Dust down the spice rack … star anise

There are a core of useful everyday spices (cumin, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, mixed spice) and then a few that don’t get the attention they deserve.  One of these is Star Anise.

For quite a while I viewed this beautiful star-shaped spice with mild distrust and had no idea what to cook it with.  But in fact it adds a potent aniseed kick to a dish and can complement all kinds of other flavours.

For a start you’ve probably already cooked with it if you’ve used Chinese Five Spice, of which it is one of the spices.  The BBC Food webside have a whole horde of interesting sweet recipes (and it’s from there that I’ve gratefully sourced the above image).

On the sweet side, try it as part of a sweet spice mix, which in turn can form the base to Christmas Star gingerbread biscuits, or carrot muffins for example.  It also adds a fantastic kick to the medly of spices in this Pepper Plum Tart.

Mixed with cinnamon, cloves a bay leaf and some orange peel it also works well as a base to mulled wine.

For a savoury dish, use one star (left whole) a teaspoon of caraway and a few juniper berries bubbled with onions and cream makes for a fantastic Germanic / Scandi sauce for Quorn meatballs.

Finally, here’s an unexpected pairing with swede.  This quick recipe from the wonderful Riverford Organic, which originally came with the veg box and was stuck on our wall for a while.  It makes a surprisingly tasty mash from the sometimes bland swede (no photo I’m afraid).  The original recipe suggests this as a topping to (Quorn) shepherds pie, which works really well.

Swede with star anise


½ swede, peeled & 2cm dice

2 large carrots, peeled & 2cm dice

1 tbsp cider vinegar


1 star anise, finely ground

Maple syrup


Heat 1 tablespoon of oil a pan. Add the carrots and swede, fry them vigorously for 2 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper as you do so. Add the vinegar, a knob of butter and 100ml of water.
Let it come up to a furious bubble and then clamp on a tight lid. Cook over a medium/high heat for 20 minutes. Stir and check every so often, adding more water if drying out. When the roots are tender, remove the lid and evaporate any remaining liquid away until glossy.

Now blend in a food processor or mash well with plenty of butter. Add a little maple syrup, a scant pinch or two of ground anise and salt & pepper until balanced to your tastes. It will never be silken, so lightly lumpy is all part of the charm.




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