AVE we Irish got a taste for spices or what! Thirty years ago, when I first started the Ballymaloe Cookery School, garlic was still considered by many to be daring and exotic.
It was ten years before most of us dared to experiment with chilli not to speak of spices other than a few cloves in an apple tart or ginger with rhubarb in jam or gingerbread.
Somehow in the mid 80s I heard about Madhur Jaffrey and found her BBC Far Eastern Cookery book. I was hooked and longed to learn more about spices so I picked up the courage to telephone her in New York and invite her to teach at the Ballymaloe Cookery School — she agreed. I was beyond thrilled and my spice odyssey began.
Shopping for that first course was challenging. I hadn’t even heard of some of the ingredients- puffed rice, poha, urad dhal, chana dhal … .
Finding the finest basmati rice was difficult in itself but what was as asafetida, amchur powder, etc. I had no idea what fenugreek or black cardamom even looked like.
With the help of Mr Bell in Cork’s English Market in Cork city, we gathered all the ingredients – Madhur arrived and the magic began.
Even that first cooking course was completely oversubscribed. Madhur introduced us to a myriad of new and exciting flavours and techniques. Life has never been quite the same since.
Fast forward 17 years, in 1997, a young Anglo Indian chap called Arun Kapil enrolled on the 12-week Certificate Course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, he’d been an ace disc jockey in the UK for a number of years but wanted a break for a short spell from the London scene. Shanagarry in East Cork sounded just the ticket. Spices were part of Arun’s DNA, after a time in Ballymaloe House kitchen, he started to experiment with spice blends.
Customers at his Farmers Market stall were thrilled to find such a selection of beautiful fresh spices imported directly from Arun’s relatives in the Cardamom hills in Kerala. Demand grew, the top chefs both in Ireland and the UK loved the quality, mail order was added to the equation, Arun fell in love and married Olive, a lovely Irish girl whom he met at Ballymaloe.
Lots of TV appearances and now at last the book — Fresh Spice has been published by Pavilion, a collection of vibrant recipes for bringing flavour, depth and colour to home cooking.
Arun has been around spices all his life and he could talk for Ireland and India about all the fascinating aspects of spice production.
He urges us all to look on spices in a whole new way, think fresh and whole rather than ground. Buy in small quantities from a shop that has a quick turnover.
Invest in a pestle and mortar or and /or an electric spice grinder or coffee grinder to grind to order for each recipe, think of the difference between fresh and dried herbs. Sage advice that can revolutionise our food, here’s a few of the simpler recipes from Fresh Spice to whet your appetite for the vibrant flavours of spice.
Madhur Jaffrey, who by the way spoke highly of the quality of Arun’s spices when she was over for the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine in 2013, has also published a new book Vegetarian Curry Easy.
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