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Healing Kitchen

The Spice Is Right: Cinnamon
In stick form, cracked, or ground, cinnamon is a spice most of us have on our kitchen shelves. If you reach for it only when you're baking, however, you're missing out on some great culinary treats. In Morocco, Iran, Lebanon, and Syria, cinnamon is used predominantly in stews or meat dishes. In India, cinnamon plays a leading role in a spice mixture called garam masala, which is used for seasoning curries. In Mexico, it's paired with chocolate in drinks. And we all know about sprinkling cinnamon over a mug of steaming hot cappuccino. (To that we say no thanks, but that's just us.)

This sweet and hot spice is complex. What does it bring to the table? Well, if you think about spices, some are hot (like cayenne and ginger), while others are sweet (like cardamom). Cinnamon is a combination of the two. Think about those candies you ate as a kid. You know, Red Hots or Atomic Fireballs. Well, they're made with cinnamon oil and sugar, giving them both sweetness and bite. In fact, the chef at a Mexican restaurant we frequent actually uses these candies to season his mole sauce.

The Recipes
Hmmm, a Mexican mole...a logical pairing of this dark, rich Mexican sauce with the sweet spiciness of cinnamon. In our Pork Mole, we use cinnamon to underscore the other typically Mexican seasonings--cocoa and smoky chipotle peppers--in the pungent and slightly sweet sauce for this savory stew.

After a hot and spicy dish, we thought a gooey pastry sounded pretty good...like maybe sticky buns. Our Apple-Cinnamon Sticky Buns have a deliciously drippy topping of maple syrup, apple slices, apple juice concentrate, and a heaping tablespoon of ground cinnamon over a light yeast dough. And the cinnamon doesn't stop there. It's in the filling and the dough, too, totaling a whopping 1/4 cup of cinnamon.

Finally, a Spicy Cinnamon-Orange Syrup made with honey and orange zest sounded like something we'd like to have on hand. Stir it into a bowl of plain yogurt, or keep it in the fridge and use it for drizzling over a stack of pancakes or waffles. If you love cinnamon toast, try this syrup over crisp bread instead. If you're feeling adventuresome, try it over a slab (a small one of course) of feta cheese. You can even add it to seltzer for homemade soda. If you don't like fizzy drinks, have no fear, simply stir it into apple or pear cider or a tall glass of iced tea.

Cinnamon Tips
If you have a specialty spice shop near you, go in and try the different types of ground cinnamon. Some are far more potent than others. Although all cinnamon comes from the bark of a tree, the species of tree can vary, and with it the flavor of the cinnamon. Most "true" cinnamons, which come primarily from Ceylon, are less pungent than so-called Chinese cinnamon, which comes from the bark of the cassia tree, not the cinnamon tree.

Whichever you get, buy in small quantities and keep cinnamon (stick or ground) in a cool, dry, dark place so it will retain its flavor. Sniff it and if it has no aroma, toss it out. Chances are it has no flavor either and will do nothing for what you're preparing.

Cinnamon sticks (which are rolled-up lengths of cinnamon bark) make great stirrers for hot cider. They also add flavor (without coloring) to wine or syrups used for poaching fruit, or to milk used for making custards. However the sticks are often rolled so tightly that it makes it difficult to get any flavor out of them. If this is the case, and you don't particularly care about how they look, give them a good whack with the flat side of a heavy chef's knife. They'll break up, exposing their surfaces and making their seasoning available. Otherwise, ground (or powdered) cinnamon is a good choice in most other dishes.

However you use cinnamon, you will find that is spices things up and as an added bonus, it makes the house smell great.

Author: Sandra Rose Gluck
Date Published: 04/24/2000
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