What is your sweetest childhood food memory? I love to recall when, every Friday in honor of the Sabbath, my mom would make our favorite “malouj” flatbread in the outdoor “taboon” oven.
Wherever I was playing, in the farm or in the house, I could always hear her calling me as she pulled the pita from the oven. With a smile, she’d spread butter across the bread and sprinkle it with granulated sugar. Her happy face, then and now, is always sweeter than any treat. We kids were, and are, lucky to have both.
My childhood in Israel was sugared in other ways as well: Our family farm used to grow sugar beets for the local refinery, the whole community getting together for harvest time. Kids and adults together would be throwing the heavy sugar beets into a moving truck, while singing some ancient song that I didn’t know. I enjoyed it anyway.
Sugar was sugar then — there weren’t a lot of choices. Today, we can select from an astonishing variety of colors, flavors, crystal sizes and levels of processing.
And then there are the many sugar substitutes on the market. Most of them are made in laboratories; others, like stevia, are naturally derived but don’t please all palates.
I prefer to enjoy real sugar, in moderation and at the right time. Of course, my three boys think that the right time is always; but about 25 years ago, I learned what a difference just a little sugar can make at a crucial moment.
I was camping in the snowy Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California, not far from the blasted cone of Lassen Peak.
Pitching the tent was the easy part. The air in my mattress was gone as soon as I fell asleep and the sleeping bag was useless—it had been washed with water after my friend handed it to a “dry cleaner” in Guatemala a few weeks earlier. With no functioning mattress or sleeping bag and only a fraction of an inch to separate me from the snowy surface, I reached into my backpack for my sweet chocolate candy and ate a few bites. The sugar in the chocolate kept me warm enough to sleep for about 20 minutes; then I woke up and had a bit more.
This became a routine for the next three nights of snow camping: sleeping for 20 minutes, waking up, enjoying the sweet chocolate for a minute and falling asleep again.
It saved me for sure. Sugar and cold snow make a good recipe.
Sugar cane, beets and other root vegetables produce the sweetest natural sugar, fructose. Different sources of sugar can have different flavors, though the variations can’t always be detected when adding other ingredients.
The world of sugars also includes many flavored varieties, used creatively by bakers, chefs, home cooks and bartenders. At Whole Spice, we have cane sugars flavored with lavender, strawberry, raspberry, cinnamon, rose, dark cocoa, wild blueberry, lemon, vanilla and onion.
(Wait, what: onion sugar? Indeed, and more about that in a moment.)
Flavored sugars have endless uses. Try strawberry sugar over berries, lemon sugar in cookies and that onion sugar over barbecued fish or roasted root vegetables.
Another way to use our onion sugar is in this recipe for Moroccan Sweet Dried Fruit & Nuts that is good for the winter and loved by all, including kids. Use it to top couscous or rice or to fill baked goods.
I based this recipe on a more complicated, slowly-cooked, sweet traditional Moroccan couscous, made in a tagine. This is a quick and delicious version that my kids enjoy very much.
Turmeric complements the flavor of nuts and dried fruits. You can substitute any fruits and nuts you like.
Sweet Dried Fruit & Nuts
3⁄4 cups roasted unsalted sliced almonds
1⁄2 cup dried apricots
1⁄2 cup finely chopped onion
1⁄2 cup raisins
2 Tbs. olive oil
1⁄2 tsp. turmeric powder
1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 Tbs. Whole Spice onion sugar
1⁄4 tsp. sea salt
1 pinch ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 cup water
In a medium size pan, heat up the olive oil and sauté onion until brown. Add turmeric powder and sauté for 20 seconds. Add the onion sugar, cinnamon, salt and pepper.
Add the almonds, raisins and apricot and mix well. Add water, cover and lower the heat. Cook on low heat for 30 minutes.
Serve over couscous, rice, quinoa or buckwheat.