Monday, December 1, 2014

Its the time

It has begun, that frenzy of holiday dinners, cookie swaps and potlucks. This is the best thing of this
time of year – hosting or contributing to a gathering. It is also the time to renew and replenish. Most of the spices in the cupboard have been in there since last year, to be generous. A purchased pre-ground spice has about a 3 to 6 month shelf life given that most of us store our spices in a cabinet where heat and light can act to degrade them. Not to mention, the factory where the spices were milled smells wonderful but that scent did not end up in the jar. It is time to go through your myriad containers of spices and purge. Any tins that came with you when you left your parent’s house have to go. Newer ones should be sniffed for the presence of fragrance. When you go out restock your inventory you may want to avoid the supermarket aisle and seek out an Indian store. The cuisine of the sub-continent utilizes a vast amount of spices, where turnover will most likely be quicker than at your local Piggly Wiggly. I go so far as buying the majority my spices whole and grinding what will be used as needed – an inexpensive coffee grinder does the trick. In the spirit of absolute honesty, I store my spices not in a draw or cupboard adjacent to the stove, but in the freezer. The cold, dark storage helps my spice collection maintain its maximum aromatic potential for far longer than a year. Labeled, small plastic bags are lined up in canisters that thought they would house post-its, paper clips, a stapler and pens. Of course, they are alphabetized.

I am confident that when I make a batch of cardamom chocolate cookies or add my spiced chickpea salad to a potluck the gift of fragrance will be there.  

Spiced Chickpeas – yields 6 to 8 servings
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium red onion – sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves – crushed to a paste
1-tablespoon grated ginger
1-teaspoon garam marsala (see below)
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 small carrot – peeled and grated
4 scallions – washed and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4-cup fresh lime juice
1/4-cup chopped cilantro

Garam Marsala
2-inch cinnamon stick
1/2-teaspoon whole cloves
1/2-teaspoon aniseed
1-tablespoon whole black pepper
1/2-teaspoon whole mace
8 cardamom seeds

Place all the ingredients in a spice grinder, and process to a fine powder.

Heat an 8-inch sauté pan over a medium heat, and add the oil and onion. Cook the onion until it is limp, and a light golden brown. Mix in the ginger, garlic and garam marsala, and cook for a few minutes moving the onion mixture constantly. Mix in the chickpeas, carrots and scallions, and cook to warm through. Remove from the heat and add the salt, pepper, limejuice and cilantro. Serve warm or cold.


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