Friday, February 8, 2008

Spicing it Up

All the talk this week about spicing up your life has made me think of the flavors I love, and not necessarily the man I love. I always have on hand a good selection of whole spices ready to add a bit of sass to a dish. Unlike a lover my spices wait, uncomplaining, never expressing jealousy for not being taken out. Though they do need to be treated well in order to release their full aromatic pleasure.

I buy my spices whole, and use an inexpensive coffee grinder to pulverize my notes to redolent heights when the occasion arises. The fragrant notes that is a spice, or an herb for that matter, is contained in the volatile oils within the seed, bark or root. Though theses oils are sensitive to heat and light so I store my spices in the freezer – a cool, dark place that aides in maintaining as much scent as possible. I was told an anecdote by a spice purveyor that when they open a tomb sealed during the time of the pharaohs they found a jar of cumin seeds. Upon opening the jar the seeds still contained the signature hit that is cumin. A curious tale, to be believed or not, but it does speak to keeping spices in a dark, cool place – though buried in the earth below a pyramid may be a bit extreme.

Fish Masala – yields 6 servings

For the marsala
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons grated ginger
2 garlic cloves - chopped
2 tablespoons coriander seed
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 tablespoon black peppercorn
3 whole cardamom seed
2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon turmeric
3 inch stick cinnamon
5 curry leaves
4 whole clove
1/2 teaspoon salt

6 talapia fillets
3 tablespoons canola oil

Place all the ingredients for the marsala in a blender and process until a smooth paste.
Rub the talapia fillets with the spice mixture, and allow them to sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so.

Heat a 10-inch sauté pan over a high heat, and add half the oil. Sauté half the fish fillets for about 4 minutes a side, and transfer to a plate. Finish the remaining fillets using the other half the oil. Serve warm.

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