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Here’s to the herbs, spices and flavorings that have become familiar to me over the years and which I love to use.  It’s easy in a city like Minneapolis to trek around and explore the street-party of international and specialty markets, which increases your odds of laying hands on some of these ingredients, some of which are not only exotic, but challenging to find (Minneapolis even has a stretch of Nicollet Ave, called Eat Street).

This is what God made the internet for.  Most of the below items that I found over the past 20 year period  are now often locally available.  I like shopping for them in person, because you don’t have to pay increasing mail/shipping costs, or tap your foot as you wait for delivery trucks.  Anyhow, combing your territory for these little treasure is always a much better adventure provided that you have the gift of time.

I’ll highlight more specialty ingredients sometime in the future (Africa, SE Asia, Central America), and if you think today’s list is exotic, just wait!

Asfoetida – a gum (tree) resin used in cuisines from India.  It is a penetrating flavor and aroma – only use  a small pinch and fling it into hot oil when frying pappadums.  It actually has an startlingly unpleasant scent before you cook with it, but it is also a key ingredient in authentic Indian-style cooking with an exciting taste.  For centuries, the non-physical and magical attributes of Asafetida have been- at the least -equal to to its health and aesthetic qualities.

Curry Leaf – another India item – I’ve used this herb both fresh and dried – just like the name says, it tastes like delicate curry spices.  Look for it in either form at your local Indian grocery, which is likely one of the only places you’ll find it.

Epazote is an Indigenous herb with a pronounced flavor, with many uses in Central American tribal cuisines, as well as Southwest US tribes.  It’s easy to grow (I’ve planted it in my garden many times) and I put it in various sauces and salsas, and it is a great addition to dry beans when you cook them, thought to have carminative properties.   Having the virtue of being an antidote or preventive to flatulence.  Easy to grow in your garden, which is good – I prefer using fresh over dried leaves when I have the choice.  It has an indefinable, almost chocolatley presence on the palate and in the nose.

Galanga Root – I have this fascinating spice in my kitchen in its fresh and dried state (both sliced root and in powdered form) as well.  It can be found in Asian markets in its fresh form, often labeled as Thai Ginger.  The taste is difficult to describe, but it really doesn’t taste like ginger at all.   Use it when you make Tom Ka, Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk and Galangal.  Also known as Geing bot, and a couple of other perplexing names and spellings, it features regularly in Indonesian cuisine as well.

Grains of Paradise– A year or so ago I started searching for this peppery spice, and it took weeks to locate.  It is related to the African Alligator Pepper.  It has a spiky, pleasant flavor – unmistakably hotter than black pepper- and in the United States it found its way  into the brewing industry, for craft beer.  I later found out that this was one of the reasons it was scarce, as I began looking for it.  It has heat, powerful floral citrus and warm spice notes.

Gumbo File – This is not an exotic spice, since it is a unique Indigenous North American ingredient derived from finely ground leaf of sassafras.  This prominent ingredient in authentic Cajun and Creole cuisines around Louisiana has always been used by the Choctaw tribe (Five Nations) because of its thickening and flavoring virtues in cooking.  You can probably find it in the spice and baking aisle of your local supermarket.  It’s used as the name suggests in some preparations of Gumbo and is also sprinkled over a bowl of the stew at table to further enhance the flavor.

Juniper Berry – I love using this spice.  It does come fromf juniper and is generally fairly easy to obtain, because in addition to use in Native American cooking, it has been employed for centuries in traditional European kitchens as well, often to balance the strong tastes in game.  I always always always have this in my spice cabinet.  In cuisine francaise, it is a familiar companion to a strong burgundy:  A noble Rhône (Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge, a good 1981 if you can manage it).

Keffir Lime Leaves– Prominent in SE Asian cookery, Keffir leaves are becoming steadily more familiar in the US.  I have found the dried leaf in my local co-op/natural food store.  You can probably also find it- fresh or frozen- in larger Asian groceries and supermarkets.  It adds a bright citrus fragrance to curries and stir fries and has numerous applications.

Yuzu Juice– Never heard of this before?  Neither had I.  And this amazing flavoring agent was a beast to find.  I couldn’t even find it in the Japanese section of one of our major Asian super-marts.  It is the juice of an inedible Japanese citrus fruit, used only in the juice or grated rind incarnations.  Yuzu is one of the components for traditional sushi dipping sauce (Ponzu), mingled with soy sauce.  Bartenders also have come to rely on the addition of yuzu to high-end cocktails to add an intriguing and deliciously aha-moment to beverages at the bar.  The taste is often described as the love child of lemon and tangerine.

Res El-Hanout – Apparently like many curries, each family & household commands its own concoction for Res El-Hanout (الحانوت رأس), sometimes with up to a dozen or so individual spices.   It is used in the Moroccan kitchen and throughout North Africa in one form or another.  I love cooking chicken with this spice blend and it will transform any ingredient into a unique dish to place on your dinner table.  This was another spice that took some searching on my part, until I rejoiced when I stumbled upon it in a Middle Eastern grocery four blocks away from me.  I was whooping madly inside my head.

Szechuan Peppercorn – I was first introduced to this deliciously prickly spice when I was living in Taiwan.  My landlord at that time taught me how to make Ma Po Dofu (an iconic Szechuan tofu and pork main dish); and when I first tried to make this recipe back in Minnesota, I had to find this ingredient.  I don’t believe you can make Ma Po Dofu without it, it’s that essential.  Part of the reason is flavor, and another is texture.  This small peppercorn, which is small and reddish brown, has a woodsy, flowery personality, and a sensation on the tongue that is somewhere between heat and a tannic-bite.  The crunchy kernel also retains its almost dinty character, even after you grind it and cook it!  It is fairly easy to find in your Asian grocery.

Smoked Salt – Fortunately this aromatic item has moved out of boutique kitchen stores and is becoming easier to buy.  It is usually made from sea salt (as opposed to mined) salt, and there are a number of interesting incarnations and applications.  I first was introduced to Hickory Salt about 20 years ago, and more recently there are new smoked salts in a number of forms.  This is a wonderful ingredient, and I love using it in the absence of smoked meats when preparing rice and beans, for example, or other recipes that feature smoked cured meats.  It’s especially great to use when making vegetarian foods, adding a pleasant smokiness, but omitting the smoked ham, bacon or turkey leg.  Include it in a rub for fowl, meat or fish, and vegetables, to give it a grilled depth.  Team it up with smoked paprika (available in both sweet and hot powders) to develop complex flavors.

Sumac – another ingredient native to both North America and Africa, and historically used by peoples in both continents for many centuries.  It’s used everywhere from the Bosporus and Mediterranean cuisines, to tribes around North America.  It’s versatility can be grasped when you realize that it can be made into a refreshing cold beverage (like lemonade) or in soups, baked and grilled dishes, adding a puckery, fruity tone.  In North America there are varieties of sumac that are inedible, and in fact poisonous.  If you forage this wild food, you must know the difference.  I bought mine at the Middle Eastern market.





Three years and three months since I started this blog, there have been nearly 7,000 views, online including my various micro reviews of cookbooks- about five-dozen titles so far.  It’s actually one of my favorite subjects, and I have published some 5 or 6 previous cookbook gazetteers over the past few years.  I haven’t counted how many volumes I have in my kitchen library, but it’s possibly a couple of hundred.  Here are a few more lucky finds, often found second-hand.  Believe it or not, I have found unused, $40 titles seconded for $3.99 in local bargain and thrift stores – or estate sales.

For new readers, I’ve been using this basic index framework for a couple of years, for lack of any other template.



Native American Cooking; Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations. Lois Ellen Frank, 1991, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, NY.

ISBN -0-517-57417-9

This title demonstrates that a non-Native author can in fact create a quite decent book about Native foods, as a tribute rather than appropriation.  It’s creative and visually inspiring as well.  Many individuals and Native communities contributed to the book, and they are well credited at the very beginning.  Frank tackles some delightful and unexpected recipes, and backs them up with striking photos (she’s a photag).  If you come across this title, grab it.


The Food of Portugal

Jean Anderson, 1986, William Morrow and Company, Inc, NY.

ISBN 0-688-04363-1

I’m including this richly turned-out book under colonial cooking because it manages to lend greater understanding to contemporary global fusion cooking.  In three hundred pages, the author authoritatively translates cooking traditions across hemispheres, from Macau to Brazil.  Portuguese cookery has benefited from- and likewise influenced foods and cuisines across the Americas, and beyond.

Groundbreaking publications (19/20Centuries)

Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland

Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson

Knopf, NY 1995


Many Minnesotans, especially Minneapolitans, will recognize these authors.  I was fortunate to cook at Lucia’s restaurant in Minneapolis around the time this fine cookbook was published, and it was and is a marvelous piece of work because it is a one-stop celebration of seasonal cooking, upper mid-West heritage (including Native traditions).  At the time of printing most local and seasonal cuisine was confined to vegetarian or other alternative cafes.  We emphasized cooking locally and seasonally at The New Riverside Café, for example in the 1980s.  This cookbook is endlessly captivating to read, with a homey layout and deft writing.

Lucia’s restaurant just received James Beard Award recognition this past month, which gives you some idea of the quality of the food and service at this excellent establishment.  Congratulations, Lucia!

Classic American

‘cookin’ country cajun: Basic Acadian Cooking from the True Acadian Country of Louisiana.”

Bobby Potts, 1989, Express Publishing Co

ISBN 0-935031-40-5

I have a Louisiana cookbook (by renowned chef Paul Prudhomme – which I have previously reviewed) that I’ve relied upon for 20 years.  However, I feel very fortunate to have stumbled on this startling, slender paperback of only 64 pages.  Thinner than a slice of bread, this guide is packed from floorboard to rafter, and front to back, with visually stunning photos and authoritative information and recipes from Cajun country.  I haven’t looked to see if more are available online, but if you can, get ye a copy of this little treasure.

Comprehensive Cuisine

Amana Colony Recipes

Compiled by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Homestead Welfare Club

Homestead Iowa, 1948

No ISBN assigned, no publisher listed.

A wonderfully printed collection of sheer comfort food from the kitchens of the Amana religious societies.  Recognize the name? Refrigerators? Air conditioners?  Various household appliances?  Yup, that’s them.  The Amana cooking traditions are well known and loved, so it’s nice to see them represented in this benevolent book.  There is one index in German, and one in English, reflecting the cultural origins of this respected sect of Christianity.  While the recipe selections are the very picture of simplicity on the surface, any one of them would travel well to a starred restaurant.


The book of Miso

William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

Autumn Press, MA, 1976

ISBN 0-394-73432-7

This handy volume is almost an expression of artisanal quality, just like the authors’ beloved fraternal twin:  The Book of Tofu.  I think I have had my copies for 25-30 years now.  I actually used to make homemade tofu at home for years. There is no aspect of Miso that these authors do not address.  It represents indispensible staple in the Japanese kitchen – and it appears in other Asian cuisines as well.  This is a fermented soybean paste, highly nutritious and a superfood.  Everything from soups to desserts is covered in this fine book, which is also by the way, macrobiotic.


Danish Home Baking

Karen Berg


ISBN 0-486-22863-0

With a focus on sweet baked goods, for which Danish baking is justly  famed, you can find authentic approaches to every baked good imaginable.  The scattering of black and white photos in this modest paperback don’t prevent you from imagining these tantalizing products in color.  There is even a metric conversion chart in the back.

World Food

Traditional Venetian Recipes: Cuisine of the Serene Republic

Arsenale & Editrice, 2009

Verona, Italy

Another slim paperback, probably intended for English reading tourists, would be a wonderful addition to any bookshelf.  With fold-out front and back covers displaying charming watercolors and characteristic food lore, this tribute to the cuisine of St. Mark shows the amazing intersections of east and west.  Marco Polo lived there, and I’m sure he must have had many of these distinctive dishes that make Venetian foods so memorable.


Schott’s Food & Drink Miscellany

Ben Schott

Bloomsbury, London, 2003

ISBN 0-7475-6654-2

Not exactly where to start.  The New York Times did a full review in 2004, Food Trivia Perilously Close to Usefulness”. ( )

That might actually be a good square one.  This miniscule book is tightly packed in tiny print and reads like a fascinating kaleidoscope of incomprehensibly interesting and unrelated information that most foodies would be happy to recite if they do not possess an internal information pause or edit button.  I haven’t read it through, but I think it’s meant for casual grazing and distraction.


Rose Recipes:  Customs, Facts, Fancies

Jean Gordon

Red Rose Publications (who else?) 1958

I never imagined that anyone could squeeze almost 90 pages of recipes centered around that noble flower.  After a quick perusal, you may think of Gertrude Stein, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”  Syrups, ice cream, sweets, wine, soups, preserves, roses in ancient Roman food, theology, poetry and medicinals.  Rose omelettes, rose prayer beads, rose syrup, skin crème, and on and on.  It really is an unusual and intriguing study of an ingredient that western cuisines most often do not exploit.  Once many years ago I made a torte that was rose flavored – and our customers at the restaurant seemed to be enchanted by it.  However it was so time-intensive that I only made it one time.  I called it Gateau:  la Vie en Rose.  (regards to Mme. Piaf).

“God gave us memory

That we may have roses in December” – Margaret L. Woods


Citty Katt procured a beautiful 5 pound duck, and we got together with Hortensia and Chris to sample a new duck recipe:  Duck with Sauerkraut, stuffed with Apples and Currants.  We all thought it was a very good recipe, and it went well with Wild Rice and a shaved vegetable salad.

This preparation can be found across continental Europe and east into Russia. The popular pairing of duck and sauerkraut can be found in French, German, Czech, and other national cuisines.  The richness of the bird is balanced by the tang of the cabbage; fresh, and dried fruits complete the sweet, sour and salty profile.

The shopping list is unbelievably short.  Duck, sauerkraut, garlic, salt & pepper, apples, raisins (I used dried currants) and apple cider for basting.


-a five-pound duck

-1 clove garlic, smashed into atoms

-salt and pepper to taste (I used a tsp of each)

-2 pounds sauerkraut

4-6 good cooking apples (we used Gala)

-1 cup raisins or dried currants

-apple juice or cider for basting, approximately 2-3 cups in all

P1010813Pat the bird dry and rub the minced garlic, salt and pepper inside and outside the whole duck.

P1010814Meanwhile, have your apples pared and quartered – or better yet, in eighths.  Mix the apples and raisins/currants together and stuff into the cavity of the bird.

P1010815We trussed the duck by using some wooden skewers and kitchen twine to close the cavity, followed by tying the legs together at the end; and finally take a good length of twine and binding the wings to the whole, making a compact, uniform package.  Place on a roasting rack

P1010817Drain the sauerkraut and lightly rinse away some of the brine, which is very salty.  Pack the sauerkraut  loosely around the base of the duck, and now you are ready to roast it.

P1010819Carefully empty a cup of apple juice or cider over all, and place in a 325F oven.  It will take 20-40 minutes per pound to roast.  We cooked the 5-pound bird for almost three hours, basting it with a cup of apple juice nearly every 45 minutes.

P1010826The bird is done when a meat thermometer in between the thigh and the breast reads about 150-155F.  Remove from oven and cover with aluminum foil , allowing to relax for 15-20 minutes.  The internal temperature will rise another 5-10 degrees.  Duck is often served pink or rare.

We carved the duck, conveyed it to the table on a bed of sauerkraut, with apple stuffing all the around the perimeter, family style.  If you can find any way to locate a reasonably priced duck at the market- or have a wild duck – give this recipe a try.  We gave it eight thumbs up.


(photos C. Katt)