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What's A Juniper Berry And How Do I Cook With It?

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This is an installment of NPR's ongoing Cook Your Cupboard, a food series about working with what you have on hand. Have a food that has you stumped? Share a photo and we'll ask chefs about our favorites. The current submission category: Booze!

Bombay native and cookbook author Raghavan Iyer explains how to improvise Indian cuisine with juniper berries, fish sauce and mixed berry jam — three ingredients submitted by Victoria Dougherty's 2nd period nutrition class in Hudson, N.Y.

Juniper Berries?

After teaching cooking classes for 20 years, Dougherty says she has ended up with some pretty random ingredients in her classroom cupboard — like juniper berries. They're a distinct form of conifer cones produced by the juniper bush, often used as a spice in European cuisine.

Though not a traditional Indian ingredient, Iyer argues that "a good Indian chef should be able to extract at least eight different flavors" from any given spice. Iyer recommends seasoning wild game or pork with the berries. Here are some of his tips:

  • Crush the berry or toast it; crush it if you want a stronger flavor.
  • Rub it into the meat with some ginger or garlic.
  • Sear the meat.
  • De-glaze the hot pan (add some liquid to loosen up the meat flavors at the bottom of the pan).
  • Add some eggplant or a tart apple, such as a Braeburn or a Granny Smith.
  • And add a bit of vinegar to bring out the citrus element of the berries.

Fish Sauce?

A staple of Southeast Asian cuisine, fish sauce, which is extracted from the fermentation of fish with sea salt, was not particularly popular ingredient with the students in Ms. Dougherty's class because of its unpleasant smell. Nonetheless, fish sauce can add a lot of flavor to seafood dishes, Iyer says.

He offers an easy scallop recipe:

  • Sear scallops in a little bit of canola oil that's been dusted with a little bit of turmeric.
  • Take some fresh spinach and peanuts and sear them in the pan with the scallops, adding a bit of fish sauce at the end.
  • Let it simmer and you're done.

Leftover Jam?

Lastly, Iyer offers some creative ideas for all those half-eaten jars of jam.

  • Combine the jam with a little bit of cayenne (ground red pepper) or Serrano chilies and mince it.
  • Add it to the jam to make chutney
  • You can always add a spice or two like a cumin coriander combination to make it extraflavorful.
  • Combine the chutney with a melted block of French soft cheese, like Brie, in order to make a spread worthy of an appetizer table.
  • Pair the spread with some crostini, the Italian version of thinly sliced pieces of toastedbread, or fold it into a puff pastry and bake it.

If you have culinary conundrums, join the Cook Your Cupboard project! Go to npr.org/cupboard and show us a photo. You'll get guidance from fellow home cooks, and you might even be chosen to come on the air with a chef.

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