While Christopher Columbus was busy mistaking the Americas for the East Indies, he also confused the identity of what we now know as allspice. Allspice berries look something like peppercorns, and Columbus assumed he’d stumbled onto pepper. Hence, in some circles, allspice is known as pimento (Spanish for “pepper”) or Jamaican pepper.
Despite repeated efforts at cultivation, the allspice tree stubbornly refused to take up residency in the Old World. Today, allspice may be the only spice grown exclusively in the Western Hemisphere. Jamaica produces the lion’s share, and the crop is considered the finest in the world.
Given its name because it smells like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, allspice is the pea-sized berry of an evergreen tree native to South America. Used in both sweet and savory cooking, allspice figures into Caribbean, Mexican, Indian, European and North American cuisine. It’s essential in jerk seasoning, can be found in curries and mole sauces, and is widely used in pickling, baking and sausage making. The French use it in terrines. The Swedes put it in meatballs. Whole allspice retains its flavor almost indefinitely, while the ground stuff is best used within six months. It should be stored in a cool, dark place.
On a less appetizing note, during the Napoleonic wars, Russian soldiers put allspice in their boots to keep their feet warm and discovered a dramatic decrease in foot odor. Suddenly there was a new market for allspice oil in men’s cosmetics—remember Old Spice?
Apricot and Lamb Tagine
Dried apricots add vitamin A and beta-carotene to this slow-cooked Moroccan stew.
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3 cups lower-sodium chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas
1 cup dried apricots (about 6 ounces)
1 tablespoon honey
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions; sauté 5 minutes.
Add lamb; cook, stirring occasionally, until pieces are no longer pink, about 4 minutes.
Transfer lamb mixture to slow-cooker; add turmeric, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, salt, pepper and allspice. Pour in broth. Stir in chickpeas, apricots and honey.
Cover and cook on MEDIUM 4 hours. Serves 6.
Recipe by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.
Per serving: 400 calories, 16g fat, 95mg chol., 41g prot., 47g carbs., 9g fiber, 330mg sodium.
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Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography; styling by Teresa Blackburn