Spice Crossroads

During the Ottoman, Roman and Illyrian periods Kosovo was a crossroads of sorts. The Illyrians roamed across the Balkans of course. The Romans gave patches of Kosovo as rewards and pensions to soldiers. The Ottomans used it as an agricultural center and trading crossroads. All of these people brought carried food influences from all over their empires.

Pasul, the white bean casserole eaten in Kosovo has it’s sister in Fazol in Croatia. In Italy it’s Fagioli. It’s known as Ful Medames in Egypt and in Sudan it’s Foul. All connected by these ancient travellers.

This tea/chai map became a popular viral meme illustrating the same phenomenon. Globalization has always been with us.

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During the Ottoman period Gjakova was a well-known trading city.  Looking at some of the old shops in the ancient bazaar-which was rebuilt after the war-you can imagine some of the spices and foods that crossed from one part of the empire to the other.

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This week I’m doing a spinach, chickpea and eggplant curry using the kinds of spices that once crossed Kosovo often, but after being closed off because of the war, may seem exotic here now. But everything I used for this dish was bought here and is pretty common, in fact.

Curries differ by region, ethnic group and country. How you make your curry is an individual thing. The base is generally a mix of spices, dried or not that the cook blends into a paste or base to flavor vegetables, meat or fish. One thing you can’t get here is curry leaf. But making a simple garam masala (a spice mix) or a curry base is fairly easy and though some spices are expensive, they’ll last for sometime and there are loads of recipes you can use them in. So a good idea to invest.

Spices also don’t mean ridiculously hot. Unless you really like that. You can adjust the flavorings and spice level. As usual I leave that up to you. I lean towards a nice heavy heat coming up the back of my throat and lots of garlic. One tip: take the seeds out of fresh chili peppers to lower the heat a bit.

This is a simple dish, not labor intensive and of course, you can add or substitute different vegetables, tofu or if you’re inclined chicken or fish.

 

Spinach, chickpea and eggplant curry

3 pods of cardomom

6 small cloves of garlic

1 large onion

2 medium hot peppers

1 cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

5 whole black peppercorns

3 teaspoons coriander powder

3 teaspoons cumin powder

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3 cups spinach (or near equivalent

350 ml chickpeas

1 small eggplant

1 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt (if you can’t find this just stick to sea salt to taste)

Pepper to taste

Oil (olive, sunflower all will do) to cook with

 

Place the cinnamon stick, bay leaf, peppercorns, cumin seeds, cardomom pods and cinnamon stick in the bottom of a deep pan or wok without oil. Heat gently until you can smell them softly cooking. Add the chopped onion, garlic,chili peppers plus oil and cook until onions and garlic are soft but not brown. Add chickpeas (incl. chickpea water), fresh spinach (or frozen) and chopped eggplant. stir and keep on medium heat. Add coriander, cumin powder, salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook until well blended.

 

 

 

 

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