Saturday, April 20, 2013

Adding spice to my existence

This looks like a quite ordinary fruit salad, composed of sliced apples, pears, oranges, strawberries and kiwifruit.

The photo doesn't reveal what's special about my fruit salad: the succulent spicy brown syrup in which the fruit fragments are bathing. So, let me explain how I came to develop (almost by chance) this delicious dessert.

My blog post of 26 July 2012 entitled Roast pork "Bangkok-en-Royans" [display] extolled the merits of a seasoning powder produced by a firm in the port of Samut Sakhon (Thailand), a few dozen kilometers south-west of Bangkok. This piece of pork shoulder, prepared this morning using this product, will be left to marinate until tomorrow, when I'll bake it slowly at a relatively low temperature.

A few days ago, when I dropped in at the small shop in Romans where I purchase Asian foodstuffs, I ended up chatting with the lady in charge about the principal ingredients in this powder: cinnamon and anise. I was particularly interested in the exotic fruit known as star anise (badiane in French).

The pharmaceutical industry had found that this everyday Chinese product (also grown in southern NSW) could be used to manufacture the Tamiflu anti-influenza drug. In the context of the swine flu outbreak in 2009, the price of star anise soared astronomically. Happily, since then, researchers have learned how to use bacteria instead of the Illicium verum flowers to produce the anti-influenza drug, and packets of star anise (either as dried flowers or ground into powder) are, once again, quite cheap.

I bought a big packet of ground star anise. At home, I started looking around on the Internet for interesting ways of using this fragrant product... and that's how I came upon the recipe for my fruit salad. Besides, the weather had become exceptionally warm, and the idea of eating fruit with a flavor of pastis liquor attracted me. First, I needed another ingredient: brown cane sugar.

The syrup is made by dissolving a large quantity of sugar in boiling water. (With a sense of guilt, I prefer to employ the fuzzy adjective "large", since we know already that even the smallest quantity of sugar used to make syrup is excessive from a health viewpoint.) To spice up the syrup, I mixed in a teaspoon of star anise, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of cloves, a few drops of vanilla essence and the zest of an orange and a lemon. After the syrup had been bubbling for a few minutes, I poured it onto my fragments of fruit, which tended to cook them slightly. When the mixture had cooled down, I covered the bowl in cellophane, and left the salad in the refrigerator overnight. This salad is delicious with vanilla ice cream.

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