Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.
~ Erma Bombeck
I owe a few things to my friend Matt: a heightened appreciation for crazy music, my big spice and herb library, and a moderate dislike of bright orange jackets, amongst other things. It is the spice and herb thing I am thinking of tonight as I write this post.
See, I grew up experiencing all sorts of food and flavours – one of the perks of growing up with a kitchen-whiz Grandma and travel-loving parents in Asia. Somehow, though, fresh herbs, dried herbs and all these wonderful things like cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika escaped my attention until 2008/9 (thanks Matt). Thereafter, I couldn’t get enough of them… well, most of them…
There was this one pretty spice, cayenne pepper, that I didn’t fancy quite so much. Probably because it set my head on fire a few times. While Matt continued to sprinkle it into a few dishes, I stayed clear of it and moved it to the back of the cupboard whenever I saw it hovering hopefully near the door. When I moved to Auckland last year, I gladly left it off the shopping list for the whole year.
Then this week happened: an army of germs descended on me like gnomes on gold – and I was in the mood only for unsexy vegetable soup and lemon + honey drinks. It hurt to blink and sleep eluded me… and one evening, in a fit of desperation, I threw open the pantry door and searched for something that would send the germs away. For some reason, there was cayenne pepper in there, and for a more bizarre reason, I reached for the red dust I had avoided for so long. I chopped up a few bits and pieces (spinach leaves, ham, garlic, onion, capsicum), threw it all into a skillet with 1/2 a can of tomatoes and shook in some cayenne pepper in a mad frenzy.
And do you know, my sore throat disappeared shortly afterwards.
- Spicy turnaround couscous
Recommended for remedying sore throats and related cold symptoms
1/4 cup couscous
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Handful of baby spinach leaves
100g ham, chopped
1/2 can chopped tomatoes in juice
Cayenne pepper – a very generous pinch, though be prepared to explode if you are not used to it
Salt and pepper to taste
In a skillet, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the onion and fry till fragrant, then add in the garlic, cayenne pepper and capsicum and fry for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and throw in the spinach leaves, then lower the heat and leave to simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- In the meantime, place 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil. Add in the salt and 1 tbsp of oil. Remove from the heat, add in the couscous, then cover and leave for 2 minutes. Uncover the saucepan, place it over very low heat, and add in a little more boiling water if the bottom of the pan looks too dry or if the couscous is sticking together. Stir in the butter, then remove from the heat again.
- Place the couscous in a bowl and spoon the cayenne-flavoured mixture on top of it. Mix well and serve immediately.
- Yields one serving.
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