Herbs and Spices Anyone?
Most of my recipes call for fresh ingredients. I specially want to dedicate this post to all my good old faithful herbs, spices and root vegetables. This may sound strange but without them ... I will definately have no recipes to share and that would be ashame.
Garlic - what surprises me is that it is actually from the 'Onion family'. This God given little fellow is famed for its ability to intensify and enhance the flavours of whatever it is cooked with. It also contains quite a number of nutritional and medicinal properties eg. helps reduce cholestral and blood pressure, prevents mild coughs and colds, increases blood circulation and acts as a mild antibiotic. I for one is more interested in its flavour more than anything else.
Ginger - is the most widely used ingredient for seasoning throughout Asia. Its aromatic fragrance is enough to unblock any stuffy nose. The thinly sliced young ginger goes very well with chinese braised chicken whereas the older ginger root is more popular with dishes cooked specially for the new mother in 'confinement'. It is believe to eliminate flatulence, promotes blood circulation and helps alleviate the common cold.
Curry leaves - this leaf and curry goes hand in hand just like ebony and ivory on a piano. It is easily cultivated, not too big a plant for a pot in the back garden or even on a balcony. The flavour is faintly spicy and very aromatic. It is also known to control high blood pressure if chewed daily.
Coriander (Cilantro) - I must admit, I was not really fond of this herb. A friend of mine actually nicknamed it "tiok ceeh kia chai" in other words ... herb that can send a shock down your system. Yea, it's that strong. It is popularly used as a garnish on soups, chicken rice, fried noodles etc. The dish that taught me how to appreciate this humble herb is the "Thai Tom Yam". Now I find myself buying it everytime I see it. Strange eh?
Star anise - my magic star, really. Comes from a magnolia tree family. It is usually dried and looks like an eight point star shaped seed. Adds an aromatic flavour to pork and chicken dishes.
Kaffir lime leaves - These leaves comes from a citrus plant. The fruit (lime) and the leaves can both be eaten. The leaf is easily recognizable cos it looks very much like a figure 8 and its fragrance is very intense. A basic curry chicken dish can be totally transformed just by adding some of these leaves.
Lemongrass - Looks a bit like a bulb leek, only differ in colour. The only edible part of this herb is the lower portion till about 5 inches up. It is widely used in Southeast Asian cooking can be grown easily in our warm and rainy climate. Lemongrass has a strong lemony flavour and aroma, used in curries, gulais, salads and even soups.
Clove - It looks like a small dried nail and has very strong flavour and scent. The clove is the flower buds from the myrtle tree family. I even see it being used as an ornamental spice where they poke them into oranges and displayed in a bowl or just hung up.
When storing dried spices and herb, always opt for the dark coloured airtight glass bottles as shown on the left. Actually, these bottles are my life-time collection from eating lotsa Bovril and Marmite.