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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 02:55 am

Spicy holiday gifts

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Egyptian in origin, dukkah is a mixture of coarsely ground nuts, seeds and spices.

I’ve said it before: I like giving holiday food gifts that aren’t sweet. Not because I don’t like sweets – or getting them, for that matter. But it’s nice to give something that stands out among the tidal wave of cookies and candies.

Giving spice mixtures along with ideas and recipes of how to use them is a favorite. The following require little preparation beyond roasting, grinding, combining the components and printing instructions.

Buying the little jars of spices available at groceries could make this an expensive project. But Springfield’s “alternative groceries” offer more affordable options. Large bags of some are available at the Asian Little World Market (2936 S. MacArthur Blvd.), and at the Indian Mini Devon (2701 W. Lawrence Ave.). Then there’s Food Fantasies (512 Wabash Avenue). They have spices in bulk – as much or as little as needed. And there’s more than just spices in bulk: nuts, dried peppers and mushrooms (for the porcini steak rub below), teas, etc. Buying them by the ounce reduces their cost dramatically.

The recipes below call for grinding some spices in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder/mill. Spice grinders also function as coffee grinders, although it’s not a good idea to use them for both. They’re not expensive, hovering around $20. I have four in my kitchen: for coffee, one for grinding pepper, one for sweet spices such as cinnamon and one for savory, such as cumin.

I’d never heard of dukkah, a mixture of coarsely ground nuts, seeds and spices, until I took my daughter, Ashley, down to New Zealand to begin studying viticulture and oenology (winemaking and grape-growing) at Lincoln University in Christchurch.

Dukkah is Egyptian in origin, but can be found everywhere in both New Zealand and Australia. In Egypt as well as those Down Under countries, it’s most often used as an accompaniment to bread dipped in olive oil, then dukkah. In Egypt, the breads are usually flat, pita-like. But in New Zealand, crusty baguettes and sourdough loaves are used. I was instantly hooked on dukkah’s crunchiness and taste. Dukkah is one of those things that has infinite variations: hazelnuts and sesame seeds are most common, but there are recipes that call for pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts and even macadamia nuts. Cumin seeds are common, so are coriander seeds. Some have heat from black pepper, and sometimes dried mint or oregano is included.

Dukkah is used in other ways Down Under: to sprinkle on salads, vegetables, popcorn and baked potatoes as well as breading for chicken or fish cutlets, and more. Cuisine, New Zealand’s premier culinary magazine recently published a deliciously simple recipe for carrots with dukkah. The whole carrots are brushed with olive oil, roasted in a 400 F oven, then drizzled with a dressing of tahini (a paste made of toasted sesame seeds) thinned with lemon juice and water, topped with a healthy sprinkle of dukkah.

Spice up the holidays with ras el hanout, great on lamb shanks, meatballs, grilled fish, shrimp or chicken.



Dukkah

•    1 c. hazelnuts
•    2/3 c. sesame seeds
•    3 T. coriander seeds
•    3 T. cumin seeds
•    3 T. black peppercorns
•    1 1/2 tsp. flaky or coarse sea salt, or more or less to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Put the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast until they’re lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. If the hazelnuts have skins, wrap them in a lint-free towel. Let sit for a few minutes, until they’re just cool enough to handle, then rub them vigorously to remove as much of the skins as possible. Set aside to cool completely.

Place a skillet over medium-high heat and add the sesame, coriander and cumin seeds and the peppercorns. Toast, stirring constantly, until the sesame seeds are lightly browned and the mixture is fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Crush the hazelnuts in a mortar and pestle, spice grinder, food processor or rolling pin so that they’re coarsely ground into irregular-sized pieces.

Grind the seeds and peppercorns until they’re completely, but coarsely ground.

Combine the nuts, seeds and salt. Store in a tightly covered container. Makes about 2 cups.

A North Africa spice mixture, ras el hanout translates to “top of the shop,” a mixture of the spice merchant’s best. The components of ras el hanout vary widely, with as few as 8 ingredients to as many as 100. It’s used as a “flavor enhancer” and to make marinades (and even has repute as an aphrodisiac). It’s an essential in my pantry, always a jar on my spice shelf.

I use it to sprinkle on lamb shanks or in meatballs for a Moroccan tagine, or on grilled fish brushed with olive oil, finished with a squeeze of lemon. But my favorite ras el hanout preparation is in a marinade for grilled shrimp or chicken (especially wings): In a resealable plastic bag, combine 1 T. ras el hanout with 1/4 c. olive oil, 1 T. balsamic or sherry vinegar, 1 T. honey and 1-2 tsp. minced garlic. Seal the bag and squish until the mixture is combined. Add 1 pound peeled and deveined large shrimp, or chicken wings, cut into individual pieces. Double or triple the amount of marinade for more wings.

Let the shrimp marinate for about an hour, then thread on skewers and grill. The chicken wings can marinate for several hours or even overnight, refrigerated.


Ras el hanout

•    5 bay leaves
•    1 T. dried thyme leaves – NOT ground
•    1 T. black peppercorns
•    1 T. freshly grated nutmeg
•    1 T. whole cloves
•    1 T ground cinnamon
•    1 tsp. coriander seeds
•    1/2 tsp. mace, or an additional 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
•    1 tsp. cardamom pods
•    1/2 tsp. ground ginger
•    1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
•    1 tsp. whole allspice
•    1 tsp. turmeric
•    1/2 tsp. anise seeds
•    1/4 -1/2 tsp. cayenne

Grind all the ingredients with a mortar and pestle or in a spice mill/grinder. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Porcini are among the most flavorful mushrooms in the world, second only to truffles. Dried, their incomparable flavor intensifies. Fresh porcini aren’t widely available, even in countries where they’re most often found, such as France and Italy. And they’re always pricey. Porcini also grow in America, especially in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve only eaten fresh porcini three times. But dried porcinis have become something I always have on hand, for things such as mushroom soup, risotto, a vegetarian gravy, and the steak rub below. Local groceries have them in the produce section; they’re usually extremely expensive: about $8 for a 1/2 ounce. I buy them by the pound in Italian groceries in St. Louis or Chicago for around $30/lb. Thankfully, Food Fantasies has them in bulk at $4.37/ounce.


Porcini steak rub

•    1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
•    2 tsp. garlic powder (or leave out of the mixture and add minced fresh garlic in the marinade)
•    1 T. freshly ground pepper
•    1 T. hot pepper flakes, or more or less to taste
•    1 tsp. dried thyme
•    1 T. kosher or sea salt
•    3 T. dark brown sugar

Grind the mushrooms to a powder in a spice grinder or food processor. Combine with the remaining ingredients and seal tightly.

To prepare the steaks:

Mix the porcini rub with 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil and the fresh garlic, if using. Rub steaks on both sides with the mixture. Place in a resealable plastic bag, squish out the air, and let stand at least an hour and up to 24 hours. Refrigerate if marinating more than 1-2 hours. Remove from the refrigerator an hour before cooking to bring to room temperature. Wipe excess rub from the steaks before cooking.

Grill the steaks over charcoal, or sear on both sides in a heavy, oiled ovenproof skillet, then place in a 500 F oven until the desired doneness is reached. The time will vary based on the type and thickness of the steaks. Begin checking after 10 minutes for rare meat. Makes enough rub for 4-6 steaks.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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