Basic ingredients



  Whenever possible, use fresh and whole spices. Never use dried, powdered ginger or black pepper, they will spoil your food. Powdered white pepper is acceptable. Cardamom should be used only as whole pods, or freshly ground if the recipe asks for it. Cinnamon I use in powdered form sometimes, though for most oriental dishes it is added in whole pieces, which I prefer. Since it became known that coumarin, an ingredient of the cinnamon tree bark, can cause severe damage to the liver, I completely stopped using Cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) , which contains much of this problematic substance, and now use only the Sri Lankan cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), said to be safe. Cassia cinnamon bark, compared to Sri Lankan cinnamon bark, is much coarser and thicker, and thus more suited to be used whole in curries, as the much thinner, finer Sri Lankan cinnamon tends to splitter and fall apart. But, of course, safety comes first.  
  Keep your spices in a dark and cool environment, and throw them out when they get too old, as they will loose their flavor. Unfortunately, my spice shelves and cupboards are located directly above the cooking range, where it can get pretty warm. Kitchens mainly are designed by architects ignorant about the basics of cooking.  
  I enjoyed designing my own kitchen in Brazil: Lots and lots of working space, 2 big sinks, and the height of the tables exactly fitting my size. Open on all sides, and flowers growing all around. A big bush of tiny hot chilies just one step away, all year round it offered a supply of red and green pods. It was a great place to work.  
  Whenever possible, use fresh herbs. A few herbs can be used dried as well, many can't. Parsley or basil for example are no good when dried. You can check that out for yourself easily by their smell and taste. Thyme or mint are OK in dried form.  
  Some herbs, like sage or rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), can be deep frozen. I also freeze fresh chili peppers, galanga root, and lemon leaves. Generally herbs with very fine leaves are not as well suited for freezing.  
  In another life, I've probably lived in a culture where "to eat" means "to eat rice". Having grown up in a "potatoes or pasta" culture, my mother used to serve rice only about once in a month. On my birthdays, it had to be rice, always.  
  At least five or more types of rice are to be found in my kitchen at any time.  
  Basmati is what I use most of all, for saffron rice, Indian, Pakistani or Persian dishes and pilafs. It's the most elegant rice with its long slender grains that shouldn't stick to each other if carefully prepared. Basmati is fine for Middle Eastern cuisine as well.  
  Perfume rice (also called Jasmine rice) from Thailand, apart from Thai preparations, I use for Chinese ones as well. It's stickier than Basmati and better suited to be eaten with chopsticks.  
  For risotti I buy Italian Arborio or some other risotto rice.  
  Turkey produces a tasty type of rice with big roundish grains, which I use for Turkish dishes and for some Middle Eastern ones.  
  Sri Lankan red rice combines well with recipes like Fish in coconut milk with fresh herbs, or the Malaysian fish curry, or generally with South Indian /Sri Lankan vegetable and fish curries.  
  Whole grain rice tastes nice with vegetable or mushroom dishes. Unfortunately, my kids (well, young adults actually, but for a mother they'll always be "kids") refuse to eat anything but white varieties of rice.  
  What they do like, but I don't, is sweet rice boiled with milk and sugar, with raisins added and sprinkled with cinnamon. For this I use yet another, rather cheap type of rice, with small round grains that nearly dissolve during cooking.  
  I also love wild rice, only it isn't a rice at all, but rather a grass. With chicken breasts in a sauce of fresh cream and brandy, accompanied by spinach sauteed in butter with garlic and ginger, and a colourful salad, it's another of my favorites.  

To be continued...

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