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The asterisk-shaped spice star anise is the seed of an evergreen tree, grown mainly in China and Vietnam.

Its sweet smell makes it a standout spice in Asian braised meat and vegetable dishes, and it’s a signature component of the better-known Chinese “five-spice” mixture.

Indian cooks work star anise into some garam masala formulas, and it’s also sometimes used in milk chai and other teas. Its perfume makes it a regular addition to rice biryani dishes.

The pods, which can be expensive in regular supermarkets, are easier on the wallet when purchased by the bag in Indian and Asian groceries.

Cooking cousins: Star anise smells and tastes much like the anise seed used in Italian and Greek cooking and in flavoring liqueurs like ouzo and anisette. That’s mainly because both spices contain the organic compound anethole, an aromatic oil that delivers its flavor.

Here, star anise is part of an aromatic steaming mixture for beets. Add other spices, such as cinnamon, if you like, but the star anise is a must. After roasting, these beets can be kept refrigerated for several days, picking up more aroma.

email: agalarneau@buffnews.com

Spice Scented Beet Salad

3 or 4 beets, scrubbed and

trimmed

2 inch piece of ginger root

10 whole cloves

10 allspice

8 whole star anise

1 package salad greens

¼ to ½ cup vinaigrette or

salad dressing

1 15-ounce can mandarin

oranges

Salt and fresh ground

black pepper

8 ounces feta, goat cheese or

other dry, crumbly cheese

½ cup slivered almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place beets in pan with a half-inch of water. Slice ginger root ¼-inch thick and add to pan. Add cloves, allspice and star anise. Cover with foil and roast for 60 to 90 minutes, until beets are easily pierced with a sharp knife. Turn beets over once during cooking.

Let beets cool (overnight in liquid if possible). Peel cooled beets and cut into batons or wedges.

Toss greens with vinaigrette and drained mandarin oranges. Toss gently with beets.

Add salt and pepper as needed.

Put salad on serving dish and top with cheese and toasted almonds.