.

2.  Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 23cm round pie dish, to about 3mm thick.  Blind bake the pastry case for about 10 minutes. 

3.  Now mix up the filling.  Whisk the eggs lightly in a bowl.  Add the Fairtrade caster sugar, sea salt, Steenbergs Pumpkin Pie Spices, pumpkin purée and then evapourated milk.  Give it a good whisk after each ingredient to ensure that it has been mixed through thoroughly.

4.  Reduce the oven temperature to 170oC/ 340oF.  Take the part-baked pastry from the oven and pour in the filling.  Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the filling has just set; if you insert a skewer into the centre of the pie filling, it should come out clean.

5.  Allow to cool completely, then serve with cream.

6.  If you’re feeling indulgent, how about adding a smidgeon of Jack Daniels to the pie (about 2tbsp).

7.  To make your own pumpkin purée:

(1) chop up the pumpkin, removing all seeds and internal fibres and the skin and dice it into 3cm squares.  Boil with water for about 10 minutes.  Drain then process in your food processor until smooth; or

(2) chop up the pumpkin, removing all seeds and internal fibres, then place onto a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes at 180oC; now scrape out the cooked flesh and process until smooth.

Recipe For Kulfi – The Perfect Indian Pudding

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Of course, you need a pudding/sweet to round off the indulgence of a delicious, groaning table of delicately spiced Indian food.  Kulfi (Indian ice cream) has been made for ages and was served to the Moghul Emperors at their hedonistic courts in Delhi and Fatehpur Sikri. 

It is harder than the soft texture of British ice creams, but then they do pump them full of air to bulk them out (and so increase profits but add value as “soft scoop”).  And I love their flavours, eucalyptus cardamom, nutty pistachio and almond and tropical mango.

2.25l (4 pints) full cream milk
150g (5½ oz) Fairtrade caster sugar
4 drops Fairtrade organic vanilla essence (Steenbergs is best, but I am very biased)
2 pinches ground organic green cardamom
10g (½ oz) flaked almonds
10g (½ oz) chopped unsalted pistachios
50ml (2 fl oz) single cream

1.  Bring the milk to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer over a low heat, stirring all the time and until it has reduced down to one-third of its volume.  It is important to keep stirring to stop it sticking or burning; whenever a film forms on the top, just stir it in.

2.  Add the Fairtrade caster sugar, Fairtrade vanilla essence, ground cardamom powder and almonds, and stir until everything is well combined.  Simmer like this for 2 minutes.

3.  Transfer to a bowl, add the pistachios and stir in, then let it cool down completely, which will take about 30 minutes.  Stir in the cream and pour into kulfi moulds or yoghurt pots. 

4.  Put in the freezer until solid, preferably overnight.  Get it out of its mould by running under a hot water tap for a few seconds.  When serving, sprinkle liberally with a few more flaked almonds and chopped pistachios.