Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |   Volume 7, Issue 37, Tuesday, September 18, 2012  |




Using spices often makes a cook feel like a magician and rightfully so, given the dramatic change that a pinch of an herb or spice can bring about in your otherwise everyday cooking. Here are some spices and herbs which can help you gather those extra cooking points.

By Raisaa Tashnova
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

The quintessential herb of summer, basil adds its subtle magic to just about every kind of dish from appetiser to salad to dessert. A member of the mint family, basil adds a slightly sweet Mediterranean-inspired flavour to a range of dishes such as stir-fried chicken, shrimp and many more. Basil sauce goes wonderfully with most fish types and the herb is perfect for a minty dip concoction.

Sesame seeds are found in white and black varieties with a nutty flavour for the former and a more bitter taste to the latter. Sesame seeds almost always have to be toasted before being used. For both varieties, the main purpose of sesame seed is decorative. However, sub-continental cuisine has taken help of this spice as an addition to curry pastes for biriyani and meat gravy. Also, garlic and sesame paste is a wonderful seasoning for fish. Sesame seeds contain a high percentage of oil, so it is important to check to make sure that they don't smell rancid before using. Sesame seeds are a nutritional goldmine -- high in mineral content, protein and calcium.

All three of these herbs have a sharp, tangy, green weed taste. Coriander (also dhania) is more common to the Bangladeshi cook but we rarely use its cousins, dill and parsley. All these herbs can be used to marinate meat and infuse it with a fresh aroma. It also works wonders as fish seasoning and parsley specifically can be sprinkled on top of salad and vegetables. Crushed and pulverised forms of these herbs can be added to salsa or everyday curry to provide that unique twist of taste. One uncommon use of coriander seeds is to roast it and leave it whole to provide a tasty, savoury snack.

A European herb, rosemary has a savoury, resinous flavour and aroma and goes very well with most meats, particularly chicken. Hence, rosemary can be made into paste and used to marinate chicken or used in chicken curry. It is also yummy with potatoes and can be used as a dip for potato wedges or a thick sauce for mashed potatoes. The leaves fried in oil until they are crispy can also be sprinkled over meat dishes.

Popular in our country is onion chive (also peyaj-pata) which is used as seasoning on many meat and fish dishes. The newly available garlic chive can also be used for creative cooking to provide soup, chicken, fish or vegetable an added aroma and tangy twist.

This too is a European herb produced mainly in Spain and France. French thyme is, however, recognised as being of higher quality than the Spanish variety. Thyme has a lemony-peppery taste (sour hot) and goes well with roasted chicken. Dried thyme can be simply sprinkled over everything -- meat, fish, vegetable, salad and salsa. Thyme is used in stuffing, curries and for seasoning.

Paprika is a spice made from the grinding of dried hot or sweet red bell peppers (Capsicum) and hence can taste very hot or mild. Its seasoning can make many cuisines colourful and flavoured. For our culinary culture, its use can be allocated to season and colour rices, curries, and soups. It can also be used as an ingredient that is mixed with meats and other spices. Paprika may be smoked for additional flavour.

Spicy in taste, this spice has been gaining popularity in the sub-continent cuisine for the past few years. Oregano can be combined with pulses (also daal) and kidney beans to concoct a delicious protein meal supplement. Oregano with garlic is a good seasoning for fish. It can also be used in home-made sauce and salsa.


Cupcake Coup

It took a while coming, but it seems the cupcake craze is finally catching on with the Dhakaites. Sex and the City and How I Met Your Mother brought cupcakes to the forefront of dessert lovers, who till then never realised the true goodness behind the fancy looking cakes in cups.

However, times have changed and now when it comes to cupcakes, just a creamy layer on top does not suffice.

Different flavours, toppings, presentations and melt-in-your-mouth goodness are all the requirements a good cupcake is expected to fulfil.

Sugar-lust isn't the only thing driving this sugary revolution; cupcakes have transcended to food fashion status, on the same page as lattes and cappuccinos. However, now the question begs to be answered; where can we get the best cupcake in the city?

Well, don't trouble yourself searching for possibly the best cupcake, rather wait for them to be delivered right to your doorstep.

Except, instead of just jumping the cupcake bandwagon, let's talk a bit about cuptails.

Des'ree Cuptails specialises in cocktail/mocktail-inspired made-to-order delectable cupcakes, catered to you. Cuptails are made to order by hand within 24 hours of your event in most cases.

These little treats are sure to be a hit and the talk of any party you plan on hosting. You can order batches of 6 for Tk.1650 and 12 at Tk.3,300 .

Call +8801754079229 or text at +8801752844527 to place your order and find out payment methods and further details. Delivery is made to almost every place in Dhaka, bar a few, but you can set up a convenient pick up point. Giving in to a sugary temptation is but a harmless vice, after all!

LS Desk



Hideout in the hills

Nestled among the lush, green, lolling hills of Sylhet, Shuktara eco-resort awaits its guests. Barely 20 minutes away from the main city of Sylhet, Shuktara Nature Retreat provides the escape so many of us dearly crave. Still almost untouched and untamed, the greenery surrounding the cottages and rooms is testament to what Sylhet was when the land was the favourite haunt of the Royal Bengal Tiger.

Climbing the steps to your room one feels the calm permeating the senses, while the ambience rapidly changes from urban to absolutely tranquil. Located on top of the hills are the cottages surrounded by breathtaking beauty. Hammocks strategically sling from trees offering a place to rest in the cool breeze, under the ample shade of the trees overhead. Bushes, shrubs and native species of plants dot the landscape, having been kept as they were for so many years. Lying in the hammock, a feeling of Zen replaces the worry of daily city life, whilst the sight of the majestic kites soaring overhead lends added serenity. However, this is just the beginning of the wonders that nature has gifted in this magical landscape.

Suites start from Tk.5000 to Tk.6000 excluding VAT. The rooms themselves are a sight to behold. Spacious and with plenty of natural light from wall-length windows, it provides an airy and cheery atmosphere to your indoor experience. The rooms too are on various levels, each with its self-described 'rustic charm' intact. Each room provides an unobstructed view as far as the Khasia Jaintai hills on the horizon, whilst on a clearer day one can see even further. All rooms are fully air-conditioned and have modern amenities. However, there is no TV in any of the rooms except the lounge, but the view itself compensates for that. The furniture in the room, along with everything else possible, are made from local materials as the entire project strives to support the local community.

Khadim National Park, Hazrat Shah Badr Mazaar and the Tea Garden Plucker's village are all additional attractions for visitors among others, with all being within a 30-minute distance. Khadim National Park, comprising of almost 100 acres of pure forest, is perhaps the best among all the attractions. Without the commercialisation and heavy crowds of Lawachara National Park, the forest of Khadim National Park remains almost virgin. Carefully tread through the dense forest paved with ample walkways, and if you are lucky you will be greeted by more than throngs of birds. A palm civet is also a resident of the forest, while wild monkeys repeatedly break the silence and can be spotted on the canopy, foraging for fruits. But be careful, these monkeys are wild and are still not used to big crowds and so can be shy but may also react if they feel threatened. Without people talking loudly or buses parked near the entrance blaring loud music, the animals still freely move about. A water body also snakes through the park, bringing fresh rain water from the mountains, purified by the numerous rocks, highlighting nature's efficient system.

Cycling, trekking and sight-seeing are all possible options. Then comes the other important aspect of any vacation: food. Rattan furniture and local art is one of the many bright spots of the resort's Acacia restaurant. Indian, Bangladeshi and Thai cuisine are all on offer. However, we suggest trying out the delicacies of indigenous items, prepared in the age-old Sylheti style. The ingredients are also procured fresh and are all natural and hence the prices may be higher than usual, but quality and taste are assured.

As the sun begins to set, take a seat on your veranda and witness God's finest canvas being worked on. The sky turns deep blue, then purple and as night slowly descends the entire sky darkens except one part which still glows from the setting sun; the experience is surreal, especially without the presence of competing city lights. And as night falls, the wilderness comes to life, the silence punctuated by the eerie howl of numerous foxes, which call this beautiful place their home.

While any season is good enough to visit, Shuktara should be high on your agenda for your next vacation while the wilderness remains intact. As the surrounding hill-cutting continues unabated, and with Bangladesh's remaining 17% forests and greenery threatened, very soon Shuktara may be the only place for nature lovers in the country. The virgin landscape is unbeatable and one should take the opportunity to witness what Bangladesh was and could have been, while enjoying the excellent treatment afforded by the hosts.

Shuktara Nature Retreat address: Uddin Hills, Shahporan Uposhohor, Khadimnagar, Sylhet, Bangladesh. For more information visit www.shuktararetreat.com, write to info@shuktararetreat.com or call 01764543535.

By Osama Rahman
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Location: Shuktara Nature Retreat


home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

2012 The Daily Star