Cookbook 123: The Spice Routes: More stories and recipes from the World Food Cafe

So it’s been AGES since I’ve last cooked something for this blog, mostly because I’ve been incredibly wrapped up in studies and attempting to have a life while studying (which I think was a silly idea).  I’m in my mid year break now, so I plan to cook and enjoy the food.  This book, The Spice Routes: More stories and recipes from the World Food Cafe by Chris and Carolyn Caldicott (that’s a lot of Cs) tells the stories of spice trade around the world and then offers some signature dishes (apparently) to showcase those spice.

It’s ok.  The information about the spice routes and who traded what with whom and when is quite interesting.  The recipes leave a bit to be desired.  The instructions aren’t as good as they could be (insufficient temperature guides, insufficient detail about ingredients) and well two of the recipes didn’t really work that well.  I’d completely rework two of the recipes if I was ever going to cook them again (unlikely) and they’d be slightly different dishes.

I’m giving this book 2.5 stars out of 5.

Melakan Devil’s Mushroom Curry


  • 4 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 2 large red onions, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5cm piece of ginger, cut into strips
  • 6 red chillies, finely sliced
  • 225g baby eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
  • salt
  • 200g shiitake mushrooms, cut into quarters
  • 200g oyster mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 8 candlenuts/macadamia nuts ground
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2.5cm piece galangal, grated
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, finely sliced
  • 1 teaspoons dried shrimp paste (or 3/4 teaspoon salt)
  • 300ml vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 175g bean sprouts
  • chopped coriander


  1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and add the mustard and fenugreek seeds.  When they crackle, add the onion, garlic, ginger and chillies, and fry until they start to soften.  Add the baby eggplant, sprinkle with a little salt to prevent from drying, and fry until golden brown, stirring regularly.
  2. Add the mushrooms and fry for a further few minutes.  Add the water chestnuts, ground nuts, turmeric, grated galangal, lemongrass and shrimp paste, and fry for 30 seconds, stirring well.  Add the vegetable stock and soy sauce and bring to the boil.  Cover the pan and simmer gently for 10 minutes, with salt to taste.
  3. Serve garnished with bean sprouts and coriander leaves.

Notes on this recipe:

  • Where do I start with this one?  The first helpful thing in the description would have been detail on what type of chillies to use.  Six chillies is a lot of chillies, and we have no idea what type to use.  No photos, no further information.
  • Secondly, the ginger in this dish really should be grated.  It didn’t cook through in time, so the dish ended up being overpowered by it.  Also, the eggplants didn’t cook through in the time allocated to the recipe.  I’d recommend cutting the eggplant into much smaller pieces.
  • Spice blends would work better in this recipe.  Blend the garlic, ginger and chillies together to make a paste.  Later, before adding the ground nuts, turmeric, grated galangal, lemongrass and shrimp paste, blend them together to make a paste.  This would make the dish much smoother and tastier.
  • There needs to be more of a guide on what level of heat should be used in the earlier stages of the recipe.  The only guidance we receive is in relation to the simmering at the end.

Fish Cooked with Chinese Five Spice


  • 1.5 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1.5 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 4cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 8 spring onions, sliced
  • 4 x 17g fillets of white fish (I used snapper)
  • 45g brown sugar
  • Chinese five spice (see below)
  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 225g spinach leaves
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds

Chinese Five Spice:

  • 1/2 tsp fennel (seeds I’m assuming)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1.5cm piece of cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tsp Sichuan pepper (I used ground)
  • 1/2 tsp cloves


  1. Combine the dark and light soy sauces, the rice wine, ginger, garlic and spring onions and pour over the fish fillets.  Marinate in the fridge for 1 hour.
  2. Dissolve the brown sugar in 250ml of hot water, and add the Chinese five spice (see below).
  3. In a large wok or frying pan, heat the oil and fry the fish along with any of the marinade left in the bowl, until golden brown on both sides.  Pour in the sugar and the Chinese five spice mixture and simmer gently for 3 minutes.
  4. Wilt the spinach in boiling water, remove from the heat and drain well.
  5. In a small frying pan, dry-roast the sesame seeds until they start to pop, then remove from the heat.
  6. Serve the fish on a bed of spinach sprinkled with sesame seeds.  Spoon the sauce over the top and serve immediately.

Chinese Five Spice Method

  1. In a small frying pan dry-roast the spices until aromatic, remove them from the heat and grind to a powder.

Notes on the recipe:

  • Best dish of the night in my opinion
  • I’ve slightly reworded the method to better instruct the user of it.
  • If you don’t want to make your own Chinese five spice powder, which is fair enough, this was about a teaspoon of mixture if you buy it commercially.

Zanzibar Egg Curry


  • 9 eggs
  • 4 medium red onions, roughly chopped
  • 2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 red chillies
  • 4 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • Zanzibar curry powder (see below)
  • 4 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 225g fresh peas (or frozen, it really doesn’t matter that much)
  • salt to taste
  • coriander for garnish

Zanzibar curry powder

  • 1 dessert spoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 dessert spoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 2.5cm piece cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 5cm piece jaggery or 1 tbsp brown sugar


  1. Boil the eggs until hard-boiled (that’s a link with information on how long you need to cook eggs for).  Remove from pan when done and immerse in cold water.  When cool, peel and cut in half and set to one side.
  2. Meanwhile, in a blender, pulp the onions, ginger, garlic and chilli until smooth and remove from the blender.  Blend the tomatoes and Zanzibar curry powder until smooth.
  3. In a large wok, heat the oil, and when hot add the onion mixture and fry for 2 minutes.  Add the blended tomato and spice mix and 1 cup of water.  Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer gently until the oil returns and the sauce is reduced (no idea how long this would actually take, no guidance is given).  Add the peas, eggs and salt to taste, and simmer for a further 5 minutes.

Zanzibar curry powder method:

  1. In a small frying pan, dry-roast all the seeds and the cinnamon stick until aromatic.  Remove from pan and grind to a powder.  Combine with the remaining spices and the jaggery (which you will need to grate otherwise you will just have a big piece of sugar that doesn’t do anything).

Notes on this recipe:

  • This was the most unsuccessful recipe of the night.  The onion overpowered everything, it didn’t cook through and so all you could taste in this dish, despite the fantastic spice powder, was onion.  Without knowing how long I should simmer for, even an approximate guide as to how long it should simmer for, I could not make this dish work better, especially when cooking multiple other dishes at the same time.
  • Just give up on this one and find something tasty to cook elsewhere.