Category Archives: Spice History

Sesame, From Tahini to the Arabian Nights

For a lot of Chefs, their first encounter with sesame seeds probably came with a “jingle” that went: “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a…”

And you know the rest.

https://youtu.be/jSmAibfvCeU

Big burger and chips on the table

Of course, later in life, you learn that the LEAST of what sesame seeds can offer to the culinary world…

Is a topping on a bun.

But the fact remains that at one time, the vast majority of the sesame seed crop of Mexico went directly to McDonalds for toppings on their famous hamburger buns.

You still see sesame seeds on some bakery products in the United States but our country is nowhere near the leading importer of sesame seeds, nor its uses.

Sesameis a flowering plant grown in tropical regions around the world and is cultivated for its edible seeds, which grow in pods.

Sesame is thought to be the oldest oil-seed crop known to humanity and has one of the highest oil contents of any see and world production of sesame seeds in 2018 was 6 million metric tons.

Golden sesame

Interestingly, the top exporters of sesame seeds are India, Burma, Sudan Tanzania, China and Pakistan and India.

The top importers of sesame seeds are China, Turkey, Japan, South Korea and Israel.

From a nutrition perspective, eating sesame seeds have many “potential” health benefits and was once thought to have mystical powers, as first mentioned in the command “Open sesame!,” used in the Arabian Nights tale of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”

Albeit a poorly remembrance of the actual command, which was, “open says me”, (which opened the secret cave’s entrance), “Open Sesame!” made its way into common expression anyway.

Many studies have extolled sesame seeds virtues since, due to the numerous vitamins and minerals they contain. The health benefits of sesame seeds seem almost endless. A few highlights include claims such as reducing your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, bone health, type 2 diabetes, and the list goes on.

Unfortunately, other studies say that you REALLY love sesame seeds in order to see any significant results from eating sesame seeds.

Like handfuls a day.

With a rich, nutty flavor, it’s no wonder that sesame seeds are used as garnishment and in foods all over the world.

From toppings on breads to thickeners in soups and savory dishes, sweets and coffee-like drinks with exotic names like: ”Benne”, Wangila, Chikki, Halvah, Goma-Dofuand and in Za’atar, there’s no shortage of recipes and spice blends that use this diverse seed.

But perhaps the most well-known food product that uses sesame seeds is Tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds and a key ingredient in the classic dip, Hummus.

Hummus, the Turkish word for mashed chick pea, is one of the oldest (prepared) foods, dating back to ancient Egypt.

There was time, that if you loved hummus, you’d probably only find it in a local specialty store, or hidden somewhere in the back aisles of one of the more popular national chains.

Today, it’s one of THE most popular dips in America.

You can of course buy Tahini to make your hummus but it’s SO easy to make and tastes infinitely better so why not make it yourself.

The recipe is below but you can watch it being made right here!

Tahini

Makes 3 Cups

1 Cup                        Sesame Seeds

¼ to 1/3 Cup             Olive Oil

  1. Place the sesame seeds (by themselves), in a frying pan or skillet on medium low heat, stirring often until the sesame seeds begin to lightly color and give off a toasty aroma.
  2. Remove the seeds from the heat and fully cool.
  3. Place the seeds in a food processor and blend until a paste is created.
  4. Add the olive oil in 2 or 3 stages, scraping down between each addition.
  5. Blend until the desired smoothness is achieved.

Classic Hummus

Makes 3+ Cups

2 – 16 oz Cans                  Canned Chick Peas

1 to 2 teaspoons                Garlic, Fresh, Chopped

1/3 Cup                              Tahini Paste

½                                        Lemon, Freshly Squeezed Juice

3 TBSP                               Olive Oil

1/3 Cup                              Cold Water (Or More as Needed)

1 tsp                                   Sea Salt (or Kosher Salt)

1/4 tsp                                Hot Sauce (Tabasco or Other)

  1. Drain off all liquids from the canned chick peas and rinse well with cold water to remove all of the canned juices.
  2. Add chick peas to a food processor using an “s” blade attachment.
  3. Add the fresh garlic, tahini paste, lemon juice and olive oil.
  4. Blend on medium then high speed 1 to 2 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. You want to make this paste rather smooth before adding the water.
  5. Begin adding the cold water in 2 to 3 steps, blending each time and scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions. The resulting hummus should be smooth and creamy looking and easily hold its shape when mounded.
  6. When you feel you have the consistency you want, add the salt and hot sauce and blend one last time for 15 to 30 seconds.

To the recipe above, once finished, you can blend in, OR add other ingredients, as toppings. These are a few of our favorites.

Tarragon, Bearnaise and Beyond…

If there was a Mount Rushmore of herbs, tarragon would certainly be a strong contender.

Its glossy, slender leaves and highly aromatic, licorice/anise-like flavor, (with a bit of peppery, mint finish), is unmistakable in any dish it’s used in.

And for good reason.

Tarragon is one of the key components of the French herbs mixture known as “Fines Herbes”, which “classically”, consists of: tarragon, chervil, parsley and chives.

Some say that tarragon provides an elegant addition to so many recipes, from salads, almost ANY protein, and numerous soups and sauces as well.

Others say that it’s licorice flavor makes it a “love it, or hate it” herb. Much in the same way that some people feel about cilantro.

But make no mistake, this herb is a star among the many who know that tarragon is an essential herb in any kitchen.

The most common tarragon used in cooking is the French variety, which pairs brilliantly with chicken, fish, and in egg dishes.

With the addition of garlic and shallots, it’s also remarkable in compound butter used as a garnish over char-grilled beef steaks.

Additional varieties of tarragon include Spanish/Mexican and Russian.

But perhaps the MOST widely known use for tarragon is in the classic sauce, Bearnaise, which is a derivative of Hollandaise sauce. It’s often used not just once, but 3 times within the recipe. First as tarragon vinegar, the second, as part of the tarragon reduction, and lastly as a chopped garnish.

Each form of tarragon, introduces its own unique contribution of flavors which meld together so completely in the final sauce.

The French love this classic herb, but it’s also popular in other countries around the world, and used in salads, stews, soups, pickles, pastries and even soft drinks!

It’s also an herb which can be used in the same dish both dry and fresh as BOTH uses take on their own unique flavor properties and truly complement each other in the recipe. Such as is the case with sauce Bearnaise.

Dry VS Fresh

Tarragon’s oils intensify during the drying process.

When using dry tarragon versus fresh chopped tarragon in a recipe, the usual substitution ratio is 1 tsp dry to equal 1 tablespoon of fresh.

When you mention the word, “tarragon” nearly anyone would immediately associate it with “Sauce Bearnaise” and for that reason, it’s a good recipe to share with you here.

Bearnaise is one of 5 “Grand Sauces” that all chefs and devoted cooks learn to make early on. It’s also one, that non-professionals are told is just too difficult to even attempt.

Hollandaise sauce is made from only 4 basic ingredients, but it’s the 2 main ingredients (egg yolks and butter) that can give you real headaches if you don’t to pay attention to what you’re doing.

Here’s how you avoid the headaches, and to show you, we’ll make an average-sized recipe of Bearnaise sauce.

Start by making the tarragon Bearnaise reduction which you will add to the Hollandaise sauce once it is finished.

Set this reduction aside, THEN begin your Hollandaise sauce.

Bearnaise Reduction for Hollandaise Sauce

2 TBSP                      Dried Tarragon Leaves

1 TBSP                      Chopped Fresh Shallots

¼ Cup                        Cider or Tarragon Vinegar

¼ Cup                        White Wine (nothing too sweet)

¼ tsp                          Cracked Black Pepper

  1. Simmer these ingredients together in a small saucepan until reduced to a wet paste. Be careful not to burn it!
  2. Set it aside and NOW begin your Hollandaise sauce.

Hollandaise Sauce

Makes about 1 Cup

  1. Before you begin to cook your egg yolks, in a microwave on the defrost setting, melt 1 ½ sticks of butter until the fat separates, and then skim off that clarified butter and reserve.
  2. Squeeze the juice from a half lemon and reserve.
  3. Choosing the right bowl and saucepan to make your hollandaise is super important. You want about a small-to-medium-sized saucepan and a mixing bowl that nests within the saucepan, leaving at least an inch of space from the bottom and an inch or so lip at the top. This way, you can easily lift the bowl in and out of the pan as you cook your yolks.
  4. Put only a half inch of water in your saucepan and bring it to a simmer. You should have a space between the bottom of your mixing bowl and the water, and that will mean your egg mixture will be cooking gently over the steam and not directly on the water.
  5. Place 2 egg yolks in your mixing bowl, and for each yolk, a half egg shell of water–in this case 2 half egg shells worth.
  6. This step will help you to cook your egg yolks into a “pudding.” Place the bowl over the simmering water, and using a whisk, beat the egg yolk mixture on and off the steam heat (about 15 seconds each round). This method will take a bit longer to turn this raw mixture into a thickened egg pudding, but it will also prevent your mixture from cooking too fast and turning into scrambled eggs.
  7. When the egg mixture is sufficiently cooked, the whisk will create tracks in the mixture. This will let you know it’s time for the next step.
  8. Remove the water from the saucepan and lay a damp kitchen towel or paper towel over its mouth. Replace your bowl and nest it in snugly. This neat trick will allow you to do the next step more easily.
  9. This step gets everyone in trouble now, but if you just take your time, there’s NO reason you should ever have a problem. You’re going to make an emulsion here by SLOWLY–and the key word is SLOWLY–adding the clarified butter to the cooked egg “pudding.” That means whisking somewhat briskly while adding the clarified butter in very small amounts, especially at first.
  10. Start by drizzling in less than a tablespoon; don’t dump it in all at once. Drizzle it in a thin stream. Once that is incorporated, add another, the same way.
  11. After the 3rd tablespoon, you’ll notice the mixture is getting thicker. Now is when you begin to whisk in a bit of your squeezed lemon juice–about a teaspoon. Continue alternating butter and lemon juice until they’re both used up.
  12. The hard part is over, now all you have to do is add the tarragon mixture you made earlier. Whisk it in briskly and season with a pinch of salt if you like.

Of course, tarragon is one of THE most popular herbs sold at the Red Goose Spice Company. We stock the French variety and is available in any size container or bulk box you prefer.

How Herbs de Provence Came To Be

Herbs and spices are simply amazing. Each one of them has a history and a story all their own.

Singularly, historians can trace back the origins and uses of nearly each and every herb or spice we use today, going back thousands of years

Commercially produced herb and spices blends however, are a much more recent thing. Often, the bi-product of convenience. Curry Powder is a good example.  (See Red Goose Blog: Curry in a Hurry)

From ancient times, until a few centuries ago, you pretty much had to buy each and every individual herb or spice you used in your dishes. There were no “blends”.  When it came to making a recipe with multiple herbs and spices, you pulled them all out of your pantry, added each one to your dish or ground them together in a mortar and pestle in whatever proportion you desired.

No Chili Powder, no Curry Powder, no “Italian” Herbs Blend, no Herbs de Provence.

Even if you love to cook, there are a couple of down-sides to making your own blends.

Besides needing to have all the individual components available (and fresh), each and every time you make a blend, there is the likely lack of consistency of flavor every time you make it.

As a result, herb and spice blends are, generally speaking, a very good thing. And each has a history all their own.

Take Herbs de Provence for example, one of the more unusual herb and spice blends.

Everyone loves a good story. This one however, doesn’t date back to ancient times.

Its name and the popularity of Herbs de Provence isn’t attributed to some famous French Chef, but rather to a popular American Celebrity Chef, who lived in France for a time and wrote one of the most widely known, and used, cookbooks on the planet.

Julia Child and her best-selling, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, first published in 1961.

This wildly successful book, considered by many to be one of the most influential cookbooks ever published, included a sauteed chicken dish using an herb and spice blend she named: “Poulet Sauté aux Herbes de Provence”.

The rest, as they say, is culinary history.

The usual suspects (plus one)

Before blends, and before Herbs de Provence had an “official” name, those who enjoy preparing the regional cuisine of Southern French needed to have these classic herbs and spices always at the ready, most of which, happen to be cultivated in Southern France. They are: Oregano, Thyme, Savory, Rosemary, and perhaps some Fennel, Tarragon, Bay Leaf, or Chervil if you are making one of the more unique blends.

There wasn’t, (and still isn’t), a “true” recipe for the exact  proportions of each ingredient in Herbs de Provence however the earliest “recipe”, believed to be its ancestor, used nearly equal parts of just 4 herbs. Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary and Savory.

So, you just started there.

This blend, you might notice, lacked the one spice that everyone now identifies it by, and that is, lavender, which Southern France’s is famous for, and which both the locals, and tourists, love.

Lavender

It started to appear in later adaptations of Herbs de Provence and then became quite popular, especially in America.

Lavender gives Herbs de Provence its uniquely perfumed aroma, it’s alluring taste and adds a hint of French romance to what otherwise would be a blend which could just as easily be perceived as Italian.

A dish using Herbs de Provence is unmistakable in any recipe it is used in.

However, as the Herbs de Provence blend became more popular, even those in a professional kitchen, had to keep ALL of these individual herbs and spices in their pantry AND fresh, and then measure them precisely each time to obtain a consistent result. Oh, and by the way, lavender seeds aren’t exactly cheap, so unless you’re making this blend a lot, why would you want to have lavender seeds in your pantry?

Kind of a pain.

As expected, it didn’t take long for the purveyors of herbs and spices to seize the opportunity to provide various versions of an Herbs de Provence blend to both the retail and commercial markets.

So, just how is Herbs de Provence used?

Herbs de Provence is extremely versatile. It pairs well with chicken, pork, lamb, fish, vegetables, on salads, salad dressings, even omelets!

Recipes using Herbs de Provence include cooking methods such as sauteing, braising, grilling and roasting. It can be uses as a rub before cooking, added to a liquid or sauce during cooking or even as a topping to a salad or pizza.

Classically, beyond proteins, it pairs well with tomatoes, olives and olive oils, cheeses, root vegetables and many Mediterranean dishes which its why you’ll often see it used in Ratatouille, Tapenades and rustic vegetable stews. You’ll also find it gives off a remarkably fragrant smoke if you moisten it and sprinkle it over coals while grilling.

Whether you currently use Herbs de Provence in your cuisine or, you’d like to explore the amazing versatility of this amazing blend enjoyed by so many foodies on BOTH side of the “pond”, The Red Goose Spice Company has a marvelous version available for immediate delivery to your kitchens.

As Julia Child would say as she ended each and every one of her TV shows…”Bon Appetite!”

 

Curry in a Hurry. How Curry Powder Came to America

Here in the States, when most of think of curry, we immediately think of a “golden colored powder”, and a few curry dishes that we may have tried, or enjoyed.

Nothing too complicated.

Maybe a Curried Lamb, or perhaps, a Curried Thai or Indian dish at favorite restaurant in town.

But there are a few misconceptions about the curry powder that you’ve come to know all of these years, and we thought we’d clear up a few of them here.

Curry 101, so to speak.

And “psssst”, don’t feel bad if you learn something new here, there are professional chef’s out there who, if they were honest, would have to admit that they don’t know much about curry’s interesting past either.

Let’s start from the beginning.

The Curry Tree is native to the Indian subcontinent and its leaves are used in many Indian and Asian dishes.

However, curry leaves, are not in curry powder.

Surprised?

Actually, curry powder is a blend of herbs and spices all its own. In fact, curry powder is kind of a “short cut” creation, replicating the spices most “commonly” used to make the traditional yellow curry from scratch as it was done in India for centuries. The yellow color coming primarily from the spice, turmeric.

And curry dishes aren’t exactly a new thing in America.

In fact, while curry dishes themselves originated in India and Southeast Asia, curry powder actually made its way to America via…. Wait for it…

Britain.

The Story…

The story goes that after the British arrived on our shores, (well before the battle for our own independence) so too did the East Indians, and with them, their passion for curry dishes.

By that time, even the East Indians living in Britain were reluctantly beginning to use a convenient, pre-blend form of curry powder made in India. Mainly due to the difficulty of finding the many different spices in the British markets that were needed to make their traditional curry blends.

Interestingly, by all accounts, the Indians back in India didn’t care much for this new powder that they were making for the Brits, choosing instead, to continue grinding it together from scratch with a mortar and pestle. Giving them the freedom to continue making their time honored, individual curry recipes from the spices that they had no trouble finding in their markets.

But they made this curry powder for the Brits anyway, and sent it along to them. In turn, that same powder came over on the ships from Britain to us here in the States (along with a bunch of men in fancy red coats with silver buttons interested in making it their permanent home.)

What was sacrificed in the process however, was the many different expressions of curry flavors treasured by cooks and enjoyed by so many in back in India.

They were mostly lost the western world for some time.

The “dumbing down” of curry by the creation of this one size fits all, “short cut” powder, became quite a sore subject back in its homeland, India.

So, in summary:

  1. Curry powder doesn’t use curry leaves, which are actually green. Curry leaves are however, used in some Indian cooking recipes. They are, when dried and ground, the color of…mmmm? Ground sage?
  2. Curry leaves don’t taste anything like curry powder.
  3. Curry powder is a blend of spices, not a single one.
  4. The curry powder we know it, is a “shortcut” form which didn’t come from India or in Indonesia by choice but rather for convenience.

So, now know a little something about the “blend” called Curry Powder. The yellow one.

But the word “curry” also became, over time, a phrase used to as much to denote a cooking style, as the flavor we associate it with. Much the way we use the term “barbecue” here in America.

For example, it’s often said, particularly in our Southern states, “we’re having barbecue tonight”, which doesn’t tell you what meat, or “exactly” how it may be cooked (although you can basically assume slowly and smoked), or even how it is seasoned.

You do however, generally know what you’re getting and generally the range of tastes.

Similarly, “we’re having curry” doesn’t divulge the meat, (but you can generally assume it’s braised or stewed), or for matter, exactly what type of curry it might be?

In essence, from a cooking style perspective, this is one cooking style…

This, is another…

So, beyond the “yellow” curry most people are familiar with, what are the other types of curries out there?

First, it’s important to mention that there are dozens upon dozens of different flavored yellow curry powders out there depending on the blends. And some curries are red in color, due to the addition of red chilis and some are even green.

All look and taste uniquely their own. But they are all curry blends.

The answer to the question it’s probably thousands. Especially if you also take into consideration the word ‘curry” as both the flavor AND a category of cooking method.

If this were a math problem, it would look something like this…

Cultural taste preferences, (Indian, Thai, African, Asian, British and so on), X the spice choices used, X ratios of each spice to one another, X Scoville (heat index) of chilis used (if any), X meats and other proteins used, X the cooking method employed.

In other words, thousands.

As such, curry has become globally popular and a welcome addition to menus of all types.

Of course, The Red Goose Spice Company not only has a fabulous yellow curry powder in stock, but we can also custom blend any recipe you have or that you might wish to create for your business or retail sales.

Contact us today to discuss how we can help you bring the ancient and historical flavor of curry to your customers.