Variety

Healthy herbs, secret spices

Archana Achal | Updated on September 09, 2011

Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg - Pasta with mussels, scallops and parsley   -  BUSINESS LINE

Photographer: Adam Berry/Bloomberg News - Star Anise   -  BUSINESS LINE

Photographer: Erin Lubin/Bloomberg News - Alaskan halibut with tarragon and breadcrumb salsa   -  BUSINESS LINE

A PodPonics Inc. employee harvests microgreens inside of a pod farm container in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. "There's a major trend that has serious legs," said Matt Liotta, chief executive officer of PodPonics Inc., which will start growing watercress, arugula and other lettuce varieties hydroponically (in water, without soil) in recycled shipping containers on eight acres outside Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the next two months. Photographer: Chris Rank/Bloomberg+SEP+A PodPonics Inc. employee harvests microgreens inside of a pod farm container in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. "There's a major trend that has serious legs," said Matt Liotta, chief executive officer of PodPonics Inc., which will start growing watercress, arugula and other lettuce varieties hydroponically (in water, without soil) in recycled shipping containers on eight acres outside Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the next two months. Photographer: Chris Rank/Bloomberg - Watercress 2   -  BUSINESS LINE

A PodPonics Inc. employee displays lettuce for a photograph in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. "There's a major trend that has serious legs," said Matt Liotta, chief executive officer of PodPonics Inc., which will start growing watercress, arugula and other lettuce varieties hydroponically (in water, without soil) in recycled shipping containers on eight acres outside Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the next two months. Photographer: Chris Rank/Bloomberg+SEP+A PodPonics Inc. employee displays lettuce for a photograph in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. "There's a major trend that has serious legs," said Matt Liotta, chief executive officer of PodPonics Inc., which will start growing watercress, arugula and other lettuce varieties hydroponically (in water, without soil) in recycled shipping containers on eight acres outside Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the next two months. Photographer: Chris Rank/Bloomberg - Watercress 1   -  BUSINESS LINE

Who said gourmet food is limited to a five-star fine dining experience? With easy access to exclusive ingredients, whipping up a flavourful feast is just a passionate cook away. ARCHANA ACHAL lists out some exotic ingredients that can sit pretty on your kitchen mantle and change the way you cook

For the new-age cook, stocking up on fresh gourmet ingredients is as important as flashing your smashing new cutlery or kitchen aid. And with speciality food outlets sprouting up across the country, you needn't track down distant aunts to fetch you exotic ingredients from foreign locations. Whether you are an expert or still finding your way around crafting gourmet food, here are some exclusive herbs and spices that will do wonders to your dish.

Pretty in purple: Purple Basil

Most of us are familiar with green basil, the variety that is commonly seen in pesto sauces or sitting pretty atop salads, but a less commonly used version is purple basil. Purple basil is distinguished from the other varieties by its dark purple leaves, which may be ruffled at the edges. The flavour imparted by this herb is stronger than that of green basil, so it is better to use it prudently. The leaves can be pan-fried pressed into a slice of haloumi cheese, or even crushed and added to lemonade for a delicious summer drink.

Peppery pick: Watercress

Watercress is a lush, green herb that grows in aquatic areas. Watercress belongs to the radish family and hence has a peppery tang as well as a pungent flavour. It imparts a great twist to plain salads - try a watercress, mango and duck salad. It can be paired with goat's cheese and avocado as well. Bursting with vitamins and minerals, watercress is known to have medicinal properties too. It is truly the herb for the health-conscious.

Lively lemon: Lemongrass

A favourite ingredient in south-Asian cuisine, lemongrass is growing in popularity the world-over. This herb has green leaves with a pale, scallion-like base. It is best used fresh as it imparts a lemony flavour and zesty, citrus fragrance. Lemongrass stalks are pounded lightly to release the fragrant oils and then added to soups and curries. It definitely adds the “yum” factor to the much-loved Thai tom yum soup. One can also use the soft, inner stem to make a quirky apple salad with stir-fried squid.

An old favourite: Parsley

Parsley, a bright green and fresh-tasting herb, native to the Mediterranean and used since the Middle Ages is sidelined very often to a single sprig placed at the edge of the plate as a garnish. There is a lot more to parsley than just its pretty colour. Fresh flat-leaf parsley, when part of a bouquet garni, is used to flavour stocks and stews like the Italian Cioppino. Why not twist plain pesto by making one with chilli-lime cashews, parsley and cilantro? Baked brie with parsley and almonds is an interesting textural dish as well.

Delicate delight: Tarragon

Tarragon, a herb found across the globe is distinct both in its taste and appearance. The fine leaves are silvery-green with the taste of liquorice, aniseed and sometimes mild vanilla. Tarragon is one of the few herbs whose potency decreases when dried and is therefore best used fresh. It also forms the basis of French cuisine, along with parsley, chives and chervil. Tarragon is used in many sauces, especially the Béarnaise, and in fish preparations.

Starry surprise: Star Anise

The fruit of a small evergreen tree grown mostly in China, star anise is as flavourful as it is beautiful. The star-shaped spice is dried and powdered at times, or used whole along with the seeds. It is a staple in South-East Asian cuisine and is used mainly to flavour meats and poultry, like in tea-smoked duck breast. In India, it is added to biryani and pork dishes. Star Anise lends a pungent, aniseed flavour that can be quite overpowering. Add a piece to your Christmas punch or go truly whacky with star anise and balsamic vinegar cookies.

Peppy powder: Paprika

Paprika is the spice obtained from the grinding down of certain dried capsicum varieties. It is milder than chilli powder but has its own pungency and intensity. Paprika is found in most European homes in various forms, mild and sweet, semi-spicy or really hot! It is used to flavour cheeses, sausages and chicken dishes. It is also sprinkled over curries and stews to add depth in taste. Add a dash to your hummus dip or couscous to spice it up. You can even go Istanbul-chic with a Turkish Lamacun pizza made with flatbread, lamb, paprika and bell peppers.

Far-eastern staple: Galangal

Galangal is a ginger-like spice, used widely in South-Eastern cooking for its added therapeutic properties. It resembles ginger in its looks but is slightly peppery in its flavour. Galangal, with its pine-like aroma, is added to seafood dishes to play down the fishy smell. Hot and sour shrimp soup and prawn fritters are uplifted by galangal. It is best used fresh in curry pastes and clear soups, like in a chicken and bamboo shoot curry.

Sichuanese heat: Sichuan peppercorns

Sichuan peppercorns are a unique spice used in Asian cuisine, from China to Nepal and Tibet. The name is a misnomer as it is not a type of peppercorn but just the dried fruit of rue trees. Only the husk is used in dishes and the effect is a tingling sensation, bordering on numbness. Lightly toasted along with sea salt, it is used as a condiment in fried squid and pork dishes. It is also used to flavour momos and stir-fried tofu. Try the wonderfully weird mocha mousse with Sichuan peppercorns or Lo Bok radish with peanut oil, rice vinegar and Thai chillies as a new-age coleslaw.

Published on September 07, 2011

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