Is it just me, or is it really really cold out there?? Maybe it’s just the Australian in me, but I can’t believe the sun’s shining, yet I still have to get the long johns out! I guess I should be used to it, I’ve been in London long enough, but brrrr!!!

Luckily I have the world of spice to warm me up, and in the run up to Christmas it has been a busy old world! The Christmas pantry is running full steam ahead online (the deadline day to be sure of delivery before Christmas will be prominently displayed on the site), the Borough Market shop is full of gift ideas and buzzing with festive spirit (usual hours, except Christmas Eve when we close at 2pm), and the Spice Santa is in Bermondsey at our Spa Rd Terminus HQ every Saturday from 8-2 except the 24th.

November’s Spice of the Month is the Siamese twin of spice, nutmeg/mace, both an essential part of the Christmas pantry. Our recipes are aimed at comfort food breaks from the usual festive excess, while the feature takes a look at some fascinating ways in which people around the world celebrate and eat over the festive period.

I’ll be personally experiencing one of the Christmases in the feature, by the way – I’m off home to Melbourne to celebrate this year, and I think I can safely say I’ll be leaving the longjohns at home! While you of course can always rely on our spices to keep you warm…

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!!

Magali

Spice of the Month

Nutmeg/Mace

nutmeg-mace

One of the most versatile spices of all, nutmeg and mace are the two products of a tree native to Indonesia and also grown in the Caribbean and the Indian state of Kerala. The tree produces a fruit, of which two parts become nutmeg and mace – the nutmeg is the seed of the fruit, and the mace is the dried carapace which protects the seed, both hidden within the fruit.

Nutmeg is one of the ‘original’ spices which were traded in ancient times along with the likes of pepper and cloves, and it has been used in cooking ever since. Nutmeg and mace have similar flavour profiles (nutty, sweet, earthy and aromatic with subtle peppery notes), nutmeg having the stronger and more robust notes with mace being more subtle and delicate. Nutmeg is used grated (preferably straight from the seed), while mace can be used whole or grated. Whole mace is used extensively in Indian cooking, and is essential in such dishes as biryani, and both mace and nutmeg can turn up in the all-purpose Garam Masala blend.

In Western cooking nutmeg and mace are both used in the making of English sausages, a grate of nutmeg will add character and perfume to foods as wildly different as a sweet rice pudding and a classic ragu Bolognese, and in America it is essential in a pumpkin pie (indeed nutmeg works wonderfully in any mashed vegetable, such as potato, parsnip or swede). They are both used extensively in baking, pastries and desserts. And of course these two spice twins are a vital part of a mulled wine spice blend.

Interestingly, in (very) large doses raw nutmeg is psychoactive and can induce hallucinations! It is also highly toxic to dogs even though they love the smell, so keep Rover away from the EggNog this Christmas!!

Recipes

beef-brisket

Beef Brisket

One of the kings of the London streetfood scene at the moment is slow cooked (or pulled) brisket.
Read Recipe

macaroni-cheese

Mac & Cheese

One of the very best things ever to come out of America, Mac & Cheese has been a Spice Mountain favourite for as long as we can remember.

Read Recipe

braised-rabbit

Braised Rabbit

When we came up with this one, we were thinking along the lines of a traditional English rabbit stew reimagined in the Atlas Mountains, we guess!

Read Recipe

Feature – Bring The World To Christmas Dinner

goa-santa-for-feature

We all know what the traditional Christmas feast involves here in Britain (for our favourites see Spice Mountain’s Ultimate Christmas Feast from last year), but as the world of spice is indeed a wide world, we began wondering, what do people in other countries have as their Christmas dinner? Looking into it, we discovered that the range of foods enjoyed during the festive season around the globe is almost as diverse as spice itself. Come with us on this Christmas journey to exotic lands, and you may find yourself going ‘off-grid’ and tucking into something deliciously different this year!

GreeceAs an Orthodox Christian country, Easter is more important to Greeks than Christmas, but the festival is celebrated. The main meal is often spit roasted pork, and special sweets are enjoyed such as Kataifi, made from shredded filo pastry and flavoured with nuts and cinnamon. Kalo Kristogenisi!

ItalyThe main meal is eaten on Christmas Eve, and a traditional dish is ‘Esta Dei Sette Pesci’, the feast of seven fishes, usually including baccala (salt cod), clams, calamari, sardines and eel. Apparently, the seven fishes reflect the seven days of creation. And of course, we must not forget Pannetone, up there among the top rank of Christmas cakes!Buon Natale!

Kazakhstan Every Christmas Day is Sunday in Kazakhstan, interestingly, and invariably white! In this Muslim country, Christmas Day is not a holiday, so it is celebrated on the preceding Sunday. Christians in the country celebrate by having a feast after church, the centrepiece of which is ‘Plov’, rice, beef and carrots cooked in oil and cumin. A doughnut called ‘Baursak’ is also enjoyed. Hristos Razdajetsja!

Goa Around 25% of the population of Goa is Christian, and Christmas is widely celebrated. The streets are decorated with huge silver stars, and huge model Santas lurk in the palm trees. The main Christmas meal is similar to ours, although using chicken more often than turkey, but a sweet delicacy is ‘Neureos’, small fried pastries stuffed with dried fruit and coconut. Kushal Borit Natala!

BangladeshIn this overwhelmingly Muslim country, the few Christians celebrate Christmas by enjoying a traditional meal in church after the service, known as the ‘Preeti-bhoj’, or love feast. Dishes include chicken and vegetable curries, and special sweets such as ‘Pitha’, sweet rice cakes flavoured with coconut and molasses. Shubho Borodin!

EthiopiaThe Ethiopian Orthodox church still uses the Julian calendar, so Christmas (known here as ‘Ganna’) is celebrated on January 7. The day before is traditionally a fast day, and the early service takes place at 4am on the 7th! The food most enjoyed is the traditional Ethiopian wat, a spicy, fiery stew (which by the way is very popular on the London streetfood scene these days). Ankwan Adarrasu!

PhilippinesMost of the population of these sprawling Pacific islands are Christian, and Christmas is celebrated enthusiastically from December 16 all the way through to Epiphany. The main meal, known as ‘Noche Buena’, is eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve and should include a succulent ‘Lechon’, roast suckling pig, along with fruit salads, ham and rice cakes. Maligayang Pasko!

BoliviaMost people in Bolivia attend the midnight Mass known as ‘Misa de Gallo’ (Mass of the rooster), and afterwards it is traditional to celebrate by letting off firecrackers. The main Christmas meal is usually enjoyed then, and the traditional dish is ‘Picana’, a stew made from chicken, beef and pork served with potatoes and corn. Feliz Navidad!

EgyptMost Christians in Egypt belong to the Coptic Orthodox church, and have some unique traditions. As in Ethiopia Christmas is celebrated on January 7. During the month leading up to this, many people observe a special fast eating only vegan foods. After the Christmas service (which can last up to six hours!) people enjoy their festive meal, which always contains plenty of meat, eggs and butter, all things not enjoyed for a month. Eid Milad Majid!

AustraliaThe problem with the traditional Christmas dinner in Australia is that the temperature is often 90 in the shade on the day in question! Nowadays Aussies have cottoned on to this, and tend to enjoy a seafood barbie instead. In fact, Christmas Eve is one of the busiest days for fish markets, as people get their fresh seafood in ready for Christmas Day. Being Australia, another barbie is enjoyed on Boxing Day, on a beach if one is available. Some people get all the luck!! Happy Christmas!

SPICE MOUNTAIN A-Z

V

Vadouvan – Also known as ‘French Masala’ this is a curry blend from Pondicherry in South India based on shallots and garlic, with a wonderfully aromatic, rich and toasty flavour.

Vinegar – An essential presence in any kitchen, vinegar is distilled from things as varied as malt, grapeseed and apples, and is among the most basic ingredients in pretty much every cuisine worldwide.

Vermicelli – Very fine noodles, made from rice in Asia and wheat in Italy, in Asia served either fried or in a soup. The base of one of our favourites, Singapore Noodles.

W

Wat – The national dish of Ethiopia, a fiery stew made with Berbere spice (available online at SpiceMountain.co.uk) and served with sour injera bread.

Wattleseed – An Australian native, its wonderful combination of chocolate, coffee and hazelnut flavours make it a great dessert spice.

Wasabi – A relative of horseradish, this root is the basis of a Japanese condiment which is bright green, and eye-wateringly fiery. An essential part of the sushi experience.