Herbie tells all in his spice and herb bible
The thing about being an expert is, you come with a lot of baggage. Knowledge baggage, that is. Such is the case with Australian Ian Hemphill, a herb and spices expert.
And thus, with regular use of his book, Spice & Herb Bible (with recipes by his daughter Kate Hemphill), one could develop a nicely toned forearm — it’s almost 800 pages and weighs about three pounds.
The spirited Hemphill was nicknamed Herbie in childhood, owing to his parents running “a legal herb business.” He says many Australians are open to trying new things. “Many cultures are bound by tradition. In Australia’s short history, there have been migrations of Italians, Greeks, Vietnamese, Indians, Fijians, folks from the Middle East and people brought their herbs and spices. When something new is introduced, we say ‘Give it a go, mate.’ It has a short culinary history so there aren’t traditions to break through.”
The Australian aboriginals used herbs and spices medicinally rather than for cooking.
His book introduces you to 97 of the most commonly used spices and herbs, although I don’t know how many of you have akudjura, alexanders, amchur, angelica, amchur, asafetida or annatto seeds in your cupboard.
Hemphill, who now runs Her-
Indian Butter Chicken
This rich, lavish curry, which originated in Delhi in the 1950s. The ingredient list is very long but it is not a difficult recipe to make. And you will be well-rewarded for your efforts when you taste it.
Butter Chicken Spice Blend 2 brown cardamom pods 2½ tsp (12 mL) sweet paprika 1 tsp (5 mL) ground cumin 1 tsp (5 mL) ground coriander seeds
½ tsp (2 mL) ground ginger
½ tsp (2 mL) ground cinnamon ½ tsp (2 mL) ground fenugreek seeds ½ tsp (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper ½ tsp (1 mL) ground mediumhot chili (see tips) ¼ tsp (1 mL) ground green cardamom seeds ¼ tsp (1 mL) ground caraway seeds
Curry 1½ cups (375 mL) plain yogurt 6 skinless boneless chicken breasts
2 tbsp (30 mL) tomato sauce bie’s Spices, a herb and spice shop in Sydney called one of the world’s best spice shops by Food & Wine magazine, explained the difference between a herb and a spice. (You can buy his spice blends through a Canadian distributor at savouryspices.ca.)
“Herbs are the leafy part of a plant, like cilantro, basil and parsley. Spices are any other part of the plant — the buds, bark, berries, seeds, pods, even the stigma of a flower like saffron. Spices make up a very big group. The perception is that spices are hot, but it’s not all about heat. Many have little or no flavour when first harvested, but naturally occurring enzymes change 1 tbsp (15 mL) palm sugar or packed light brown sugar the flavour when dried.”
The vanilla bean, for example, has no flavour or aroma when harvested and cures for 28 days, during which time it’s handled 200 to 250 times.
“It’s extremely labour intensive,” says Hemphill. And that explains why a vanilla bean costs so much.
The difference between dried and fresh herbs is as dramatic as a sun-dried tomato and a fresh tomato. “Sugars caramelize during drying,” he explains.
Ground and whole spices have completely different shelf lives.
“Spices get their flavour from volatile oils. When they’re whole, it’s stable and encapsulated and if you keep it airtight, it can last three years maintaining flavour, but the oils gradually oxidize and the flavour is less fresh,” he says. But once ground, spices last 12 to 18 months, so he advises buying infrequently used spices whole (like cloves) and grind as needed. The best way to gauge freshness of ground spice is to smell them.
And, he says, don’t shake ground herbs or spices over a steaming pan.
“Even a small amount of moisture will accelerate deterioration,” he says. Fresh herbs shouldn’t be cooked longer than 15 minutes or, in some cases, cooked at all. The rule of thumb with dried herbs is to use a quarter to a third of the amount used if fresh. Oh, and if you have a peppercorn blend with pink berries, be wary.
Using mortar and pestle, roughly grind brown cardamom pods. Transfer to a small bowl and add paprika, cumin, coriander seed, ginger, cinnamon, fenugreek, pepper, ground chili, green cardamom seeds and caraway. Mix well.
Curry: In a resealable bag, mix yogurt and half of the prepared spice blend, reserving remain- ing half. Add chicken, seal, and turn to coat chicken thoroughly. Refrigerate overnight.
Place oven rack in highest position. Preheat broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Remove chicken from marinade, keeping as much marinade as possible on the chicken (discard excess marinade).
Place chicken on prepared baking sheet and broil for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until chicken is cooked through and well-browned.
“I reckon 50 per cent of pepper mills are thrown out because the pink peppercorn releases oils and clogs the mechanism. In fact, it’s not a true peppercorn. The only true one is stored in brine to prevent the activation of an enzyme that will turn it black. We’ve never ever found a way to dry them. It comes from a tree in Brazil not related to pepper in any way.”
At his shop, Hemphill’s spice blends can contain up to 30 spices.
“People think it would be a dog’s breakfast,” he says but it’s a balancing act of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami, he says.
He thinks of spices as falling into five categories: sweet (eg. cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla), tangy (capers, sumac, tamarind), pungent (cloves, cardamom, dill, ginger, mace), hot (chili, mustard, black pepper) and amalgamating (coriander seed, fennel seed). The latter, he says, helps to bring flavours together.
Only a pinch of a pungent spice like clove is needed, but it adds brightness and life. “Without it, it’s dull,” says Hemphill. And this just in: clove loves tomato.
“Crush a basil leaf and think of cloves. They’ve got the same volatile oil. Just a pinch of cloves complements tomatoes beautifully. It’s an amazing thing.”
Hemphill isn’t just passionate about herbs and spices, he says.
“It doesn’t describe it. I am obsessive. The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is to learn.”
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine reserved spice blend, tomato sauce, sugar, curry powder, ground almonds, tomato paste, chutney and garam masala.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt ghee. Add cumin and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add onions and garlic and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, until onions are softened. Stir in prepared tomato sauce mixture, bring to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add cooked chicken, along with pan drippings, and stir to coat well. Stir in coconut milk, cream, coriander leaves and salt to taste. Simmer gently, uncovered, until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Garnish with additional coriander leaves. Serve with basmati rice.
Tips: Ground Kashmiri chili is medium-hot and you can find it at most Indian markets at varying levels of heat.
Ghee is a type of clarified butter used in Indian cooking. If you don’t have any, you can substitute an equal amount of butter or clarified butter.
The spice blend can be made up to a week ahead and stored in an airtight container.
Makes 6 servings
After celebrating the 25th anniversary of the event last year, organizers are breathing new life into Christmas in November this time around, bringing in new personalities and seminars.
Among the changes is the addition of celebrity chef Lynn Crawford, who stars in the Food Network Canada show Pitchin’ In and has made guest appearances on the cancelled Top Chef Canada.
“She’s a great personality,” says Markus Treppenhauer, the lodge’s general manager.
“She is down to earth, approachable, wants to talk to people.”
What sets Christmas in November apart from other holiday-geared events is that it’s small enough that people do have a chance to spend time with the presenters outside of their demonstrations, says Treppenhauer.
“It’s evolved to the point during the reception, in dinners, they all make time to talk.
“That’s what makes Christmas in November unique.”
For Crawford, the only answer when asked if she wanted to join this year was “absolutely.”
“It has the reputation of being the place to be to start the Christmas celebrations,” she says.
“I’ve had the opportunity to do other festivals, but this is special. It’s the kick off to the holidays.”
Christmas is the time to celebrate food, friends and family, Crawford says.
This event is also about those things.
“To me, it’s about having fun and being in a fantastic place and just having a good laugh and fostering new friendships and sharing really great food,” Crawford says.
At the same time, the Jasper Park Lodge is bringing in more presenters from Calgary, capitalizing on the growing interest from those in the city making the trip to Jasper.
“There’s more peopl e f ro m Calgary t han ever,” says Treppenhauer.
About one-quarter of those attending this year will be from Calgary — the most of any year the event has been held.
“We’re making an effort. This is one of t he best f ood a nd wine events; we want to expose more people to it,” says Treppenhauer.
Cookbook author and food blogger Julie Van Rosendaal is back for her 14th year at the event, joined again by Top Chef Canada competitor and Alice Eats co-author Pierre Lamielle.
Michael Allemeier, a chef instructor at SAIT, is also returning.
New this time are Charcut’s Connie DeSousa and John Jackson.
“We wanted to work with Charcut this year,” says Treppenhauer. “We really wanted to have some of the favourite restaurants in Calgary (represented).”
Van Rosendaal says it’s great to see Calgary names on the roster to balance out the big names from Toronto — including celebrity chefs Bob Blumer and Corbin Tomaszeski this year — as well as locals from Edmonton.
“It’s a good sign there are so many fantastic, well-known chefs in Calgary that they want to have out as presenters,” she says.
She adds Calgarians are t he perfect audience for an event like this.
“We love unique experiences and it’s different from any event I’ve done anywhere,” she says.
The lodge, nestled into the forest and edging onto Lac Beauvert, is the ideal spot for an event like Christmas in November.
“Everything is on site and there’s no reason to leave the grounds, giving guests a chance to really escape.
“It’s so unique because of the location,” says Van Rosendaal.
Treppenhauer says he’s surprised to find every time he visits Calgary that he hears from people who said they’ve never been to Jasper, only Banff and Lake Louise.
Many people connect Jasper more closely with Edmonton, but the time on the road to get there from both Alberta’s major cities is about the same.
Also, Van Rosendaal notes, it’s one of the most beautiful drives as the highway carves its way north through the mountains.
“It’s part of the selling point,” she says.
Ian Hemphill whips up a few dishes while promoting the latest edition of his book, which introduces readers to 97 herbs and spices.
1 tbsp (15 mL) medium-heat curry powder, such as Madras 1 tbsp (15 mL) ground almonds 1 tbsp (15 mL) tomato paste 1 tbsp (15 mL) tomato or mango chutney or mango pickle 2 tsp (10 mL) garam masala 1 tbsp (15 mL) ghee (see tips) 1 tbsp ground cumin...
The Spice & Herb Bible, Third Edition by Ian Hemphill and Kate Hemphill.