Monday, 27 July 2009

Gingko Biloba - Fashionable Right Now

Gingko Biloba - Fashionable Right NowI’ve heard lots about Ginkgo and see it in many products on the supermarket shelves. It comes over and a herb that has many uses from shampoo to memory enhancing properties. Not having tried the nuts which is primarily a Chinese food I’m sure the play on the alternative medicinal benefits will still move up a step more and also on the vegetarian bandwagon.

Ginkgo is also known as the Maidenhair Tree after. It is one of the classic examples of a living fossil. For centuries the tree was thought to extinct in the wild, but it was found to be growing in Eastern China, These ginkgo trees may have been planted and preserved by Chinese monks over a period of about 1000 years.

Ginkgoes are big trees reaching a height of up to 50 metres. They have an angular crown and seemingly random branches. It is deep rooted to resist wind and snow. Autumn brings the leaves to bright yellow then drop within a few days so catching trees at this spectacular point is rare. Amazingly, some specimens are claimed to be more than 3,000 years old.

Ginkgo nuts are produced from the trees and are used and served up on special occasions such as weddings and the Chinese New Year. They are believed bring health benefit including aphrodisiac qualities. The Japanese cook Ginkgo seeds these are often eaten along with other dishes.

TGingko Biloba - Fashionable Right Nowhe seed can cause poisoning to children if eaten in excess and some people are sensitive to the chemicals on the, the outer fleshy coating. They should handle the seeds with carefully when working with the seeds for food wearing disposable gloves is advisable. Dermatitis or blisters can result otherwise.

Extracts of Ginkgo leaves have been used pharmaceutically and Ginkgo supplements are a popular herb alternative medicine for treating dementia and prevention of Alzheimer's Disease. There is a medical debate on whether this is actually effective or not right now.

To me this is a food and whether the medical benefits are profound or not, it remains a natural source of protein and an addition to the daily intake of a varied and balanced diet. I certainly wouldn’t entertain importing the food from the point of unnecessary transportation. Every country has it’s own source of nut products and they should be eaten locally.

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Monday, 20 July 2009

Agarwood - An Unforgetable Scent

Agarwood - An Unforgetable ScentAgarwood comes from the Aquilaria trees that grow in southeast Asia. The trees are sometimes infected with mold and produce an aromatic resin from the result of this. As the infection grows it produces a very rich, dark resin called gaharu or jinko and is highly prized distinctive fragrance and used for incense and perfumes. I remember time in Sri Lanka where this distinctive aroma was sensed in many home and holy places there.

The scent of agarwood is complex and relaxing and it has no comparisons with any other herbs. Its essential oil that are made form this has a great cultural and religious significance in ancient civilizations around the world.

There are fifteen species in of the Aquilaria tree and of those just over half are known to produce agarwood resin. Unaffected wood of these trees keep a light colour, the resin dramatically increases the mass and density of the affected wood, changing its colour from a pale beige to dark brown or black. 7% of the trees in the forests are infected by the fungus. It is quite common for a the trees of a forest to be inoculated with the fungus for the purpose of harvesting.

Agarwood - An Unforgetable ScentThe cheapest oil distilled from agarwood can be bought relatively cheaply for as little as $20 per kilogram, but the finest oils distilled from agarwood can cost as much as $7,000 per kilogram. It is interesting that only Yves Saint Laurent from the giants of the perfume industries uses Agarwood in their perfume products.

I for one will never forget the scent from this herb had brought to me. Somehow this will be better known in the west over time as the globalisation of all things good moves on.
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Monday, 13 July 2009

Bulgarian Dill Potatoes

Bulgarian Dill Potatoes
Dill is a herb that I never used to use in the UK. I didn’t know much about it and certainly didn’t cook many dishes that required it. If it was used it was in dried form in a small glass or plastic container. To be quite honest I wasn’t impressed with it at all.

Then Bulgaria was visited, they use Dill (called koper) in many dishes, not dried but unused fresh dill stored in freezers. I can’t remember many dishes without dill being included and of course everyone grows it here. When it goes to seed, which is around now, the dried plant with seeds still intact are used in the bottling of many vegetables such as gherkins, peppers, etc. There is now waste form the herb.

A potato dish was made two days ago was made with dill, which had such a profound effect on the flavour in combination that we just couldn’t stop eating once started. Simplicity with dill as the sole flavour to the potatoes was the key here. I will take you through the stages.

The potatoes gathered were still in the ground and the dill still on the plant growing in the garden only 30 minutes before starting this recipe. But as long as both are fresh it should still work for you.

Recipe For Dill Potatoes

Serves up to 6 people

40 minutes to cook

1 kg new white potatoes

1 handful of fresh green dill chopped finely

100 g margarine

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Bulgarian Dill PotatoesWash the potatoes and cut into roughly 2 cm sq pieces.
  • Place in a pan of cold water and boil for 20 minutes or until just beginning to go soft. Whilst this is happening preheat the oven to 220 C.
  • Drain the potatoes and place in an oven tray. Spread the margarine over the hot potatoes so it covers them evenly.
  • Then sprinkle the chopped dill over the potatoes and season with salt and pepper.
  • Place the tray into the hot oven and bake for 15 minutes.
  • The dish is ready for serving.
The dill potatoes make just as good meal when cold or can be reheated with a little more margarine.
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Monday, 6 July 2009

Coriander - Grown But Not Eaten In Bulgaria

Coriander - Grown But Not Eaten In Bulgaria

Coriander is a fantastic herb for its strong flavour and is produced as a major export food in Bulgaria. It is very rare indeed for Bulgarians who produce so much of it to use it in their National dishes – I really don’t know why?

This aside coriander or cilantro is an annual herb. It is native to south western Asia and west to North Africa. It looks a bit like parsley with its It is a soft, hairless leave growing up to 50 cm in height. The flowers form small umbels coloured white or light pink, asymmetrical, with the petals pointing away from the centre of the umbel longer (5-6 mm) than those pointing towards it (only 1-3 mm long). The seeds, another fantastic food ingredient is round and ranging from 3-5 mm in diameter.

Used sparingly in salads coriander leave ad a ‘zing’ to the taste. Many Asian dishes use coriander alongside many other herbs and spices. The herb is never overpowered in taste, even with the addition of chillies. The coriander seeds give an even stronger flavour and are often lightly dry roasted before being ground or crushed to bring out an even more intense flavour.

Coriander - Grown But Not Eaten In BulgariaCoriander is easy to grow even in the UK if in a sunny sheltered position and of course in pots inside the house on a sunny window ledge would being good results. You can use the seeds from the supermarket or local Asian grocer to plant. You will find that if you do go to your local Asian grocer the leaves and the seeds will be much cheaper and fresher that supermarket produce.

I have introduced coriander to my Bulgarian family and friends in salads and other meat stew dishes, but although they like it, they will not use it and revert back to traditional ingredients where coriander is excluded. The only use they have in Bulgaria is to add coriander to the distilling of rakia – this is done most effectively and the resulting rakia takes on the flavour very successfully.

Elsewhere coriander seeds are used in other alcoholic beverages such as brewing certain styles of beer, particularly some Belgium.

Coriander has many uses in all types of food, but you must remember that always buy and store the seeds whole as ground coriander loses its flavour very quickly.

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