Friday, April 2, 2010

The Senses: Spices of Life

Do you eat to live or live to eat?

Brillat-Savarin supposedly wrote "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." When I checked The Physiology of Taste it is one of the "Aphorisms of the Professor" and translates to "Tell me what kind of food you eat, and I will tell you what kind of man you are." Which is slightly less prosaic. But only slightly.

I've always preferred being with people who live to eat. It says a lot about a person when they look forward to meals. I tend to like people who enjoy the simple things in life. Nothing is simpler, or more important, than enjoying food.

Part of enjoying food is making it taste good. Throughout history herbs and spices have been used to enhance flavours and make food more appetizing. There are quite a few plants that can be used to enhance flavours. I'm an expert at eating but not at all the esoteric details of spices.

Do you know type of plant a caraway seed grows on? Did you know it's not a seed? I didn't know it was the dried fruit of the plant. Could you identify a sassafras tree? Or a clove tree? Or did you know that nutmeg is a kernel of a fruit and mace is a thin leathery tissue in the same fruit between the nutmeg kernel and the pulp?

Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages will help clear things up for you. Each spice's entry covers the name of the spice in different languages with detailed entymologies (61 different languages for caraway), chemical details (the main component of sassafras oil is safrol which is also found in star anise, nutmeg, and black pepper), and links to sites with recipes and additional information. There are even details of what goes in various traditional spice mixtures. I can now make my own garam masala if I choose.

If Gernot's site can be said to lack anything it is recipes and basic or traditional uses for each spice. But by linking to others who have collected those recipes he can concentrate on names and botanical details.

While meandering across the web tracking down sites with recipes I came across an amazing food blog from southern India. Sailu's Kitchen is the food blog of Sailaja. She has a passion for all things food and it shows in the recipes and photographs of a wide variety of Indian cuisine. Chutneys, dals (including various vada recipes), Indian breads, and dishes both with meat and vegan. She's even started to cook some foreign cuisine. I keep being reminded on how global the internet really is. White bread and macaroni and cheese are foreign dishes to many people.

I live in the area of Toronto with the largest percentage of recent immigrants in the community. The grocery stores around me are filled with ingredients begging to be tried if I only knew what to do with them. Walk down the hallways of my building and you'll experience wondrous smells from different continents. With Sauli's Kitchen's help I have a chance at recreating many of those wonders using some of the ingredients I can buy down the street.

Makes me look forward to cooking and to eating.


Lene Andersen said...

I loathe caraway.

(and I have a feeling I'm going to be very hungry after reading these links)

Janet said...

caraway is not so bad, you leave caraway alone.

I know a few random facts about spices, but I wouldn't recognize the original plants if I bumped into them.... though I have made my own garam masala.

ok, now I must go and drool over Sailu's site.