2019-11-27 10:55:31


Vanilla, native to Mexico, is the only edible member of the orchid family. This aromatic is widely used in both food and cosmetic applications. With demand outstripping supply, it is an expensive spice and as a result there are a number of imitation vanilla extracts available. Historically it was used in the treatment of conditions ranging from increasing virility and fertility to treating hysterics and depression and as a nerve stimulant. More recently, over 200 phytonutrients (bioactive plant compounds) have been identified and investigation into their healing properties is ongoing. Vanillin, the main constituent, may offer a promising role in the prevention and treatment of cancer as well as in the treatment of sickle cell anemia, where it is shown to reduce the number of sickle-shaped red blood cells which cause symptoms of pain and fatigue. It is grown in islands of the Indian Ocean such as Madagascar, in Mexico, Indonesia, Tahiti and West India and is available in the form of a dried whole pod or bean from which seeds are extracted or as an extract.   Although imitation extracts mimic the flavour of vanilla, they contain no vanillin. 

Vanilla’s sweet flavour adapts well to deserts and ice cream, but it can also be used in savoury recipes such as sauces to accompany shellfish, butter sauces featuring fish or chicken and to balance out stronger flavours in salsas, chutney and curries. It can also be used in salad dressings, vinaigrettes and savoury rubs for meat or chicken.

Aromatic Vanilla Rub for meat or chicken

This slightly sweet, aromatic rub can be rubbed on meat, chicken or fish and lightly brushed with oil. Allow to marinate for 3-6 hours before grilling, pan frying or roasting.


¾ (8-10cm) of a vanilla bean pod (seeds removed) OR 2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp brown sugar

2 tsp salt flakes

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

½ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cayenne pepper


Mix up all ingredients and store in an airtight container. 


2019-10-08 08:36:07

Turmeric tumeric

Turmeric is renown world-wide for its vibrant colour and numerous health claims. In ancient Ayurvedic medicine it was used to treat many conditions including breathing problems, pain and fatigue. Current research has shown that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, may reduce inflammation, especially in osteoarthritis, and protect against cancer. However, the anti-inflammatory effects are mostly seen when curcumin is taken in supplement form (±5g/day) and not in amounts used in cooking. In saying that, turmeric may have added benefits that a curcumin supplement alone does not have. Also, supplements may pose additional risks (such as contamination with harmful substances). Therefore food sources remain the prudent choice. 

Turmeric adds brilliant colour and flavour to dishes such as curry sauces, roast chicken, sweet potatoes and rice. It can be used both fresh and dried.

Do-it-yourself Curry powder

This recipe makes for great store-cupboard staple. Packaged beautifully, it’s a lovely gift. It stays fresh for ± 3 months.


1.5 tbsp ground turmeric

2 tbsp ground coriander

2 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp dry mustard

½ tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp cayenne pepper or ground chillies (optional)


Add all the spices to a small jar and mix.  

Golden milk paste

A benefit of this drink is that the bioavalibility of curcumin in the turmeric is enhanced by combining it with piperine, a component of black pepper and fat (coconut oil). Store paste in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Double the recipe if you intend to use it daily. You can store in the freezer by filling ice cube trays for up to 3 months.


4 tbsp turmeric

2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp black pepper

1 tbsp coconut oil

1-2 tbsp hot water 


  • Mix all the ingredients and store in refrigerator or freezer. 
  • To make golden milk add 1 ½ tsp of the paste to 1 cup of your preferred milk or milk substitute (e.g. cow, almond, or coconut). 
  • For a hot drink, add to a saucepan and heat over medium heat until hot (not boiling). Alternatively, you can serve it cold, poured over ice. 
  • If you prefer it sweetened, you can add a teaspoon of either honey, maple syrup or choice of sweetener.

Sichuan Pepper

2019-07-19 12:47:43

Sichuan pepper  

I enjoy incorporating exotic spices into my cooking and recently purchased Sichuan (or Szechuan) pepper from our local supermarket. This spice gets its name from the Sichuan province in China where it is widely used in cooking. It is one of the ingredients that make up Chinese Five Spice (together with star anise, fennel, clove, and cinnamon) and is used throughout Asia and India. 

Although not ‘fiery’or ‘hot’, sichuan pepper does  have a  numbing effect on the tongue.. Its aroma has been likened to that of lavender, and its flavour to that of citrus. The ‘numbing’ effect is thought to be due to the molecule hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, which interacts with the nerve cell receptors in your mouth, and triggers this curious sensation. 

Surprisingly this spice isn’t from either the black pepper or chilli pepper family at all. In fact it is produced from the seed casings of a species of prickly ash that grows wild in China. The reddish-brown berries are picked in autumn and left to dry in the sun, until the husks burst open. The black seeds inside are discarded as they have a bitter, sandy taste. The husks are gently roasted, which can then be used whole or ground into powder. 

Sichuan pepper berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries for treating indigestion and flatulence. 

Sichuan beef stir-fry

Serves 2

Stir-fries make wonderful easy nutritious meals, but can get a little boring when used over and over with the same old flavourings. Sichuan pepper gives this dish a delightful flavour. Chicken, pork or tofu could be used instead of beef. Make use of any alternative vegetables that you have in the fridge. 


1tbsp rice wine or dry sherry

2tsp ground Sichuan pepper

1tsp dark soy sauce

1/2 tsp Chinese Five Spice powder

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 sirloin steaks, cut into strips


2 tsp peanut or sesame oil

1 medium red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1/2 onion, chopped

1 handful broccoli, cut into small pieces

1 handful mangetout

2 medium carrots, sliced 

1 handful baby corn, sliced

1 red/orange/yellow pepper sliced

300ml beef or vegetable stock

1tbsp light soy sauce

1tbsp cornflour mixed with 2tbsp cold water

1 spring onion, finely chopped

Salt and ground black pepper to taste


  • Mix together the rice wine or sherry, spices, dark soy sauce and garlic, in a medium bowl. Add the beef and leave to marinate (overnight if possible). 
  • Heat a wok over high heat and add the oil. Then add the marinated beef and stir-fry for 2 minutes. 
  • Add the chilli and onion. Stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the rest of the vegetables and stir-fry for another minute.
  • Add the stock and stir well. Add the light soy sauce.
  • Bring to the boil, add the cornflour and water paste. Stir thoroughly.
  • Add the spring onion, season with salt and pepper.
  • Serve with wholewheat noodles or brown basmati rice. 

Note: now once you’ve made this and enjoyed the taste experience, why not get a bit more adventurous and try it in a hot&sour noodle soup or "kung pao" chicken with dark leafy greens