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*July 2009 COTM* SPICE: Cumin, Coriander, and Cardamom

Our Chowhound July 2009 Cookbook of the Month is Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun.

Please post your full-length recipe reviews here for dishes from Chapter One: Cumin, Coriander, and Cardamom, page 2 to 37. Please mention the name of the recipe you are reviewing and the page number, if possible, as well as any modifications you made to the recipe. Let us know if you would like to make the recipe again, and if you would change anything in the future, too. Photos welcome!

A reminder that the verbatim copying of recipes to the boards is a violation of the copyright of the original author. Posts with copied recipes will be removed.

Thanks for participating and enjoy!

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  1. Fried Squid with Avocado Hummus, p. 17

    Loved this recipe. My first time cooking fried calamari, and this is now my go-to recipe. It came out perfect - tender, non-greasy, with a crispy nicely-seasoned batter. I also liked the creamy avocado 'hummus' made with tahini, garlic, cumin, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Simple too as everything is pureed in a food processor.

    For the squid, I used already-cleaned frozen baby squid from the Asian market. I cut the larger ones in rings, and left the smaller ones whole. The squid is soaked in milk - I did this earlier in the day ahead of time - and then dredged in the flour mixture (flour, fine cornmeal/semolina, aleppo pepper, and s&p), and fried for about 2-3 minutes. Delicious and quick, a recipe I will be adding to my entertaining repertoire.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Rubee

      The texture of those calamari looks absolutely perfect. I have marked the page.

      1. re: smtucker

        Yes, I definitely want to try this too! Looks absolutely delicious and love the idea of an Avocado Hummus accompanying calamari.

        1. re: always_eating

          I made this over the weekend and yes, it is fantastic! Definitely something I will make again and again and very simple. I love the addition of tahini & cumin to the avocado hummus. Gives it a nice flavour.

      2. re: Rubee

        I just adore fried squid and that photo looks like some of the best I've ever had. Good idea, too, about using baby squid from an Asian market. I'll have to pick some up on my next trip to Chinatown. One question: Is the Aleppo chile in the flour mixture especially discernable? I'd like to make this for a friend who can tolerate no more than a small amount of heat in a dish.

        1. re: JoanN

          I think you should be fine, it's just a hint of heat. I had actually thought of adding more Aleppo the next time I make this. I used Penzey's Aleppo Pepper from Turkey.

          I just started recently buying these packages of squid. Each package is a pound (for locals - around $3.50 at Lee Lee's) and I love having them in the freezer. The larger ones are stuffed with the smaller squid, so I didn't have to cut those up at all. So convenient too as they defrost quickly and they're already cleaned with tentacles separate.

          1. re: Rubee

            Thanks. I'll make a note to keep as is for the heat averse but to up it a bit for those who are not.

            I discovered those packages of squid when I made the stuffed squid from "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen." The first time I made the recipe, I used squid from my fishmonger. They tasted fine, but were rather unwieldy. And they were really tough when reheated. Next time I used the small squid I'd picked up in an Asian market and had a major aha! moment. You're right. They're great to have on hand.

            1. re: JoanN

              This sounds fabulous! I don't have the book, can you tell me if this recipe is posted somewhere on line? I'd love to try it.

              1. re: dkennedy

                Sorry, dkennedy. Just stumbled across your request. Here's a link to someone's paraphrasing of the recipe:


              2. re: JoanN

                I found them in my local Asian supermarket yesterday too. I'm not sure if they're cleaned or not, but they are all the way from California (trying not to think about the air miles) and super cheap at around £2 for a package.

                1. re: greedygirl

                  That's really interesting. I have some in the freezer, just checked the label, and mine say "product of Viet Nam." Talk about air miles! I paid $3.99 for a 14-ounce package from an Asian market in New Jersey. Seems as though I'm paying more for them than anyone else. Not complaining, just noting.

                  1. re: JoanN

                    Weird that yours don't come from California as well. Mind you, it's a long way from there to NYC!

                    Mine say "line caught" on the box, which goes some way towards salving my conscience.

          2. re: Rubee

            oh goodness, I've always wanted to make a fried calamari in a light batter,( there is one we love at a restaurant) and this looks like it!! Last night, thinking I had shrimp, I got the surprise of my life. I forgot I had bought some cod, and well oh well, I had to cook it even if my dinner plans had to change. I was not about to waste it...

            I made a very nice cod in a tempura- like batter and was so happy with my first attempt it had reminded me of the love we all have for thiscalamari in a light batter at a certain wharf restaurant in Santa Cruz. I almost fell off my chair with happiness when I saw this!
            The calamari looks just like it~ and it and the dip looks delcious too. I must try this one.

            Thank you for posting your photo, if only more people would. Well you and a few others always do, and I get so happy when I see your pictures!

            1. re: chef chicklet

              Yes, the batter is great - light but crispy. I actually just got back from the Asian market to pick up more squid (so inexpensive - 2.69 a package) as I'm going to make it again this weekend. Hope you like it!

              1. re: Rubee

                Just reporting that I made this again this weekend for friends as part of a "Spice" dinner. Huge hit, and the first dish to go.

                I love how simple the batter is. I used 1/2 cup AP flour, 1/4 cup semolina flour, s&p, and this time used some smoked agridulce/bittersweet paprika instead of Aleppo.

            2. re: Rubee

              I use this mixture all the time now for fried seafood, vegs, etc, and just posted a pic of an okra dish I made on Twitter - http://twitpic.com/asxd1 Per request for the recipe:

              Slice okra and soak in milk while combining:

              1/2 cup all-purpose flour
              1/4 cup semolina flour
              2 tsp salt
              black pepper
              Aleppo pepper (from Penzey's) and cumin to taste

              Drain and toss in the flour mixture. Fry in oil heated to 350 degrees.
              For the dipping sauce, I mixed sour cream with chopped cilantro, a little lime juice, salt and cumin.

            3. Paopao Cocktail, p. 36

              This section of the book has two of my favorite recipes - this is another one. I didn't take a picture, but will be making this again so will post a pic. I made this as a 'welcome' cocktail to a dinner with a few Spice recipes.

              I made the pear syrup ahead of time and stored it in a glass jar in the refrigerator. To serve, simply pour the syrup in a champagne glass and top with sparkling wine (I used cava). The syrup is made by infusing a simple syrup with crushed cardamom pods, add pear juice (I used Looza brand pear nectar), heat, and let stand for 30 minutes. Strain, add lemon juice, and chill.

              Recipe on second page:

              1. Arabic Coffee Pot de Crème, p.30

                Was in the mood for something sweet & creamy and the combination of espresso & cardamom sounded good.

                The end result was pretty tasty, especially topped with freshly whipped cream. The only thing I would probably change about this recipe is that I wouldn't add the finely ground espresso to the crème mixture. I found it kind of overpowered the whole dessert and made it more coffee, rather than coffee/cardamom. Might be personal preference since I really love cardamom.

                1. Seared Salmon with Egyptian Garlic and Coriander Sauce, p. 21

                  I made this last month as an easy weeknight dinner when fresh wild-caught Copper River salmon was on sale and I had some nice tomatoes from the farmers market. It's a fresh, simple sauce flavored with garlic and toasted ground coriander. Garlic is sauteed in butter and oil until golden brown, fresh tomatoes and ground coriander added, and the sauce simmered and reduced. Salmon is cooked on the skin side first until crispy, then covered for a few minutes, and flipped. Top with sauce and sprinkle with parsley and chopped peanuts. I didn't think I would like the peanuts on it, but I did enjoy it after all - Sortun says it adds "a nutty layer of flavor and texture, and I agree. I prefer my salmon a bit more rare, so next time would skip the final flip.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Rubee

                    Seared Salmon with Egyptian Garlic and Coriander Sauce (page 20)

                    Well! This was quite a lovely and unexpected surprise. I had forgotten that you had already reported on this, Rubee.

                    I had a salmon filet and no inspiration so looked up salmon in the index and found this. I agree with Rubee that the salmon was a tad overdone for my taste. Perhaps my filet was a bit thin. Also, I was doing other things and going simply by her timing rather than paying attention to what the salmon looked like.

                    I skipped the chopped peanuts. Didn’t have them, wasn’t going to buy them just for this. The tomato sauce was quite wonderful, sweet from the tomatoes and garlic and subtly flavored with the coriander. It’s not the prettiest dish since the tomato sauce is somewhat muddy in color (mine much more so than Rubee’s) and the skin side of the filet is dark and crusty. But it sure did taste good. I’m going to have to type this one out before the book goes back to the library.

                  2. Spoon Lamb p. 22
                    I pretty much knew that "Spoon Lamb" would be the first thing I'd try from this COTM. I adore lamb, and of course ridiculously tender only makes it better. So, after the *gulp* of seeing the price of lamb chops (in Utah, Whole Foods) I tried this recipe. Absolutely Nothing Difficult about it. Unable to find pomegranate molasses, I reduced pomegranate juice with sugar and a little lemon juice. (The Internet tells me this is pomegranate molasses.) Seared the lamb, deglazed pan with wine. Recipe specifies "dry red wine". I don't know wine, used what I had, label says "Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Sonoma County". Lamb then sprinkled with cumin, thick carrot coins, chunks of white onion, some smooshed garlic cloves added, more wine and some water. Covered tightly, 325F for 2 1/2 hours. As soon as it was done I tasted it, impatient, and it was yes tender and very good, but I didn't get why so much cumin? and how would it be if I doused it with the pomegranate molasses? I doused, and it seemed too busy, too much--
                    UNTIL THE NEXT DAY. The lamb had soaked up the cumin and onion and (the sweetness of) the carrot in just the right proportions to be perfect with the pomegranate, butter, and lemon juice (and S&P) that gets added before serving. I will make this again for sure, always the day before. I put with plain (butter salt pepper) rice. Try it if you like lamb!

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: blue room

                      This looks good, and I have a natural lamb shoulder roast in the freezer, so maybe that would work?
                      I'm wondering how you did the refrigerating and reheating. The recipe says to refrigerate the braising liquid for one hour, skim fat, and then reheat; nothing about refrigerating the big kahuna. How long did it take to reheat? Did you refrigerate the lamb while you were chilling the liquid and then combine for the overnight sit in refrigerator?

                      1. re: NYchowcook

                        NYchowcook--I used lamb chops about 1 inch thick--thinner than recipe specified-- when they were done cooking (single layer in Dutch oven) I didn't refrigerate or reduce the stock, it didn't seem enough. I just added the pomegranate molasses, tasted and THEN put it in fridge overnight. (All together--left chops sitting in sauce.) Picked off fat the next day, before heating 1 chop in microwave to try. When I realized how nice it had gotten overnight, THEN added butter a little salt & pepper. Since lamb fat is so easy to pick off once chilled, (firm white fat) I don't think there's a problem with refrigerating both the meat and sauce together. Did this answer what you were asking? Please post if you try this! I think a roast could generate more broth than thinnish chops, but then I am tricked & defeated almost daily by recipes!

                      2. re: blue room

                        I made this last night using loin chops & shoulder chops that were 1" thick (what I had in my deep freezer). They only needed 1 hour & 15 minutes to cook in the oven. The pom molasses were really really tart & the lemon juice just made it sing. I thankfully found the molasses in NYC for $2.95 for the 8 oz bottle i/o ordering online for $18, yes $18 including shipping. I think I ate about 3 servings myself last night. Not a drop of leftovers for today. Since it's so easy & quick to prepare, I think I'll make it soon for friends as it sounds like the flavor just improves overnight. And I also think it would be great with a tougher cut as it can braise for a bit. Yum, yum, yum!

                      3. Variation on Galette of pork with cumin and cider, p. 24

                        I'm taking liberties here in posting this since I used Sortun's flavor ideas, though my cooking technique went in a different direction since I had pork chops and this recipe calls for pork butt which you braise endlessly and then pull apart and reshape into patties. Sounds like a very good idea for leftover pork butt.

                        But I had some lovely (thick) pork chops from my farm of happy pigs, so here's what I did:

                        Made spice rub of ground cumin, dried minced garlic (rather than fresh as Sortun directs since I was going to saute chops rather than braise a butt and I didn't want the garlic to burn), pinch of cinnamon (which is called for in braising liquid) and a pinch of dried oregano (not called for in recipe), and kosher salt & pepper. Marinated chops for 2 hours.
                        Sortun does not call for toasting whole cumin and then grinding, so I followed her lead and used pre-ground.

                        Sauteed chops in olive oil. Removed and made pan sauce with apple cider, chopped fresh oregano (which should have gone with the beet salad -- oops!), reduced, and added heavy cream, reduced and put chops back into the pan to heat up with sauce.

                        It's not her recipe, but they're her ideas that I used, and to good effect. Flavors of the spices -- including cinnamon -- w/ apple cider were very good.

                        When I have a butt I would definitely try this, though I think I might try eating some pork after it's braised and before pulling apart and making into patties another day. The apple cider as a braising liquid (w/ white wine) seems to be a very good idea. Pork and apples are a happy flavor combination.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: NYchowcook

                          I made this as written and have mixed feelings about it.

                          When the pork butt was braising in the cider, it smelled great. The whole thing just smelled so delicious, so expectations were high after the shredding of the pork and mixing it with egg and bread crumbs to form patties. The patties are then fried for 5 minutes each side so that the sides are crisp.

                          But, when we went to eat it, we were disappointed in the overall taste. It was too sweet - too much cider taste, almost no cumin or garlic (and we used more garlic then called for). I think it may taste better with the straight braise instead of forming it into patties and then frying it up. It did make 8, per recipe instructions and we fried up 4. We each ate 1 and were done with it for the night.

                          A few days later, we microwaved the leftover 2 patties (the other 4 are in the freezer). And, lo and behold, it tasted much better. The apple flavor had mellowed some and we enjoyed them a lot more. If I were to repeat, and I don't know if I would, I would toast and grind more cumin so that there is a balance of flavors.

                          When I defrost and cook the frozen patties, I'll repost to let you know how it holds up.

                          1. re: beetlebug

                            It sounds like a lot of work -- two cooking steps, braising, and then reforming into patties and cooking -- for not outstanding results. Do you think there's something missing in the braising liquid or perhaps in the patties?

                            I think your idea of toasting whole cumin and then grinding is a good one. I wonder if Sortun actually does toast and grind, and just "dumbed it down" for home cooks? (As if we COTM'ers aren't up for toasting and grinding whole spices. Ha!)

                            I might try if I cook a butt and have leftovers so I can freeze the patties for a separation of time between pork meals.

                            1. re: NYchowcook

                              It could be our taste buds - I don't really like sweet things with my meat (not thrilled with fruit with meat). I just think it needs more savory flavors to balance it out. I am curious to see if the patties hold up to freezing though. But, I think I have to defrost before I fry it up.

                              I think that Sortun did dumb it down for the home cooks. How could they not toast and grind? It has so much for flavor that way.

                              1. re: beetlebug

                                Hi BB!

                                In the preface to the "The Three Cs - Cumin, Coriander and Cardamom" section (p. 3), she does talk about grinding it fresh - "It's best to buy cumin whole and grind it fresh every time you use it. I like to grind my own spices and use a coffee grinder or an Arabic coffee hand grinder..."

                                1. re: Rubee

                                  Serves me right for skipping the beginning...

                                2. re: beetlebug

                                  I used Ceylon cinnamon, which is less sweet than cassia, and according to my Penzey's catalog is "true" cinnamon with a much different flavor from the usual cassia, with a more complex, citrus flavor.

                                  And Rubee: oops, missed the intro! (I rushed into cooking as soon as I got my hands on the book back from the library)

                          2. Carrot puree, p. 6

                            This looked like an interesting way of cooking the beautiful sweet carrots I have from my CSA, so I plunged in. Well kinda. Sortun has you peel and boil 2 lbs carrots, then mash w/ a fork (a fair amount of labor involved) w/ olive oil, white wine vinegar, harissa, cumin and ground ginger. She wants you to put the carrots back into the pot after they're drained to cook 30 secs to dry out. I couldn't do this because a lot of the carrots were softened well before the others, so I had to just use a colander for them, and mashed while waiting for the rest of the carrots to finish cooking.

                            Well this recipe calls for the harissa recipe, which in turn calls for a spice blend. I skipped making the harissa out of well, laziness and also I didn't have sun-dried tomatoes on hand. I used canned harissa.

                            Tasted. Blah, musky and spicy hot! Added S&P and more oil to try to mellow it out. But I think it lacks balance. I have an urge to add something sweet. I'm torn whether to bring to a dinner party as planned. It's not great. The recipe calls for combining w/ an almond, coconut spice blend on top of baguette first dipped in oil. I might just toast some almonds and throw on top and call it done. Something is just wrong here.

                            I'm having trouble w/ my camera, but hope to post photo later.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: NYchowcook

                              here's the photo of the pureed carrots. I found this dish unappealing and a waste of great carrots.

                              1. re: NYchowcook

                                I just took a look at the recipe. It's obvious that it was ruined when you added canned harissa. I have pre-made harissa in my fridge and the ingredients in it are quite different from the recipe for harissa in the cookbook. A shame you wasted good carrots.

                                1. re: Axalady

                                  I've made this recipe twice since I got the book for Mother's Day in 2010. Love, love, love it! The harissa is worth making & keeps well in the fridge (and is an excellent topper for fried eggs). The dukkah was amazing with or without the coconut. Took this to 2 separate parties & it was devoured both times. I'm just glad I made a huge batch with 10 lbs of carrots so I had leftovers at home. And my immersion blender did the easy work of pureeing the carrots for me & still left them chunky enough.

                            2. C-Licious: Orange-Coriander Sangria, p. 37

                              Loved this recipe. I made this as the 'welcome' cocktail for a Spice dinner yesterday. It's a white wine sangria with cognac, with such nicely-balanced flavors with the orange and coriander. She recommends using a "non-oaky, floral white wine"; I used a sauvignon blanc, and Remy VS cognac.

                              Coriander seeds are toasted, fresh OJ and sugar added, bring to a boil, allow to steep, and then chill. Blend in a blender and strain. Mix the syrup with cognac, wine, and sparkling water. I left out the orange-blossom water since E doesn't like it. Serve with ice in a glass rimmed with ground toasted coriander and raw sugar (I also added some toasted ground orange peel since I dried some for the Orange Aioli). Forgot to garnish with an orange slice. Big hit - everyone loved the unique flavors.

                              Both cocktails in this book are such winners - I'll definitely be making them again.

                              Recipe link:

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Rubee

                                Rubee I'm enjoying your various posts about the Spice dinner--sounds like it was an overall success.

                                1. re: blue room

                                  Thanks Blue Room!

                                  ArizonaGirl actually just emailed me for this recipe, so I'm happy they liked it as much as they did. I know everyone was a bit leery about coriander in the cocktail, but it's such a great balance of flavors.