Month: May 2015

Bubble Tea

Sipping what was then a novelty in New York City’s Chinatown, my first impression of bubble tea was its resemblance to an ingredient from my childhood. The jelly-like bubbles, resembling frog eggs, came up through the straw along with the perfect amount of sweetened tea. In the Indian drink, falooda, the taste of the black pearl-shaped bubbles is camouflaged by ice cream and rose syrup, but in bubble tea, the texture and taste of larger tapioca pearls are up-front and center.

Tapioca pearls are made from cassava root, and swell up when boiled in water. The swollen pearl has a firm core, and they look very similar to bubbles of eggs in ponds, tucked under leaves and algae. Used in both sweet and savory dishes, tapioca pearls have a teeny bite to the otherwise smooth jelly-like consistency.

Bubble tea, often called pearl tea or Boba tea, started out as a simple concoction of black tea, sweetened milk, and small tapioca pearls. However, it is now available with flavorings of honey, fruit juice, and bigger “boba’ pearls. As A. and N. are more familiar with the modern version of bubble tea, I wanted them to experience the less sweet version.

Bubble Tea

Boba (dried tapioca pearls) – ¼ cup

Tea bags –1-2 (depending on strength)

Sugar – ¼ cup

Condensed Milk – ¼ cup

Regular Milk – ¼ cup

Fruit juice or honey – optional

  • Boil 2 cups of water
  • Add the dried tapioca pearls. Cook until soft (from 5-15 minutes depending on their size).
  • Drain using a fine colander, so that the pearls don’t drain through. Let the softened tapioca pearls cool.
  • Boil ¼ cup water. Add sugar and mix until you have a simple syrup or sugar solution.
  • Pour the syrup over the cooked pearls. Refrigerate.
  • Bring 1 cup of water to boil. Add the tea bag (s) to make a strong tea. Let the bags steep for 5 minutes. Discard the tea bags. Refrigerate the tea.
  • When ready to serve, add boba pearls to the cold tea.
  • Add milk, condensed milk, and simple syrup. Adjust according to your sweet tooth.
  • Shake the entire mixture so that the bubbles distribute uniformly through the tea.

Note: I used Indian tapioca pearls that are smaller, but the larger dried tapioca pearls are readily available at Chinese supermarkets.

The next few weeks will be busy, but I look forward to catching up with you in June! If you have any suggestions on what you would like to see covered, please let me know

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Cashew Nuts: Cream, Butter, and Purée

I always stock a bag of raw unsalted cashew nuts for a spur-of-the-moment snack, toasting the nuts with spicy chaat masala or with a generous pinch of rock salt and fresh pepper. Cashew nuts provide the crunch in Asian cuisines’ sautéed dishes. The cashew nuts are processed into a paste that can be used to thicken a curry. This mildly-sweet nut’s versatility has been overlooked until recently in the West.

I have now noticed that restaurants are incorporating cashew nut paste as a ribbon-like swirl around braised meat. The combination of starch and unsaturated fats (the healthy kind) in the cashew nut purée gives the paste a creamy consistency akin to mashed potatoes. A dash of the cashew nut paste on a plate of roasted chicken or grilled ribs serves as both a side dish and as a decorative flourish.

There are several ways to incorporate cashew nut paste into any cooking style, especially because cashew nut is lactose- and gluten-free. The cashew nut paste has a richly-satisfying buttery flavor and a spreadable texture, and can be substituted for peanut butter for those with peanut allergies.The paste can also be diluted with water to create a cream-like consistency and substituted for cream and yogurt to thicken sauces or even diluted further and drunk as cashew milk.

Sold pre-shelled, economy-sized packets of raw cashew nuts are available in South American and Asian supermarkets.

Cashew Nut Paste

Cashew nuts (raw) – 1 cup

  • Cover the cashew nuts with water and soak them overnight.
  • Drain in a colander.
  • Process the softened nuts in a food processor or blender to get a fine paste. Keep the paste as granular (spreadable cashew butter) or smooth to mix with fresh water (cashew cream or milk).
  • The paste can be frozen for up to 2 months in an airtight container.

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Finding A Match With Claudia Roden

I learned cooking by experimenting with my mother’s ‘guestimated’ amounts for a recipe – a pinch of coriander powder, a dash of turmeric, or roughly about a ¼ cup of coconut milk. This seemingly casual style of cooking taught me to taste and adjust for individual and overall flavors while preparing a dish.

I relied on this skill recently when wanting to use up some extra zucchini. I began by following a recipe from one of my go-to cookbook authors – Claudia Roden.  A. noted that Roden’s Zucchini Fritters recipe, with its tangy feta cheese and aromatic dill, is a classic food from Turkey. However, without the two key ingredients, feta cheese and dill, I had to shop my refrigerator for equivalent tastes.

Although Roden’s unfussy recipes are precise, the flavors that are eked out from fresh ingredients are easy to replicate. Goat cheese is tangy and crumbly, and although not as strong as feta, the cheese effortlessly folds into the onion-zucchini mixture. The mixture holds together even when fried. Dill, on the other hand, has a distinct flavor, and so replicating its aromatic essence was key. Parsley proved to be a successful swap, providing the aromatics without competing with the mild taste of zucchini.

Zucchini Fritters

Onion – 1, chopped

Vegetable oil – 3+ tbsp for frying

Zucchini – 2 large, chopped

Eggs – 3

Flour – 3 tbsp

Pepper – 1 tsp

Parsley – 3-4 sprigs

Goat cheese – 7 oz

  • Heat 1tbsp oil in a pan at medium heat.
  • Add the shallots and sauté until lightly browned.
  • Add the zucchini and sauté until crisply tender.
  • Beat the eggs in a bowl. Add the flour and mix.
  • Fold the zucchini-shallot mixture and cheese into the egg mixture.
  • Heat a large skillet with enough oil to fry the mixture. Keep the oil at medium heat.
  • Drop in 3-4 generous tablespoon of the mixture into the hot oil leaving enough space between each in the pan.
  • Fry each side for 3 minutes without disturbing to check if done. Browning each side prevents them from disintegrating.
  • Remove and drain the oil on kitchen paper. Makes about 8 fritters. Use immediately.
  • If storing for later use, reheat the fritters when needed in the oven at 350°F.
  • Can also be served as hors d’oeuvres with a dab of wasabi sauce and cooked tuna placed on top.

I would love to hear from you about your go-to cookbooks, and I hope to add them to my “Cook The Book” featured category. I would also like to hear about why a particular ingredient was swapped, and if it added or took away the original flavor.

Note: Zucchini Fritters adapted from Claudia Roden’s Arabesque: a taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon

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