submitted by Estiator Magazine on 12.01.2006
From Amazon's "Booklist"
Hot in Mediterranean culinary lingo means the use of one or more of the following spices: capers, chilies, cilantro, cumin, garlic, onion, paprika, or hot pepper. Kremezi's book is distinguished by her twist on tradition; here, Greek moussaka boasts spices and a yogurt topping, and pesto excludes basil and garlic to feature arugula, cilantro, mint, and parsley. Lengthy kitchen preparations for many of the dishes preclude the book's use by novices or by home chefs with little discretionary time. Barbara Jacobs
In Mediterranean Hot, award-winning author Aglaia Kremezi has brought together two of the most popular trends in cooking today: Mediterranean and Spicy. Chilies and other pungent spices are an important element of Mediterranean cooking, one of the healthiest and most favored cuisine of the '90s. Although the hot, chili and spice-flavored cuisine of Mexico, Asia, and India are well known, delectable hot and spicy dishes are abundant in North Africa, and Turkey, and there are also many traditional chili-flavored dishes in Sicily, Southern France, and Greece.
The 60 recipes include traditional spicy favorites as well as less spicy dishes that benefit from added piquancy. The recipes are easy to prepare and use widely available ingredients. And because their spiciness makes them so favorable without fat, many dishes are low in fat. This enticing collection of recipes is enhanced throughout by the lively illustrations of Linda Frichtel.
--Couscous with Beef, Almonds, and Vegetables.
--Green Beans with Garlic, Chili, and Cilantro
--Yogurt Sauce with Hot Paprika and Scallions
--Eggplant Salad with Yogurt and Cilantro
--Tomato, Cucumber, and Parsley Salad
--Lamb Chops with Anchovy Sauce
--Spicy Potato Focaccia
--Moussaka with Egg Plant and Peppers
Illustrations by Linda Frichtel. A Book-of-the-Month Club selection
Buying and using spices and hot peppers
Most spices are still being imported from the East, but they are not so valuable as they were in the Middle Ages. India is the main spices exporter, however other Asian countries – such as Indonesia, Madagascar and Malaysia – also produce pepper, cress, ginger, cinnamon and cassia (Chinese cinnamon), clove and vanilla. The unstable economies of many Third World countries depend to a great degree on their spices’ export. Millions of families are employed in spice plantations of intensified production, cultivating these plants, collecting and drying the aromatic products, which then go on to the European markets.
Choosing spices from the supermarket shelf is of course easy but it does not always ensure the quality of the products. On the other hand, stores that specialize in "colonial" products and the various markets, supply the consumer, most of the times, with fresher and more aromatic seasonings. Often, when choosing spices, their appearance may be a trap. That is why you have to trust your sense of smell and taste. In order to achieve the most tasty results possible, buy whole spices and grind them in small quantities – so as to cover your needs for one or two weeks – in a clean coffee or spice grinder, or pound them in the mortar. Whenever you find spices of excellent quality, buy them in large quantities and freeze them in air-tight containers.
Of course, cooking with various seasonings requires practice, imagination and a full rack of spices. The quantities that are suggested in the recipes of this book are just a starting point. Besides, the taste, causticity and flavor of each spice, or blend of spices, varies depending on their country of origin, their year of production, their freshness, the drying method used, etc.
In the local cook books of the various regions of North Africa and the Middle East, the amount of pepper, hot pepper and other spices and flavorings is rarely specified in the recipes. The cooks do not measure. They work based on their experience and adjust the amounts depending on the occasion and their flavor instinct. Many families also have their own special combinations and blends of spices, which are usually an extremely well kept secret, which is disclosed only to the next generation.
In order to learn the fine art of seasoning foods, one can count first on the trial and error method – that is, on experience that is acquired with practice. It is better if you begin with small quantities, tasting, and then adding more spices. Take into account that freshly cooked entrees, for example, need to sit for a few hours or even all night in order for the full taste of the dish to develop. Taste the food on the next day, to see if it needs more seasoning.
It is necessary to know that freezing foods that contain hot peppers increases the causticity of the dish, because the molecules of their hot flesh split, thus liberating more tang.
Always buy whole grains of pepper. The grains of the black pepper are produced by drying out the unripe fruit of the plant, after it has sat for a few days after being collected, so that the necessary fermentation can occur. Black pepper is aromatic and hot and should be pound, ground or grated a little while before it is used. Many varieties – like the strong and very hot tellicherry and the milder malabar – are available at selected spice stores. In general, ask for pepper grains of the best quality from India – uniform and without stems. Pepper grains are preserved for years, so buying a large quantity of them is quite advantageous. White pepper grains are dried, mature, peeled fruits. White pepper is hotter, less aromatic and more expensive. I use it as a seasoning in white sauces, soft cheeses and sweets, because for most dishes I prefer the more complex taste of black pepper. However, since it is clearly a matter of personal taste, try the same dish with black and white pepper to see which one you prefer. The green pepper grains, which are less hot, are unripe fruit, preserved in salt water or frozen. Pink pepper (Schinus molle) is not related exactly to pepper. Pink pepper grains, which crumble and are ground very easily, are not hot but aromatic, leaving a sourish flavor in the mouth. This is why pink pepper is used mostly for flavoring sauces.
On the other hand, hot peppers, despite their name, the only common thing they have with pepper grains is their causticity. Hot peppers belong to the solanaceous (solanaceae) plant family – potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco also belong to it - which were imported to Europe from the New World, after Christopher Columbus’s journeys. Capsicum annum is the biological term for most species of very hot and somewhat milder in tang pepper plants that are cultivated today all over the world. Pepper plants differ greatly in tang – among various species but often even in the same species; there are mild to extremely hot peppers. Even if two peppers are seemingly identical, it is very probable that their flavor and causticity differ, depending on the soil and the climate of the country where they were cultivated. Any type of fresh hot peppers – small dark green, yellowish or red – may be used for the recipes of this book. Most Mediterranean peppers ripen on the plant, giving them a more intense and full taste. However, we can cultivate the species of hot pepper that we prefer the best in pots at a sunny balcony or window sill – at least we who live in a country with a warm climate and lots of sunshine, like Greece.
If, however, you prefer more complex flavors, use "halepiko" or pepper from the Near East, which usually comes from Turkey or Syria. This spice is produced from medium hot red peppers – that have ripened on the plant – that have been dried in the sun, seeded and pounded. The red pepper flakes (boukovo) that one can find in the supermarket do not quite substitute the "halepiko" pepper. Boukovo is a lot hotter and without any special flavor. Good Hungarian paprika – a combination of mild paprika and a small quantity of hot pepper – is also used in the Mediterranean, especially in the Balkans and Israel.
Other tasty and interesting alternatives to the Mediterranean pepper is the excellent Spanish pimenton picante, as well as the unimaginably hot peperoncini – the Italian hot small peppers, that are grown in pots as decorative plants, and you will find them in the outdoor farmers’ markets.
In any case, whatever type of hot pepper you use, I would suggest that you experiment by making various combinations, to find the one that will give you the best result and will add a different dimension to many of your favorite everyday dishes.
Table of contents: Buying and using spices and hot peppers
Text kindly provided by Aglaia Kremezi , author of Mediterranean Hot.
Published by "Ellinika Grammata".
Aglaia Kremezi was born in Athens. She is a journalist, writer, photographer and food columnist for the Sunday Athens paper Kyriakatiki Eleftherotypia and the Greek edition of Votre Beaute magazine. She is also a contributing author for the Los Angeles Times, Gourmet magazine, BBC Good Food magazine, Bonne Appetit, and other publications.
Her first book, The Foods of Greece, published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang in New York, won the Julia Child "First Book" award, in April '94.
Her next two books, Mediterranean Pantry, and Mediterranean Hot, were both published by Artisan/Workman and later translated into Greek.
She is part of the team of Master Chefs --together with Roger Verger, Michel Roux, Richard Olney and others-- creating a small illustrated collection of Meze and Antipasti, for the series "Classic Recipes" published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, in London.
She has also published in Athens two collections of her food columns that became best sellers in Greece.
Her book about the The Cooking Of The Greek Islands, published by Houghton Mifflin, USA, in the fall of 2000 has proved to ne immensely successful.
She has appeared on Good Morning America, CBS, and other major and local TV stations and also taught at Macy's Degustibus, at the French Culinary Institute in New York, and many other cooking Schools around the country, promoting her books and authentic Mediterranean Cuisine.
Cooking was always her passion and she is an avid collector of cookbooks and recipes from all over the world. She has studied the history of ancient Greek and Mediterranean cuisines and has taken part in and given papers to many world conferences on food.
In 1997 she was invited to be the consultant -working with the chefs and developing the menu- for Molyvos, the new upscale Greek restaurant in New York (7th avenue at 55th street) which was awarded three stars by Ruth Reichl of the New York Times.
You can order her books by calling Cosmos Publishing,
tel : (201) 664-3494 USA
Aglaia currently lives on the island of Kea, where she conducts a cooking school.
The school, in the kitchen of Aglaia’s house on the Cycladic island of Kea, is located in a little valley not far from the sea. It is surrounded by olive and almond trees, a small vegetable garden and lots of wild and cultivated Mediterranean aromatic shrubs. Classes are held in the kitchen, and the lunches are served al fresco, under a canopy. There is a BBQ and a traditional wood-burning oven in the garden.
Kea is the island of the Cyclades closest to the Athens --from the airport, a 30-minute drive and then only 1 hour by ferry.
Price: 1695 US Dollar per person
USD 1695.00 is the cost of a full 8-day program. Shorter programs may be organized upon request. InfoHub discount coupons are accepted for groups of three or more persons coming through the same source. No classes are held in August.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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