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Cookbooks: Nothing bland about ‘The Spice Kitchen’

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Layout 1“The Spice Kitchen,” ($29.95, Interlink Books) by Michal Haines, might be one of the most tempting cookbooks to be published this year.

The recipes sizzle with flavors that we think of as exotic, and indeed, spice expert Haines has included a glossary in “The Spice Kitchen” that is evocative reading all by itself.  She explains the difference between cassia and cinnamon, which are similar but the reddish cassia is more potent in flavor.  She describes the black limes originally from Southeast Asia, but also used in Middle Eastern cooking.  These limes have been boiled in salt water, then dried, and in the process develop a tangy flavor all their own.

Even a simple dish, such as North African Sunshine Chicken, a relatively fast meal to make, is loaded with spice, from the 18 cardamom seeds to the peppercorns, mace and cinnamon. At the end of the frying, orange blossom water is drizzled over the completed dish. No, not your everyday fried chicken recipe.

I might serve the Watermelon, Cumin Seed and Feta Salad as a first course. Pistachio seeds and arugula offer mild-and-sharp tastes to contrast with the more delicate watermelon.

From “mezze” (small tastes) to desserts, and even drinks, Haines doesn’t miss a chance to extend her spice knowledge to recipe enthusiasts. If you know an adventurous cook, this book would make them a fine Christmas or birthday gift.

North African Sunshine Chicken

18 cardamom pods, crushed to remove seeds
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 mace blade
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 oranges

4 chicken thighs
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil for frying
2 tablespoons orange water

Using a mortar and pestle, grind the cardamom seeds with the garlic, salt, peppercorns, mace and cinnamon. Add a little orange juice to make a paste, then transfer to a bowl and add the rest of the juice and zest.

Add chicken to the paste, mixing well  so that all the meat is covered, then allowing to marinate at least 4 hours or overnight.

When it’s time to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place an oven-safe dish in the oven to heat. Heat grapeseed oil in a frying pan until very hot. Sear the chicken thighs for about 4 minutes on each side or until they are well browned.

Transfer the chicken to the hot dish and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the juices run clear when a knife is inserted close to the joint. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 3-5 minutes  to cool to an easy eating temperature. Pour the orange blossom water over the chicken and serve it with a simple salad.

Serves 2-4

From “The Spice Kitchen” by Michal Haines

[amazon-product]1566567548[/amazon-product]Watermelon, Cumin Seed and Feta Salad
1/2 large watermelon, rind cut off, seeded and cut into thin slices
1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
2 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds
7 ounces dry sheep’s milk feta, finely sliced
1 bunch arugula
4 tablespoons toasted pistachio kernels
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together, gently, in a large bowl except for the oil and pepper, and reserving a few of the cumin seeds and pistachio kernels to sprinkle on top. Drizzle the oil over, then scatter over the remaining seeds and kernels along with some black pepper.

Serves 3-4

From “The Spice Kitchen,” by Michal Haines

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