Love is like a spice. It can sweeten your life — however, it can spoil it too. Confucius.
Using spices in cooking is a balancing act. Too little can be too vague, too much can dominate.
Chinese Five-spice is a pungent combination of ground cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, cloves and Szechwan peppercorns. It enhances pork, beef, poultry and seafood and should be used in moderation. Add just a little at the beginning of cooking as it can always be spiced up at the end or just sprinkled over the finished dish. It’s also great in cookies and cakes as a cinnamon substitute.
Sumac — popular in the Middle East, North Africa, India and the Orient — is prepared from a reddish-purple berry with a slightly astringent, lemon flavour. The seeds are dried and finely crushed.
Juniper berries are purple-black with a distinctive aromatic tart flavour and are best known for flavouring gin. Crushed berries can be added to marinades, stuffings, terrines and sauerkraut.
Cardamom has a strong, pungently sweet flavour with hints of lemon and mint and is excellent in both sweet and savoury dishes. It is popular in Sweden where it flavours everything from baked goods to hamburgers. Indian garam masala is a mixture of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It’s one of the more expensive spices.
VIETNAMESE FIVE-SPICE PRAWNS
1 small shallot, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3cm piece root ginger, grated
2 teaspoons five-spice powder
3 tablespoons each: fish sauce, soy sauce
1 tablespoon each: sugar, canola oil
32 large raw prawns, shelled
Combine all the ingredients — except the prawns — in a bowl. Whisk well to combine.
Add the prawns mixing well to coat evenly. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Thread medium-sized wooden skewers with four prawns each. Either grill or cook in a ridged frying pan for 2 minutes each side or until cooked.
Great served on a bed of crisp lettuce, sliced cucumber, Vietnamese mint leaves and fresh pineapple cubes. Serves 4 as a main.
Kebabs: 500g minced lamb
pinch dried chilli flakes
4 teaspoons sumac
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
Sumac-spiced Salad: 2 medium onions, finely sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon sumac
Combine all the kebab ingredients well. Form the mixture into 16 logs. Thread onto medium skewers — 2 to a skewer. Pat the mixture again into firm log shapes. Chill for 15 minutes.
Soak the onions in icy water for 15 minutes. Drain and combine with the parsley. Sprinkle with the sumac.
Pan-fry or grill the kebabs for about 8 minutes turning often.
Great served on a bed of hummus together with the salad. Serves 4.
PORK WITH JUNIPER BERRY ORANGE SAUCE
1 cup orange juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons juniper berries, lightly crushed
2 bay leaves
4 mid-loin boneless pork steaks, about 2cm thick
2 tablespoons butter or table spread
Combine the orange juice, garlic and brown sugar in a small bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved then add the juniper berries and bay leaves.
Place in a shallow dish and arrange the pork on top. Cover and marinate for at least 1 hour, turning often.
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a lipped baking tray with baking paper.
Heat the butter or spread in a frying pan. Pat the steaks dry and brown on both sides for about 1 minute. Transfer to the baking tray and cook for 8 minutes. Rest for 2 minutes.
Boil the marinade until slightly reduced and serve over the steaks. Serves 4.