Garlic is one of the most popular aromatics used almost worldwide because of the flavour adds to dishes. Raw garlic has a very pungent, hot taste that mellows and becomes sweeter when cooked. Roasting garlic gives it a lovely delicate, nutty flavour. Propagation is by placing a single clove in the ground, for this plant to reach maturity will take around five months depending on the growing conditions. It is best to grow garlic in a sunny location that is well drained. Garlic is a major ingredient in Asian influenced dishes such as stir-fries and curries, as a classic flavouring in Mediterranean cooking for soups, sauces and casseroles and pairs perfectly with onions, tomatoes, chilli, ginger, basil, chicken, pork, and seafood.
Slaves building the pyramids were given garlic to give them strength. The first workers strike then occurred when, to save money, the garlic was removed from their diet. During World War I soldiers depended on garlic for its antiseptic properties and it has been used for a long time to fight colds and coughs. There is an old Spanish proverb that says, “where you find garlic, you find good health.” The same chemical that gives garlic its pungent aroma reacts with bacteria in your mouth that cause bad breath. A good way to counteract this smell is to eat parsley or to drink milk while you are eating the garlic.
In cooking, we can use all of the coriander plant, its leaves and stems, the seeds and the roots and each has its own distinct flavour. Coriander is native to the Mediterranean but is used in cuisines throughout the world and is an essential ingredient in Thai, Mexican, Moroccan and Indian cuisine and is found as the fresh leaves, roots or the spice from the ground down seeds in classic curries, salsas, stir-fries, tagines, and fajitas. Coriander pairs well with chicken, beef, chilli, lemongrass, garlic, mint, fish sauce and soy sauce.
Coriander is an annual plant grown from its seeds. There are references to coriander in the Old Testament of the bible and they were found in the tomb of the legendary Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. In the past coriander has been used to treat migraines and indigestion to help purify the blood and to relieve nausea, pain in joints and rheumatism. The dried seeds have a sweet and spicy flavour while the leaves of coriander are zesty, with a strong citrus and peppery flavours. Coriander leaves are best added at the end of cooking or as a garnish on dish as high heat can quickly discolour them and kills the fresh flavours.
Many Tex-Mex, Cajun and Asian recipes contain chillies in various proportions to add from just a little kick to a beer swilling, throat ripping heat. Chillies are one of the earliest cultivated crops and come from the south-west of the Americas. Christopher Columbus called the chillies ‘ peppers ‘ after the taste similar to the black and white peppercorns already used in Europe. Travellers were often in search of new sources of spices due to their immense rarity and value. The chilli spread through many of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies to particularly to Mexico, Goa, parts of China and Indonesia. Chillies can be served sliced and diced raw, or dried and flaked or ground to a powder.
Chillies are all part of the nightshade family of plants some common variations are the red and green Bell peppers ( green are simply unripe bell peppers ), Cayenne, Jalapeño*, Anaheim, Serrano and Poblano peppers ( which when dried are the Ancho pepper ) these collectively are Capsicum annuum peppers. Capsicum frutescens are the family of hotter chillies including the Piri piri, Tabasco and African Birdseye chillies. The hottest chillies are the Habanero, Scotch bonnet and Naga chillies from the Capsicum chinense chilli family. Chillies are high in Vitamin C, Potassium, Magnesium and Iron but do not add greatly to the overall nutritional content of a meal because of the relatively small amounts in a dish.
* The Chipotal pepper is a variety of smoked then dried jalapeño
Chillies come in many varieties here are just a few examples;
Sweet and Fresh – have distinct vegetal aromas reminiscent of freshly cut red bell peppers and fresh home grown tomatoes, Costeño, dried Anaheim, California or Colorado and Choricero peppers.
The Hot Ones – Can be like Cascabels with some complexity and depth of flavour or others like the Pequin or Arbol,which are all about heat.
Dried / Smoky – Some chile peppers, like Chipotles are dried and smoked Some are naturally just dried like Ñora or Guajillo used to make a mild salsa for tamales.
Rich and Fruity – Have distinct aromas of sun-dried tomatoes, raisins, chocolate, and coffee. These include some of the best-known Mexican chiles, like Ancho, Mulato, and Pasilla.
When preparing, try to handle cut and chopped chillies as little as possible. Many chefs wear disposable latex gloves. Wash and clean any equipment that comes in contact with the peppers thoroughly. The main active constituent in the chilli is the naturally occurring chemical Capsaicin. ( It is now the main ingredient in pepper spray and some animal deterrents ). The majority of the Capsaicin is found in the seeds and pith, if your not a fan of chilli heat remove these before preparing your chillies.
Chilli ‘ heat ‘ is measured in Scoville Heat Units, I’ve listed a few varieties of chilli pepper and their SHU to give you an idea of the scale and the relative strength of commercial available peppers. Interestingly some of the the hottest chillies in the world have recently been grown not in Mexico or Asia but in Grantham and Poole in the UK.