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Monday, January 23, 2017

Feeling Chai and Mighty

Cold weather is upon us and one of the best ways to warm yourself up is a seasonally appropriate beverage. I usually burrow myself under the blanket with a cup of hot chocolate, mulled cider, or, my personal favorite, a masala chai tea. It has the right amount of sweetness and spice that lingers throughout a frigid night or a lazy morning.

There are a few basic ingredients in a masala chai that can vary by tradition or preference. It typically involves black tea, milk, cardamom, and cinnamon sticks. Some keep their chai distinct by adding peppercorns and cloves. There are many recipes, but I try to keep mine personal. As much as I love the classic chai recipe, I've added a few more distinct ingredients that you can easily purchase from the spice shop. Let's start with the classic.

Chai Tea 1-2-3

1 tablespoon loose leaf black tea
1 cup of milk
1 cup of water
2 Ceylon cinnamon sticks
2 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
3 whole cloves (optional)
3 peppercorns (optional)
3 teaspoons of sugar (optional)

1. Put all the ingredients in a small pot and simmer on low to medium heat for at least 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Try not to boil the mixture to prevent milk from curdling.
2. Strain all the solids and pour the liquid in a nice wintery mug. Garnish with one cinnamon stick if you so prefer.

Next up, my own version of chai tea. With my bartending background and a focus on DIY-mixology, experimentation and understanding flavor combinations is second nature. And with so many options at Bazaar Spices, I couldn't help myself. I chose the funky, peaty, caffeine-free rooibos red tea because my daily caffeine intake has already reached its limit. Vanilla soy milk adds the right amount of sweetness and vanilla note. Cubeb berries have notes of allspice and Sichuan pepper offer heat and citrus. It's unique and fun to drink!

Olive's Chai

1 tablespoon loose leaf rooibos tea
1.5 cups of vanilla soy milk
1/2 cup hot water
2 Ceylon cinnamon sticks
2 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
2 whole cloves
2 cubeb berries
2 Sichuan peppercorns

1. Put all the ingredients in a French press except for the vanilla soy milk.
2. Steep for about 5-10 minutes until fragrant. Using the plunger, slowly press down all the spices until the liquids and solids are separated. Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!
3. Microwave the soy milk until warm, about 30 seconds or so.
4. Carefully add the steeped tea into the mug and stir.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Purple Corn Tortillas

Growing up in the dry, eastern side of Washington state, not too far from where my great-grandparents settled after leaving Mexico in 1923, I had my fair share of delicious, fresh-from-the-oven flour and corn tortillas. But after my family moved from Washington, the fresh tortillas were but a distant memory. Until, of course, I took things into my own hands.

I started making my own flour tortillas a few years ago, and, while a little time consuming, they are almost as good as what I remember from the local Mexican grocery store in Moses Lake, Washington. Corn tortillas, though, proved to be a little trickier.

A few months back I spotted this recipe for corn tortillas, basically from scratch, and it stayed in the back of my head for a while, lingering just close enough to the surface to keep me from buying tortillas from the grocery store. (Why buy if you can make it yourself? This question plagues me often.)

Once I finally took home a bag of the purple corn flour at Bazaar Spices, I was determined to make corn tortillas at home.

The dough comes together in minutes (literally), but the actual cooking of the tortillas does take some time (unless your kitchen is stocked with 4 small skillets, preferably cast iron, and you have an extra pair or two of hands around). I will also admit: the dough was a bit finicky at first, refusing to land perfectly flat on the skillet and never turning out in perfect, round circles. It can be a little frustrating, and your tortillas might not be perfectly flat. But you know what? These are the best corn tortillas I've had in a really long time - they actually taste like corn! - and I like to think that even my great grandparents would be impressed.

They're also gluten free and vegan - fancy that.

Purple Corn Tortillas
adapted from Mark Bitman's Almost-From-Scratch Corn Tortillas

1 1/4 cup masa harina (available at many grocery stores and Latin American markets)
1/4 cup purple corn flour, plus extra for kneading
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup warm water, or more as needed

In a medium bowl, stir the masa harina, 1/4 cup purple corn flour, and sea salt together with a fork, then with a spoon mix in the vegetable oil. Pour in most of the water, mixing everything together with the spoon, then slowly add the rest of the water, stirring until a dough forms. Use more water if necessary.

Lightly flour a work surface with the extra purple corn flour, then knead the dough for a few minutes - it should be a fairly smooth dough but won't be elastic like when you're working with flour breads. (Actually, it will feel sort of like Play-Doh. Don't be alarmed.) Form the dough into a ball and wrap tightly in plastic, then let rest for 30 minutes to a few hours.

When you're ready to make the tortillas, break off pieces about the size of a walnut (yielding about 15 pieces in all), then lightly roll them in purple corn flour. Flatten the pieces into thin circles with a tortilla press or between two pieces of plastic wrap. If using plastic wrap, just press the pieces into rough circles with your fingers and don't even bother with a rolling pin - less to clean up! Roll a few tortillas, then start cooking, rolling more while the tortillas cook.

Warm a medium, heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron is great, or a comal if you happen to have one) over medium heat for a few minutes. Swiftly flip a rolled tortilla onto the pan, and let it cook for 2 to 3 minutes on one side before flipping over with a spatula. Repeat with the rest, stacking them on a plate covered with aluminum foil to keep them warm. Leftovers keep in the refrigerator for up to a week - reheat them for a few minutes on the skillet before serving.

Yield: About 15 tortillas


Kara Elder grew up playing in the kitchen cupboards and reading cookbooks for fun while watching her mom cook tasty Mexican meals. After graduating with a degree in Russian, she found herself increasingly interested in reading food blogs and planning menus. Kara, her mom, and her sister started a food blog of their own, The Troika Table. Kara is a former Bazaar Spices Team Member and also worked for Joan Nathan, a DC-based cookbook author and food writer. She currently serves as a food writer for The Washington Post. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Coconut Arroz con Leche with Chia Seeds & Cacao Nibs!

To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15th to October 15th), I decided to make this really unique arroz con leche (Latin American rice pudding). As a child, I would have chosen my mother's arroz con leche over a pudding snack pack any day. The idea of recreating this comfort food and making it just as good, I'll admit, seemed a bit of long shot but I promise you: this rice pudding hits the spot! Not only that, it's also vegan and has two awesome super foods.

While rice was brought by the Spanish, cacao and chia seeds are natural gifts native to the Americas. About 3,000 to 4,000 years ago in southern Mexico, cacao plants began being cultivated by the Olmec. The nibs from the cacao plant were often made into a paste and mixed with water to make a chocolate drink called “xocolātl”1 (this is where the word "chocolate" is derived). As for chia seeds, evidence has shown they've been used by humans since 3500 BC. They were a staple food to the Aztecs and Mayans. Chia was ground into flour, pressed for oil or mixed with water as a drink.2 One thing these two ingredients have in common is that they were both believed to hold mystical qualities, and with good reason.

Cacao and chia seeds have amazing health benefits. Cacao nibs contain fiber, iron, are loaded with antioxidants, and help boost energy.3  Chia seeds also contain fiber, as well as protein, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, and omega-3s.4  So with all this in mind, I just had to incorporate these ingredients in my arroz con leche, and the end product was delicioso!

Note: This recipe serves 4 people

Soaked Chia Mix*
1/3 cup of chia seeds
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk (or any other non-dairy milk)
1/4 teaspoon pure Mexican vanilla extract (in-store product)

Rice Pudding
1/2 cup of arborio rice
1 cinnamon stick
1 (13.5 oz) can of of coconut milk
1 1/2 teaspoons of Mexican vanilla extract
1/3 cup of turbinado sugar (in-store product)
Water (enough to cover rice)

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup of cacao nibs


The night before...

Pour almond milk into a glass and stir in vanilla extract. Then, pour your chia seeds and stir. Cover the top of the glass with plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge and let it soak overnight. (This what I did, but you could just use a jar)

The next day...

Place rice and cinnamon stick in a pot and cover with water. Bring the rice to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove cinnamon stick. Stir in coconut milk, vanilla extract, and sugar. Then simmer until almost all the liquid is absorbed (about 15 minutes).

Turn off the heat and add chia seed almond milk mix and stir. *I ended up using about 3/4 of the mix and saving the rest.

As it cools...

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees. Spread the coconut flakes in a thin layer over a baking sheet and bake on the lowest rack setting for two to three minutes or until lightly toasted (make sure they don't burn).


Sprinkle coconut flakes and cacao nibs for each serving and enjoy!

**(Recipe Modified inspired by: http://www.food.com/recipe/rice-pudding-made-with-coconut-milk-113661 and http://www.washingtonian.com/blogs/wellbeing/healthy-eating/chocolate-coconut-rice-pudding-breakfast-recipe.php) 
1 - http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/hot-chocolate-for-strength
2 - http://www.doctoroz.com/blog/lindsey-duncan-nd-cn/chia-ancient-super-secret 
3 - http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/02/cacao-nibs_n_3695571.html 
4 - http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/03/chia-seed-benefits-_n_3379831.html 

Sara is currently studying romance languages at the University of Maryland, College Park. As a student and a team member of Bazaar Spices, she is able to fuel her interest in understanding different cultures. For Sara, understanding different cultures is key to connecting with people, and there is nothing more gratifying to her than that.