There are 2 lentils, less well known outside of India, that look similar at first glance but are quite different. Even in India these two lentils are confused, with many writers and bloggers thinking they are the same. Similar in colour, both are grown in dry almost inhospitable land on vines. Both have an earthy taste and require good soaking before cooking. They are even used to make similar dishes. However, they are different, with different shapes, colours, textures and tastes.
Miso has long been a favourite and we adore Miso Soup. Recently I found a sweet little Japanese bowl that just smiles sweetly and says “let’s make miso soup” to me every time I catch its eye on the kitchen bench. It is very easy to make if you have miso paste. But miso is not limited to making miso soup – there are hundreds of ways that it can be used.
Miso is a Japanese staple made by fermenting soybeans and grains (rice, barley, buckwheat, millet, rye for example) with salt and a particular type of fungus, called Aspergillus oryzae. The result is a thick paste, the colour and flavour of which varies according to many different factors (the exact ingredients, the season, the region, the duration of fermentation and the fermenting vessel, to name a few).
While all-purpose Curry Powders are not a thing in India, they do exist in countries with strong Indian populations – for example, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Malaysia and Singapore. This spice mix is representative of the Singapore Indians – Singaporean influences on traditional Indian flavours.
Use Singapore Curry Spice Mix in stir fry dishes, with noodles and in curry sauces. Add to coconut milk for Malay style curries, and to tamarind water for South Indian style curries.
Broad Beans, a little out of fashion except in Italian, Greek, Chinese, South American and Middle Eastern communities, are a speciality of Spring time. Once upon a time, before the green bean varieties came to Europe, Broad Beans were the beans. They are ancient and no one knows exactly where they came from. They are also often called Fava Beans.
Broad beans are synonymous with Spring, with their presence so fleeting. Here in Australia, that is from September through mid November. It is a great example of true seasonal vegetables. Catch them when harvested young and sweet, as towards the end of their season they can become very mealy. They have a flat, fur-lined pod enclosing seeds that are used in soups, purees, stews, salads, stir-fries and combined with rice and pasta.
Look for them in green grocers who cater for the Italian, Greek or Middle Eastern food requirements, as soon as Spring arrives. An acceptable alternative is frozen Broad Beans, and they can be found in the Supermarket, or in the freezer sections of Middle Eastern groceries. The benefit of the Middle Eastern ones over the supermarket ones is that the ones stocked by Middle Eastern stores have been double peeled. We will explain that later.
Explore our 100 Vegetable Series. Check out some of our other collections:
- Four Asparagus Soups for Spring
- 10 Recipes using Grape Vine Leaves
- Delicious Chilli Pastes and Sauces
Broadly speaking, potatoes fall into two main categories, with flesh that is either floury or waxy in texture when cooked. In his encyclopaedia of kitchen science, McGee on Food and Cooking, US writer Harold McGee explains that floury potatoes are denser and have more dry starch in their cells. During cooking, they separate and become dry and fluffy. Cells in waxy varieties stick together when cooked, helping them to remain in firm, intact pieces for dishes such as gratins or salads. Read more about waxy and floury potatoes here.
There are hundreds varieties of rice grown around the world. Rice is a staple in India, Asia, Middle East and parts of the Mediterranean. Yet, for all this, few know of the different types of rice.
Rice originated in India, and it is first mentioned in the Yajur Veda (c. 1500-800 BC) and then is frequently referred to in Sanskrit texts. In India there is a saying that grains of rice should be like two brothers, close but not stuck together. This holds true until you come to South India, where Pongal is a porridge-like rice dish.
Rice is often directly associated with prosperity and fertility; hence there is the custom of throwing rice at newly-weds. In India, rice is also the first food offered to the babies when they start eating solids or to husband by his new bride, to ensure they will have children.
For completeness, this article shares some information with that post.
Bitter is an important flavour in the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, and also in other Asian medical regimes. Bitter Gourd (also called Bitter Melon) is only one of a range of bitter ingredients in those parts of the world, but in the western world it may be one of the most bitter tastes one is likely to experience. Even in the areas where it is commonly eaten, it is not universally loved. People either love or hate it, and if you love it you are likely to become addicted to it.
Bitter melon is a native of India. There are two types, the so called Indian Bitter Melon (karela) which is dark green with large teeth like protrusions on its skin, and the Chinese bitter melon which is lighter green and fatter, with wart like bumps on its skin. The bitterness is around the same in both varieties. They appear in late Summer and can often be found through to early winter, in Asian and Indian markets.
Potatoes in Australia are confusing. Firstly there is not a lot of difference between waxy, floury and all rounder varieties. Popular potato varieties grown in Australia are neither particularly waxy nor floury, not even the ones that we label as such. All rounders tend to sell better in the Australian market as a whole than the more waxy or floury types.
Then there are generic potato brands where different potatoes are used under one brand name (such as Golden Delight, Cream Delight, Red Delight and Spud Lite) to ensure a year-round supply, so the consumer does not actually know what variety they are purchasing, In recent years, potatoes simply sold as washed or brushed have been joined by the potato brands, such as Golden Delight (Woolworths), and Creme Gold (Coles). Each brand can be made up of different varieties of potatoes at different times of the year, but have the same characteristics and are good for the same style of cooking so that “Customers need only remember one name, rather than what variety is in season at that time.” Such condescension is remarkable.
Sadly, often your supplier/green grocer does not know the difference between the varieties.
Finally, potatoes are usually not labelled with variety, location or grower information.
You might not know this, but cucumbers originated in India, in the foothills of the Himalayas, and were first cultivated around 3,000 years ago. From there, they spread east through traders, particularly Phoenician merchants who took the seeds to Egypt and Greece. They began to be grown in Sicily, mainland Italy and North Africa.
The Romans loved the decorative nature of the vines too, and grew them over trellises in their gardens. Emperor Tiberius is well know to have loved them and liked to grow them year round. His gardeners made portable beds so they could follow the sun and avoid the Winter chills.
Black Barley is a heirloom grain, and has remained unchanged, farmed for generations in small batches and prized for its flavour, colour and nutritional value. Originating in Ethiopia (but now also grown in several countries), black barley is the only grain that can go from field to fork without being processed. That is because the bran layer stays attached to the kernel and is completely edible. With its bran intact, black barley retains its firm, plump texture during cooking, and has a deep, vibrant and nutty taste. As a 100% wholegrain, black barley is rich in nutritional value, particularly high in fibre, and also packed with vitamins B & E, calcium, iron and potassium.