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While in European cuisine, cinnamon is used as a flavoring in baking, cooks in the Middle East routinely spice savory foods with the stuff. In Morocco, cinnamon is sprinkled into many tagines -- the slow-cooking stews that Jews in that country often eat on Shabbat. In Lebanon and Syria, cinnamon and allspice are the only spices used on meat.
It's an important seasoning in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi cuisine. What would noodle pudding, streudel or baklava be without cinnamon?
During a vacation in Turkey, my daughter purchased both cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon for me. I couldn't believe how differently they tasted from the cinnamon in this country.
Similarly, on a trip to Costa Rica, I flipped for the rice pudding at a roadside cafe. Positive that it was infused with an exotic spice, I asked for the recipe. I was flabbergasted when I heard that cinnamon was its only flavoring.
I later learned that about 50 plants fall under the Cinnamomum umbrella. Often, what is sold is actually cassia, a group of closely related cousins containing a flavor sharper than true cinnamon. This explains why a generous amount of this spice often stings, like a burst of Big Red gum. However, both varieties are harvested from the bark of trees in the Cinnamomum family.
During my childhood, I loved getting sick because my mother would always make me cinnamon toast, a comfort food of incredible simplicity that my granddaughter craves just as much as I do.
For the ultimate indulgence, use European-style butter with an 82 percent butterfat content, such as the Plugra brand.
2 slices of challah or white bread
1-2 Tbsps. sweet butter
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Lightly toast the challah slices or bread. Generously butter them. Place the sugar in a spoon and sprinkle evenly over the toast. Dust with cinnamon.
Serves 1 to 2.
Cinnamon-Stick Lamb Stew
Influenced by both Ashkenazi and Sephardi cuisines, this exotic recipe -- sweetened with an apple -- would be perfect for Rosh Hashanah.
1 1/2 lbs. lamb-stew meat, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 carrots, coarsely diced
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 cup water
1/2 cup red wine
uncooked rice to serve 4 people
2/3 cup pitted prunes
1 Granny Smith apple, skinned, cored and coarsely diced
Sprinkle the stew meat with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil briefly in a large pot on a medium-high flame. Sauté the stew meat in oil until seared on all sides.
Add the onion and sauté until transparent, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the carrots, stirring occasionally for 2 minutes. Add the allspice and cinnamon sticks; stir to combine. Pour in the water and wine. Stir well. Cover the pot and reduce heat to medium-low.
Simmer for 1 hour, or until the meat is tender. Check seasoning, and add more salt, if needed. However, 40 minutes into the simmering, prepare the rice according to package instructions.
Once meat is tender, add the prunes and apple, stirring gently. Cover the pot and simmer for another 10 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, remove the cinnamon sticks and reserve.
Place the prepared rice in a mound in the center of a platter with a deep rim. With a long-handled spoon, place stew around the rice. Some of the gravy will transfer with the stew. Pour the rest of it into a gravy boat.
Arrange the cinnamon sticks in an X- formation on top of the rice and serve immediately.
Cinnamon Rice Pudding
If you're a real cinnamon-lover, you can add a bit more than what's here while cooking this pudding.
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 1/2 plus 1/2 cups of milk (whole milk and 2 percent work best)
1 tsp. dark rum
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. cinnamon, plus more for dusting
Prepare the rice according to the package instructions. It will yield 2 cups of cooked rice.
In a large-sized pan, combine the rice, 11/2 cups milk, rum, sugar and salt. Simmer over a low flame, stirring often for 15 to 20 minutes, or until thick and creamy. Remove from heat.
To the beaten egg, add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, whipping with a fork to combine. Slowly add the egg mixture to the rice, stirring vigorously after each addition. Return the rice to a low flame.
Add the butter, vanilla and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon. Simmer for 2 minutes longer, stirring constantly.
Spoon into a serving bowl and dust with cinnamon.
Cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.
Serves 3 to 4.
(Dairy or Pareve)
These demure cookies are the perfect accompaniment to ice-cream or sorbet. To get more tender cookies, pile one cookie sheet on top of another, meaning you'll need four cookie sheets for this recipe.
8 Tbsps. sweet butter at room temperature or 8 Tbsps. margarine
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
2 large eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter (or margarine) and the two sugars until well-blended. Beat in the cinnamon and cardamom.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until well-combined.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and slowly add to the cinnamon mixture, beating well after each addition.
Pour in the vanilla and mix again, beating until the dough is smooth.
Form dough into 1-inch balls by rolling teaspoon-sized chunks of it in your palms. Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper and place balls on top at least 2 inches apart.
Place cookie sheets in oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until light-brown. Cool briefly on a wire rack.
Place confectioners' sugar in a strainer and dust over cookies.
Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies.
(Dairy or Pareve)
The combination of apples and raspberries is perfect for Rosh Hashanah this year, which falls on the early side.
nonstick vegetable spray
4 apples, peeled, cored and diced fine
1 package (6 oz.) raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups uncooked oatmeal, but not instant oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup sweet butter or margarine, melted
vanilla ice-cream or coconut sorbet, optional accompaniments
Coat a 7-x-11-inch ovenproof baking pan with nonstick spray.
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a large bowl, combine the apples, raspberries and white sugar, mixing all gently with a wooden spoon. Move the fruit mixture to the prepared pan and spread out evenly.
To make the topping, place the remaining ingredients into the same bowl. Mix together well with the wooden spoon until combined. With your fingers, sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the fruit.
Bake for 50 minutes, or until the fruit bubbles, and the topping is golden-brown and crunchy.
Serve immediately with vanilla ice-cream or coconut sorbet.
Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. E-mail her at: [email protected].