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Exploring the world of spices.

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At first, Christopher Columbus was puzzled. This was clearly not Japan. Nor were these people the gold-laden citizens of the Seven Citids of Atlantis. In fact, when they came down to the beach, they were puffing on dead leaves. The odd-looking welcome meal they prepared seemed likewise to be smoking. There was something in it called aji and it made Columbus and his men feel extremely hot. With smoke in their nostrils and fire in their bellies, no wonder these strange people went about stark naked. Was this Eden, or some offshore island of the fabled Cipangu?

Columbus, obsessed by his "enterprise of the Indies" and his goal of beating the Portuguese to the spice capitals of the Orient, never realized that the fiery pods in that Arawak stew would eventually alter the diet of all mankind. Neither Columbus nor his royal backers, least of all the gentle Arawak natives, ever suspected that this modest New World banquet and the grand quest for spices that led up to it would completely reset the course of human history.

Columbus would never have been there on that island in the 1490s had it not been for Bartholomeu Diaz, who in 1488 had discovered that Africa had a point at the bottom and that it was possible to sail around it. That revelation set in motion a rage of activity in which nearly every European nation engaged: the gold rush for Asian spices. To get to Asia, one needed maps, and to get maps, one needed to explore, thus the spice race and. exploration went hand in hand. The reason for all of this could be calculated in royal ledger books: today in the Computer Age, oil is the lifeblood of the world's economy; in the Age of Columbus, that lifeblood was spices.

Since Roman times, Alexandria, Egypt had been the great spice emporium of the Western World. Cloves and nutmeg from the Molucca Islands, cubebs from Java and Panang, cinnamon from Ceylon, peppercorns from Malabar were all gathered by Chinese traders, exchanged for goods from the Indians, and then traded further along in their westward journey to the Arabs. Until late in the Middle Ages, the Arabs held a virtual monopoly on this spice exchange.

This long and tangled trade route, with many middlemen and markups along the way, ensured that the spices were extremely expensive when they finally reached Europe. Yet spices were considered vital necessities in the practice of medicine, in unguents and aphrodisiacs, in holy oils, and in the rituals and magic rites of many religions. There was also an appreciation of the role spices could play in food preservation, in retarding rancidity or the deterioration through oxidation, as, for example, the use of peppercorns to entirely coat hams and brined meats. And for the rich, there was obvious status in flavoring one's food with exotic tastes and textures, as in the use of comfits or spices and seeds in cakes. Consider, too, medieval gingerbread cookies and their rich flavorings of ginger root, cinnamon, clove, mace, and cardamom. Or mincemeat pie, another medieval spiced dish that is still with us today, thanks to its long association with Christmas feasting. In short, all sorts of the body's demands, from health giving elixirs to the simple pleasures of eating, were in some manner connected with spices.

When the Byzantine Empire began to fade in the 10th century as Europe's middleman with the Arab spice traders, Venice quickly filled the vacuum. By the middle of the 1400s, Venice controlled all spice shipments out of Alexandria.

When Spain and Portugal broke free of Moorish rule in the 1400s, both kingdoms began looking for ways to breach the Venetian grip on spices. Europeans knew where the spices came from, and if there were a way around Venice and around the Arabs, there would be vast profits to be won; profits, as it later developed that would run as high as 700 percent or even 1200 percent. Not a bad risk.

The opening of the New World brought with it an array of new taste sensations: sassafras, which Sir Francis Drake introduced to England in 1586; the tomato, which marries well with Old World nutmeg; vanilla; pineapple; chocolate, discovered by Cortez in Mexico in the 1520s; and, of course, the huge family of capsi-cum peppers, which Columbus introduced to Europe and which have in many cultures supplemented or even taken the place of black pepper piper nigrum).

The cookery of colonial America was much spicier than that of the Victorian Age. In the 19th century, hot,. spicy food came to be equated with Third World shortcomings, lack of refinement, racial inferiority, and even laziness. Many faddist health movements, like those connected with phrenology and homeopathy, railed against spices as an inner road to moral and cultural decay. Today, we know that some spices, such as black pepper, actually aid in digestion and a century of white gravies an overboiled vegetables has give American cooks a new reason to rediscover and experiment with the zestiness of the past.
 * * *
 Mahashi Kasa
 (Syrian Stuffed Zucchini)
 (Makes 6 servings)
1/2 pound extra lean ground beef
1 can 16 oz.) whole tomatoes,
 broken up
1/4 cup regular cooking rice
 (uncooked)
1/2 c water
2 tablespoons onion flakes
1 1/4 teaspoons dill weed, divided
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/4 teaspoon mintflakes, crushed
1/16 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 large zucchini (3 pounds)
1 can 15 oz.) tomato sauce


In a large skillet brown beef, stirring to crumble; drain off drippings. Add tomatoes, rice, water, onion, I teaspoon of the dill, salt, mint, and black pepper. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until rice is tender, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile trim off ends of zucchini; cut thin lengthwise slice from each zucchini. Preheat oven to 350[Degrees] F. Scoop out centers to leave 1/4-inch shells. Fill shells with tomato-beef mixture. Place in a shallow casserole. Combine tomato sauce with remaining 1/4 teaspoon dill. Pour over zucchini. Bake, covered, until zucchini is tender, 40-45 minutes.
 * * *
 Spicy Thai Rice
 (Makes 6 servings)
2 cups water
1 cup uncooked rice
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 fresh red chilies, seeded and
 chopped
1 tablespoon snipped cilantro
1 tablespoon margarine
1 teaspoon minced fresh gingerroot
3/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/8 teaspoon ground tumeric
1-2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Chopped roasted peanuts for
 garnish (optional)
Red pepper flakes for garnish
 (optional)


Combine water, rice, onions, chilies, cilantro, margarine, gingerroot, salt, and turmeric in 2- to 3-quart saucepan. Heat to boiling; stir once or twice. Lower heat to simmer; cover with tight-fitting lid. Cook 15-20 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir in lime juice; fluff with fork. Garnish with peanuts and pepper flakes, if desired.
 * * *
 Barbadian Funji or Coo-koo
 with Codfish Sauce
 (Makes 4 to 6 servings)
Codfish Sauce:
1 pound dried salted codfish
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced onions
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 No. 2 can tomatoes with juice
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup clam broth or water
1 small fresh or dried hot pepper
 (optional)
Funji:
1 1/2 pounds fresh whole baby okra
 or 2 10-ounce packages frozen okra
2 quarts water
1 tablespoon salt (optional)
1 cup fine yellow cornmeal


Soak cod in cold water to cover for 24 hours. Cut into 3 or 4 large pieces and place in skillet. Add cold water to cover and bring to boil. Simmer about 10 minutes, then drain and let cool. Remove any skin and bones and break cooked fish into slightly larger than bite-sized portions. Heat oil in saucepan and cook onion and garlic until onion is wilted. Add tomatoes, pepper, thyme, broth, and hot pepper. Add cod and simmer slowly for 30 minutes. If fresh okra is used, rinse in cold water. Cut each pod of okra, fresh or frozen, in half and place in kettle. Add 2 quarts of water and salt and bring to boil. Simmer until okra is tender. Drain okra, reserving both okra and cooking liquid. Add one quart of cooking liquid to saucepan and bring to fast boil. Gradually add cornmeal, stirring rapidly and continuously with wire whisk. When mixture is thickened and smooth, add okra. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, 15-20 minutes, adding more of reserved cooking liquid as necessary. When done, this will be thickened mush. It must not be soupy. Spoon the hot mush into hot buttered soup bowls and cover with codfish sauce.
 * * *
 Tortini Di Verdure
 (Italian Vegetable Stew)
 (Makes 6-8 servings)
1/4 cup instant minced onion
1/4 teaspoon instant minced garlic
2 3/4 cups water, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups fresh tomatoes, in
 1/2-inch cubes
2 teaspoons salt (optional)
2 teaspoons oregano leaves, crushed
1/4 teaspoon rosemary leaves, crushed
1/16 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups mixed bite-sized fresh
 vegetables such as zucchini,
 celery, carrots, green beans,
 mushrooms, etc.
1 can (19 ounces) cannellini (white
 kidney beans), drained
1 can (19 ounces) chick peas,
 drained
1 cup cooked tubettini (small
 tubular macaroni)


Combine onion and garlic with 1/4 CUP of water, set aside for 10 minutes to soften. In large saucepan heat olive oil until hot. Add onion and garlic. Saute for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, oregano, rosemary, black pepper, and remaining 2 1/2 cups water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Add vegetables. Return to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally until vegetables are almost tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in cannellini, chick peas, and tubettini. Simmer, covered, until hot, about 2 minutes. Serve over steamed rice an sprinkled with grated P rm cheese, if desired.
 * * *
 Cazueia
 (Chilean Chicken and
 Vegetable Stew)
 (Makes about 6 cups)
3 pounds chicken parts
1 cup sliced celery
1/2 teaspoon whole black pepper
Water
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut
 into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups acorn squash, peeled and
 cubed (1-inch pieces)
 1 1/4 cups carrots, peeled and sliced
 (1-inch pieces)
1/4 pound green beans, cut (1 1/2-inch
 pieces)
2 tablespoons instant minced onion
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon instant minced garlic
2 ears corn-on-the-cob, cut into
1 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons flour


In large saucepan place chicken, celery, black pepper, and quarts water; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until chicken is tender, about I hour. Strain chicken, reserving broth; set chicken aside to cool. Return 3 1/2 of broth to saucepan. Add potatoes, squash, carrots, green beans, onion, paprika, salt, cumin seed, and garlic; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until vegetables are almost tender, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, remove chicken from bones and cut into cubes. Add to saucepan along with corn. Continue to simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Combine flour with water; add to stew. Cook and stir until thickened, about 3 minutes.
 * * *
 Jamaican Curried Shrimp Stew
 (Makes 8 servings)
2 tablespoons instant minced onion
2 tablespoons instant minced garlic
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons margarine
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 can (16 ounces) tomatoes,
 broken up
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves, crumbled
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice


Mix minced onion and garlic with water; let stand 10 minutes to soften. In large skillet melt margarine. Add onion and garlic, saute until golden. Add curry powder; saute for 1 minute, stirring often. Add shrimp, tomatoes, salt, thyme, red pepper, and lemon juice. Cover and cook over moderate heat until shrimp turn pink, 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over steamed rice.
 * * *
 Glorified Bulljoul
 (Makes 8 servings or more)
2 pounds baccalao (salt cod)
1 1/2 pounds fresh shrimp,
 cooked, shelled,
 and deveined
2 1/2 lemons
1 teaspoon coarsely
 ground black pepper
 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 large red onion,
 finely chopped
2 large bell peppers,
 chopped, preferably
 red, although green
 will do
1 10-ounce bottle whole
 green olives
1 bunch watercress
 leaves
2 ribs celery, finely
 chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled and
 cut into small pieces
1 large or 2 small,
 ripe, unblemished
 avocados, peeled
 and cubed
1 cup olive oil
Lettuce leaves, sliced
 tomatoes, and avocado
 wedges for garnish


Soak salt cod overnight in cold water to cover. Drain and place in saucepan. Add more cold water to cover and bring to boil. Simmer 5 minutes, then remove from heat and drain. Remove any bones from cod and squeeze flesh with hands. Shred the cod and place it in mixing bowl. Add shrimp and stir until well blended. Add the juice of lemons, pepper, thyme, onion, bell peppers, olives, watercress, celery, and tomato pieces. Place avocado cubes in container of electric blender and blend, gradually adding oil. Add this to cod mixture and stir gently to blend everything. Pour the mixture into a serving dish and garnish with lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado wedges.
 * * *
 Spicy Thai Rice
 (Makes 6 servings)
2 cups water
1 cup uncooked rice
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 fresh red chilies, seeded and
 chopped
1 tablespoon snipped cilantro
1 tablespoon margarine
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
Chopped roasted peanuts for garnish
 (optional)
Red pepper flakes for garnish
 (optional)


Combine water, rice, onions, chilies, cilantro, margarine, ginger root, salt, and turmeric in 2- to 3-quart saucepan. Heat to boiling; stir once or twice. Lower heat to simmer; cover with tight-fitting lid. Cook 15-20 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir in lime juice; fluff with fork. Garnish with peanuts and pepper flakes, if desired.

Microwave oven instructions: Combine ingredients as above in 2- to 3quart deep microwave baking dish; stir. Cover and cook 15-20 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir in lime juice; fluff with fork. Garnish with peanuts and pepper flakes, if desired.

Editor's note: If you would like a copy of the spice map that appears on page 19, an 18 " x 24 ", full-color map, suitable for framing, is available. TO order, send $7.00 to: American Spice Trade Association, 928 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes recipes
Author:Weaver, William Woys
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Words:2405
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