Basmati is a Hindi word meaning fragrant. And while the scent is one of the main reasons this rice is used and loved so widely, it’s far from the only one. Cheap, nourishing and flexible, basmati rice is a true pantry staple, the sponge of a thousand flavours.
Even once a bag’s been opened, the rice will stay fresh for years (as long as it’s resealed). It’s an invaluable ingredient to have in your cupboard: not just because it’s the right rice for many Middle Eastern and South Asian recipes, but also because it can be thrown by the handful into hearty soups, experimented with (risottos and rice puddings), relied upon when you’re cooking cannily or searching for something to bulk out a thrifty dish made from raiding the fridge.
A priceless spice
In the Middle Ages, when the world at large was starting to develop a taste for cinnamon, a spice with Sri Lankan origins, Europeans used it for another reason: to show their status. Having cinnamon at your disposal didn’t just show you had excellent taste – it meant you had the financial clout to satisfy it. And while cinnamon was often used to help preserve the freshness and mask the smell of decaying meat, it was also a common sight at plush banquets: rich nobles would have plates piled high with the stuff. Not to give their guests a brief glimpse into the exotic delights being cooked in the kitchen or for a nascent round of the Cinnamon Challenge, but to wow them and show exactly how wealthy they were.
Stick with it
These days, cinnamon is still as present on our plates but in much more restrained, delicious forms. Of all the brilliant things about this spice, versatility is perhaps its most noticeable attribute. Its journey between sweet and savoury is a well-trodden and fruitful path, but cinnamon is also more than capable of hopping across continents. Wintry English puddings, fragrant Indian biryanis, Scandi buns and hearty Moroccan tagines are all part of the huge canon of recipes that just wouldn’t be the same without the warm, comforting background tickle imparted by a shake or stick of cinnamon.
Cinnamon sticks (or quills) come from the inner bark of a tree native to Sri Lanka. Lengths of bark are left to dry, by which time they curl up into their distinctive form.