Visualizing the Flavour Pairing of Cranberry Curry and Mint Cashew Butter

Firstly, here are a few photos of my hood: The Berkshires of New York. The colours at the moment are absolutely outrageous. My eyes are outraged by all this beauty.

Black and orangemisty treesorange treered leaf

Maybe it’s planetary or the fact that Halloween, hearty soups and pumpkin pie are imminent, but fall always gives me a feeling like something huge is happening in the world. It could be that nature’s insane peacock display of beauty is so overwhelming. Either way, I can practically taste the colours. I love the smell of cold that lingers on you after a crisp walk and the chill that draws us closer to others for warmth. What a super cool time of year. How lucky am I? So lucky.

cashew butter plate

Sometimes, to find inspiration when experimenting in the kitchen, I just set several different ingredients out on a table and see what feels right. Looking at the ingredients, I imagine their flavours and textures and see if they could be paired. On this particular occasion I chose cashews as my base.cashew butter2

cashew mintbutter

Cashews have impressed me so many times with their transformative flavour personalities. The vegan movement has spurred on some pretty ingenious ideas (as well as some truly awful ones) and cashews have been a champion in this process. Anyone who has had cream of broccoli soup with creamed cashews to replace dairy cream will know just how wonderful and surprising they can be. Not only did I not notice that it wasn’t dairy when I tried it, but I remarked on how complex and nuanced the soup was. Cashews are light, delicate and creamy and they combine very well with many flavours.

I futzed around with different ingredients (including a nauseating licorice and smoked salt combo) for a while until I found the winning team. Dried cranberries, Indian curry powder and garden fresh pineapple mint also happened to be on my ingredients table. The results were superbly balanced and sophisticated. No one flavour overpowered the other. The cashews saw to it that every player got along with the rest and played fairly. The sweetness of the dried cranberries, the earthy and spicy qualities of the curry powder and the vigor of the mint blended with the cashews in a glorious way. Imagine that.

cashew butter3

Cranberry Curry and Mint Cashew Butter

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup cashews
  • 2 tbsp dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped mint (I used pineapple mint but spearmint or apple mint will do. I do not recommend peppermint.)
  • 1 tsp Indian curry powder
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • a pinch of salt

Directions

Blend all ingredients until creamy. Add more olive oil for a smoother consistency.

Try the spread on a piece of toast with some fresh pesto.

Store in the refrigerator.

Benign Masochism and Harissa for the Naughty

I really love spicy food. I love the rush of the heat and the thrill of the burn. By the end of a spicy meal, I expect to be a dizzy, fevered and sweaty mess of a human being. Since childhood, I’ve always been partial to strong, bitter and spicy flavors but this preference has grown steadily over my adult life. I think I can pin-point the exact moment when I switched over from “dabbling with spice” to “this boring if I can still feel my tongue”. When I was in Thailand a few years ago, I ordered a green papaya salad because it sounded like a nice, refreshing break from the deliriously spicy meals I’d had there. When it arrived, it made my mouth water just to look at it. The shredded green papaya was mixed with a few vegetables, peanuts and a tasty sauce. Turns out that it also contained a few (dozen?) chilies and was the spiciest dish I’d eaten on that trip.

Harissa splash

I remember the pain distinctly. My mouth and throat burned like hell fire and all orifices on my face were dripping uncontrollably. Possibly bleeding (Well… maybe not). The thing was, I couldn’t manage to stop feeding myself with it. It tasted delicious, and I was actually enjoying the pain of it. Since then, I have become increasingly willing, if not eager, to immerse my senses in the pain of spicy food on a regular basis.

Harissa bowled

Why would I wish to subject myself to this torture intentionally? Do I love pain that much? Doctor Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania theorizes that I, and countless others who share the same pleasure, are benign masochists.

 

Well, that’s an interesting term. Synonyms of benign are good, kindly, benevolent, tender, humane, gentle and compassionate. Not malignant. NOT disposed to causing harm or suffering. If we look at the meaning of masochism, we discover that it is a condition in which pleasure (notably sexual pleasure) is derived from pain, humiliation or domination. So,… what? I’m a docile pain lover? A gentile who likes naughty time? A humane person who gets a kick out of inhumanity? Kinda confusing. Contradictory, even. But funny!

jalapenos

Hot peppers are all part of the Capsicum family and contain a substance called capsaicin, which is what gives us the burning sensation. Once the pain of capsaicin kicks in, the body releases morphine-like painkillers called endorphins. These pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters are basically nature’s way of making us not hate everything. The same release occurs when exercising. Without endorphins to entice and reward us with good feelings, most of us would probably never do it.

jalapenos 2 

So, if you want to have painfully wonderful day, go for a long run, get out the whips and chains and follow it up by eating some spicy harissa. I made some when I found myself with an excess of various chilies. Harissa is a northern African chili sauce. The recipes for harissa can vary from region to region and the style I made was particular to Morocco. The flavors are delightful and the heat is devilish. Beware. Contents may cause pain… and pleasure.

harissa splash

Spicy Moroccan Harissa

 Ingredients

  • 4-5 chilies (I mostly used jalapenos, but any will do)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime

Directions

Blend all ingredients until it forms a paste. Spread onto toast with butter or pesto. Or add a dab to your rice. Or eat it with everything, like I do.

Where Cabbage is Concerned…

…size does matter.

Cabbage kiss

This beautiful Brassica came from the Abode farm. We’ve formed a little bit of a love affair, the cabbage and I.

He is such a man. He opens doors for me and he pays for my dinner. He’s got so much green he practically gives it away. As you can see, we are a very affectionate couple.

Last night was a big night for us. First, I quartered him and shredded him with a knife and then I put him in a bowl. Then I added some shredded carrots, chopped onions and parsley to said bowl. Oh, how hearty did we party.

Slaw ingredients

Next, I felt we really needed to grease things up, so I splashed in some balsamic glaze along with sesame and olive oil. Things were getting crazy.

Of course, we couldn’t go further without the added excitement of salt, black pepper, cumin, paprika and dijon mustard. We considered inviting mayonnaise (we have a bit of a dependency) but decided to go without.

Light coleslaw

After shouting out his name a few times, my lovely cabbage and I made beautiful coleslaw together. What a night.

Light Coleslaw

Ingredients

    • A Brassica of your own (cabbage), shredded
    • 1-2 Shredded carrot
    • Chopped parsley
    • Chopped onion
    • Balsamic vinegar glaze
    • Sesame oil
    • Olive oil
    • Salt
    • Black pepper
    • Cumin powder
    • Paprika
    • Dijon mustard

Directions

Mix all ingredients to taste.

All spices (including dijon) should be about ½ tsp, but you should adjust according to preference.

Variations

Use a more flamboyant purple cabbage, instead of green.

Lemon or apple cider vinegar could be used instead of balsamic.

Stone ground mustard is lighter than dijon, so if you’re a bit squeamish when mustard is involved, it could be a good replacement.

Mayonnaise. Do it.