PORTFOLIO

Alchemy

Category: Video Episodes

About This Episode

We're going to mix things up with this episode about the incredible variety of delicious, surprising and beneficial flavors with which nature beguiles us. Explore ancient dishes with special meanings, or just experience the new sensations that show up on your plate.

But this gift of herbs, spices and pungent roots is much more than just the flavors. It's nature's pharmacy. With well-educated guidance and reliable purity, the use of plant-based medicines can enhance, even repair, our health immeasurably. Our bodies have evolved to use the chemical compounds in many herbs in ways that complement our own natural chemistry. Scientific studies have been confirming that many traditional uses for herbs are more than hearsay – they really work.

About

The People

Huma Siddiqui brings a tremendously varied life to her cooking, starting with her childhood in Pakistan. There, she would visit the markets and meet the farmers who grew the food her family ate. When she moved to Wisconsin in 1995 she brought with her a unique collection of food traditions, learned not only in her native land but in Libya and England where she had lived. Now, Huma owns White Jasmine, an online and catalogue company that sells traditional spices, her signature custom spice blends, and small-batch, hormone-free cheeses. She also shows off her love of food, and shares her talent for preparing it, on a weekly television show in Madison, WI. Visit the White Jasmine website for more about Huma and spices, and some delicious recipes. http://www.whitejasmine.com/

 

Jane Hawley Stevens has become an expert in all things herbal, from the growing and preparation of organic and wild-grown plants, to their benefits to nearly everything our bodies need and do.  In this episode, Jane talks not only about her organic farm and its herbs, but also the ways in which the plants have enhanced her family’s health and wellbeing.

 

Dr. Ruddy is a board-certified naturopathic physician in Madison, WI. After initially working in molecular biology, he began six years of education and clinical rotation at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. In this episode, Dr. Ruddy talks about how plant based medicine works harmoniously with our entire bodies, and about scientific studies that have confirmed the real benefits of plant-based medicine. http://drruddy.com/

 

The Places

Four Elements Organic Herbals is nestled in the Baraboo Bluffs of southwestern Wisconsin. Certified organic since 1990, the farm, prairie and forests on the 130-acre property yield a tremendous abundance of medicinal plants. Using traditional and up-to-date methods and ideas, Jane Hawley Stevens creates salves, soaps, teas and tinctures, infused oils, perfumes and lotions. With husband David Stevens, Jane manages the property with same care for the environment as for the customers of Four Elements. You can find much more, and browse the products, at http://www.fourelementsherbals.com/

 

In this episode, Huma Siddiqui cooks up a aromatic, spicy and utterly delicious stir-fry in the Community Room kitchen at Willy Street Co-op West, in Middleton, WI. The Co-op sponsors all sorts of interesting activities and workshops. From cooking, preserving and fermentation, to herbal classes and local food samplings, here anyone in the community can stop by to enjoy, learn and mingle. Here’s a calendar for both the East and West locations: http://www.willystreet.coop/prepare/calendar

The Food

The Science of Cooking – Hard Spices in Oil

Huma adds the cloves and cinnamon stick at the beginning, dropping them into the oil as is heating. That brings out the essential oils in both of these spices, making  them the base of the flavor profile of this beautiful stir-fry. This cooking technique is common in most cultures in the east. You will find this in dishes from India, Persia, Turkey, all of the cultures from Black and Caspian Seas eastward. The combination of what we think of as sweet spices used in desserts with savory spices is also part of this eastern cooking style. Huma brought it with her from her native Pakistan so we can all enjoy it, too.

 

Cinnamon is the bark and cloves are the buds of different small trees. To fully release the oils within them, to bring out their deepest flavor, cooking them in the oil for the stir-fry as it heats is ideal. Cinnamon, and to a lesser extent cloves, are familiar flavors to most of the world. With their volatile oils released at the beginning of the cooking, the flavors blend with the fundamental flavors of the chicken and the garlic to make a subtle base for the Garam spices added later in the cooking.

 

Huma’s Beautiful Chicken Spice Stir-Fry

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

4 whole cloves

4 cloves of garlic, mashed

1 lb. diced boneless chicken breast

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. tandoori masala

1 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. chili powder (adjust to desired heat level)

1 tsp. Garam masala

1 small white onion, in half slices

4  small ripe tomatoes

1 sweet red pepper, in strips

1 sweet orange pepper, in strips

1 cup of cilantro, rough mince

 

Warm oil in saute pan or heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. When oil is warmed a bit, toss in cinnamon stick and cloves. When spices are beginning to sizzle add chicken breast, salt and garlic. Stir fry until chicken is no longer pink. Add onion, tomato and both peppers. Continue to stir fry to incorporate and add both marsalas, turmeric and chili. Cook until chicken is thoroughly done and then add cilantro. Serve with rice.

 

The Science of Cooking – When to Add the Garlic

 

If you have a recipe that begins

“Heat oil till fragrant

Add garlic and onion . . .”

 

Don’t do it! Onion takes up to twice as long to cook as garlic. Too often garlic is overcooked or even burned. Its natural oils can then flavor dishes with a decidedly unsubtle taste and aroma that have given this most revered of all flavoring agents a bad name. Many chefs say that garlic is the one ingredient they would have a difficult time doing with out. As Huma does in this recipe, it is better to add the garlic with the meat to cook slowly in the meat juices instead of scorching it in the hot oil.

 

For Kids, Families and Teachers

The Spice Game

 

Spices and herbs don’t just take our taste buds on a never-ending tour of flavors. Their aromas are unmistakable and delightful, even meaningful, to the people who cook with them or use their oils therapeutically.

 

Identifying some of these smells, and connecting them with the plants and places they come from, can be a fun and educationally rich learning game. To start, try a blind smell test of these herbs and spices: cumin, cinnamon, vanilla bean, cloves, rosemary and mint. Get a sample of each and wrap it in tissue, so they’re easy to smell but can’t be seen.

 

Invite children to smell all of them, but separately, and tell them the name of each. Give them enough time to attach the names to the aromas.

 

Then, choose one and ask a child to identify it. When he or she does, you can move on to a short lesson about it, tailored to the child’s age and attention. For example, cloves are actually flower buds from a tree. The plant is native to Indonesia, but most cloves are harvested in a group of countries around the Indian Ocean, from India to Africa. There’s a great potential for lessons here – biology, geography, farming and history. And for more advanced children, chemistry and traditional medicine.

 

There are social and economic angles about spices to explore, too. When considering foods imported from developing countries, Fair Trade is an important concept to understand. Here’s a good opportunity for a lesson in ethics, and not just for kids.

Dig Deeper

Visit the Digging Deeper Blog

 

What Is Fair Trade and Why Does It Matter?

 

For centuries, traders have traveled to remote corners of the world, searched out mysterious islands and crossed great deserts to bring back twigs and tree bark, dried berries and the golden threads of lilies. Seen today in orderly rows in the grocery store, these once exotic and expensive items now seem so ordinary. They had the power to start wars, threaten the stability of kingdoms and be used as currency.

 

Spices and herbs are a part of our everyday cooking. Some folks have trouble remembering the names, but to knowledgeable chefs, spices are the epitome, the piece de resistance, that which makes the dish and excites the taste buds.

 

Anyone who has walked through the spice bazaars of the East knows how vast is the array of spices all over the world. Most home cooks think about the freshness of the spices they use (has this Allspice really been in the spice rack since 1978?). But increasingly, a far more important issue is whether the spices you are buying are sustainably grown and the workers fairly paid.

 

Here’s just one of many ways Fair Trade can make a big difference in people’s lives: Black Pepper is the most widely used spice in the world. (No, it’s not salt. Salt is actually a mineral). The market for black pepper is a good example of what happens in the spice world. There are only two, huge spice companies that dominate the market: McCormick’s and the much smaller Tone Brothers, a subsidiary of Associated British Foods. While the spice trade has become more and more concentrated, the spice producers continue to be many small growers, often spread out in remote areas.

 

Pepper producers have been receiving, at times, less money for their crop than it costs to grow it. There are huge fluctuations in the price at harvest, fluctuations in consumer demand, and increased competition from new producing areas. The price of black pepper on the world market today is less than it was in 1990. This price falls far short of covering farmer’s costs.

 

Today there are Fair Trade associations of spice producers who help the small growers by setting a Fairtrade Standard. Farmers who produce Fairtrade Standard products receive a Fairtrade price that covers the cost of sustainable production as well as a premium to invest in social and economic projects in their communities.

 

Frontier Co-op, which supplies Fair Trade spices to many co-ops in the United States has this to say about how you can make sure spice farmers get a fair price:

 

How Can You Support Fair Trade?

Americans live in the wealthiest nation in the world — and yet many of the foods and products we buy are produced by some of the world’s poorest people. To support Fair Trade and make sure that a portion of the money you spend is re-invested in a socially responsible, ethical way, you can:

Buy Fair Trade Certified™: There is no more powerful way to support Fair Trade than with the dollars you spend. When Fair Trade options are available, buy them — even if the price is a little higher.

* Share information: Discuss the issue and what you’ve learned with friends, family, co-workers and neighbors, and encourage them to support Fair Trade, too.

* Join together: There are numerous Fair Trade support organizations in operation across the country. Find one and join…or start one yourself. Encourage local grocers and retail business owners to support this movement by offering Fair Trade products in their stores. Learn more on the TransFair USA web site.

* Give Fair Trade gifts: Think of the number of gifts you give each year, for birthdays, weddings and other occasions. Then think about the impact you could have on craftsmen and artisans around the world if the gifts you gave were Fair Trade Certified™. And if the recipient of your gift isn’t aware of what Fair Trade means, he or she will receive two gifts — the one you gave, and the information you share.