Scent of the Monsoon Winds. That is the piquant title of a new cookbook written by Michal Haines from New Zealand. And what a cookbook it is! A globe spanning cross-cultural collection of recipes, old and new, with the unifying element: spice.
I had the pleasure of meeting Michal and her coffee roaster husband Chris when they visited Kyoto recently. Being KyotoFoodie fans they kindly gave me a signed copy of her book. I flipped through the book a few times and knew that I liked it but didn’t have time to spend with it for a while. And then I made a few recipes.
Scent of the Monsoon Winds is all about cooking with spices and draws inspiration from the cuisines of the world; Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, North African and of course European.
I must say that I think I have become somewhat prejudiced against spices after my exposure to Kyoto cuisine. Recently while watching a clip from an English language culinary program on YouTube, and Indian woman said that without spice there is no Indian cuisine. I cringed at that. While some spice and flavorings are used in Kyoto cuisine, the purity, quality and freshness of the ingredients are the ideal.
I do love spicy food though. I grow my own habanero and jalapeno chili peppers in my little Kyoto garden, smoke them in my little Kyoto kitchen and have developed a layu-type spiced oil recipe made from my smoked habaneros.
Yet, Michal’s book consciously reacquainted me with the spice traditions and broadened my understanding and desire learn (and eat) more. Michal is an accomplished chef and her experience of running a specialty food stores in Auckland for some 15 years I assume contributes greatly to her knowledge of spices. Her Chinese grandfather was also quite a chef, she reports in the book her childhood memories of his meals. In addition to spice, the recipes themselves are often ones with history yet they seem original and spiced up with a unique charm, very much of our time.
Many of the ingredients required for the recipes, especially the variety of spices are just not available here. So, I have only made 2 of the recipes so far. Lover’s Oxtail Stew, a Yemeni recipe spiced with caraway, which is said to encourage fidelity, was absolutely wonderful! Hot Mezze Hummus, a Turkish baked hummus dish was also absolutely wonderful! (A little secret, this KyotoFoodie is a fiend for both oxtail and hummus.)
I am intrigued beyond description with this recipe:
Arab Orange Blossom and Sumac Pancakes
“The plain version of these pancakes, known as ‘ataif’, harks back to medieval times for the purpose of breaking the Ramadan fast. For a variation, omit the syrup and serve with stewed fruit and some thick Greek-style yoghurt – prefect for a lazy weekend breakfast.”
And a few more:
Moorish Swimming Rabbit (rabbit is almond milk sauce)
Spicy Rolled Indian Omelettes (with date and lemon chutney, another recipe in the book)
Armenian Street Bread (a cross between pizza and flatbread)
Watermelon, Cumin Seed and Feta Salad
Chicken Livers with Szechwan Peppercorns and Pears (pears!)
Mum’s Most Wanted Pork Noodles
Date Marsala Buttermilk Cake
Red Cumin Mayonnaise
Chapters include; mid-week speed, portable feasts, Asian feasting, luxury Sundays, spiced nights, winter blues, baked treats, drink it in (drink recipes) and kingly condiments.
The book is a hardcover, smartly designed with beautiful and colorful, bright photographs. Each recipe on the page is laid-out simple and clean and is usually accompanied by a full-page photo of the dish.
The book contains a very convenient Weights and Measure page to help with metric vs English customary and a wonderful Spice Glossary to which Michal has concise explanation of spices of world, some of them this foodie hadn’t heard of!
The US publisher dummied down the title and blandly called The Spice Kitchen in my homeland. Oh well.
Links and Reference
Author: Michal Haines Official Website
Publisher: Scent of the Monsoon Winds – New Holland Publishers