Sunday, January 27, 2008

Round Table Review - Where Flavor Was Born

My email and instant messaging program have been working overtime this past month, for fun and exciting reasons. Thanks to Sia over at The Lisa Ekus Group I've been having a great time organizing the first Round Table Review. What's that? Well 4 fellow food bloggers (Mike ofMel's Diner, Lis of La Mia Cucina, Mary from The Sour Dough and Deborah of What's In My Kitchen) and I reviewed a cookbook together. We cooked exactly the same recipes, shared our thoughts and ideas with each other along the way, and now we're ready to share the end results with you!

The book we reviewed is called "Where Flavor Was Born: Recipes and Culinary Travels Along the Indian Ocean Spice Route" by Andreas Viestad, Photographs by Mette Randem.

This is a big, bold book full of vibrant colors and textures. There are 14 categories of spice - Cumin, Simply Spicy, Pepper, Ginger, Chiles, Cardamom, Curries, Coriander, Turmeric, Lemongrass, Tamarind, Nutmeg & Cloves, Vanilla, Cinnamon - as well as well as sources to purchase spices from, a chart of scoville units (the heat of peppers) and further readings. Each section begins with a story from Mr. Viestad, related to the spice of the chapter. The stories are as intriguing as the recipes themselves. Just as important to this book are the photographs by Mette Randem. As well as pictures of the food (although not every recipe has a photo) there are pictures of the spices themselves, and sensational pictures the people, places and things related to the spices and recipes. It took all my self control not to start ripping pages out of the book so I could frame and hang these amazing images all over the house.

We all made lists of the recipes we wanted to try, then narrowed it down to 6. They were:
Fresh Yogurt Cucumber Soup with Coriander and Cumin
Stuffed Onions with Ginger and Lamb
Entrecote with Onion, Ginger and Tamarind
Grilled Green Fish with Red Rice
Bananas with Coconut and Cardamom
Coconut Curry Cake

We soon found out that not all of us were able to find the ingredients for the Grilled Green Fish, so we added the alternative recipe Fish in Coconut Curry.


Fresh Yogurt Cucumber Soup with Coriander and Cumin

This was certainly the fastest recipe, ready in just a few minutes with chilling time of 30 minutes. I'd have trouble recommending this as a starter; that is how I served it and while it had a great taste - cumin is one of my most favourite spices - it was difficult to eat more than a few spoonfuls. I think Mr. Viestad's suggestion to serve as a side dish with a very hot main course is more appropriate.

Entrecote with Onion, Ginger and Tamarind

I have enjoyed Tamarind the few times I've had it, and this was Mary's first recipe choice. This was one of my favorites of what we tried, but I must tell you I did make some changes. The recipe serves two, yet calls for six onions. That seemed excessive so I cut it down to 3 which was still a lot, but more manageable. While I was making it, Scott was reading over my shoulder and was sad that the liquid in the onions was cooked away - he was hoping for a sauce. So I increased the amount of beer and did not simmer all the liquid away. I added the steaks back into the sauce to finish cooking, as well. The sauce was in my opinion the best part of the dish. Also, next time I make this (which will be soon) I will grill the steaks, and make the sauce separately. I don't like pan fried steak at all. It was the only drawback of the dish for me.

Fish in Coconut Curry

I didn't have luck gathering the ingredients for the Grilled Green Fish, so I chose our alternate. This was very, very good. Cardamom, Cumin and Cinnamon are dry roasted, and then simmered with tomato, onions, lime juice, and coconut milk. The sauce is fantastic and would be great with chicken or veggies too. I cooked this for Scott and my parents and everyone enjoyed it.

Stuffed Onions with Ginger and Lamb

This recipe for me was the highlight of the Round Table review, because this was the one that we all talked about and shared tips on the most. This one was frustrating to all of us - the proportions of ingredients were off. Since all of us had the exact same problems, it wasn't us. There are two problems - #1 - Too much onion. I think (and am backed up by the other reviewers) that you need half or less of the onion "guts" (thanks Mike) for the filing. #2 - Wayyyyyy too much meat. I cut the recipe in half, and used about 3/4 of a pound of meat instead of 1 full pound. It was still too much meat, by half. Were my onions too small? But then if my onions were bigger, I'd have more onion guts, which would make more filling.....very perplexing. The filling was fantastic, with both fresh and powdered ginger, and cumin, which as I said, is one of my favorites. I think I'll be making meatballs out of the leftover filling, and they will be wonderful. PS - I used ground turkey instead of lamb.

Coconut Curry Cake

This one sits in the middle for me. It was easy to make, very moist, and the aroma was amazing! On the other hand it was crumbly, and the coconut taste was lost in the cake. On the other hand, the spices were mild. Which isn't necessarily a positive or a negative. It could have been served with a savory dish, as my Dad pointed out, just as easily as it was a dessert.

Bananas with Coconut and Cardamom

No pictures of this one, which was a real winner. Coconut milk, cloves and cardamom pods are simmered together, and then bananas are added and cooked through. I realized afterwards I forgot to add the sugar, but it made no difference. Because I haven't ever cooked with Cardamom pods before I used the small amount. This is a fast easy dessert that you could make at a moments notice, providing you have coconut milk, bananas, cloves, and cardamom on hand, of course.


I really really like this book, and can't wait to try more recipes, especially out of the Simply Spicy (pineapple with minced shrimp and peanut topping, anyone?) and Ginger (potato croquettes with ginger and honey!) sections. If you like spice, check this book out.

Thanks to my 4 friends for reviewing this book with me! Please check out their posts as well.


Bananas with Coconut and Cardamom
by Andreas Viestad, Where Flavor Was Born
Photography by Mette Randem; Chronicle Books; 2007.

Serves 2

4 to 8 Cardamom Pods
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk or a combination of coconut milk and unsweetened coconut cream
1 clove
4 small slightly under ripe bananas
1 to 3 TB brown sugar

Bruise the cardamom pods gently between your hands, making small cracks in the hard pods, but stopping short of breaking them open. The more you crush them, the stronger the cardamom flavor.
Combine the coconut milk, cardamom and clove in a pot large enough to hold the bananas. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes to release the flavor of the cardamom. Sample the coconut milk and adjust the flavor if necessary by crushing or bruising one or more of the cardamom pods with a wooden spatula or spoon.
Peel the bananas and add to the coconut milk. Boil gently for 5 minutes, turning once. Add sugar to taste and allow it to dissolve before gently transferring the bananas to serving plates. Spoon over the coconut milk and serve.

Fish in Coconut Curry
by Andreas Viestad, Where Flavor Was Born
Photography by Mette Randem; Chronicle Books; 2007.

Serves 2 as a main course

1 lb mackerel or other white fleshed fish
1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tsp finely grated fresh turmeric or 1/2 tsp powdered turmeric
2 cardamom pods
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 to 3 cloves
1 1/4 inch piece of cinnamon stick, or 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 TB vegetable oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
juice of 1 lime
2/3 cup fresh coconut milk or canned unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 red chile, seeded and chopped
2/3 cup fresh coconut cream, or canned unsweetened coconut cream

Wash the fish thoroughly under cold running water. Remove the gills or cut off the head. Make sure there are no traces of blood or intestines in the cavity. Scale the fish if necessary, and pat dry with a paper towel.

With a sharp knife, cut 4 slashes in each side of the fish. Rub the grated ginger and turmeric into the slashes. Turmeric is a terrible stain maker, so it might be a good idea to wear rubber gloves when doing this.

Open the cardamom pods and discard the pods. Keep the small seeds. Crush the cardamom gently between your hands. Cut two cloves lengthwise into 4 pieces if possible. If they are too dry to cut, use 3 whole cloves. Crush the cinnamon stick (if using) between your hands or using the flat side of a knife.

Dry roast the cumin, cloves and the cinnamon in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently for two minutes to release the flavors. Remove from the heat and add half the chile powder and the black pepper.

Heat the oil in a non stick skillet with a lid - the skillet should be wide enough to hold the fish. Add the onion, tomato and lime juice, and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk, roasted spices and half of the chili pepper and let simmer gently for 10 minutes. Make sure the pan does not boil dry. If necessary, add a little water.

Add the fish and coconut cream, and add more of the chili to taste. Let simmer, covered, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the fish is cooked and the flesh comes away from the bone when poked with a knife.

Entrecote with Onion, Ginger and Tamarind
by Andreas Viestad, Where Flavor Was Born
Photography by Mette Randem; Chronicle Books; 2007.

Serves 2 as a main course

2 - 1" thick, 8 oz entrecote, rib or sirloin steaks
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 TB vegetable oil or ghee
2 - 3 TB tamarind paste
1 tsp ground ginger
1 TB finely chopped fresh ginger
3 TB butter
6 onions, sliced
1 - 2 TB sugar
1/3 cup beer, dry white wine, or water

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper, rub with the oil, and sear the meat for 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate to rest.

Add 1 TB tamarind paste and 3 TB water to the skillet and bring to simmer, stirring to scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When most of the liquid has evaporated, pour the remaining mixture over the steaks. Season them with half the ground ginger and 1 tsp of fresh ginger.

Reduce the heat under the skillet to medium, add the butter and onions and season with a little salt to help start the browning. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the onions have started to brown nicely. Add the remaining 1 to 2 TB tamarind paste and ground and fresh gingers, the sugar and beer, and cook, uncovered until the onions are soft and light brown, and almost all the liquid has evaporated. Transfer the onions to a serving bowl, and cover to keep warm.

Add the steaks to the pan and cook over medium high heat for 4 to 6 minutes, depending on the desired doneness. Serve with the onions.


Gretchen Noelle said...

This sounds like great fun! I have been waiting for your post all day since seeing those of fellow reviewers. I was really hoping you were going to post the Coconut Curry Cake recipe. Any chances? :)

breadchick said...

Thanks for asking me to participate in this review. I had a blast too and can't wait to get home and try the steak!

Peabody said...

I think it is interesting how so many of you chose the same to make the same recipes. Looks like anice spicy book.

Deborah said...

Thanks for organizing this, Sara! It was great fun. I'm going to make the coconut cake again soon, as well as a couple of other recipes (the carrots were awesome) and post them. I'm going to be sleeping with this one for a while. :)

Lis said...

An excellent, well thought out review, my friend!

Thanks so much for asking me along.. I had so much fun. :D

Love you!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

It's totally fun to cook like this and can only be made better with a bunch like you put together here!
Wonderful review. I'll be checking out this book!

Anonymous said...

Great post, chief - it makes me want to try them, oh wait...I did. I love the picture of the cake! Thanks for having me on board this whole adventure, it was a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

Great post, chief - it makes me want to try them, oh wait...I did. I love the picture of the cake! Thanks for having me on board this whole adventure, it was a lot of fun.