Unwrapping Christmas presents? Make sure you open one that’s probably stashed away at the back of your pantry — nutmeg.
That little dusting of spice you put on your cappuccino was so beloved by across Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Brits were willing to pay a significant markup — 68,000 times what it cost in Indonesia, where it grew.
Then things really got bad. Nations fought over it. The Dutch, who add nutmeg to everything from stews to cookies, wanted it — all of it. They laid siege to Indonesia in order to secure a monopoly.
Now, in friendlier times, Indonesia’s still the nutmeg capital, but Grenada, the Spice Island, is close behind. The locals use it not just for its warm, almost peppery flavor, but to soothe irritated skin and as, um, bedroom enhancement — further proof that what tastes good can be good for you, too.
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This unassuming little seed is actually a fruit that looks like an apricot. When ripe, the fruit yields not one but two spices. Nutmeg is the glossy brown seed. Mace is the weave of pungent threads that surround each nutmeg kernel like a lacy red corset.
As with most dried spices, nutmeg keeps for up to three years. If your jar could be traced back to the 16th century, give yourself a holiday gift. Treat yourself to a fresh one, or better yet, buy whole nutmeg and grate onto food for a bolder flavor that makes you know why the Dutch and the English were so crazy for it. Happily, it costs far less than it did a few centuries ago.
Grate a little on your coffee, add generously to your gingerbread batter or, since it’s Christmas, enjoy it in eggnog.
Sticky, sweet and thick as melted ice cream, eggnog is a child’s fantasy, but an adult’s nightmare. It’s calories galore, salmonella risk and cholesterol in a cup. Many commercial versions also contain strange chemical stabilizers and additives.
This homemade nutmeggy nog keeps the sweet, sticky and spice but skips the nasty chemical and animal products. With no eggs or dairy, it rates a new name — egg-not. Egg-not gets its kick from nutmeg, not alcohol (although grownups can add some for extra spirit). That said, it’s not a kale smoothie. But it’s Christmas, after all. And Christmas comes but once a year.
We’ll drink to that.
Ellen Kanner is the author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.”
Raw cashews need to be soaked at least half an hour in advance. Makes 4 servings.
1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water to cover for 30 minutes or more
2 cups almond milk, unsweetened
1 seriously grated nutmeg (or 1 teaspoon ground), plus a grating for garnish
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch of cloves
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Drain cashews well. Pour into a blender or food processor and mix for a minute or until nuts form a soft paste. Scrape down the sides, add almond milk, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, maples syrup and vanilla. Whiz together for another minute. Pour into glasses and finish with a dash of nutmeg on top. Cheers!
Source: Ellen Kanner for Edgy Veggie.