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Tunisian Fire


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Roam through a Tunisian bazaar, and piney caraway, gingery cardamom, and citrusy coriander will engulf your senses. Red saffron and golden turmeric radiate the color of fire. We add crackling crystals of Moroccan sea salt to launch it all on a head-spinning voyage to North Africa. Scatter these sun-drenched flavors on spit-roasted lamb, swirl them into couscous, and massage them into grilled fish and vegetables.

Moroccan Sea Salt has been made for thousands of years off the coast of Morocco where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. The salt tastes bright and refreshing with an edgy coarseness. That's just what we needed to stand up to the spices in this bold invigorating blend.

Caraway Seeds come from the same plant family that brings us dill, fennel, and cumin. The crescent-shaped seeds are slender, ridged, and elegantly striped. They have a lemony eucalyptus flavor with a hint of anise and show up frequently in German dishes like sauerkraut and rye bread. But caraway is also an essential flavor in North African spice blends such as tabil and harissa.

Coriander Seeds are the pale brown and perfectly round seeds produced by the same plant that gives us fresh cilantro leaves. Their aromas of lemon and sage feature prominently in spice blends such as Tunisia's ras el hanout, Ethiopia's berbere, and Egypt's dukkah.

Cardamom pods look like pale green paper lanterns. Each one holds nine to twelve tiny black seeds that are saturated with refreshing camphorous eucalyptus oil. b is the rhizome of a tropical plant that looks like gingerroot when whole, but transforms into brilliant golden-orange powder when ground. Its flavor is earthy and warm.

Saffron threads are the hand-harvested stigmas (sterile female sex organs) of a purple crocus flower. There are only 3 saffron threads per blossom, and it takes thousands to make an ounce. That's why one ounce of saffron costs about the same as a half-ounce of gold. Saffron's flavor is floral and hay-like with a faintly bitter finish. Its color when dried is brick red, but when moistened it turns into liquid sunshine.

Evaporated Coconut Palm sugar is kettle-boiled and crystallized from the flower nectar of coconut palms grown in Bali. It looks like raw cane sugar, but has a more honey-like flavor.

Piri-piri Peppers (African bird chiles) are small bullet-shaped, mahogany-colored chiles that rank among the hottest in the world (100,000 to 200,000 Scoville units, a measure of a chile's heat-producing oil). We use them sparingly to enhance but not overpower the other flavors in this blend.

Malabar Black Pepper is the principal black peppercorn of India. It is pungent and aromatic with a pleasant lingering heat. Similar to Tellicherry but less intense, the balance of volatile oils in Malabar pepper provide a mild aromatic counterbalance to the biting heat of the piri piri pepper in the blend.

Building the Blend
Some spice blends deliver an intoxicating fragrance. Some are brilliantly colored. And some tantalize your tongue with spiciness. Tunisian Fire gives you all of the above. We gently crush the caraway seeds to bring out their aromas of fennel and lemon. We measure saffron threads by the thousandth of a gram for their irreplaceable color and perfume. We grind rock-hard cardamom seeds until coarsely crushed to maximize the fragrance of their volatile oils. We slip on gloves to handle the hellish piri piri chile peppers, and keep them on so we don't stain our skin with turmeric. We slowly blend in a scattering of sugar to amplify all of the fruit and vegetable aromas. Most spice blends aren't worth such excruciating contortions. This one is.

The Chef's Quick Fixes
  • Rub Tunisian Fire on sautéed chicken breast and simmer in cilantro, salsa and lemon for b'stylla-style braised chicken
  • Mix Tunisian Fire with yogurt, garlic and olive oil into a marinade for lamb or poultry.
  • Blend Tunisian Fire, unsalted butter, and orange marmalade and serve with grilled chicken or seafood
  • Rub Tunisian Fire on grilled salmon steaks
  • Mix Tunisian Fire with ground lamb or turkey for exotic burgers or meatballs
  • Steep couscous with Tunisian Fire, toasted almonds, and golden raisins.
  • Sprinkle Tunisian Fire on grilled bananas, serve with ice cream
  • Sauté Tunisian Fire and shrimp, simmer in tomato sauce, serve over rice
  • Melt a pad of Tunisian Fire butter over baked sweet potatoes
  • Rub baked ham with Tunisian Fire and serve with grilled Tunisan Fire glazed pineapple
  • Season silky purred pumpkin or squash soup with Tunisian Fire
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