Local Hawaii ingredients used with an international flair
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Hawaii-grown spices, fresh from the farm
by Nanette Geller
We’ve been ordering most of our spices from Penzeys for almost 20 years. Quality is consistently high, and the product is always fresh. And with spices, freshness really matters. Here in Hawaii, we’re fortunate to be able to buy some spices fresh from the farm. Wailea Ag Group is at KCC Farmers Market a couple of times a month. They are best known for fresh hearts of palm but sometimes have Big Island spices as well.
All of these spices are from Wailea Ag Group, except the green peppercorns which are from Frankie's Nursery.
Whole nutmeg with mace attached
Bay leaf, of course, goes into pretty much any simmered dish – soups, stews, beans, tomato sauce, etc. Try adding a bay leaf when cooking rice for a subtle flavor. Dried bay leaves lose most of their flavor after about a year. Supermarket bay leaves are often so old that they're virtually tasteless when purchased. Also, some leaves, sold as “California bay leaves” are not true bay laurel. The California bay leaves are larger and much stronger, with a coarser flavor; they aren’t really a good substitute. The Wailea Ag Group sells branches of the true bay laurel. The fresh leaves are better than dried for things like stuffing into a whole fish before roasting or skewering between other ingredients for a kebab. I stand the branches in a container in the kitchen and pull off the leaves as needed. Even after they dry, they are wonderfully fragrant and flavorful. I haven’t verified this, but bay leaves are supposed to help keep bugs out of dried rice or other grains.
I’ve written before about the difference between true Ceylon cinnamon and cassia, which is usually sold as cinnamon in the US. I keep the branches of true cinnamon I buy from Wailea Ag Group together with the bay branches, and use the leaves pretty much anyplace I use bay leaves. I especially enjoy it in tomato sauces, or any simmered dish with tomatoes. The branches can also be used. My friend Nan recently made a marvelously fragrant syrup with a cut-up branch and some of the leaves.
I never really enjoyed clove until I tried the ones from the Big Island. Even though they are already dry, they are still fresh-tasting and don’t seem to overwhelm other ingredients. Clove is indispensable in Indian cooking. I’ve been using it in pasta sauces and in braised dishes, especially meats.
Nutmeg is two spices in one. Mace is the lacy outer covering of the seed. When allowed to dry, it is easy to remove. The remaining “nut” can then be cracked to extract the inner seed, which is the “nutmeg.” Like cinnamon, Americans usually use nutmeg only for sweets but it’s also wonderful in savory dishes. I follow the Italian lead, and use it with cooked greens and cheese dishes like this rustic pie which includes both. Even after drying, the Big Island nutmeg is still fresh and not as hard as other nutmeg, so it grates easily. Nutmeg loses it’s fragrance quickly once ground and should always be grated just before using. No need to buy a special grater, the microplane works perfectly (and is also the best tool for grating hard cheeses, citrus zest, ginger, etc.). Even the fine holes on a regular box grater will work on the fresher, softer local nutmeg.
Recently Frankie's Nursery has been bringing fresh green peppercorns from Waimanalo. These are the immature form of our familiar black pepper and are normally available in the US only freeze-dried or canned in brine. One well-known use in French cuisine is steak in a green peppercorn sauce (steak au poivre vert), which was my inspiration for the chicken dish below. I crushed them lightly with a mortar-and-pestle, releasing their flavor and fragrance, before adding them to the sauce and simmering a couple of minutes.
Skinless, boneless chicken thigh in a green peppercorn sauce with shallot, white wine, and crème fraiche
Whole wheat couscous with green onion and saffron
Butter-steamed sugar snap peas
nutmeg freshly ground and consumed in obscene quantities is a mild hallucinogen. read about it in malcolm x's autobiography.
Fresh food is the best. This looks really good. I want to become a better cook but I don't know how best to do it.
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