I have never been a great fan of cinnamon, that is until I discovered Saigon cinnamon!
It is Saigon cinnamon’s spicy sweet flavor and intoxicating aroma that sets it apart from all other cinnamon varieties and considered the finest cinnamon in the world. If you have ever found yourself lingered over a steaming bowl of Vietnamese Pho it is the faint aroma of Saigon cinnamon that teases your appetite into utter submission.
Vietnamese cassia trees, a South East Asian evergreen, are mostly grown in the central highland province of Quang Ngai. The bark is stripped from the trees, dried, bundled or finely ground, and sent to Saigon for export. Thus, the name Saigon cinnamon. The Vietnamese cassia bark has the highest essential oil content of any cinnamon and gives Saigon cinnamon such a unique flavor and aroma. Available at specialty spice shops and online vendors.
Saigon Cinnamon Sables?
Some friends recently brought back a nice cache of Saigon cinnamon for me from Hanoi. Hanoi is the Paris of Vietnam if you will, and I was drawn to the idea of using the cinnamon in sables, which are in keeping with the French influences left behind in Vietnam following the French Indochine era. Sables are a classic French shortbread biscuit with a light crumbly texture of sand. It just seemed like a perfect fit. A light buttery spiced biscuit with a hint of salt and the aroma of Saigon cinnamon… et voila!
Saigon Cinnamon Sables Makes about 36 (2 ½ inch) sables
I prefer mixing the ingredients for this recipe the old fashioned way, by hand. The secret to success here is to not overwork the dough, which will then produce a light airy sable.
- 5.5 ounces (150 grams) best quality salted butter (at room temperature)
- 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt (Maldon)
- 2/3 cup fine natural sugar (or white)
- 1/3 cup confectioners sugar (measured after sifting)
- 3 large organic egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 4 teaspoons fine ground Saigon cinnamon
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon water
- cinnamon sugar for sprinkling
Place the room temperature butter and salt in a mixing bowl and cream the butter using a silicone spoon until smooth, about 1 minute.
In a separate bowl beat 3 egg yolks until light and fluffy. Then gradually add the sugars while beating until the mixture is smooth and velvety. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated.
Add the egg/sugar mixture to the creamed butter and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute.
Using a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon and stir until evenly combined. Then add the flour mixture to the butter mixture all at once. Begin folding the flour into the butter mixture until the flour is absorbed into the butter and the mixture looks like a coarse meal, or damp sand if you will. You want the dough to be loose rather than clumping together. The less you work the dough the better.
Line a baking tray with cling film and transfer half the dough onto the cling film lengthwise, evenly mounding the dough down the center of the cling film to about 9 inches in length. Then fold the cling film nearest you over the dough and gently roll the dough into a log shape without overly compressing the dough until it is completely encased in the cling film. The log should be roughly 2 inches in diameter. Gently twist both ends of the cling film to completely seal the dough. The dough can then be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for later use.
Repeat this process for the remaining dough and refrigerate both logs of dough for at least 1 hour before you intend to bake the sables.
Baking: Prepare 3 baking trays lined with parchment.
Clear space in your fridge for chilling the baking trays of sables before they are baked.
Preheat oven to 350f/180c Best to use an oven thermometer to insure the oven is heated to the right temperature before baking each tray of sables.
Remove one of the logs from the fridge and gently adjust the shape of the log so it is as round as possible, without using too much pressure as you do not want to overly compress the dough!
Open the cling film and, using a very sharp knife, slice the dough into 1/3 to ½ inch rounds and place them 1 inch apart on a parchment lined baking tray; about 12 to a tray. Return the remaining dough to the fridge.
Whisk the remaining egg yolk with a teaspoon of water. Using a pastry brush, glaze the top of each slice of dough. Sprinkle the top of each with cinnamon sugar and return the tray to the fridge to chill for ten minutes before baking.
Then transfer the tray to the oven. Total cooking time will vary slightly, but about 14 to 16 minutes total, turning the tray midway through the baking for even coloring.
What to expect: The sables will spread within the first couple of minutes and then begin to rise. When fully baked the bottoms should be golden color, the edges very slightly colored, and the tops pale. Timing is everything with sables so bake on the side of caution, checking the first batch frequently to be sure you don’t over bake these delicate delights. You can then bake the remaining batches with confidence.
While the first batch is baking you can prepare the next batch and place them in the fridge until you are ready to bake.
Once the sables are perfectly baked remove the tray from the oven and set aside to rest for a minute and then slide the parchment with the sables onto a cooling rack.
Before baking the next batch be sure that the oven returns to 350f/180c.
Once all the sables are baked and are completely cool you can place them in a cookie tin. With the tin filled, drape a sheet of cling film over the top and press the lid on tightly. This will insure that the sables will remain fresh for up to 5 days stored at room temperature.
Sables are a perfect match served with tea or coffee, or with ice cream!
Adding Saigon cinnamon to French pressed coffee is another favorite. Just add a half teaspoon of Saigon cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt to ground coffee. Add boiled water and allow to rest for several minutes before pressing and serving.
Radicchio’s gorgeous pale green, rose, or lush purple maroon colored leaves are a familiar addition to salads these days, but it need not end there! In Italy radicchio heads are more often roasted or grilled which opens up a whole new window of possibilities for other applications you may never have thought of. The wilted bitter leaves take on a more mellowed flavor that works beautifully when added to risottos, pastas, stuffing for game birds, topping pizzas, bean salads, as a side with grilled meats or fish or, my favorite, tucked into an omelet along with a grating of Italian parmigiano.
Radicchio (treviso) is an Italian leafy chicory (cicoria) in the same family as the more familiar Belgian endive (witloof). There are many varieties that are strictly associated with the location where they are locally grown in Italy. The small round headed Rrosso di chioggia is the most common variety found outside Italy, with deep maroon leaves with bright white ribs. All varieties are perennial with the best crops in spring and fall, although now widely available year round.
Radicchio is rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamin K, manganese, potassium, copper, iron, zinc, and folic acid. Reason enough to include radicchio on your weekly shopping list and enjoy the healthy benefits of this savory addition to your cooking repertoire.
The preparation couldn’t be easier!
Roasted Radicchio (Basics) serves 4 to 6
Preheat oven to 425f/220 c
Equipment: A baking tray lined with parchment
- 4 medium size heads radicchio
- ¼ cup best quality olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- flaked sea salt (Maldon)
- freshly ground pepper
- 2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Remove any tougher or wilted outer leaves of the radicchio. Cut each head into quarters lengthwise and place in a bowl. Douse with the olive oil. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Turn the quarters gently to evenly coat them and place on the lined baking tray, cut side down. Drizzle half of the balsamic vinegar over all and place in the oven. Roast until the leaves are wilted, about 12 minutes.
Remove from the oven and gently turn the slices over. Drizzle with the remaining balsamic vinegar and return to the oven to roast another 8 minutes. The leaves will darken, especially around the edges. A little charring is OK, but keep an eye on them towards the end of the roasting time.
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Depending on what you plan to do with the radicchio will determine how to cut it. Generally speaking the quarters should be sliced crosswise, the width depending on the application, although ¼ inch thick slices works for most applications. Be sure to drizzle the pan juices over the sliced radicchio before adding it to another dish.
Bang Bang chicken is a Szechuan street food favorite that has found world wide popularity and for good reason. The dish is little more than boiled chicken napped with an addictive spicy Szechuan pepper sauce that is salty, sweet, sour, nutty, hot, and numbing. It is the numbing sensation of Szechuan pepper in the sauce that makes this dish so universally appealing. Unlike hot chile’s instant heat, Szechuan pepper’s heat blooms and lingers as an after note with an almost soothing effect on the palate. It’s so addictive you may even find yourself slathering it onto crusty toast for a quick snack!
Traditionally bang bang chicken is served cold, a salad if you will. But tradition aside, I’ve found it is equally appealing served warm in the cooler months. The recipe that follows is very easy to prepare and assemble at a moment’s notice as street vendors have been doing since the 1920’s in the alleyways of Chengdu. The bang bang refers to the sound of vendors whacking the cooked chicken meat just before pulling it apart for serving.
Bang Bang ji si Serves 6
First you want to boil the chicken in a fragrant broth.
- 1 free range chicken
- several leeks, chopped including the green parts
- 4 slices of fresh ginger root, smashed
- 2 inch piece cinnamon bark
- 5 whole cloves
- 2 star anise pods
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
Rinse the chicken thoroughly. Trim off excess fat and discard.
Fill a stockpot half full with water. Add the leeks, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel seeds, and Szechuan peppercorns. Place the pot on the stove and bring to a rolling boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Plunge the chicken into the boiling pot and turn up the heat. Once the broth is boiling again lower the heat to a good simmer and cook the chicken for 30 minutes, or slightly longer if the chicken is quite large. Do not overcook! You want the meat to be moist and very tender. Run the handle of a wooden spoon through the cavity of the chicken and remove it from the pot and set aside to cool.
When cool enough to handle remove the skin and pull the meat away from the bones in the largest chunks possible and set aside. Throw the skin and bones back into the pot and continue to simmer for 1 hour.
Turn off the heat and cool for 30 minutes. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the stock into containers and set aside to cool. Discard the skin, bones, and stock ingredients. Once cool the stock should be refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for later use.
Just before serving give the chicken meat a light whack with a rolling pin to loosen the fibers of the meat and pull the meat apart into plump shreds.
If you have left over chicken, place it in a container and add cooled broth to cover the chicken. Seal and refrigerate.
While the broth is simmering you can prepare Szechuan pepper sauce and the cucumber and scallion garnish.
Szechuan Pepper Sauce makes 1 cup
- 1 large shallot, peeled and very finely minced (about 6 tablespoons)
- 4 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil
- 2 teaspoons dried red chile flakes with seeds
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 4 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste (or tahini)
- 1 tablespoon roasted Szechuan peppercorns, ground
- toasted sesame seeds (see here)
- fresh coriander leaves
Select a medium size skillet and place over medium low flame. When the skillet is hot add the peanut oil and swirl to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Add the shallots and cook 5 to 7 minutes. Lower the flame as needed until the shallots are very soft and translucent without browning.
Add the red chile flakes and the sugar and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the sesame oil and remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly. Then stir in the soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, sesame paste, and ground Szechuan pepper and stir until well combined with a silky texture.
Transfer the sauce to a bowl and set aside for serving or refrigerate for later use.
Reserve the toasted sesame seeds and coriander leaves to garnish the sauced chicken when serving.
Cucumbers and Scallions
- 2 cucumbers
- 6 to 8 scallions
- sea salt
- rice vinegar
Peel the cucumbers and slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out all the seeds and discard. Slice the cucumber halves in half and slice into thin batons. Place in a colander, salt lightly, and set aside for half an hour to draw out some of the water from the cucumbers.
Clean and trim the scallions and slice into very thin strips approximately the same size as the cucumber batons.
Once water is drawn out of the cucumbers place them on a kitchen towel and blot dry. Place in a non reactive bowl along with the scallions, cover, and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. Splash with the rice vinegar just before assembling the final dish.
To serve cold: Scatter the cucumber scallion mixture in the bottom of individual shallow bowls. Top with the pulled chicken, nap the sauce over the chicken, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and coriander leaves.
To serve warm: Rewarm the pulled chicken in some fragrant broth. Place the warm chicken in individual shallow bowls. Stir a little bit of the sauce into the remaining broth and pour it around the chicken. Nap the chicken with the sauce and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and fresh coriander leaves. Nestle the cucumbers and scallions to the side. Serve with individual bowls of steamed rice.
All eyes will be on Brazil this week when the 2016 Summer Olympics, ready or not, will kick off in Rio de Janeiro!
looking beyond the games, Brazil is a mesmerizing country. A tropical paradise with a 3000 mile coastline of glittering beaches, vast rainforests that are the lungs of the world, and an endless abundance of natural resources. But it is Brazil’s multicultural population of indigenous Indians, Europeans, West Africans and Asians who have assimilated each other’s cultures and customs that make Brazil such a spellbinding destination. A country with vast wealth and striking poverty, yet it is the Brazilian’s irrepressible expressive spirit that has captivated a worldwide audience with its lavish Carnival celebrations, the samba, the bossa nova and of course incredible food!
It is Brazil’ abundance of exotic fruits, vegetables, beans, meats, poultry, seafood, nuts, cheeses, coffee, and wines that makes Brazil a cook’s paradise. I’ve always felt that cooking is a point of departure for a vicarious journey into the heart and soul of a country, its customs, its people, and especially its deeply rooted food traditions
I have included a very brief history of Brazil’s evolution and a list of informative award winning Brazilian films following the recipes. See below.
Feijoada is Brazil’s national dish. It is creamy black bean stew, or cassoulet if you will, with a variety of meats and seasonings influenced by Brazil’s European and West African emigres. Black beans are native to Central and South America, with Brazil being largest producer of black beans in the world. Every region of Brazil has its own variations of feijoada, but what would be considered an authentic feijoada may include a pig’s ear and tail, organ meats, smoked ham hocks, and blood sausage, all of which I have dispensed with for the sake of practical convenience for the home cook. This is a really festive dish to cook up for a big crowd. Just turn on the music and fill the kitchen with the beautiful sounds of Brazil’s Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, and Tom Jobim while you’re cooking!
Feijoada: serves 6-8
Know your dried beans! Cooking times for dried black beans can vary from 1 ½ to 5 hours depending on the how old the beans are. This is impossible to determine unless you have a very reliable source! On the side of caution I would highly recommend cooking the beans separately and then add the remaining ingredients for the feijoada to finish the cooking. In Traditional recipes the beans and meats are cooked together, but as stated, this is risky business.
- 3 cups black beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 4 bay leaves
Pick through the beans and remove any debris that may have been collected up with the beans in the drying process. Rinse the beans thoroughly in cold water and drain. Place them in a large bowl and cover with water. Cover the bowl and place it in the fridge to soak overnight. After soaking, transfer the beans to a colander and strain off the soaking water. Rinse the beans and set aside.
Select a heavy bottomed stockpot and place it on the stove over medium flame. Add the olive oil and when hot add the onions and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the black beans and the bay leaves and stir. Fill the pot about ¾ full of water and stir. Turn up the heat and once the water is boiling lower the heat to a steady simmer. Be sure to stir the beans every 15 minutes so the beans don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
It is also a good idea to have a kettle of boiling water on call to replenish the water that has evaporated as the beans cook. Adding cold water just slows down the cooking process.
Ideally the beans for this recipe should be cooked al dente, meaning still holding their shape with a semi soft flesh, as the cooked meats will be added to the beans that will then continue to cook for another 45 minutes.
Test the beans from time to time to avoid overcooking. The best way to do this is to select a bean from the pot and place in on your work surface. The bean should feel firm on the outside. Using your index finger, firmly press down on the bean and slide it towards you. If the flesh feels semi soft, the beans are done. If not, continue cooking, testing from time to time and adding more boiled water as needed until the beans are are cooked as described.
Once the beans are done, using a slotted spoon, transfer about 1/4 of the beans to a bowl or food processor. Add some cooking water and mash or process the beans into a puree and set aside to use later.
Feijoada: meats and accompaniments
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 slices smoked bacon, sliced into small strips
- 1 pound pork shoulder (or smoked ham), cut into bite size pieces
- 1 large onion, diced
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ¼ pond carne seca (jerked beef), pre-soaked and cut into small strips
- 1 pound pork ribs, separated
- 1 pound Portuguese Linguica sausage (Spanish chorizo, Italian hot sausage, or other)
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- fresh orange slices
- Farofa (see recipe below)
- Malagueta pepper sauce (see recipe below)
- sautéed kale or collard greens (accompaniment)
- cooked long grain white rice (accompaniment)
Select another heavy bottomed stockpot and place it on the stove over medium flame. Add the olive oil and when hot add the bacon and pork shoulder and sear until lightly browned. Add the onions and garlic and continue to cook until soft. Add enough water to fill the stockpot to the halfway mark. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the carne seca and cook for 30 minutes. Then add the pork ribs and continue to cook for 20 minutes, adding more water as needed.
While the meats are cooking, add 1 tablespoons olive oil to a skillet set over medium high heat. When hot add the sausage and brown on all sides. Add a little water and deglaze the pan and set aside to cool. When the sausage is cool enough to handle cut it into bit size pieces and set aside.
At this point you are going to add the meats to the cooked beans.
Reheat the beans to a simmer and then add the meats along with the stock to the beans. Bring to a boil. Then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Then add the reserved sausage and deglazing liquid and the reserved bean puree and stir in until well combine. Continue to cook another 15 to 20 minutes, again stirring from time to time. The feijoada should have the consistency of cream soup. Skim off excess fat that has risen to the surface and discard.
Taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Finished!
Feijoada is always served with sautéed kale or collards along with steaming hot long grain rice, so you want to have them prepared in advance.
Spoon the feijoada onto individual plates, being sure to include a selection of all the assorted meats for each serving, as well as an ample amount of beans and cooking broth. Garnish with fresh orange slices as pictured. Add the kale (or collards) and rice to each plate and serve promptly.
Place a small bowl of Farofa and a bowl of Malagueta pepper sauce on the table.
Storage: Any leftover Feijoada improves with age and will keep for 3 to 4 days refrigerated.
Farofa: This is a condiment that is served with most bean dishes throughout Brazil. It has a slight nutty flavor that is surprisingly complimentary.
- 1 cup manioc flour (cassava flour)
- 1 tablespoon bacon fat (or olive oil)
- 2 garlic cloves, microplaned
- several pinches of sea salt
If manioc flour is unavailable, you can substitute chickpea flour, rice flour, or all purpose flour.
Place the bacon fat or oil in a skillet set over medium low heat. Swirl the pan as it heats up to coat the bottom of the pan. Scatter the flour evenly over the surface of the pan. Add the garlic and salt and stir continuously, being sure to turn the flour over as it browns. After a few minutes the mixture will turn a light golden color. Do not over cook! Transfer the toasted flour at just the right moment to a bowl to cool.
Mola de Pimenta Malagueta (Malagueta pepper sauce)
Malagueta chile peppers are native to Brazil. They are very hot! They are hard to find outside of Brazil, but small Thai bird’s eye chiles are an excellent substitute.
- 1 red onion, finely minced
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 3 or more Malagueta chiles (or very hot red or green chiles, fresh or pickled), minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 to 2 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar
- sea salt to taste
You can remove the seeds from the chilies if you would like to reduce the heat a little bit.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet set over medium heat. When hot add the onions, garlic, and chilies. Cook for 5 or 6 minutes until the onions are very soft and translucent. Press the onion mixture against the bottom of the pan while cooking. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar and stir to combine. Stir in salt to taste.
Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Brief history of Brazil
The Portuguese first sailed into Porto Seguro in 1502. The native Tupinamba Indians were the only inhabitants. Small Portuguese colonies sprouted up to fell and trade in Pua- Brasil red wood. Sugar cane was the next trade resource with plantations that required laborers. At first the native population was enslaved, but many either escaped or died from European diseases. The Portuguese then turned to West African slaves for a labor force. As trade grew various interlopers became increasingly troublesome so the Portuguese monarch installed a governor and a established a capital in what is now Salvador.
At the end of the 17th century precious gems and gold were discovered that essentially launched a gold rush of fortune hunters that needed to be regulated, so the capital was moved to Rio de Janeiro to centralize control.
Cotton and tobacco were introduced to bolster the emerging economy, followed by cattle ranching in the interior. It became clear to the Portuguese monarchy that the Portuguese in Brazil were stripping the country of its natural resources rather than developing a local economy. King Dom Joao VI, who was chased out of Portugal by Napoleon’s armies in 1808, arrived in Brazil and implemented major changes in the direction the country was heading. Investments were made in government buildings, a university, a bank, and a mint, and ports were opened to international trade.
Once Napoleon was defeated Dom Joao decided to return to Portugal, leaving his son Pedro I in charge of governing Brazil. But Pedro had other ideas and proclaimed Brazil’s independence from Portugal on September 7, 1822 and renamed the county The Brazilian Empire. Pedro I stepped aside in 1840, leaving his son Pedro II, who was 4 at the time, to rule. He grew up to become a progressive thinker, a supporter of freedom of speech and civil liberties, and abolished slavery in 1888. With the abolition of slavery a landowner’s rebellion ensued. Eventually Brazil’s first republican government was formed in 1899.
Brazil’s second wave of immigration began in 1800 and continued through the world wars, which greatly influence the face of modern day Brazil as one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.
In 1930 a military coup seized power with military rule continuing until 1985 when a civilian government was restored with a transition to a democratic republic. The first direct elections were held in 1989. There have been six elected presidents since, many of whom werecaught up in political scandal and corruption.
Brazilian films: Another window of interest you might like to explore.
A short list follows of award winning films.
Embrace the Serpent 2015
Waste Land 2010
Linha de Passe 2008
City of God 2002
Central Station 1998
Four Days in September 1997