Archive for the ‘Ingredients’ Category

Zanzibar – the Spice Island

July 31, 2009 - 10:12 pm 1 Comment

Zanzibar coast


As the plane comes in for landing in Zanzibar town the most magnificent view comes into sight.
The amazing waters off the Zanzibar coast - from the deepest blue to the clearest turquoise sea one can imagine - dotted with small wooden boats. Palm-fringed white sandy beaches, and inland whole forests of coconut and banana trees. Along the water´s edge the typical african style beach huts - in contrast to the ornate colonial palaces and grand stone structures of Zanzibar town.

Zanzibar spicesZanzibar. Just the name by itself evokes exotic images and sensations.
A tropical top destination for honeymooners, beach-seekers and backpackers, this island is a jewel thrown into the Indian ocean just off the east coast of Tanzania. With a romantic calm and laid back atmosphere it´s the perfect place to forget about work, stress and problems of everyday life at home.
Known for having been an important trade center for spices and slaves, its paradise beaches and coral reefs, its interesting blend of different cultures and architecture styles, and for being the birthplace of Queen´s Freddy Mercury.

Arab doorwayIn the Empire game, the Portuguese and British took turns at leaving a mark on Zanzibar, but it was traders from Arabia, and in particular Oman, who had the most enduring influence on the island - not least by introducing Islam, now practised by 95 percent of the people. The population of Zanzibar today is an interesting mix of people from Africa, the Arab states, indians and europeans among others. All living side by side - most of them sharing the same religion.

In the 19th century Zanzibar rose as the center of a vast and rich empire, based on trade in spices and slaves. For the Omanis Zanzibar had an excellent position for trade in the Indian ocean. One can imagine the traffic of ships loaded with ivory tusks, spices and slaves in the Zanzibar ports in its heyday.

Fresh cloves

Fresh cloves

The single most important export was cloves. The demand for cloves, was during a short but intense period extremely high and allowed for making huge profits.
The clove industry on Zanzibar was largely wiped out by a hurricane in 1872. Today the plantations on Zanzibar are mainly for the tourist trade, but on nearby Pemba island the clove crop is still of great export value.

An island being composed by that many different cultures will of course have a very interesting cuisine. And it´s clear that the Zanzibar cuisine has had a lot of different influences over the years. A melting pot of african produce, asian love for potent spice mixtures and arab techniques.

Zanzibar town marketEverywhere you go, the subtle perfumes lingering in the alleyways and backyards will reach you and hypnotize you. You just finished eating lunch, but funnily you feel hungry again… Garlic, ginger, chili, cardamom, curry, cinnamon, cloves. From kitchens and restaurants, a pot of boiling soup or an outside barbecue, so familiar but yet so exotic - there´s no escape from the magic scents that fills the air.

Pepper (Piper nigrum)
IMG_3165As for green, red and white and black pepper, all come from the same pepper berry. Green pepper is the freshly picked berry. For red pepper, the berry is left on the vine for one or two more months, where they turn red. The berries stay red when dried.
And for white pepper? The red berries are picked, soaked in water and the outer husk is removed. As the berries dry, they turn white.
Black pepper is the still unripe green pepper berry, picked and given a quick boil in water, then dried. The outer green layer, shrinks and darkens.
Which pepper is the hottest? That would be the green pepper, according to our guide, followed by white, then black. Red is the mildest.

Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
IMG_3324This spice, named after the French word “clou” for nail, comes from the flowering nail-shaped buds.
The tree matures after about 8 years, and after that it can be harvested twice a year for about 50 years.
Harvesting is done by hand by pickers climbing the trees, gathering the small buds in baskets made of coconut leaves.
The cloves are dried for three to four days on mats in the sun, the buds turn a dark brown color and the spice is ready for use or sale.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

This very common spice widely used around the world is actually the bark of the cinnamon tree. It has a incredibly long history used as perfume, medicine and spice. This tree is indigenous to Sri Lanka and that´s also where the biggest cultivation of cinnamon is to be found these days.
After the rainy season the smaller shoots of the tree are stripped of their bark. These sheets of bark are then put overlapping to dry in the sun. As the bark dries it will automatically curl up in the form of a cinnamon stick. The sticks are then cut to the right size. The small pieces and flakes that falls of during the process is then ground into cinnamon powder.
The people of Zanzibar does not only use the bark though, the whole plant can be used for different purposes. The leaves can be used fresh or dried in cooking and tea. The stems can be burnt as incense to give the house a nice perfume and keep mosquitoes away.

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
IMG_3125-3- is the seed of an evergreen tree native to the Molucca Islands. The tree produces 2 spices, both Nutmeg and mace, and grows up to 60 feet tall. Although the tree takes seven years to bear fruit, it may produce until the 90th year. Both spices come from the tree’s small yellow apple-like fruit(can be used to make jams), which splits into a red outer membrane, mace, and an inner brown seed, Nutmeg.
The spice has a wide variety of uses, apart from being used in sweet and savory cuisine around the world, the nutmeg oil also has some therapeutic uses.

Other spices present on Zanzibar are among others - ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, vanilla, annatto, cardamom, tamarind, menthol and ylang-ylang.

Cocoa pod

Cocoa pod



Rambutan & Cinnamon

Rambutan & Cinnamon

Banana tea

Banana tea





Mexican mole my way - Chocoholic

January 15, 2009 - 12:56 am 5 Comments

By something or someone, the other day, I was reminded of one time when I was backpacking around in Mexico. 20 years old, fresh out of school, taking the first steps out of known boundaries to explore the world.


Braised beef in mole poblano, artichokes "alla romana" in almond puff pastry, artichoke salad, tomato skin - Manzo brasato in salsa mole, carciofi alla romana in pasta sfoglia con mandorle, insalata di carciofi, pelle di pomodoro

Many of the smaller things you forget about the travels - the hard parts and dark moments are especially easy to bury. But there are also moments and things, might even be small ones, that end up as life-changing memories which you keep dear and never forget.
I had learnt spanish (something that REALLY made things easier travelling around a country where few people out of bigger cities or tourist destinations spoke english) and I spoke it well. (Although I spoke the “posh” Spain-version of the language and at times had to stand being laughed at…)
That day I had arrived with the bus to the city of Puebla from Oaxaca - a 5 hour bus ride (not very comfortable but with great views). I found myself a really shitty hotel (perfect backpacker style) and started the exploration of the city. By some tips I picked up along the way, I soon understood where to go that evening to have my tipical Puebla dinner - Mole Poblano. It´s a dark thick sauce made out of innumerable ingredients of which the most prominent ones are dried chili, nuts and seeds, spices and cacao.
It´s said to have been invented by the nuns at the Santa Rosa convent in Puebla for a visiting archbishop.
That same night I arrived at the restaurant I had been recommended. I sat down, and well, didn´t pay much attention to the menu since it was already obvious what I was going to order. Turkey in Mole Poblano - Mole poblano de guajolote. Having heard much about I obviously had set my expectations high.
When I sat there and had my first bit of the dish, something happened. img_7448-2Magic. I was for a moment paralyzed while my mind raced.
This rich, dark, dense sauce full with spices and subtle notes (and CHOCOLATE!), together with tender turkey meat made images flash in my mind…aztecs, spanish conquistadores, nuns, music and dancing, fireworks, mexican tradition, the country´s history…
I´ve had nothing quite like it. I was transported into another space, while time stood still.
When I finished my dish, I felt like I wanted to have another ride on the roller coaster!
For a long time after that evening I couldn´t stop thinking about that wonderful dish and everything that came with it. A food experience I will never forget.

There are of course many recipes for mole poblano, this is just one.

Mole Poblano:

5 dried ancho chilies
4 dried pasilla chilies
2 dried chipotle chilies
200 ml chicken stock
100 g almonds
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 cloves of garlic
50 g raisins
30 g pumpkin seeds
4 cloves
10 coriander seeds, crushed
1 little piece of cinnamon
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (reserve 2 teaspoons for serving)
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
25 g dark chocolate or 1 1/2 tablespoons cacao powder
freshly ground pepper
100 ml vegetable oil

Start with cleaning the chilies by removing stems and seeds and split them in two lengthwise. Heat half of the oil in a heavy frying pan until it shimmers. Fry the chilies until they are crisp, about 10 seconds, turning once - make sure they do not burn. Drain on a piece of paper. Put the chilies in a bowl, cover with hot water, and set aside for 30 minutes. Drain the chilies, reserving the water. Puree the chilies in a blender with enough of the soaking water to make a smooth paste. Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan and sautee the onions. Then add the almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds and let them sautee for about 1 minute. Add the spices, the garlic and the raisins. Continue sauteeing while stirring a couple of times. Add the tomatoes. After a couple of minutes on medium heat, transfer the mixture to a blender and grind it finely. Then return it to the pan. Add the pureed chilies, the chocolate and the chicken stock. Let simmer on low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring now and then taking care not to let it burn. The mole should be a very thick sauce, but if it becomes too thick with risk of scorching on the bottom of the pan, add a little more stock or water. Now the mole is ready.
Traditionally served with turkey or chicken, but is lovely also with pork or even beef.
An example of serving with chicken - Take a whole chicken (or one that has been split up in pieces). In a pan with lid, large enough to hold the chicken, sautee chopped onions, one chopped carrot, one chopped stalk of celery, one whole peeled garlic clove, some fresh thyme and a bay leaf. Put the chicken in. Fill up with water or even better chicken stock. Put a couple of pinches of salt in there. Put the lid on, bring to a boil and the turn the heat down to low. Boil the chicken gently for 30 minutes in the covered pan. Then turn off the heat and let the chicken sit in the liquid for another 30 minutes without removing the lid. Remove it from the liquid, cut it up and put the pieces in the saucepan with the mole sauce. Simmer in the sauce for 5-10 minutes. For serving, sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Tomato skin

Rolled sandwiches in swedish flatbread

November 23, 2008 - 9:13 pm 3 Comments

The sandwiches are made with a type of soft swedish flatbread, “Tunnbröd”. It works pretty much like a soft mexican tortilla, put all the good stuff in there, wrap it up and enjoy! This white bread is quite light and on the sweet side. It´s a bit more delicate than a mexican tortilla.

rolled sandwiches in swedish flat bread

I made two different sandwiches, and both of them received very good reviews!
The one to the left is filled with smoked goose breast (of course smoked duck breast would work just as well), pan fried panisse sticks, rucola, basil, roasted red pepper and a sour cream sauce.
The one on the right is filled with marinated salmon (gravlax), dill, toasted sesame seeds, red chicory and 3 types of green salad, carrots and a sweet sauce of date balsamic vinegar.


I panini sono fatti con un tipo di pane sottile morbido svedese, “Tunnbröd”. Si puo usare questo pane in una manera simile alle tortillas messicane, riempire con tutte le buone cose, arrotolare - ecco fatto!

Ho fatto due panini, e tutte due sono molto apprezzati!
Il panino alla sinistra e riempito con petto di oca affumicato (ovviamente si puo anche usare petto di anatra affumicato), bastoni di panisse (simile a una farinata di ceci - francese pero!) rosolati in padella, rucola, basilico, peperoni arrosto e panna acida.
Alla destra il panino con salmone marinato (gravlax), aneto, semi di sesamo tostati, radicchio e 3 tipi di insalate verde, carota e una salsa dolce di aceto balsamico di datteri.