Wednesday, 4 January 2012

SmartCooks Discovers Chicken and Cashew Curry and the Spice Hunters/Chasseurs d'Epices

January 2012

SmartCooks here.

Thanks to a recent expedition to Grace in the Kitchen with the ladies (aren't holiday excursions wonderful!), I came across an intriguing spice/recipe concept marketed by two Canadians -- Ethne and Philippe de Vienne from Montreal, co-owners of the shop called Epices de cru, who call themselves the Spice Hunters.  And indeed they are!  Wait until you taste recipes like Chicken and Cashew Curry! 

Former Montreal caterers, the two partners started the Spice and Tea shop and began what, for them, is a 30-year long passion for travelling and collecting the best spices in the world and making spices and recipes available to their customers and now the public.  Their website is chic-a-bloc full of intriguing facts and recipes. It includes an on-line store! 

I bought Spice Hunters 2:  Asian Family Cookbook, (bilingual, tumble print edition), with a box set of six spice blends from the regions they visited (Sri Lankan, China (Yunnan), and the Spice Coast), including fenugreek seeds and a stick of very fragrant Sri Lankan cinnamon.

After browsing through their website, the articles written about them in the Globe and Mail (Spice Hunters) and Food and Wine and through numerous TV appearances.  I'm hooked.  I see a trip to Montreal in my future.

The Spice Hunters 2 recipe/travel diary book 24 recipes featuring recipes and spices from Sri Lanka, China (specifically Yunnan cooking that I'd been researching), and the Spice Coast.  The book also contains travel notes and observations, as well as tips for grinding, grilling and infusing spices.  A whole new world has been opened up.  Plus their website has loads of additional recipes to use with the spices.  

A couple of intriguing facts of interest, especially related to some of the spices I've featured in previous blog postings.  For instance,

-- Ras el Hanout (thank you again Mr. Ian), contains 24 ingredients, including saffron and three kinds of dried roses.  'Ras el hanout' means the 'best of the shop', according to the de Viennes (see right side).  

-- White curry, featured in Spice Hunters 2, is a treasured find from Sri Lanka, a mix that includes cinnamon, cardamon, pandan leaves and cloves.  The de Viennes explain that curry does not need to be turmeric-coloured, orange, yellow or deep red.  Instead, it is the blend of spices that matters.  And the cinnamon they use is not what most people in North America use as cinnamon, which is called cassia or a ruddy bark.  Their cinnamon is fragrant, with a sharp sweetness that is versatile in all forms of cooking.

So, with head a-swirl with spice knowledge, I decided to give White Curry a whirl and cook 'Chicken and Cashew Curry'.  The travel portion of the book shows how cinnamon is produced in Sri Lanka (a labour-intensive activity) and notes that the recipe was inspired by a green pepper chicken curry from the Spice Coast and a cashew curry from Sri Lanka.  

Be sure to have a mortar and pestle for these recipes.  One small note from me.  I cooked the chicken, as directed, in the coconut milk.  However, when serving myself, I used a slotted spoon and did not smother the quinoa grain in coconut sauce... personal taste choice.  I found the chicken curry flavour more than intriguing enough... and loved it all.  It was a delicious dish and easy to make!  

Chicken and Cashew Curry 


1 lb deboned chicken (I used organic chicken breasts)
1 1/2 T lemon juice
3 T White Curry, ground (included in the box set or order on-line)
Salt, to taste (I used pink Himalayan)  
3/4 cup raw cashew nuts 
3 T vegetable oil
1/2 tsp fenugreek (included in box set or order on-line)
2 tsp green pepper or 1 tsp black pepper, cracked
2 slivers cinnamon (included in box set or order on-line)
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
Pinch ground cinnamon


Cut the chicken into medium-sized cubes.  Mix with lemon juice, ground White Curry, and salt.  Set aside.  

Rinse cashews and place on a paper towel and pat dry.

Heat the oil on low heat and brown the cashews (2-3 minutes).  Remove the nuts and set aside on a paper towel.

Add the fenugreek with the remaining oil and roast for a few seconds.  Add the pepper and cinnamon and let cook a little longer.

Add the onion and continue cooking until golden (3-4 minutes).

Place the chicken in the pan.  Raise the heat to brown the chicken lightly.  

Pour in the coconut milk and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce becomes thickened and the chicken is almost cooked (10-15 minutes).

Add the cashews and cook a few more minutes.  

Garnish with a pinch of ground cinnamon.

Serve with rice, quinoa or another grain.

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