UPDATE: New recipes added 10/25 - see below
So as a result this week's Herb of the Week is
Saffron crocus Crocus sativas.
The flower originated in Persia which is now Iran and spread to northern India and the Mediterranean. Following the crusades it became popular in Europe and its value as a trade commodity was increased.
In Gerard's "The Herball" of 1597 he claimed that "For those at death's doore and almost past breathing, saffron brigheth breath again."
Saffron Crocus is a perennial with linear leaves growing from a rounded corm (or bulb.) The flowers are purple with darker purple veins and yellow antlers and appear in the fall. You extract the saffron spice from the three-branched red pistils.
The saffron crocus blooms in the autumn, producing 1 to 5 rich lilac flowers with dark purple veins, held wide open above inconspicuous foliage. To grow saffron crocus you need a well-drained soil, sun and warm summers in order for it to prosper and flower. The most interesting part of saffron is that the plants are sterile so only an offset will produce a plant, so you need to replace the corms each year to have a continous crop in your garden.
Plant 3 to 4 inches deep in late summer. Likes full sun and gritty, poor to moderately fertile, well-drained soil. Prefers hot summers. Under glass, provide full light with gritty soil and ample water during growth. Keep dry during summer dormancy.
It is widely used as a flavoring and colorant in Middle Eastern and northern Indian cookery, especially in rice dishes and a classic paella. It is also used in fish soups including bouillabaisse from France. In Cornwall, England is it used to make saffron cakes and loaves.
Saffron is known to have digestive properties, it can improve circulation and helps to reduce high blood pressure. It is the richest known source of Vitamin B2. Externally it is applied as a paste for inflamed skin and sores. Research suggests the spice can boost your mood, by having antidepressant effects and helping to alleviate PMS symptoms. Researchers believe that the spice works by “the same mechanism as Prozac,” helping to make the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin more available to the brain.
While saffron may be the world’s most expensive spice, fortunately a little goes a long way. It’s used sparingly to add golden-yellow color and a slightly floral flavor to dishes in many countries. If you are not going to grow your own, find it in the spice section of supermarkets, gourmet shops or at tienda.com. It will keep in an airtight container for several years.
1 teaspoon sugar
1⁄3 cup warm water
1 1⁄2 cups sugar, to taste
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
Powdered sugar, for garnish