A Taste For Spices


Have we Irish got a taste for spices or what!! Thirty years ago when I first started the Ballymaloe Cookery School garlic was still considered by many to be daring and exotic. It was ten years before most of us dared to experiment with chilli, not to speak of spices other than a few cloves in an apple tart or ginger with rhubarb in jam or gingerbread. Somehow in the mid 80’s I heard about Madhur Jaffrey and found her BBC Far Eastern Cookery book. I was hooked and longed to learn more about spices so I picked up the courage to telephone her in New York and invite her to teach at the Ballymaloe Cookery School – she agreed. I was beyond thrilled, and so my spice odyssey began. Shopping for that first course was challenging. I hadn’t even heard of some of the ingredients- puffed rice, poha, urad dhal, chana dhal….

Finding the finest basmati rice was difficult in itself but what was as asafetida, amchur powder…… I had no idea what fenugreek or black cardamom even looked like. With the help of Mr Bell in Cork’s English Market in Cork city, we gathered all the ingredients – Madhur arrived and the magic began.

Even that first cooking course was completely oversubscribed. Madhur introduced us to a myriad of new and exciting flavours and techniques, and life has never been quite the same since.

Fast forward 17 years, in 1997, a young Anglo Indian chap called Arun Kapil enrolled on the 12 week Certificate Course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. He’d been an ace disc jockey in the UK for a number of years but wanted a break for a short spell from the London scene. Shanagarry in East Cork sounded just the ticket….

Spices were part of Arun’s DNA. After a time in Ballymaloe House kitchen, he started to experiment with spice blends. Customers at his Farmers Market stall were thrilled to find such a selection of beautiful fresh spices imported directly from Arun’s relatives in the Cardamom hills in Kerala. Demand grew, the top chefs both in Ireland and the UK loved the quality, mail order was added to the equation, Arun fell in love and married Olive, a lovely Irish girl whom he met at Ballymaloe. Lots of TV appearances and now at last the book- Fresh Spice has been published by Pavilion, a collection of vibrant recipes for bringing flavour, depth and colour to home cooking.

Arun has been around spices all his life, and he could talk for Ireland and India about all the fascinating aspects of spice production. He urges us all to look on spices in a whole new way, think fresh and whole rather than ground. Buy in small quantities from a shop that has a quick turnover. Invest in a pestle and mortar or and /or an electric spice grinder or coffee grinder to grind to order for each recipe, think of the difference between fresh and dried herbs…. Sage advice that can revolutionise our food, here’s a few of the simpler recipes from Fresh Spice to whet your appetite for the vibrant flavours of spice.

Madhur Jaffrey, who by the way spoke highly of the quality of Arun’s spices when she was over for the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine in 2013, has also published a new book Vegetarian Curry Easy.


Aloo Tikki – Potato Fritters
with Sizzled Tomatoes 

My dad often used to make us fried potato cakes when he got into the kitchen when Mum was out. They’re a staple of any street-food vendor in northern India and a must-have whenever you’re walking around the streets of Old Delhi in winter. This is my version – simple, effective and totally delicious. If you have a splash guard, then I’d recommend using it here, because the tomato sauce really spits. A bit messy, I grant you, but essential for the finished dish, so don’t be tempted to turn down the heat – but do be careful not to burn it.

makes 8 patties

500g (1lb 2 oz) floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper, peeled

3–4 tbsp sunflower oil

150g (5½oz) onion, diced

30g (1oz) fresh ginger, finely grated

2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped (use less if you don’t want it too hot)

3 tsp Garam Masala blend (see page 267)

1 tsp powdered turmeric

2 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp sea salt

1 handful mint leaves, torn or chopped

1 small handful coriander leaves, chopped


For the sizzled tomatoes:

3 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

400g (14oz) tin whole plum tomatoes, drained

1 pinch finely ground black pepper

Sea salt


  1. Put the potatoes in a saucepan and cover generously with water. Bring to the boil and boil for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and lightly mash. Set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy-based frying pan or sauté pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and fry gently for 3 minutes, then add the ginger and continue cooking until the onion is soft.
  3. Add the chillies, the Garam Masala, turmeric, mustard seeds and salt. Stir and cook for 2 minutes more, then turn off the heat, set aside and allow to cool to tepid.
  4. Add the herbs and mashed potato and mix thoroughly. Divide the potato mix into eight mounds, then form them into evenly sized balls.
  5. Add a little more oil to the frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add three or four balls. Gently press them down into flat but chunky patties and cook for about 10 minutes until light brown on each side. Repeat until you’ve cooked all the potato fritters. Serve immediately with
    Sizzled Tomatoes (see page 182).
  6. Put a large saucepan over a medium–low heat. Add the olive oil and garlic slices and cook for a few minutes to soften without browning.
  7. Add the tomatoes, pepper and salt to taste, then turn up the heat and cook fiercely, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn.
  8. The tomatoes will release all of their juices. When all the thin liquid has evaporated, add a splash more olive oil, adjust the seasoning and serve hot.


Just Raw 

Beets, fennel, radish & shoots, black pepper & lemon dressing

 A superb, fresh and strikingly beautiful salad to serve as a starter, main or simply for when you want to treat yourself or friends to a light snack bursting with radiant, vibrant flavours. Just be careful if you’re going to use a mandolin and follow the ‘user guide’ to avoid nipping your fingertips!



2 medium Heritage golden & red beets, peeled

3 medium carrots, peeled

7 or 8 radishes

1 medium fennel bulb trimmed

75 ml, 2 floz good olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 small dried red Bird’s Eye chilli, crumbled

Sea salt, to taste

1  fresh pomegranate, cut in half

2 tsp star anise, freshly ground, fine

½ tsp black pepper, coarsely ground

small handful pea shoots, stalk chopped off

a generous amount flat leaf parsley thinly sliced 1mm (not chopped)

50g-100g, up to 3oz Goats cheese, choose a nice mature crumbly one, you can use less or more as you prefer



  1. Grab a mandolin slicer, if you have one, or a sharp knife if you don’t. Taking great care, very thinly slice the beets, carrots, radish, fennel, place them all in a medium sized bowl, then set aside
  2. To the bowl, add the star anise powder, olive oil and lemon, then sprinkle in the chilli, salt, and pepper
  3. Leave it rest for 5 minutes, then toss everything together to combine them
  4. Transfer to a serving platter
  5. Now, take a small bowl, then in one hand, hold the pomegranate half just above it, cut-side facing down. With your other hand, grab a wooden spoon, firmly and repeatedly strike the pomegranate to release the seeds and its juice into the bowl
  6. Remove any white pith from the seeds by hand, then scatter them over the salad followed by the gorgeous red juices; drizzled randomly over the salad
  7. Now just crumble the goats cheese, sprinkle the parsley, the pea shoots over and serve immediately!


Arun’s (Fat Free) Mincemeat

This recipe uses no fat, butter or suet. It just relies on the freshest of flavours. You’ll really notice the difference….it’s perfect for freezing or will keep in a jar in your fridge for at least 4 months. Don’t just reserve it for Christmas mince pies, spread it thick on toasted brioche, use as a topping for winter warming porridge…enjoy!


200g eating apples, cored, peeled, diced

100g Muscavado sugar

1 tblsp water

600ml (1 pint) sweet, local cider

1kg (2lbs) mixed dried fruit made up of:

180g Raisins

130g, Currants

220g, Sultanas

90g, Mixed peel

120g, Figs dried, roughly chopped

130g, Apricots, roughly chopped

130g, Prunes, stoned, roughly chopped

400g (1lb) cooking apples, peeled and grated

1 tsp, Green Saffron’s Mixed Spice

1 vanilla pod, split in half, beans scraped out into the mix

½ tsp, freshly ground black pepper

¼ tsp, freshly ground cubeb pepper

Zest of 1 orange

Zest of 1 lemon

50g (2oz) almonds, toasted, roughly chopped (optional)
2 good tblsp, 50g Calvados


How to put it together:

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pan add the Muscavado and water, stir to combine and heat until the sugar ‘melts’ and starts to bubble.

2. Carefully slide the diced apple into the hot, molten sugar being careful not to splash yourself!

3. Stir with a metal spoon until the apple pieces are evenly coated, then allow to cook until they’ve softened slightly. This will only take a couple of minutes.

4. Again, being very careful not to cause too much splashing, pour the cider into the pan, stirring all the time you’re pouring. It’ll sizzle and spit….mind the steam….

5. Next, slide in the dried fruit, grated apple, Mixed Spice blend, vanilla pod and its beans and the black pepper.

6. Simmer, lid half-on until the fruits have turned slightly pulpy and most of the liquid has evaporated. This should take about 15minutes.

7. Take off the heat, remove the vanilla pod, allow to cool slightly, then stir in the lemon zest, orange zest, almonds and Calvados.


Thyme & Pepper Lozenges

Simple biscuits, perfect crunch to fruity sorbet



40g plain flour

45g icing sugar

Rub or two of zest from an orange, not too much

2 egg whites, lightly whipped with a fork

40g butter, melted and allowed to cool slightly

1 tsp cracked black pepper

½ tsp picked thyme leaves



  1. Turn your oven on to low Gas Mark 2, 150°C and lay a sheet of baking parchment, or a silicone sheet onto a flat baking tray
  2. Take a bowl, sift the flour and sugar into it, then using a fork, steadily pour the egg whites into the flour, stirring all the time
  3. Add the zest to the melted butter, then pour this into the eggy mix and stir thoroughly to a smooth paste
  4. Take a good tablespoon’s worth and dollop onto your lined baking tray, then swoosh or rub the mixture along with the back of your spoon to form a lozenge shape about 3cm wide and 12cm long. Don’t worry too much about dimensions, let the mix take its own shape, no need for rulers!
  5. Repeat to use up all the mix, then pop in your oven for about 4 to 6 minutes, until they just turn a very light brown colour.
  6. Bring them out, immediately scatter the pepper and thyme across the biscuits’ surface and allow to cool completely, before carefully removing them with a palette knife.
  7. There, done! Serve alongside your sorbet for a little wow and crunch factor!



Hot Tips


It’s a case of art imitating life as Mary McEvoy stars as a cookery school teacher in her one-woman show, Fruitcake, in Ballymaloe Grainstore on Sunday 23 November at 3pm. Written and directed by Alice Barry, funny and poignant, this play will make you laugh and cry and remind you why life is ultimately exciting for all its ups and downs. Tickets for Fruitcake are €16 and may be booked online at www.ballymaloegrainstore.com or by phone on 021-465-1555.


Christmas Cookery Demonstration

Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell will give a Christmas Cookery Demonstration in partnership with Russell Rovers GAA Club on Thursday November 27th in the Garryvoe Hotel at 7.30pm. This will include Christmas fare from some of the locality’s top artisan food producers. Visitors will pick up valuable Christmas food and party tips as we guide them through festive treats and meals prepared from local ingredients For more information visit russellroversgaa.com. Tickets €25 available at www.christmascookery.eventbrite.ie


Slow Food Garden Convivium End of Year Dinner at, Clodagh’s Kitchen, Blackrock
Slow Food have teamed up with well-known chef, TV personality and author, Clodagh McKenna, who will host a seasonal Slow Food dinner at her restaurant, Clodagh’s Kitchen in Blackrock. The evening will commence at 7pm with a Cocktail and Canapé Reception, followed by a cookery demonstration and dinner. Advance booking is essential for this event.   Slow Food Members – €50 per person, Non-Members – €60 per person –  Please email Hermione Winters - wicklow@slowfoodireland.com  to reserve your place.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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