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.

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.


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.


This pudding is made in the microwave. It can also be cooked in a heavy saucepan over very low heat for about 45 minutes.

2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup medium-grain white rice
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon each: ground cardamom, cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
whipped cream

Stir the milk, rice and sugar in a very large microwave-proof bowl. Microwave on high (100%) power for 3 minutes. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Continue cooking for 3 minutes on high then stir again.

Reduce the power to medium (50%) power and cook for 15-16 minutes, stirring twice during cooking. (Ensure the mixture does not boil over the top.) Stir in the spices and pour into four serving dishes.

Excellent served warm or chilled with lashings of (unsweetened) whipped cream. Serves 4.


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