Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rediscovering Pomegranate Molasses

Recipe updated January 19, 2011 for clarity

The condiment sections in my refrigerator have quite a few specialty items that I purchased for one or two recipes and then forgot about. Like Thai lesser ginger (kachai). Or pomegranate molasses.

The name "molasses" is a bit odd, because unlike the molasses that comes from sugar refineries as a by-product, pomegranate molasses is an intentionally made product with just a few ingredients: pomegranate juice, sugar and perhaps some lemon juice. The purpose -- as illustrated by the fact that my bottle of molasses is five years old and still safe to eat -- is to preserve the bounty of the fruit harvest. Pomegranate molasses is available in Middle Eastern markets. If you have a good source of pomegranates and want to try making it at home, Elise has a recipe at Simply Recipes.

I bought my bottle of the thick, ruby syrup a few years ago soon after I obtained Paula Wolfert's "The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean," a book that presents recipes from Turkey, Syria, the Republic of Georgia, and Greece. Pomegranate molasses appears in a few places in the book, but what caught my attention initially was a bulgur salad with red peppers and walnuts, a salad that combines textures and flavors like few salads do: chewy, crunchy, sweet, sour, sharp, herbaceous, and spicy.

I haven't used the Wolfert book for quite a while, so the pomegranate molasses had migrated to a back corner of my refrigerator. (if pomegranate molasses catches on, we bloggers definitely need a nickname for it---repeatedly typing pomegranate molasses is not easy.) Recently, though, thanks to the May 26 KCRW Good Food radio program (more on that below), pomegranate molasses has escaped from its back-corner exile.

A Refresher
Pomegranate molasses is a wonderful addition to lemonade. Simply add a few teaspoons of the syrup to a glass of lemonade and stir. It brings a different kind of sourness to the drink and the floral aroma perks up the senses.

Alternatively, you could use grenadine, a pomegranate syrup typically found behind the bar for cocktails like the Tequila Sunrise. Grenadine was originally made only on the island of Grenada in the Caribbean, hence the name.

I have also heard that it can be an excellent flavoring for cocktails, but haven't experimented yet.

A Savory
On the May 26, 2007 Good Food radio program, one of the guests was Eric Gower, a.k.a. the Breakaway Cook. Gower talked about his "global flavor blast" concept, in which dishes made with seasonal or everyday ingredients are jazzed up with intense flavorings from around the world like miso, shiso leaves, umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum), Vietnamese fish sauce, and pomegranate molasses. One of his examples was a baked tofu dish, in which one of the "flavor blasts" is combined with soft tofu and an egg and then baked. A layer of crushed red lentils on top forms an attractive--and unusually flavored--crust. Here are the ingredients before mixing (minus the salt):

I have made this tofu dish twice with good results. The flavor is subtle and the uncooked red lentils somewhat unusual. It could use a little work, perhaps some more intense flavors like garlic to go with the mild pomegranate molasses.

Pomegranate Molasses Tofu Bake
Adapted from an interview with Eric Gower on KCRW's Good Food, May 26, 2007

1 package of medium tofu, soft tofu or silken tofu (12-14 oz.)
1 egg
1-2 T. pomegranate molasses
Finely minced shallot or green onion
2 T. dry red lentils

  1. Lightly oil a small baking dish.
  2. Place the red lentils in a spice grinder and process for just a few seconds until the pieces are about the size of kosher salt grains, or slightly smaller than sesame seeds. Set aside. (alternatively, use a mortar and pestle to crush the lentils)
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  4. Put the tofu in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher or other suitable tool.
  5. Add the egg, pomegranate molasses, salt (to taste), and minced shallot or green onion. Mix thoroughly.
  6. Put the ingredients into the baking dish.
  7. Spread the red lentils on top, and spray or drizzle with a neutral oil.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes.

Random link from the archive: Bee Swarm

Technorati tags: Baking : vegetarian : Food

Monday, June 18, 2007

Infusing a Sauce with Smoke

I love smoky flavors--one of my standby snacks in the summer is a quesadilla with cheese, a few slices of local ripe tomatoes, and a few dashes of Bufalo chipotle hot sauce. Looking for a way to get smoke without "fire," I recently tried using lapsang souchong tea--a tea which has been dried over a smoky pine fire--to bring smoke into my cooking without firing up the grill or setting off the smoke alarm with slightly unwise stove-top cooking techniques.

My History with Smoke
First, some backstory: for reasons unknown to me, I have strong memories of buying the small package of lapsang souchong tea that has been in my cupboards since 1999. It was at a charming little tea shop called Teaism in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, D.C., that I found the tea. I was not very knowledgeable about tea in those days and the words lapsang souchong leapt off of the tea selection board.

The next day, I brewed my first--and last--cup of full-strength lapsang souchong tea. The smoke flavor was overpowering, like drinking a raging bonfire. And so the little 2 ounce package went to the back of my tea shelf (it's a good thing that there wasn't a special deal on one pound packages). Eventually I started using it again, mixing just a few lapsang souchong tea leaves with my regular black tea (something like a 1:100 ratio) to provide a hint of smoke.

Using the Tea in ponzu sauce
The Japanese sauce called "ponzu" is a magical mixture of soy sauce, citrus juice, citrus zest and other flavoring elements ("ponzu" is derived from the word "pons" which means citrus fruit in Dutch). My recipe is based on the one in Elizabeth Andoh's Washoku, with katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes) replaced by the smoky tea.

The sauce is complicated--it has two prepared flavorings (a simple sea stock and a more involved soy concentrate)--and requires some planning ahead (the stock and concentrate need many hours of soaking). But it is worth the effort and planning: it is one of the most delicious sauces that I can think of. Good enough to eat poured copiously over hot steamed rice. It is also good as a noodle dipping sauce or poured over roasted or steamed vegetables (asparagus is a match for the sauce).

The two preparations needed to make ponzu sauce are useful in other dishes, so your work will have benefits beyond the delicious ponzu sauce. The sea stock, for example, can be a base for miso soup or a vegetable chowder. The soy concentrate looks like it has great potential, but I haven't done much experimentation with it.

More about lapsang souchong tea leaves: basic info from Wikipedia and Cooking with Amy's recipe for "smoky citrus shrimp."

The following three recipes are adapted from Elizabeth Andoh's Washoku. Preliminary notes: 1) you need only 1/3 cup of sea stock for a batch of ponzu sauce, 2) if you are cooking in the evening, start the soaking for the sea stock and soy concentrate in the morning.

Sea stock

Kombu sea vegetable, 4 to 5 square inches per cup of water
Shiitake mushroom stems, 1 stem per cup of water
1 t. lapsang souchong tea
Water, preferably filtered

Place the kombu sea vegetable, shiitake mushroom stems, and water in a glass container. Let this mixture steep for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator, at least 8 hours. (the soaking allows the natural glutamates--flavor enhancers--to infuse into the water. Slimy kombu is a sign of this.). When ready to make the stock, put the mixture in a pan over medium heat. Bring it almost to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly to keep it near, but below, the boiling point (a few bubbles along the sides of the pot, perhaps) for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Let the mixture steep for 5 minutes more. Strain into a saucepan or heat-safe glass jar (e.g., a canning jar or Pyrex measuring cup) though a fine strainer (one of those permanent gold coffee filters works well).

Optional step for smoke infusion: Measure 1/3 cup of the hot stock and pour it into a ceramic mug or heat-proof glass container. Add 1 t. lapsang souchong tea. Let steep for 5 minutes. Strain into a heat-safe container and let cool before using in the ponzu sauce.

Soy Concentrate

8 to 10 square inches of kombu sea vegetable
1 dried shiitake mushroom or the stems of 3 or 4 fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms
2/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup saké
3 T. sugar
3 T. water
2 T. mirin

Combine the kombu, mushroom or mushroom stems, soy sauce and saké in a deep, non-reactive saucepan. Let the mixture sit for between 1 and 12 hours at room temperature. This releases the natural flavor enhancing compounds in the kombu and mushroom (or stems).

Add the remaining ingredients to the soy-saké mixture and set the saucepan over low heat. Bring it to a simmer, and then adjust the heat to keep the liquid at a strong boil, but not one that causes the liquid or foam to overflow from the pan. Cook until the volume of liquid has been reduced by about one-quarter. The sauce should become somewhat syrupy as it reduces.

Remove from heat and strain the liquid through a coffee filter into a glass container. (The strained-out solids can be used to make a broth, see note below).

After the mixture has cooled, cover the glass container and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Ponzu sauce

3 T. soy concentrate
1/3 cup sea stock (with optional infusion of smoky tea)
2 T. fresh grapefruit, lemon, yuzu, or lime juice (or a mixture)
1/4 t. grated lemon zest (optional)

Combine all ingredients in glass container. Store the unused portion in the refrigerator for up to one month.

A note on the soy concentrate solids: Elizabeth Andoh says that the kombu and mushroom (or stems) can be used to make a simple broth. She recommends returning the solids to a sauce pan, adding 2 or three cups of cold water, and bringing the mixture to a boil. Strain, and use as a broth for noodles.

Image Credits: Photo of tea by bushfish7, from the morgueFile. Photo of chopsticks from jen_maiser's flickr collection.

Random link from the archive: Frittata, beet salad, herbed rice

Technorati tags: Japan : vegetarian : Food

Sunday, June 10, 2007

In Which I Indulge in Some E-Scapism

A friend recently gave me a large bag of garlic scapes, something that I had heard of (In a magazine? A cookbook? On TV?), but had never actually seen. According to the Gardener's Dictionary, a scape is "leafless peduncle or stem arising from the ground and bearing flowers." The photo to the right shows the scape of an Agapanthus africanus (also known as the Lily of the Nile and, by me at least, the "office park/shopping mall flower") rising directly out of the bulb.

I don't recall ever seeing scapes at the East Bay Farmers Markets, but in the last few days I have seen two web mentions: a photo at Eggbeater (the 2nd photo down) and in the Washington Post food section.

Most garlic farmers remove the scapes, which curl as they grow (see photo below), to let the plant put its energy into making a bulb.

Cooking with Scapes
The flavor of the scapes is mild, and so you can use them in far larger quantities than garlic cloves. In addition, the size of the scapes makes it is possible to create more complex flavors and bring out the sweetness through roasting or sauteeing, something not so easy with a more pungent garlic clove. I used my scapes in quite a few ways:

I sliced them into 2 cm lengths and cooked them in a stir fry with various vegetables. I put thinly sliced pieces into miso soup (unfortunately, the flavor did not come through). I cooked them with sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms, but not long enough (however, they were properly tender the next day when I microwaved the leftovers as part of my lunch).

I put lightly sauteed scapes on a pizza along with roasted sliced potatoes, Gruyere cheese and sauteed red onion (believe it or not, pre-cooked thinly sliced potatoes can be wonderful on pizza). The photo below shows the pizza before and after baking. The timing or baking position was somewhat off, and so the top of the pizza was overcooked. (I follow the baking guidelines in The Cheese Board Collective Works, but haven't fully optimized them for my oven.)

Finally, I pickled two small jars of scapes using the recipe for pickled green beans in Stocking Up. I'm relatively new to long-term pickling (i.e., pickling which requires boiling the closed jars), and am letting the pickled scapes rest for a while before sampling.

More information and recipes about garlic scapes can be found at the Moscow, Idaho food co-op and Maraquita Farms.

To end this post, I have two questions:

1) Is blogging about garlic scapes a form of e-scapism? (the hyphen in the last word of the post title was not a typo)

2) If Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, Charles Bronson or Donald Pleasence ran a restaurant, would it be called the "Great Scape"? A strange question, until you remember that all of these actors were in the 1963 film "The Great Escape".

Random link from the archive: Legislating Local Foods (at Eat Local Challenge)

Technorati tags: Baking : vegetarian : Food

Monday, June 04, 2007

Salad of Roasted Cauliflower

Inspired by A Few Reservations' description of a spicy cauliflower dish that was part of a dinner at Delfina Pizzeria, I have been experimenting with roasted cauliflower salads over the last few weeks.

I forgot to take pictures, but managed to remember how I made the best of the experiments. The cauliflower becomes sweeter and more interesting during the roasting, and mixing it with assertive ingredients like garlic, lemon and capers creates wonderful contrasts. A crunchy element like roasted almond might make the salad even better.

Roasted Cauliflower Salad

Slice the cauliflower into bite-size pieces (about the size of an unshelled walnut). It is important to slice the vegetable so as to provide flat surfaces that will brown during the roasting. Toss with oil, sprinkle with salt, then arrange on a baking sheet. Roast in a 400 F (or hotter) oven until the cauliflower is tender and brown in places, turning once or twice so that each side touches the hot metal pan for some time. Set aside to cool while you make the dressing. You could steam the cauliflower in a pinch, but roasting brings out a sweetness and complexity that I enjoy.

Roughly chop a clove of garlic (or more) and place in a mortar along with some salt. Use the pestle to fully crush the garlic into a paste. Pour in some lemon juice, a bit of Dijon mustard, and stir to combine. Wisk in olive oil (at least a 1-to-1 ratio).

Combine the dressing, the cauliflower, some capers, and herbs (parsley would be a good one).

Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Image credit: Cauliflower photo from ExperienceLA's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.

Random link from the archive: Masoor Dal with Bengali Spices

Technorati tags: vegetarian : Food