Belladonna Bess

An edible garden in Wellington, NZ

Weird and wonderful ingredients October 13, 2012

Filed under: Cooking — belladonnabess @ 6:31 pm
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I made good use of yesterday’s less than lovely weather, and rummaged around the wonderful food shops of Petone in the company of five other members of the Fusions Food and Cooking Club. We were on a mission to find weird and wonderful ingredients – things we’d never used before to give us a bit of a challenge.

I think my intent was to buy one or two things, but I ended up with a bit more. Here’s my list:

  • ajawain or ajwain. A seed used as a spice in India and the near east. It’s in the Apiaceae, along with caraway, coriander, cumin, dill etc. For those who care about such things, it’s Trachyspermum ammi. The seeds taste rather like thyme. I’m looking forward to trying this one, since I often use thyme in my curries anyway (it’s a taste combination I picked up in Mauritius).
  • black cardamom. I tasted this at the curry workshop I attended, but have never used it. It’s a member of the ginger family (like green cardamom), in the genus¬†Amomum. Unlike green cardamom, it isn’t used in sweet dishes, just savory.
  • kala jeera or black cumin. Another member of the Apiacea, this time Bunium persicum. I’m not sure how to describe the taste, apart from very bitter and rather weird. It appears in the cuisines of northern India through to Iran and seems to be quite specifically regional.
  • kokum or kokam. The dried skin of mangosteen (Garcinia indica). I bought it on the basis that it looked extremely strange but had a faint but pleasant smell. It seems to be used in quite specific regional cuisines in India and is supposed to be sour, sometimes used in place of tamarind. I tried it in dal last night and although it wasn’t one of my best efforts (I had some other ingredients out of balance) I think I could detect the influence of its flavour.
  • sumac. I’ve heard the name, but I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten it or tasted it. I haven’t been cooking any Middle Eastern food recently, but I’ll have a go at some stage. I find the idea of sumac a little disconcerting, as it is a species of Rhus. Until a taxonomic reclassification as the entirely appropriate Toxicodendron, Rhus¬†was the genus that contained things like poison ivy and various other highly irritant plants. But the family Apicaeae also contains hemlock, and that doesn’t stop me enjoying carrots, celery, parsley and a good number of very tasty spices.
  • sago. My mother occasionally cooked this as a dessert, but I’ve never cooked it.
  • buckwheat seeds. I’m sure buckwheat is used in a range of places, but this particular packet came from Poland. I’m thinking that I might be able to cook up the seeds as a base for some kind of salad.
  • millet. This is cheating a bit, since I’ve eating puffed millet and millet flour, but not the whole grains. No idea what they are like or what to do with them, since the packet is entirely in Russian. The only way I worked out what it was is that there was a label in German that I managed to translate via Google.
  • Pandan flavouring. No idea what this is going to taste like. Pandan (the leaves of Pandanus plants) seem to be widely used in South-East Asian cuisine, but I’ve really got no idea what I’m going to do with this little jar of flavouring. But it was cheap so worth a try.
  • squid ink. Two tiny sachets of the stuff – I don’t know how keen on it I’ll be. But you never know, maybe someone will invite me to a Halloween party and I’ll be able to make black pasta!

For the other participants of the weird and wonderful ingredients day, feel free to list your purchases in the comments section. I’ll need to approve you the first time you post, so it won’t show up immediately sorry.

Here’s my haul. Rather smaller and a bit more expensive than my “live below the line” collection.