Dear Santa Claus,
I've been a good girl this year, so I'm making my list. My wants are not exactly modest, but then, it's Christmas! If you can work your magic, I'd really love to get...
……my long lost Sumeet Multigrind. It’s been on order since March, but there’s not a glimmer from the frozen steppes—that is, Toronto--where the distributor appears to be hibernating. Oh, I love my Singaporean mortar and pestle, but I really do need that wondrous 400-watt motor to pulverize whole spices to a fine powder or whisk ornery ingredients like coconut and lemon grass into silken pastes. How about a fly-by Santa, to see if you can liberate the Sumeet?
No luck? Don’t worry, I’ve got other options…James Oseland, Saveur editor and author of the best cookbook of 2006--Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore--swears by his Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus Processor. Over breakfast at Happy Joy on Canal Street a few weeks ago, he owned up to not having the time to pound ingredients by hand. James makes his stellar flavoring pastes—try the Nonya Sambal with red and green chiles, shrimp paste and lime—in his Cuisinart Mini. I’d like a bright red one, please, Santa!
Of course, if you’re feeling flush, a Vita Mix blender will do the trick and then some. My Vita Mix lust crested at Susana Trilling’s Oaxaca cooking school when I saw how easily it whipped dried chiles soaked in water into a super-smooth puree. The Pro model has a variable speed motor that can go from 11 to 240 mph, which surely puts it in the Bugatti category. (The world’s fastest car tops out at 253 mph—even if it is owned by Volkswagen.) Maybe I can drive the Vita Mix while vaporizing chunks of coconut.
But you know, Santa, too many machines can make the cook skittish. So I’ll slow down and serenely contemplate this year’s cult object of desire: the oroshi. For centuries the Japanese have grated fresh wasabi root by hand, using real sharkskin mounted on a fan-shaped wooden paddle. Like so many things Japanese, the oroshi combines form and function exquisitely. Of course, I’ll need some fresh wasabi root to grate, so, pretty please, could I have a couple of plants from The Frog Farm in Seattle? Or maybe you could just deliver a tube of real wasabi paste—no horseradish added-- from Pacific Farms… and I’ll use the oroshi for grating ginger.
I’m on a Japanese roll, no pun intended, and I wouldn’t say no to Hiroko Shimbo’s latest cookbook, The Sushi Experience. In my own experience, sushi can be ultra-challenging—especially cutting the fish delicately thin--but Ms. Shimbo has done her best to demystify the process. And there are so many other tempting dishes besides. This winter I’m definitely trying her recipe for Salmon Roe, Persimmon and Daikon Salad with Grated Yuzu.
There’s a spot on the bookshelf just waiting for Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors. I’m eager to try her version of pho (see SpiceLines recipe here), and her recipe for meaty pork spareribs in caramel sauce sounds perfect for a wintry supper. In the meantime I’ll visit Andrea’s knockout website, Viet World Kitchen, which has everything you’ll ever want to know about that cuisine.
As for ingredients, I’m besotted with Benimosu purple sweet potato vinegar. I first tasted it at the New York Fancy Food Show and nearly fainted with delight. Made in by the Iio Jozo Brewery in the fishing village of Miyazu in Kyoto Prefecture, this aged organic vinegar is bright crimson, the color of strawberries, and is so soft and mild that you could drink it as an apertif, splashed over ice. It comes in plain and honey-sweetened versions. A big bottle, please, Santa: 16.9 oz.
My sister-in-law just sent a pair of lacy-leaved Godwin Creek lavender plants, a reminder that we can enjoy the sunny fragrance of lavender even in the depths of winter. Deborah has a great instinct for gifts: the plants were preceded by Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Grammercy Tavern. This is absolutely a cookbook for spice lovers: this award-winning pastry chef has irresistible recipes for Black Pepper Ice Cream, Ginger-Poached Pears and Orange-Cardamom Shakes—plus Lavender Crème Brulee and Lavender-Lemon Pound Cake. Help me out, Santa, and kindly add a tin of culinary lavender from Sunshine Lavender Farm to your list…
Will there be a plane ticket tucked into my stocking this year? I’ve been such a good, good girl, Santa baby. There’s a cooking class at my favorite Paris spice shop, Goumanyat et Son Royaume. M. Thiercelin, a sixth- generation saffron merchant, is cooking a Bollywood-style dinner on February 24. The menu includes lamb samosas with mango mint chutney and pickled ginger, tandoori shrimp curry and rice with saffron and cardamom. And of course, any of his to-die-for spices would be welcome, especially some of that intensely fragrant saffron from the apothecary jar on his counter.
Could I go further afield? I'm longing to gather nutmegs, preferably from a tree in Indonesia’s far flung Banda Islands. And in Bhutan, Amankora—the posh lodge created by Amanresorts—is offering a matsutake-hunting expedition next fall. Highlights include a trip to the village of Geneka where the mushroom’s musky aroma permeates the marketplace, and the chance to sample myriad dishes created with this delectable fungi.
One last wish, Santa: a spice room. Yes, I really do need to add one to my house. There would be a pantry, naturally, with room for a hundred or so jars of the most exotic spices and a refrigerator for turmeric root, galangal and other perishable delicacies. In the main room I’ll have a library of spice books, old and new, priceless maps from the age of exploration, and a sleek Chinese painting table with nary a sheet of paper to mar its surface—although my iBook is allowed to perch there. There must be a verandah, of couirse, with tropical spice plants—black pepper, vanilla and cardamom—growing lustily, and a distant view of the Indian Ocean…lychee martinis...
Here’s hoping, Santa!
Lots of love, hugs and fresh gingersnaps by the hearth, should you happen to stop by…