star anise: 6 posts

Uzvar : Ukrainian Spiced Fruit Compote

On January 6th my house smells like dried apricots and honey. It’s the Orthodox Christmas Eve, which in Ukrainian is called Svyata Vecherya, the Holy Supper, and two dishes central to it are kutya and uzvar. I have written about kutya already, but uzvar deserves special mention, because this spiced fruit compote is not only delicious, it has a heady perfume.

uzvar1

Uzvar is not only paired with kutya for the Ukrainian Christmas and Easter, it’s a favorite winter dessert in my family. It’s simple, healthy and can be varied based on what’s available in the cupboard. I can still picture my great-grandfather, Sergiy, laying out sliced apricots to dry on the roof of the garden shed and smoking plums over cherry wood. “For uzvar in the winter,” he would say, while turning the dark, jammy fruit.

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Autumn in Brussels : Pork Loin with Peaches and Thyme

Autumn here in Belgium begins overnight. After the short interlude of an Indian summer, you wake up to an overcast, gray day and feel that the clouds are only a few inches above your head. The roses might still be in full bloom, the daytime temperature is still comfortable, but you already know that the rainy season is here. It’s telling that in the old Bruxellois dialect, there are numerous words for rain. It can be a delicate mist that looks innocuous but soaks you to the bone within minutes. It can be a lashing, cold rain that makes umbrellas obsolete, or it might just be a nagging drizzle that makes me feel sad for no particular reason and ponder the wisdom of bears that go into hibernation for the winter.

Since the winter here is nine months long, hibernation isn’t really an option. I’ve learned to do all of my chores on foot and shop at the open air markets which are run year round in each neighborhood, rain or shine. Brussels is made up of 19 communes, and if you love markets, you can explore different areas of the city based on your specific shopping needs. On Saturday, you can pour over the antique books at the market held at the Place du Sablon. On Sunday, you can buy spices and vegetables at the sprawling le Marché du Midi or walk along Rue de Brabant and feel as if you’re in Morocco. While les grandes surfaces (supermarkets) offer stiff competition, the vibrancy of the open air markets even on the dreariest of days is appealing.

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Candied Orange Peel (Pierre Herme Recipe) : Star Anise and Vanilla

Candied peel2

The Sugar Plum Fairy bade Marie and Nutcracker sit down while a feast was brought before them: teas, cakes and the rarest of fruits. The food was the feast, first for the eyes, then for the palate… Marie hardly had time to nibble at her sweetmeats before the next diversion was presented: the music abruptly changed to an adagio tempo. Arabian dancers dressed in gauzy veils garnished with gold medallions and jewels swayed hypnotically past… The rich aroma of coffee drifted past.  –from E.T.A Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

The last days of each year are invariably orange hued for me: an evening spent peeling the stubborn orange peel with orange stained fingers and tossing the curls into the fire; the delicious icy chill of mandarins brought home from an outdoor winter market; the vanilla-orange sweetness of vin d’orange and slender orangettes dipped in chocolate. As I set the ingredients to make candied orange peel, I am once again a little girl watching her grandmother making this confection. To prevent me getting near the boiling sugar syrup, I would be given a large illustrated volume of E.T.A Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. To this day, the scent of oranges conjures visions of fairy kingdoms, groves made of candied fruit and coffee scented dancers.

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Dry Perfume for Gingerbread : Spice Blends

For some people the frankincense and myrrh of Christmas high mass evoke the memories of holidays, but for me these memories are evoked by the smell of spices. In the Soviet Ukraine of my childhood, the New Year’s Eve celebration replaced the religious holiday and turned Christmas traditions into customs with which to usher in the new year. The children on the other side of border received their presents from Santa Claus on December 25th but my present was delivered on Jan 1st by the socialist Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) whose red nose and coterie of pretty Snowmaidens gave him a decidedly rakish air.
spices-gingerbread-sm
As much as I was looking forward to the excitement of opening the gifts, I was even more excited to help with the holiday baking. The moment my grandmother reached for her box of spices it was a clear sign that we were going to fashion flour and sugar into something special—crisp gingerbread, honey and walnut cakes layered with lemony sour cream filling, cinnamon flavored poppyseed strudels, flaky millefeuille with vanilla custard… The words ‘special’ and ‘spices’ share the same root in most languages for a very good reason—spices are indeed exceptional in the  fragrant potential they contain. Even now, when I can easily find any spice and no longer have to ration my use of vanilla or saffron, I am just as moved by their fragrance as I was as a child.

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Lagman Uzbek Lamb and Noodle Soup Recipe

Lagman

When zeera, or black cumin, hits hot oil, the scent that rises up is complex and rich. It hovers above the sizzling pan as a warm cloud, woody, crisp, with sweet clove and leather undertones. Bunium persicum or black cumin is a plant in the same wonderful family, the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae, that gives us carrot, parsley, cumin, coriander, dill, caraway, fennel, parsnip, celery, and Queen anne’s lace among others. Its black slender crescents are similar to both caraway and cumin, but the flavor bears only a slight resemblance to either.

Lacking the intense animalic note of regular white cumin (Cuminum cyminum) and the musty darkness of caraway (Carum carvi), black cumin has an elegant flavor, possessing a hot sweetness and mineral chill. It has a natural affinity for meat, cruciferous vegetables, onions, garlic, and acidic vegetable-fruit like eggplant and tomato. It is able to refine their flavors, while retaining its own unique character. Black cumin in widely used in Afghani, Pakistani and North Indian cooking, but it is Uzbek cuisine that truly extols black cumin. The Uzbek palette of flavors is bold, yet streamlined, which makes their dishes very memorable. In perfumery, black cumin can be found in fragrances such as Idole de Lubin, Cerruti 1881 Black and Kiss Him by Kiss.

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  • Liliane Oyen in Blue Butterfly Pea Flower Tea: Wow this is great. Thank you for dealing this article. It’s amazing! Can you also teach us/me how to buy this? February 27, 2017 at 5:06pm

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