Cinnamon is one of the oldest and most flavorful spices known to man. The Egyptians in the mummification process of the Pharaohs used cassia, a form of cinnamon. Cassia was also used in Israel and is mentioned several times in the Bible. Cinnamon is a very popular baking spice in the US. Most children are familiar at an early age with cinnamon toast (or as my kids might add, the breakfast cereal called Cinnamon Toast Crunch!) But do you really have cinnamon in your spice cabinet? Are you sure?
As hinted above, there are actually two main types of cinnamon however both are members of the laurel family. Cassia cinnamon, native to Indonesia and also found in southern China and Vietnam is what most of us know as cinnamon. True cinnamon is the bark of a tree that grows in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). It takes 25 –30 years of growth before the cinnamon bark can be harvested. Cinnamon sticks are harvested from the top branches (the bark naturally curls into “sticks”) and ground cinnamon is harvested from the older bark closer to the ground. This bark is stronger and more flavorful.
Ceylon cinnamon is considered the best cinnamon available, especially throughout Europe and Mexico. Ceylon light in color, is aromatic, sweet, pleasant and warm with hint of citrus. There is a fresh lively flavor in Ceylon that is missing from all other cinnamons.
Indonesian Cassia comes the closest to Ceylon quality and is less expensive. It has a sweet and mellow flavor – this is the cinnamon you probably remember as a kid. Grades B and C are those sold at grocery stores however this sample is Grade A.
Chinese Cassia is an excellent all-purpose cinnamon. In addition to harvesting the bark, this particular cassia includes the cassia buds. The result is a strong, sweet and spicier cinnamon than the Indonesian cinnamon – you can almost smell pepper!
Finally, Vietnam cinnamon has made quite a comeback over the past 50 years. It used to be known for bitter flavor and poor quality and thus it was rarely sold outside of Vietnam. However, the Vietnam cinnamon that can be purchased today is the strongest, richest and sweetest cinnamon around. It has a high oil content and a vibrant flavor that can’t be beat – this is the cinnamon I purchase and use at home.
Cinnamon is of course widely used in cakes, cookies, sticky buns and all sorts of lovely bakery goods. It can also be used in savory dishes. Throughout Asia and the Mediterranean, cinnamon is often found in the main course meal.
And one sweet recipe: my own Mexican Sugar Cookies that won a blue ribbon. I use the Vietnamese cinnamon and Mexican chocolate!!
Cialzons alla Frutta (Prune and Fig Ravioli with Cinnamon-Scented Butter)
Saveur, November 1997
FOR THE PASTA:
2 1/2 cups flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. milk (optional)
FOR THE RAVIOLI:
3–4 pitted prunes
3–4 dried figs
1/3 cup dry red wine
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/3 cups fresh ricotta, drained
4 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. sugar
3 tbsp. smoked ricotta or mozzarella, grated
1. To make the pasta, combine flour with a pinch of salt in a large bowl and mix well. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the eggs. Using a fork, gradually mix the flour mixture into the eggs. If dough is too dry, add milk. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 8 minutes, then gather it into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
2. To make the filling, place prunes and figs in a small saucepan. Add red wine and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until fruit softens, about 10 minutes. Drain and coarsely chop fruit.
3. Press ricotta through a sieve into a medium bowl. Add chopped fruit and mix well.
4. To make the ravioli, divide dough into 4 balls. Using a pasta machine, roll each ball into a thin sheet. Place one sheet (keeping remaining sheets covered with plastic wrap) on a floured surface, then dot dough with filling, 1 tsp. at a time, at 1 1/2” intervals. (You should have 2 rows of 6.) Moisten the area around each mound of filling with water, then lay a second sheet of dough over the first, pressing to seal between pockets of filling. Using a sharp knife or ravioli cutter, cut filled pasta into 12 ravioli. Place ravioli on a cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal. Repeat process, filling and cutting remaining ravioli. 5. Cook ravioli, in batches if necessary, in a large pot of boiling salted water until they float, about 3 minutes. Drain and transfer to a warm platter. Cover to keep warm. Meanwhile, melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Stir in sugar and remaining 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, then pour over ravioli. Top w/smoked cheese and serve. Serves 6-8
Empanadas de Arroz con Leche (Rice Pudding Turnovers)
Saveur, July, August 1999
These crisp-fried turnovers, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, are sold as sweet treats throughout the market the way funnel cakes are at fairgrounds.
1 2”-long cinnamon stick, preferably canela (true cinnamon; see A Mexican Market Glossary)
1 cup short-grain rice
2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon, preferably canela 9 6” flour tortillas
1. Put the cinnamon stick and 2 cups water in a medium heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in rice, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and remove and discard cinnamon stick.
2. Add milk, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and salt and mix well. Increase heat to medium. Bring to a gentle boil and cook, stirring frequently, until very thick (pudding should hold its shape firmly in a spoon), about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely.
3. Combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar with ground cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside. Measure a scant 1/2 cup pudding into center of each tortilla, then fold tortilla in half, pressing gently to close edges. The sticky rice filling acts as a glue to keep the empanadas closed.
4. Add enough oil to come to a depth of 1⁄8” up the side of a large cast- iron skillet. Heat oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, fry empanadas until crispy and deep golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. While empanadas are still warm, generously sprinkle both sides of each one with cinnamon sugar. Serve warm. Makes 9.
￼Quarie bil Bisla (Moroccan Meatball and Onion Casserole)
Saveur, December 2000
This Moroccan classic is typically served as a Passover luncheon dish.
2 lbs. lamb shoulder, cubed
1 russet potato, peeled and cubed
Leaves from 1 bunch parsley
5 yellow onions, peeled
1 egg, lightly beaten
7 tbsp. corn oil
2 tsp. la kama di quarie (spice for meatballs)
2 tbsp. fresh bread crumbs
3/4 cup golden raisins
14 pitted prunes, chopped
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
2 pinches ground ginger
1. Combine meat, potatoes, and parsley in a medium bowl. Cut 1 of the onions into chunks, and add to bowl. Grind meat and vegetables in a meat grinder fitted with the medium-hole disc, or finely chop with a sharp cleaver on a cutting board. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add egg, 3 tbsp. of the oil, 2 tbsp. water, 1 tbsp. salt, la kama di quarie, and bread crumbs. Mix until just combined; then shape into 1” meatballs, and set aside.
2. Thinly slice remaining 4 onions. Heat remaining 4 tbsp. oil in a large, wide casserole with a tight-fitting lid over high heat. Add onions, spreading over bottom of casserole. Arrange meatballs over onions. Scatter raisins and prunes over meatballs. Sprinkle cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, turmeric, ginger, and 1/4 tsp. salt over meatballs, and cook, without stirring, until bottom layer of onions is deep brown, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until meatballs are cooked through, about 1 hour. Transfer meatballs to a wide dish, cover, and set aside. Continue cooking onions, covered, adding up to 1 1/2 cups water if needed, until very soft, about 2 hours. Return meatballs to casserole, cover, and cook until heated through, 15-20 minutes. Arrange onions on a serving platter with meatballs on top. Serves 9
Ruzz Bi-Snobar Wa-Kharuf (Rice with Pine Nuts and Lamb)
Saveur, December 2000
This traditional dish is a specialty of Bedouin chef Fayiz Fandi and was cooked for the feast by his brother, Hassan.
2 lbs. meaty lamb bones
1/3 cup corn oil
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup slivered almonds
1 1⁄2 lbs. ground lamb
4 tsp. ground nutmeg
4 tsp. ground cardamom
4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 1⁄2 cups jasmine or basmati rice
1. Put lamb bones and 12 cups water in a large pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, skimming any foam that rises to surface, until reduced by half, about 1 hour. Strain stock, and discard bones. Skim off fat, and set stock aside.
2. Heat corn oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts and almonds, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer pine nuts and almonds to a large bowl, and set aside.
3. Add ground lamb and 2 tsp. each of the nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon to same skillet over medium heat. Season to taste with salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until meat is browned, about 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer lamb to bowl with nuts. Mix well, and adjust seasonings.
4. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add rice, the remaining 2 tsp. each nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon, and season to taste with salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until rice and spices are lightly toasted, 3-5 minutes. Add lamb stock, and bring to a boil. Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and cook until tender, 15-20 minutes.
5. Fluff rice with the tines of a fork; then add half of the lamb mixture, and gently mix well. Transfer rice mixture to a serving bowl, and spoon remaining lamb mixture on top. Serves 8-10
These finger-licking good cookies won ‘best tasting’ in the 2001 cookie exchange! I use extra cinnamon and Mexican chocolate in the sugar coating….
1 cup unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup confectioners sugar
2 Tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄2 – 1 teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon 1 1⁄2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated Mexican chocolate
You will also need about 1⁄2 cup of granulated sugar to coat the cookies before baking (see below).
Preheat oven to 325°.
Cream butter, sugar, milk, vanilla and cinnamon with electric mixer until light and fluffy – about 3 minutes. Sift flour and baking powder together and gradually add to butter mixture.
Roll dough into 1⁄2 inch balls (chill dough for 5 minutes if too soft or sticky). Place 3 inches apart on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (if not using parchment paper, then be sure to grease the cookie sheet. Parchment is 100 times better and makes clean up very easy!) Flatten each ball into about a 2 inch round with bottom of glass dipped in granulated sugar. Don’t make the rounds too thin.
Bake in oven until edges are golden brown – approximately 20 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for 3-4 minutes.
For sugar coating:
Combine sugar, chocolate and cinnamon in low flat container. Coat warm cookies on both sides. Cool completely on racks.
Makes about 3 dozen.
￼Bermuda Fish Chowder
Recipe courtesy Suzanne Somers
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
I cup finely chopped carrot
1 1/2 cups peeled chopped tomato
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
4 ounces flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon oregano
4 pints fish stock
2 cups cooked, flaked white fish meat 1-ounce black rum (goslings, if available) 1-ounce Worcestershire sauce 1/2-ounce hot sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat up the olive oil in a thick heavy bottomed pan. Add all the chopped vegetables, tomato and garlic and sweat off for 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the flour, cinnamon and herbs and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Add the fish stock and bring to a boil, then crumble the fish into the pan with the rum, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Let simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper, to taste. 10 servings
￼ ZUCCHINI, ONION AND TOMATO SALAD WITH SAFFRON AND CINNAMON
A nice accompaniment to grilled sea bass, scallops or shrimp.
1 tablespoon olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
1 pound zucchini (about 4 medium), trimmed, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch slices 2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
12 ounces tomatoes, cored, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, onions, garlic, cinnamon stick and saffron. Cover; cook until zucchini is tender and onions are almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in tomatoes, parsley and mint. Cool to room temperature. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.) Mix in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Per Serving: calories, 87; total fat, 4 g; saturated fat, 0.5 g; cholesterol, 0 mg. Bon Appétit