Friday 18 May 2012

Musk Mallow Seeds — Re-creating an Ancient Taste

The seeds of the Musk Mallow, (Abelmoschus moschatus) represent an almost completely forgotten spice. The plant itself is an annual or biennial that is closely related to okra (the immature seed pods can be cooked ad eaten like okra). The plant's mature seeds have a deep musky smell, and contain myricetin and macrocyclic lactone compounds and it is these that give them their musky aroma. Indeed, an oil, Ambrette oil is extracted from the seeds and is used commercially in the perfume industry as a substitute for musk.

What is rather less well know is that musk mallow seeds are a spice that lend an unusual, musky, note to foods. In fact, musk was an important flavouring agent all the way through the Medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods and recipes for sweetmeats, preserves and candied fruit would often include a grain or two of musk as a flavouring ingredient. During the 1600s, with increasing trade to India, musk mallow seeds began to find their way into lists of ingredients as a cheaper substitute to musk.

Though not common, they can be purchased as a spice even today. They are great when reconstructing historic recipes as ground musk seeds can be substituted for very expensive musk in recipes, whilst maintaining the aroma profile.

As musk was believed to be an aphrodisiac, a little ground musk seed also makes an excellent addition for desserts and cakes made for Valentine's day.

Below is a version of Crème Brûlée that includes this exotic spice as a flavouring ingredient:

Musky Crème Brûlée

600ml double cream
5 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp water
2 drops vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground musk mallow seeds
caster sugar (for topping)

Combine the egg yolks, sugar, cream, musk mallow seed powder and vanilla in a bowl and whisk until combined. Divide the mixture evenly between 6 ramekins and place in a roasting tin. Add boiling water until it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins then place the roasting tin in an oven pre-heated to 170°C and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cream custard has set.

Bring out of the oven, remove the ramekins from the roasting tin and allow to cool to room temperature. When ready to serve sprinkle a level teaspoon of caster sugar evenly over the surface of each ramekin then either place under a hot grill to caramelize or use a blowtorch. Allow to cool for a few minutes so that the sugar forms a hard crust then serve.

This recipe is brought to you in association with the Celtnet Guide to Spices where you can find detailed information on over 80 of the world's common (and not so common) spices, along with recipes showing how each spice can be used in your own cooking.

Sea Spaghetti, The Latest Wild Food Fad

It is often hard to get people to even consider eating seaweed (sea vegetables) despite their health benefits and their traditional use in coastal communities around the globe. However, sea spaghetti (Himanthalia elongata). Despite being a seaweed, it is dried and packaged like spaghetti and can be substituted in any recipe that calls for spaghetti, tagliatelle or spaghetti squash. It is suitable for those who are gluten intolerant and is becoming popular with raw food enthusiasts, as it only needs to be soaked over night (or even, at a pinch, for 30 minutes in warm water) before it is ready to eat.

The recipe below is a classic dish where Sea Spaghetti has been substituted for the more traditional tagliatelle.

Sea Spaghetti Mediterranean Salad Recipe

50g dried sea spaghetti
8 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 small yellow onion, peeled and diced
75g pitted black olives, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp dry white wine
1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves, crumbled
6 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely shredded
freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
2 balls of buffalo mozzarella, diced (optional)
torn basil, to garnish

Rinse the sea spaghetti well, place in a bowl, cover with water then set aside to soak in the refrigerator over night. The following day, rinse the sea spaghetti thoroughly, place in a pan of boiling water and blanch for 2 minutes (this restores the vibrant colour of the seaweed) then drain.

In the meantime, whisk together the olive oil and white wine in a bowl. Add the tomatoes, onion, olives, garlic, oregano and parsley. Toss to coat and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Arrange the sea spaghetti in a serving dish and pour over the dressing. Garnish with the mozzarella and torn basil then serve immediately.

For more information on edible seaweeds and links to descriptions of various edible seaweeds and their recipes see the guide to edible seaweeds (sea vegetables).

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Celtnet Mediterranean Sea Spaghetti Salad recipe page.

On the same site you can find information on over 180 wild foods along with thousands of recipes incorporating them as ingredients on the Celtnet Wild Foods Guide pages.

For all the wild food recipes on this blog, see the wild food recipes page.
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