cinnamon

Tapioca, Arrowroot, and Cornstarch – More Food Thickeners

I grew up using three starch thickeners that I haven’t worked with in a while. Arrowroot was used primarily in coconut pudding, cookies, and healthy porridge. Cornstarch bulked up Indian-Chinese dishes, and tapioca helped to set both sweet and savory food. As I tried to perfect roux with white flour and butter last week, I decided to revisit the three starches of my childhood.

Tapioca, arrowroot, and cornstarch have distinct properties. All three starches are neutral in taste and have a lighter, more powdery texture than flour. They can replace flour to thicken a stew or gravy and glaze a fruit pie. Tapioca and arrowroot are being rediscovered because of their gluten-free properties and are now commonly available; choosing between them depends on the type of ingredients needed for a dish. If the ingredients are acidic, then tapioca and arrowroot starch are preferable. If the dish is dairy-based, use cornstarch. Unlike flour that makes sauce opaque, tapioca, arrowroot, and cornstarch offer glazes that range from clear to glossy. Depending on whether a chocolate pudding benefits from shimmering glaze (use arrowroot), a fruit pie from a clear glaze (use tapioca starch), or creamy soup from a translucent glaze (use cornstarch), these starches offer a variety of ways to present the final dish.

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What all three starches do have in common is that none of them can be added directly to a hot stock or liquid. They should first be mixed with equal parts water to form a watery mixture called slurry. The slurry is then added to the simmering stock and whisked continuously so that the starch gelatinizes and thickens. The slurry prevents the starch from clumping together. As with all starch thickeners, the key to achieving a smooth rich stock is to continuously whisk the starch so that the mix does not taste floury, until you reach the right consistency. Be mindful of overcooking.

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Arrowroot Starch Cassava/Tapioca Starch Cornstarch
Source From a ginger-like rhizome From a root tuber From endosperm of corn
Slurry Mix in cold liquid Mix in cold liquid Mix in cold liquid
Substitution for 1 tbsp. all purpose flour 1 ½ tsp 1 ½ tsp 1 tbsp
Best for Fruits or similar highly acidic medium Fruits and similar acidic medium Dairy-based medium
Cooking times  Cannot be cooked for long periods, best below boiling point. Does not do as well as tapioca with dishes that have to be frozen. Does not do well reheated, so add just before needed. Cannot be cooked for long periods. Good for dishes that are going to be frozen, like a fruit pie Can be cooked for longer periods than the other two. Does not do well when the dish has to be frozen
Appearance of Final Dish Shiny glossy glaze Clear glaze  Translucent glaze

 

 

Coconut-Chocolate Pudding with Arrowroot

Organic unsweetened coconut milk – 1 ¾ cup

Cocoa powder – 4 tbsp

Semi-sweet chocolate morsels – 5 tbsp

Arrowroot powder – ¼ tsp

Salt – ½ tsp

Sugar – 2 tbsp

Cinnamon and nutmeg (freshly powdered) – ½ tsp

Crushed arrowroot biscuits or sugar cookies – topping

  • To a ¼ cup of coconut milk, add cocoa powder and cinnamon, nutmeg powder and arrowroot. Mix well to form the slurry.
  • Bring the remaining coconut milk to a simmer.
  • Add salt and sugar to the warm coconut milk. Stir to dissolve.
  • Take ½ cup of simmering liquid and mix well with the slurry. Add this mixture back to the simmering coconut milk. Whisk for a minute. Add the chocolate and continue whisking until it starts becoming thick, about 30 seconds or so. Remove immediately from heat.
  • Pour into ramekins and chill for 8 hours or more.
  • Before serving, sprinkle the crushed cookies on top.

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Infusions: So Simple, Yet So Complex

A. had a sore throat during my last visit, so I made her my mother’s remedy – a ginger and cinnamon infusion made with grated ginger shavings, a cinnamon stick, and sweetened with a dash of honey. Infusions have long ago come out of medicinal closets and are now staple cooking embellishments. They are turning up with ultra-hip allure as hibiscus-infused teas in gin cocktails or Serrano infused vodka in spicy cocktails. An infusion is simply a “tea” made by pouring boiling water, alcohol, or oil over herbs, spices, or other plant parts. The resulting “tea” when added to a drink or dish add yet another subtle layer – a fragrant flourish to the final dish. Aromatic lemon rinds and cinnamon inspired my two infusions below – one with seafood and the other in a soup.

Infusions are made with unfussy ingredients such as lemon peels, slivers of fresh ginger, cinnamon, or rose petals (pesticide-free petals from your garden are best). I had previously used lemon zests (many!) to make Limoncello, and the fragrance on my fingertips remained with me for a long time. As I am partial to lemon’s lingering aroma and flavor, I use the fruit often in savory dishes. A lemon zest and herb infused oil adds summery hints to a seafood salad, instantly enlivening plain cooked shrimp and steamed mussels. The infused oil adds an understated flavor without overwhelming the delicate taste of seafood.

Cinnamon showcases its aromatics best in an infusion. In Indian cooking, cinnamon is stir-fried to release its warm tones. However, if cinnamon is added to a simmering soup or stock, the fragrance overpowers the dish and masks the finer flavors of the vegetables. Butternut squash, a fall feature in farm stands and supermarkets, has many nutritive qualities and makes for a good soup. The squash, being somewhat bland, benefits from a cinnamon-infused cream which gives the soup a  smoky warmth and flavor. Infusions are easy to make — just as simple as brewing a cup of tea with fresh tea leaves. An infused cream is made by pouring gently-heated cream over some whole cinnamon sticks and allowing the mixtureto steep for couple of hours. Easy, but the new ingredient adds a quiet complexity to the soup.

 

Seafood Salad

Olive Oil – 2 tsp

Butter – 1 tbsp

Lemon – 1

Tarragon – 1-2 sprigs

Shrimp – 6 large, deveined

Mussels – 12

Scallops – 6

Salt and pepper – to taste

  • Zest and juice the lemon. Keep both separately.
  • In a frying pan, heat 1 tsp. each of oil and butter. Once it starts to smoke, turn off the heat.
  • Add the lemon zest and tarragon sprigs to the hot oil. Let it steep for half-hour.
  • Steam the mussels.
  • Cook the shrimp, either grill, broil, or quickly dip in boiling water and remove.
  • In another pan, heat the remaining oil.
  • Add the scallops. Cook each side for about 2 minutes.
  • Mix the shrimp, mussels and scallops together.
  • When ready to eat, toss them with the lemon-herb infused oil and lemon juice.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

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Butternut Squash Soup

Cinnamon sticks – 2

Cream – ½ cup

Butternut squash – 4 cups of cubed squash or half a squash

Olive oil – 2 tbsp

Onion – 1, chopped

Ginger –1-inch, peeled and chopped

Carrots – 2, cubed

Low sodium stock – 2 ½ cups

Salt and pepper –to taste

  • In a pan, heat the cream gently. When it starts to simmer, remove it from the stove.
  • Add the cinnamon stick to it. Keep aside for about two hours.
  • Peel the butternut squash. This is the hardest part of the recipe as the skin is tough. However, it is cheaper to buy the whole squash, and you can toast the seeds — which can be added for a crunch in the soup or eaten on its own.
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan.
  • Sauté the onion and ginger for a minute.
  • Add the cubed squash and carrots. Stir fry until mixed well with the onion and ginger.
  • Pour the stock and 1½ cups of water. Bring it to a boil.
  • Simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the squash can be mashed easily.
  • Strain the vegetables from the stock and grind them in a food processor until you have a creamy mixture. Add it back to the stock.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Just before you serve, drizzle the cinnamon infused cream. Decorate with toasted seeds.

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Note: Infusions can be used right away (cream-based) or they can be stored for later use (herb-infused oils).