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Spice market: caraway

Susan Jung

 

Capital seed Caraway is a spice that, in my mind, is inextricably linked to many cuisines of northern and eastern Europe and the Baltic states, where it is used in breads, charcuterie, pickles, savoury dishes and even desserts, cheese and liqueurs. The plant is prized primarily for its small, ridged and curved fruits (although they are usually referred to as seeds), which are strong, distinctive and aromatic.

The seeds are usually used whole. When ground, the flavour fades quickly, so it is best to grind them just before you need to add the spice. Caraway can be used straight from the spice jar, but the flavour becomes stronger when the seeds are toasted by shaking them constantly in a small, unoiled skillet set over a medium flame until they darken slightly and the fragrance becomes more pronounced.

Caraway is one of the essential ingredients in old-fashioned seed cake; is almost always added to rye bread; and is frequently one of the spices used to flavour gravlax. The seeds are delicious with vegetables, especially potatoes and cabbage.

For sauerkraut, shred some green head cabbage and weigh it. Mix in 15 grams of salt for every 500 grams of the vegetable. Add some whole caraway seeds and a few lightly cracked juniper berries and pack the ingredients into a sterilised glass jar that is taller than it is wide. The salted cabbage will start to give off some liquid after a few hours. Pour some water into a thin-plastic bag (the type used to pack fruits and vegetables in supermarkets), squeeze out the air then tightly knot the bag. Put that bag inside another bag (in case the first one leaks), squeeze out the air and tie it. Place the bag directly on the surface of the sauerkraut - this will help keep the solid ingredients submerged in the brine.

Leave the sauerkraut in a cool, dark place for about a week before using. Squeeze out most of the moisture, then heat it with whole black peppercorns and serve it alongside grilled sausages or roast pork.

 

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