Monday, January 6, 2014

What's on Your Radar?

Do you ever notice how you can stumble upon something new to you and then it shows up time and time again? Everywhere you look, it is there: Making headlines. On the news. Buried in the book you are reading. In conversation with friends.

I find it remarkable – or sometimes just amusing – how such things pop up on my radar. These things aren't totally random [they usually have something to do with things that are going on in my life] but everywhere I turn, there they are. Coming at me from all directions. Currently, my radar topics include: pawpaws, China, gluten-free, spurtles, and star anise. Today, I want to write about star anise, in the hopes that I can transfer it over to your radar.

Seems like half the recipes I read recently called for star anise – and, of course, I had none. I wasn't even sure what it was. It showed up in this winter fruit salad recipe, in this chicken thighs recipe, these roasted pears, this baked hot chocolate, this pho soup, and this chickpea recipe. Turns out, it is a seed pod from an evergreen tree that grows in China (see, happened again: China one of my radar topics).

It is an anise-like spice. I've never been a big fan of fennel/anise/black licorice, but in small quantities, it can be nice. I like the taste especially when I take a sip of sambuca, an after-dinner drink that Ed likes to order in Italian restaurants. It comes as a shot with three coffee beans, said to represent health, happiness and properity. Surprise, surprise: sambuca is flavored with essential oil obtained from none other than star anise.

I looked for star anise at Kroger in the spice section, with no luck. Found some at Whole Foods and, since it was on my radar, I bought it. It was a good thing as today as we were hunkered down by the fire as the winds raged outside and the thermometer didn't move above 0 degrees, I made this french lentil soup from Smitten Kitchen and this spicy chai tea from Witchin' in the Kitchen.  Both called for star anise and both were warming and tasty.

Star anise: put it on your radar. It's a good one. And let me know what's on yours.

spicy chai tea
from witchin in the kitchen

2 t whole cardamom
2 t whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole stars of anise
1 t whole black peppercorns
1 3-inch slice fresh ginger, peeled
4 black tea bags
2 cups milk (or substitute soy or almond milk)
2 cups water
1 to 3 T sweetener of choice (I used honey)

Combine all spices and tie them in a cheesecloth. Using a rolling pin or other heavy utensil, lightly pound the spices to crush them slightly. Place milk, water, ginger and spices in the cheesecloth in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Bring water back to a boil, turn off, and add black tea. Let steep for 5 minutes, then strain. Add sweetener of choice and stir to dissolve. Serve warm, or chill over ice.

You can prepare a big batch of chai and store in the fridge until ready to use.

Makes 4 cups.

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