***image1***For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Nazia.
I am a business consultant by day, but a passionate cook by night — having been cooking since I was a small child creating new experimental dishes for friends and family.
My column on PS-Magazine, Nosh by Naz focuses on gluten free cooking. However, for MerlianNews, I hope to introduce readers to the fascinating world of spices and herbs– exotic or commonplace, tiny or large — species and herbs are small, yet ancient organic enhancements which have been used throughout the centuries to bring out succulent favours in any entrée or dessert — helping to create a memorable food experience.
Each month I will be writing about a different spice or herb, providing nutritional information and some interesting facts while concluding the article with a recipe that uses that discussed ingredient. This month I kick off my series with the first letter of the alphabet and dedicate the article to the following exciting spice which originates from the land of the ancient Persians:
’A’ is for Aniseed
Spices are usually classified according to which parts of the plant are used to create that spice. Cloves for example are classified as a bud and flower spice, cinnamon as a bark spice, ginger and turmeric as a root spice and bay leaf, as a leaf spice. Pepper, cardamom and aniseed are classified as fruit and seed spices.
Aniseed or pimpinella is a spice that originates in the Middle East. However, over time it has gained much popularity in many Mediterranean countries like Turkey, Spain, Greece as well as other countries such as Egypt, Japan, Mexico and India.
Aniseed derives from the fruit of the anise plant of the parsley family, known as Umbelliferae. It is an annual herb , about 2 feet high with delicate feathery leaves and tiny white flowers. The spice also known as sweet cumin is one of the oldest in existence and the seed is grey/brown in colour.
***image2***It is also used for medicinal purposes, containing essential oils and other ingredients which have strong seasoning actions. In some types of aniseed oil, the oil content can be anything between 2 and 6%. As a spice, aniseed has a strong, pleasant odour with a flavour similar to mild liquorice. It is the anethole oil in aniseed which accounts for that sweet liquorice taste. Both the leaves and the seeds have this flavouring.
In Europe and the Middle East, this flavouring is used in breads, cakes and other confectionary items. In India it is used in curry and seafood dishes and in South East Asia it is used in a variety of dishes. It is also used to flavour alcoholic drinks such as Pastis in France and Ouzo in Greece an used in many liqueurs and cordials, not to mention toothpastes and mouthwashes. In Turkey a popular alcoholic drink called ‘raki ‘ is made from the seeds.
In ancient times, the oil was revered by the Romans Egyptians and Greeks. The Romans used it in a spicy cake known as ‘mustaceus’ and the Egyptians in their bread. As for the Greeks, they used it for calming the digestive tract.
It is important that great care is taken when transporting Aniseed as the essential oil content can be substantially reduced if exposed to high temperatures. The oil is extracted by steam distillation from the seeds so it is important that the quality is maintained in terms of the odour and flavour.
Aniseed does not cause contamination but is sensitive to dust, dirt, fats and oils! Aniseed has many uses including the following; antiseptic. a ntispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic, insecticide and laxative.
However, as in it’s oil format, aniseed is very potent. The anethole content can cause dermatitis and should be avoided by people who have skin problems. Furthermore, if larges doses are taken, it can slow down circulation and cause cerebral congestion. It is therefore, recommended that it be avoided during pregnancy.
Despite it’s potent effects, it can be used in the treatment of muscular aches and pains, rheumatism, bronchitis, whooping cough, colic, cramp, digestion problems, catarrh and hangovers. When inhaled, aniseed oil is useful in helping those suffering from asthma, colds and all breathing problems and also helps subside vomiting and nausea.
From a personal perspective, I use aniseed in some of my cooking. In particular I use it when making plain boiled rice and pilau rice and sometimes in baking cookies. The recipe below is of Aniseed Apricot Cookies. I hope you enjoy trying them out.
Recipe of the Month:
Aniseed Apricot Cookies
3 Eggs Separated
1/2 to 3/4 cup brown sugar (add more to taste, if preferred)
1 1/3 cup of gluten free flour
1/3 teaspoon of gluten free Baking powder
1 1/3 teaspoon of ground aniseed
1/4 cup of finely chopped dried apricots
Method: Grease and lightly flour baking trays Beat the egg yolks and then add the sugar and salt. Beat thoroughly until the mixture is pale in colour Beat the egg whites until stiff (as if making meringues) and then fold into the egg yolk mixture Sift the flour, baking powder, apricots and aniseed into the egg mixture and fold in well. Fill a pastry bag with the mixture or if you don’t have a pastry bag, spoon the mixture onto the baking tray into small round circles. Let the baking trays stand overnight so that the mixture can dry out. Preheat oven to 325F/180C. Bake the cookies for 20 mins Cool on rack and then enjoy!!
Back next month with more from Naz ! If you have any suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org . Feedback is always encouraged.
Bye for now.