It is a tradition, that when I am in Turkey, I always bring cinnamon back home – among others. My father in law and my husband always shake their heads at me. They accuse me of reminding too much of a real turkish village wife, who must bring this and that home, after each trip. And it might not be completely wrong … I usually have ½ suitcase in excess, so I can lug spices, wines, vinegars, oils, soaps and everything else back home …
But with cinnamon – it is a tradition (although it is truly difficult to transport. It smells through everything, although it’s both in a plastic bag and in a sealed box). We love this spice in our house and usually eat a considerable amount during the year – not just for Christmas (although cinnamon and rice pudding is a must in December). But why import it, when you can easily get it in a supermarked home ?? Well … I have always claimed, that the Turkish cinnamon taste better (not that it is of Turkish origin, I just buy it there). I did some research for this post – because I needed to know for sure. And yes, it is true (or at least partly …).
There are apparently two kinds of cinnamon – the genuine one called Ceylon / Sri Lanka cinnamon and the illegitimate Cassia cinnamon, so I was obviously not completely wrong. The true one is packed with flavor and has a little strong perfumed scent, while the other one has a less aromatic quality and often has a rancid taste. Cassia (the unreal one) is unfortunately used quit often at home, because it is cheaper than the real thing. You can clearly smell and taste it.
Cinnamon ( “Tarçın” in Turkish) was a very popular spice in the Ottoman period and was extensively used in the food and the many desserts. It was a spice, that was very expensive and reserved for monarchs and gods. Today, not quite as many spices are used in modern Turkish cooking, but having said that, it’s probably one of the most popular (though without the same degree as ex. in North African and Middle Eastern food, where you can clearly taste the cinnamon). Izmir köfte nevertheless in the one of those dishes, where you an taste both cinnamon, cumin and garlic. Cinnamon is still used a lot in the sweet kitchen, where it’s especially popular in desserts and ex. in ris puddings and the beautiful drink “salep”, that suits the colder winter months.
One of the things I love, when I’m abroad, is to explore the supermarkets. You always find something new and exciting, which one has to take home and try. Yes, it has actually become a cross between sports and sight-seeing for me. Once we found both cinnamon gum (how happy do you think the kids were) and tea (which however was not as good, as it was almost just powder sprinkled out of the bag and into the-water). Plum-tea with cinnamon also belongs to one of the things I’ve spotted, and it was fairly good.
Cinnamon actually comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree, which one peels and dries. On the real thing, bark only rolls once and it is easy to crush. On Cassia the bark has several layers and is almost impossible to crush. I’ve never tried to grind whole bark, but it’ s obvious to try this at Christmas time, as it simply scents fantastic and is the very scent of Christmas. And did you know that ½ teaspoon of cinnamon a day, can help to lower your blood sugar level ?? So just sprinkle the rise porridge or whatever you want.
And now the recipe for Salep – hot milk with cinnamon which is very popular in the cold winter months. It requires genuine salep powder, which can only be purchased in Turkey, since there is an export. If you are in Turkey, look for Salep Maras, which is the real thing. Salep-flour is originally made from a certain orchid root and is very, very expensive (cheaper substitutes can be bought in several ethnic supermarkets). Instead, you can also choose to use rice flour together with either potato flour or corn flour.
For 2 cups:
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon salep powder or ½ tablespoons rice flour and ½ tablespoons potato or corn flour.
3-4 teaspoon sugar (more if you like it really sweet)
and possibly ¼ teaspoon rose water
All you have to do is heat it all up slowly and stir until it thickens slightly. Then pour it into 2 cups and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon cinnamon and possibly 1 teaspoon chopped pistachios.
Easy right ??