Posts Tagged ‘spices’

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Tried & Tested: Spice Cubes

January 16, 2012

We are big fans of having a freezer full of building blocks ready for use. Sliced and frozen lemons, berries for morning smoothies, herbs which have been washed and frozen and are ready to drop straight into a dish.  These are all things that save us time, and often money.

A while ago we realised that whilst we often cook with garlic or ginger or chillis there are times when we buy them and don’t get around to using them  as we intended and therefore things sometimes go to waste.  We solved the problem with the garlic: instead of buying a head of garlic and using it a clove at a time we took to buying three or four heads at once and processing them all at once then freezing them.

It doesn’t take much longer to prepare a dozen cloves than it does one or two but there is no extra cleaning up and no more garlicy-scented hands. Whole cloves of garlic freeze fantastically and defrost in less time than it takes to chop an onion while ginger, if it is peeled and cut into single meal chunks, can be ready in a few minutes.

Having got into a routine of buying garlic and ginger every month or so and preparing them for the freezer it occurred to us that quite often we use both together and about half the time if we are cooking with garlic and ginger we use copious amounts of chillis too.  And so the idea of the freezer spice cubes was born: instead of preparing garlic ready to be used and preparing ginger to be used straight from the freezer could we go one step further?

The answer is yes:

  • Take one head of garlic, peel the cloves and toss them into a food processor
  • Take a piece of fresh ginger of a comparable size, peel, roughly chop and toss into the food processor
  • Add fresh or dried chillis to suit your taste buds
  • Blitz in the food processor until they’re the right size for your cooking needs
  • Spoon into an ice-cube tray, drizzle a little oil over the top and freeze
  • Once frozen pop the cubes from the tray and transfer to a suitable container
  • Keep in the most accessible part of the freezer so they are close to hand when you want to cook

When we make these we’ve found that one cube is about the equivalent of one clove of garlic and a corresponding amount of ginger. If you use dried chillis (buy them in bulk when you come to Cyprus as they are absurdly cheap here) then you can make the cubes as spicy as you want.

These are best made in an ice-cube tray that isn’t destined to be used for making real ice-cubes, unless you don’t mind ginger tasting gin and tonics after dinner.

New freezers always seem to come with a spare tray so we keep one specifically for the purpose.  You can reduce the chance of the tray becoming tainted with the spice flavours if you wipe it out with a little light cooking oil before you start.

Since we started doing this we have massively increased the amount of garlic and ginger we use, and with hardly any wastage.

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Cyprus Cost of Living #5

July 10, 2010

The Guardian recently had an article in their Life & Style section about the spice saffron.  Their tagline for the piece was “It’s hard to produce and more costly than gold“.

These things are undoubtably true: each stem of saffron started life as a stigma on a crocus.  Each bulb flowers only once each year, producing just two or three stigma which must then be harvested by hand.  The writer of the article was provided, by Harrods, with a sample:  2g of saffron produced by over 400 flowers and costing £25 (at the time of writing about 30€ or $37).

Saffron’s usage, and cultivation, goes back an incredibly long way:

For as long as there have been people, people have known about saffron. A dye from its stigmas colours 50,000-year-old cave paintings in what is now Iraq. Ancient frescoes on the Greek island of Santorini depict a goddess watching – or perhaps blessing – a woman picking saffron, presumably for medicine. No one knows how old this painting is: a volcano buried it in around 1500BC, and the work could have been hundreds of years old even then.

Now here’s the oddity: saffron, and many other herbs and spices, are surprisingly inexpensive in Cyprus.  That’s not to say that it’s possible to buy premium grade saffron cheaply but it is certainly cheaper than the UK.

At the time of writing Carrefour are selling 30g of Syrian saffron for 3€; that is about 7% of the price of the saffron sold by Harrods.

For anyone coming on holiday to Cyprus it would be a great shame not to reserve a corner of the suitcase for a supply of herbs and spices bought from any of the supermarkets.  In the space it would take to re-pack a novel it should be possible to re-stock the kitchen stocks of herbs and spices for a year.

Saffron, peppercorns, coriander, mustard seeds and crushed chillis are all great buys here.