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Spice Trails

The word “spice” is derived from a French word meaning “special”. Used in small quantities, there is little nutrition derived from them, but their mysticism has affected the world Indian spicesprofoundly.

In this remarkable journey, Planet Food guides travel the world to see how control of the spice trails, over the last five millennia, has made great cities and destroyed ancient civilisations.

Our guides travel from the Molucca Islands ofof Indonesia, the original home of cloves and nutmeg, to the Indian province of Kerala, with its native pepper and cardamom.

Leaving behind Sri Lanka’s sublime cinnamon, they cross the oceans on Arab dhows, Chinese treasure junks and Portuguese caravels, in search of the world’s flavour.

See how VeniceBeirut and Cairo grew rich on their control of the overland spice routes, until Vasco da Gama rounded the African cape and claimed the Spice Islands and Goa for Portugal.

Learn how Columbus’s accidental discovery of America brought chilies, chocolate and vanilla toEurope and the Far East. Discover how treachery and subterfuge in the search for spices transformed the world’s balance of power. Planet Food journeys to the Caribbean, where the British established prosperous spice farms, until they were undermined by sugar production.

We visit the Indian Ocean Islands where Italian tartufithe Dutch spice monopoly was toppled by the French. We’re transported to a time when bribes were paid in pepper and Emperor Nero indulged in a spicy excess, at the Saffron Festival in Spain.

Finally, we travel to China, where spice, tea and opium blended together to bring down an empire. Along the way, we’ll seek out the secret spice blends that define the great cuisines of the world, including Jamaican jerk seasoningIndian garam masalaChinese 5-spice powder and Middle Eastern harissa.

With these we’ll create some of the world’s great dishes, each of which reaffirms the importance of the spice trail.


Planet Food Spice Trails Recipe: Ofellae Ostian

A Roman Recipe

In this recipe Ofellae are highly seasoned meat pieces taken from salted belly pork. A modern day equivalent might be spare-ribs as the dish seems to be quite common and may even have been a kind of fast food. The pork is scored, marinaded and then cooked whole and finally chunks of meat are served with a sauce.

This recipe calls for the belly pork to be marinated for 3 days in a blend of spices includingasafoetida and then roasted whole. This resin was known for its meat tenderising qualities and you’ll find that the long marinading process will render the meat very tender. It is particularly good as a party dish – but make sure there is some left over for the cook!

The joint can also be served whole, however, if your guests are more adventurous they can also eat with their fingers.


• 1 ½ kg piece of belly pork or diced pork
• 1 tspn peppercorns
• 1 tspn lovage seed
• • 2 tspn dill seed
2 tspn cumin seed
• generous pinch of asafoetida resin or powder
• 2 bay berries or a large fresh bay leaf
• 3 tbsp fish sauce

Sauce Ingredients

generous freshly ground pepper
½ level tspn ground lovage seed
2 tbsp fish sauce
50 ml a dessert wine
a little starch to thicken.


1. Put all the seeds and the asafoetida together in a small frying pan and dry roast them until they give off their aroma. Grind them to a fine powder and add the fish sauce (together with the bay leaf if bay berries are unavailable).

2. If you’re using whole belly, turn it on to its skin and trim any loose flaps of meat. Using a very sharp knife, cut through the meat down to the skin in strips 3 cm wide.

3. Turn the meat and cut the opposite way creating cubes that are still attached to the skin which should not be cut at all.

4. Rub the spice and fish sauce mixture all over the meat, rubbing it into all the crevices. Turn the meat over on to a tray, cover and put in a fridge for up to 3 days. 24 hours will suffice but longer will ensure the best results.

5. If you’ve used diced pork, add the marinade and mix it well to ensure the meat is well coated.

6. When required, put the whole joint meat side up in a roasting tin along with any remaining marinade, add a little olive oil and roast in a medium oven (375°F, 190°C, gas 5) until well done and the meat comes away from the skin relatively easily.

Serve the joint with a sharp knife so that your guests can cut off their own chunks or the diced meat into a bowl with a separate bowl of the sauce to use as a dip. Bring all the ingredients for the sauce to a gentle heat and thicken with the starch and serve as a dipping sauce with the meat.

Planet Food Spice Trails Recipe: "Beef Ystewed" (Stewed Beef)

A 15th Century English Recipe


• beef ribs
• cinnamon sticks
• cloves (powdered)
• mace
• grains of paradise (or cardamom)
• cubeb (or black pepper)
• onions, minced
• parsley, chopped
• sage
• unseasoned bread crumbs
• red wine vinegar
• saffron (or a few drops of yellow food colouring)
• salt

Method – Beef

1. Place the ribs in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil.

2. Add all spices except saffron and salt, then reduce heat to a simmer. Continue simmering until the beef is completely cooked.

3. Remove some of the broth and – with a wire whisk – thoroughly blend the broth, adding red wine vinegar, and bread crumbs to create a smooth gravy-like consistency.

4. When the beef has cooked, add some of this mixture to the pot, just enough to slightly thicken the broth and ensuring it is well blended.

5. Return to a boil and cook for several more minutes. Reduce heat, add salt to taste and enough additional vinegar to give it a slightly sharp taste – it needs to be “tangy”.

Remove the cinnamon sticks and serve.

Southern China Recipe: Home-made Five Spice

chinese five spice powder


  • Equal amounts of the following spices:
  • cassia (chinese cinnamon or ordinary cinnamon will do)
  • whole cloves
  • whole star anise
  • fennel seeds
  • sichuan pepper (quite different from ordinary pepper)


  1. Grind equal measures of the above spices.
  2. Use to sprinkle into soups, stews, marinades and barbecue sauces.
  3. Store in a sealed container in a cool, dry place.

Planet Food Lebanon: Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh - by Ollie Wilkman

                   Image Ollie Wilkman

Recipe By Anissa Helou

The secret of a truly refined tabbouleh lies in the way you chop the ingredients. To produce the required thin, crisp slivers of parsley and mint, chop the leaves with a minimum of bruising. Some cooks advocate the use of a food processor as a great time saver and an acceptable alternative.

Personally I do not agree as the herbs end up bruised and mushy because of the powerful rotating action of the chopping blade. Sadly, to produce an excellent tabbouleh, you still have to resort to the old fashioned and time-consuming hand-chopping technique. The amount of burghul used varies according to regional or family tradition. I learned from my mother to use very little but you can adjust the amount to your liking, bearing in mind that parsley and tomato are the predominant ingredients.


  • 30 g fine burghul
  • 600 g firm ripe tomatoes, diced into 5 mm cubes
  • 50 g spring onions, trimmed and very thinly sliced
  • 400 g flat-leaf parsley, most of the stalks discarded, very finely chopped
  • 70 g mint, leaves only, very finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • Sea salt
  • Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
  • 150 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 gem lettuces, washed and quartered (or fresh tender vine leaves or white cabbage leaves, washed and dried)


  1. Rinse the burghul in several changes of cold water, drain well and put in a salad bowl large enough to mix the tabbouleh in.
  2. Drain the juice of the diced tomatoes and spread the tomatoes over the burghul.
  3. Add the spring onion and herbs.
  4. Season with the cinnamon, allspice, pepper and salt to taste.
  5. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and mix well – traditionally this is done by hand but you can mix it just as well with salad servers.
  6. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  7. Serve immediately with gem lettuce, fresh vine leaves or white cabbage leaves.

Planet Food Lebanon Recipe: Hommus

Fresh Hummus by Marju Randmer

Fresh Hummus by Marju Randmer

by Anissa Helou
Ingredients: (serves 4)
  • 1 x 660 g jar chickpeas (425 g net weight)
  • 5 tablespoons tahini
  • Juice of 1 1/2 lemons, or to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Fine sea salt
For the garnish:
  • Paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Extra virgin olive oil for garnish

I used to make hummus the old fashioned-way, using dried chickpeas, which I soaked overnight before cooking and mashing. I didn’t mind the time spent as I really didn’t like the taste of tinned chickpeas. However, there are now excellent ready-cooked chickpeas that are preserved in glass jars in only water and salt with no added artificial preservatives. The best come from France, Italy and Spain. All are good but be sure to rinse the chickpeas well before using to get rid of the salty taste.

  1. Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Put in the food processor. Add the tahini and lemon juice and process until very smooth.
  2. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the garlic and salt to taste. Mix well.
  3. If the hummus is too thick, thin it by adding a little water or a little more lemon juice if it is not too tart.
  4. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  5. Spoon the hummus into a shallow serving platter and with the back of a spoon, spread it across the dish, raising it slightly at the edges and in the centre, so that you have a shallow groove in between.
  6. Sprinkle a little paprika to garnish.

TV Shows: Planet Food - South India Recipes Hyderabadi Biryani

Serves 4


• 2 lb of boned leg of lamb, cut into ¾ inch cubes
• 1 large white onion thinly sliced and deep fried in oil until light golden and crisp
(refined peanut oil is recommended but sunflower will do)
5 tbsp whole Greek yoghurt
• juice of 2 lemons
• chopped fresh herbs – equal quantities of mint (handful) and coriander (handful) mixed with 2 green chillies (finely chopped).
• ghee (clarified butter) or oil
• 1 tsp saffron (or 10 threads of fresh saffron), boiled in ¼ litre milk
• rice (long grain or basmati)
• simple pastry dough mixture for the top – mixture of plain flour, butter and water with a pinch of salt. Alternatively a lid can be used to seal the dish.

Spices for Marinade

• 1 tbsp papaya paste (tenderising agent)
• 2 tbsp Ginger / Garlic paste
• 1 tsp salt
• 2 tsp turmeric
• 2 tsp red chilli powder
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 2 cloves
• 10 cardamom pods with shell on


1. First, marinade the meat in the spices. This is a great recipe to get your fingers mucky:
Get a flat copper dish and lay the juicy tender lamb pieces flat to cover the bottom of the dish. Add all the spices for the marinade to the meat in the above order and mix in to the meat with your hands.

2. Crush the fried onions onto the meat and mix with hands. Add yoghurt and mix again. Add temon juice, fresh herbs and 2 tablespoons of the oil which is leftover from the onions.

3. Leave to marinade for 40-45 minutes for the flavour to develop.

4. Meanwhile, par boil the rice. When the rice is still crunchy in the middle, cover the meat with it.

5. Pour over the top the Ghee (or 3 tablespoons of oil) mixed with ½ litre of the water from the boiling rice.

6. Place the saffron on top of the rice.

7. With pre-made plain flour & water pastry, roll a tick tube and stick to the copper pan. 7.
Roll out the remains of the dough and stretch over the top of the dish to act like a lid. Alternatively you can place a lid over the dish, but do not remove it until completely cooked.

8. Cook in oven at 180 degrees centigrade for 40 minutes.

Serve hot with Nan bread and salad.

Planet Food Malaysia - Shukri Shafie's Beef Rendang

Danielle Melnyczenko

Image: Danielle Melnyczenko

Ingredients (Serves 6, cooking time 90 minutes)

Rendang Paste:

  • lemon grass
  • onions
  • galangal
  • ginger
  • garlic

Finely chop and pound the paste ingredients to a smooth paste.

Other Ingredients:

  • • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • • 4 star anise pods
  • • 8 cardamom pods
  • • 15 cm cinnamon stick
  • • 8 cloves
  • • 2 kg topside or lean chuck steak of beef or preferably water buffalo
  • • milk/cream of 1 coconut
  • • kafir lime leaves
  • • turmeric leaves
  • • tamarind juice
  • • chillies
  • • salt and black pepper to taste
  • • meat of 1 coconut, dry fried or toasted till bronze and dry


1. Heat the oil in a wok and once hot, add the whole aromatic spices – star anise, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and fry for 1 minute.

2. Add the rendang paste and fry till the colour darkens. Add the meat stirring well into to the paste for 3 or 4 minutes

3. Tear up the turmeric leaves and kafir lime leaves and add to the beef mixture, stirring them in.

4. Pour in the coconut milk and stir into the mixture and add 2 tablespoons of tamarind juice.

5. Add salt and pepper to taste and leave to simmer slowly for 1 or 2 hours until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce.

6. Add the toasted coconut and stir into the mixture to soak up the remaining juices. The result should be quite dry and incredibly tender, flavoursome beef.

Serve with glutinous rice.

Planet Food - South Spain Recipe: Paella

Paella is Spain’s most famous dish. The heavy rice-based speciality is laced with saffron orpaprika and can contain intriguing morsels of seafood, meat and vegetable. Every region of Spain favours particular ingredients, however, and has its own distinct method of preparation.

Paella is often served at lunchtime on Sundays and holidays, and is particularly tasty when cooked outdoors over a wood fire. Huge pans of paella are cooked up on the beaches of Southern Spain, catering for masses for hungry holiday-makers in authentic Spanish style.

Origins and History

The dish evolved when the Muslims first came to El Palmer in Valencia, in the 8th century. They brought with them sacks of a strange white grain now known as rice, and the locals learnt to combine what ingredients they had to hand – such as seasonal vegetables, wetland wildlife (frogs, ducks, snails, eels, partridge) and spices – to this otherwise bland new staple.
Interestingly, Valencian paella doesn’t usually contain seafood, an ingredient strongly associated with the dish. In other regions variations have grown up which include locally available produce: in the areas around Seville and Cadiz you’ll find big prawns and maybe lobster, and along theCosta del Sol mussels, prawns, red peppers and lemons are favoured ingredients.

Though original recipes used saffron to spice up the dish, these days it’s worth more than its weight in gold and unless you’re eating at really classy joint in La Mancha, the prime saffron growing region, it’s likely that paprika will be used as a cheaper alternative.

Serving Suggestion – Serves 4

The secret of cooking up a good paella is in getting just the right rice texture after cooking – it should be loose, dry and soft, and be tinged with the combined taste of the other ingredients. Follow our simple recipe to cook up an authentic paella storm:


• 3 tbsp of olive oil
• 2 cloves of garlic, crushed with a little salt
• 6 chicken thighs
• 1/2 green pepper, deseeded and diced
• 1 large ripe tomato, skinned and finely chopped or grated
• 8 king prawns, keep their shells, heads and tails on
• salt (to taste)
• 2 cups of risotto or pudding rice / Spanish short grain rice
• 10 threads of saffron, soaked in a little boiling water
• 1 cup of sliced calamari
• 8 cups of fresh chicken, vegetable or fish stock


1. Heat the paella pan of the right size for 4. It should be wide enough to cover the dry rice in a thin layer. As soon as the pan is hot add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, let it heat up. Then add the chicken thighs, a pinch of salt, and let them brown slightly, turning them patiently.

2. When they are cooked through, (no juices run pink), add the green pepper and tomatoes.

3. Add the rice and stir in until translucent. Add the saffron with the water it has soaked in and stir well. Then add the stock, half first and then submerge ingredients. Add the king sized prawns.

4. Bring to the boil and leave to cook without stirring for 12 minutes adding more stock if the surface dries out. After 12 minutes the rice should still look succulent and juicy. Remove from the heat, cover with a thick cloth and leave to stand for a further 10 minutes for the rice to finish soaking up the remaining juices.

5. Feel welcome to dress the paella with thick slices of lemon, salt and a touch of olive oil.


Places Mentioned - China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka

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