Mar 1 2012

curry leaves

SPICE

My favorite spice is actually a herb! I adore curry leaves. They have nothing to do with curry powder or curry! They are gorgeous green and shiny but the poor things have had to deal with such an identity crisis as people often mistake them as a substitute for curry powder when, in fact, they have no relation to each other (curry powder is ground spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, coriander etc. and depending on the powder, may or may not have curry leaves). Curry leaves, popularly known in India as Kari Patta, are aromatic and flavorful leaves that can change the taste of a dish quite dramatically by adding a pungent lemony flavor to dishes. I have found no herb that adequately duplicates their flavor. These are easily available in Asian grocery stores in and around the DC metro area. And, of course, on Amazon. If you want to grow them yourself, try nurseries like Acorn Creek: ask for curry leaves (Murraya koenigii), not a curry plant (Helichrysum italicum).

Continue reading


Jun 21 2011

long pepper

SPICE

One of my favorite spices is the Indonesian long pepper. It is a relative to black pepper but hotter and more complex with hints of bay and ginger. Today, long pepper is an extremely rare ingredient in European and American cuisines. It’s mostly found in Indian, North African, Malaysian, and Indonesian cuisines.
Continue reading


Jun 7 2011

star anise

SPICE

Star anise is much much more then the “licorice” label its been given. It has a more sensual aromatic smoky sweet aroma that is penetrating when used in sweet infusions and is also a powerful flavor booster in savory applications. Its strengths are many and its weaknesses are few. If used correctly, it can be a real trick up the sleeve and a true friend in a pinch. I find I am using star anise more and more for cooking meat, especially with long braises of tougher cuts. I even use it with wood chips for its amazing coffee like smoke! Use it all the time, and treat it like gold!
Continue reading


Jan 28 2011

pequin pepper

SPICE

The chile pequin pepper we use at La Verdad is also known as a bird pepper. They are grown all over Mexico, and when found dry, are red and about 2cm in length. They are a hot pepper about 7x hotter than a jalapeno, just below the habanero on the scoville scale. The flavor is hot, but not overwhelming in my opinion. There is a certain smokey dryness to this pepper that I really enjoy and goes well with citrus.

SECRETS

To use pequin peppers I like to place whole peppers in the oven until the chiles turn a dark red, just before they turn brown. Then buzz in a blender or spice grinder until fine and use for whatever purpose you need.

Currently I am using the pepper as a back note to dishes. The shrimp cocteles we have on our menu consists of charred red pepper, tomato, white onion and garlic mixed with fresh lime and orange juice finished with chile pequin. The chile adds a bit of smoke and heat that really rounds out and compliments the dish in a way that one can’t put their finger on but can recognize on the palate. We fold freshly poached shrimp, red onion, avocado, and top with baby cilantro and serve with plantain chips. Its an outstanding representation of the subtle yet spectacular influence a spicy ingredient can have while not overpowering the other ingredients, creating balance and harmony in ones mouth.

Darren Carbone is the executive chef at La Verdad. He hails from Philadelphia and was hired at La Verdad (in Boston) to evolve a modern Mexican approach. Darren’s approach toward modern Mexican food allows him to use modern cooking techniques and creative presentations while respecting and embracing what Mexican food is all about.