BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Food Photo Friday: Street Eats

Falafel Pocket Sandwich and Banana Milkshake from The Flying Falafel

Tempeh Buffalo Wingz from Rhizocali Tempeh

Beer and “Cheese” Potato Skins from S&M Vegan

Veggie Sushi Burrito from Sushi Taka

Snap Pea Fries from Dusty Buns

Farmers Market Salad from Hella Vegan

“Chicken” and Waffles from Hella Vegan

Vegetable Lumpia from No Worries

Eggplant and Soy Chicken Adobo from No Worries


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Honolulu Eats on the Cheap

There’s no such thing as a free meal, and that particular turn of phrase has never been more true in the metropolis of Honolulu. Demand for quality food is high but resources are considerably limited, to say the least, which can create a deleterious financial drain on anyone fond of eating out. It’s the price for paradise; always worth the cost, but difficult to sustain. That said, prime deals can be found, even within vegan parameters, for those willing to hunt.

Strapped for cash and in need of a seriously hearty bowl of sustenance? Look no further than Zippy’s local favorite for almost 50 years. Believe it or not, this classic plate lunch joint offers one of the best values for a satisfying vegan meal on the island. Their Vegetarian Chili happens to be vegan, and you can order it with brown rice for a mere $5.70 plus tax. In Hawaiian currency, this makes the dish practically free, as I figure it. Warm and comforting,you’ll want to hit up the bottle of Tabasco sauce generously provided on each table if you’re seeking anything resembling spice, but the baseline stew is thereby agreeable to all palates. Shake things up by getting your chili over fries or spaghetti instead, and ask for chopped onions on top if that’s your thing. Boca burgers and house-made tofu burgers are also available, although bear in mind that everything is cooked on the same grill. There are nearly two dozen Zippy’s locations throughout Hawaii, so it’s an excellent fallback option in times of need.

Known for the absurdly long lines almost as much as the food itself, Marukame Udon is a bit of an overcrowded sensation out in Waikiki. Thankfully, a second branch recently opened up downtown in the Fort Street Mall, boasting far fewer crowds (especially after the lunchtime rush) and an updated menu. This revision has brought in the one and only vegan main dish, but it’s a real winner that won’t leave you wanting more. The Vegetable Udon Salad, ringing up at $4.70 plus tax, consists of cold udon noodles, cooked to chewy, toothsome perfection, accompanied by avocado and a basic battery of raw vegetables. The sesame-based sauce pulls everything together in a rich, creamy combination, but a splash of soy sauce on top sure doesn’t hurt. Don’t forget to grab some complimentary sheets of nori to seal the deal. Vegan inari sushi and onigiri are also available a la cart, but neither are particularly exciting or necessary. This simple meal is more than filling on its own.

A bit more off the beaten path in the depths of Chinatown, Royal Kitchen looks like the most unpromising little hole in the wall for finding anything remotely vegan. Suspend disbelief long enough to poke inside, and you just may be pleasantly surprised. Standard American-Chinese takeout fare share space in the steam table with more authentic dim sum, available for takeout only. Look further and scope out the trays of baked manapua, soft and fluffy buns stuffed with a wide array of vegetables, and traditionally, meats. Fear not- The Veggie Manapua happens to be free of all animal products, featuring a blend of cabbage, onions, carrots, and mushrooms instead. Incredibly, each sizable bun is only $1.40 each, no tax, so you should have plenty of spare change to indulge in dessert while you’re there, too. Choose from the Coconut, Sweet Potato, or Black Sugar Manapua for a sweet treat, easy to eat on the go. My favorite of the three was the Black Sugar variety, which turned out to be a sweetened bean paste filling not unlike adzuki paste.

These three suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hidden culinary treasures. Honolulu is not a cheap city to live in or visit, but the prices needn’t become a barrier to enjoying great local eats, vegan and all.


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Smutty Spores

Halloween is upon us once again, bringing with it an endless buffet of “creepy” eats and other grotesque delights. Spaghetti worms and grape eyeballs are perhaps some of the most infamous edible gags, but more modern cooks have become increasingly creative with their monstrous recipes. Bloody fingers are a personal favorite, closely followed by the ever-tempting molded gelatinous brains. It’s easy to whip up a fairly horrific dinner party with a few crafty tricks, but I’m here today to tell you that these examples are all child’s play. If you want to really horrify, disgust, and alarm your Halloween party guests, you need to pull out the big guns and employ one ingredient that looks truly evil. Crack the tin can open to unleash the aroma of mild sewage, revealing the black, inky slug within. If it were smooth and consistent, that would be one thing, but oh no- We’re talking about a chunky, irregular texture like something already partially digested, gently fermenting in its own juices.

What on earth am I talking about, you ask? None other than huitlacoche. Evil only in appearance and not in content, it’s actually a fungus that grows on corn, which explains where it gets the alternative nickname of “corn smut.” Aficionados compare the flavor to that of black truffles, going to all ends of the earth to source these strange spores. It’s almost impossible to find them fresh unless you live very close to Mexico or California, but every now and then, one stray can will pop up on local grocery store shelves, and curiosity finally got the best of me during this particular witching hour.

I tried in vain to photograph the contents of that fateful can, but for the sake of retaining any decent readership, it would be irresponsible to post such a vile image on a food blog. If you can’t take my word for it, then I implore you to take the fate of your stomach in your own hands and click through here. I’ll spare you the goriest details, but it honestly does look like rotting entrails mashed into sludgy excrement.

Mmm, aren’t you getting hungry for this recipe coming up?! Wait, before you run away, I promise it gets much more appetizing from here on in!

Using fresh corn as the base and inspiration for the the dish, huitlacoche plays a starring role without imparting its truly evil ways. Swirled mischievously atop this golden bowl of creamy soup, the color contrast is striking, perfect for a bit of elegant Halloween fun. Transformed by simply tossing the whole fungus mixture into the blender, it becomes much more palatable once its textural shortcomings are literally smoothed out. Although I would hardly say it reaches the pantheon of flavor that true truffles can claim, it does lend a pleasantly earthy, perhaps even slightly smoky flavor to this sweet corn velouté. An effortlessly arresting first course for any meal, the mystery of that jet-black garnish adds to the allure almost as much as the taste itself.

For the less adventurous, you have my permission to omit the evil fungus spores and enjoy a simple, comforting bowl of plain corn soup instead. It won’t be half as much fun to serve, but it will be just as delicious.

Evil Corn Soup (AKA, Corn Smut Soup)

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Roma Tomato, Diced
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Vegetable Broth
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
12 Ounces (About 2 1/2 – 2 2/3 Cups) Fresh or Frozen Corn Kernels
1/3 Cup Hulled Hemp Seeds
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Huitlacoche Swirl:

1/4 Cup Soup [Above]
1 7-Ounce Can Huitlacoche

To Finish:

1/2 Cup Fresh Snipped Chives

In a large stock pot set over medium heat, sauté the onion and tomato in olive oil for 10 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add salt, broth, tomatoes, and agave. Reserve 1/2 cup of the corn kernels, and add the rest into the pot as well, allowing the whole mixture to simmer for 15 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to your blender, along with the hemp seeds, lime juice, and spices. Blend on high until thoroughly pureed and perfectly silky-smooth. Pass the soup through a sieve if you’re particularly stringent about the consistency, or if your blender isn’t quite as powerful as one might prefer. Return the soup to the pot, leaving 1/4 cup of it in the blender to make the huitlacoche swirl, and allow it to come back to the bring of boiling. Toss in the remaining whole corn kernels and once it’s nice and hot, it will be ready to serve.

To complete these delightfully evil bowls, dump the entire contents of the canned huitlacoche into your blender where the reserved soup should still be waiting. Blend until completely pureed, pausing to scrape down the sides of the blender if needed to incorporate everything.

Divide the soup between four bowls, and drizzle in a spiral of the huitlacoche puree. Swirl a toothpick through the mixture to further enhance the evil effect. Top with freshly snipped chives and enjoy while piping hot.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Winning Friends with Salad

Salad? Who gets genuinely excited about a salad?

Fear not, my friends, for this is no sad iceberg affair I’m here to talk about today. Much more like a savory trail mix with lettuce than a typical leafy green side dish, Burmese tea leaf salad is truly in a class of its own. As with any good mixed vegetable composition, the mix-ins and goodies are the keys to success, and this particular mixture packs a whole world of flavors and textures into every last bite. Toppings can vary wildly by region and availability, but a few favorite common inclusions are crunchy dried lentils or split peas, fried garlic chips, salted peanuts, sunflower seeds, and/or toasted sesame seeds, which is to say nothing of the more vegetative base of cabbage, tomatoes, and thinly sliced jalapenos. Traditional offerings include dried shrimps or shrimp paste, but any restaurant worth patronizing will graciously omit the sea critters for a fully vegan experience. Arranged in pristine piles and garnished just so, each salad looks almost too pretty to eat. Wise servers must realize this, as their next move will be to deftly swipe the lemon wedges from the perimeter of the plate, squeeze them mercilessly until not an ounce of juice remains, and speedily mix and mash everything together until it’s one ugly, sloppy, and highly delicious mess.

That would be all well and good by itself, but let’s back up for a minute here because I’m purposely overlooking one critical ingredient. Fermented or pickled tea leaves are of course the star of the show. Treasured in Burma and as rare as unicorns anywhere else in the world, they give this salad its characteristic tangy, funky, an indescribably savory taste. Unfortunately, this essential component is a beast to find here in the US. Moreover, dozens of commercial brands have been banned for sale, as there’s the danger of picking up package that includes a chemical dye linked with liver and kidney damage. Although it’s a pretty amazing salad, I wouldn’t hazard the risk of a hospital stay for a few decadent bites!

Craving this incomparable salad outside of a restaurant setting, I must admit that I took a few liberties and considerable shortcuts, but my riff on the classic has a harmony all its own.

Inspired by the tea itself, I was lucky enough to have a particularly flavorful pomegranate green tea at my disposal thanks to a thoughtful sampler package from The Tea Company. Painting with my own unique palate of flavors from that unconventional foundation, it only made sense to include the crunchy, tart arils themselves as one of many flavorful mix-ins. One sample pack wasn’t quite enough to bulk up my leafy base, so a light, refreshing mint green tea joined that blend as well. I only marinated them lightly, rather than fermented them properly for the mandated 6 months (!) required for traditional lahpet. Call it a quick and dirty fix, but the results don’t lie. A quicker, easier, and fresher take on this rarefied delicacy is perhaps just what the doctor ordered. Now I have no fear of accidental food poisoning, nor do I need to suffer the lack of Burmese eateries in my hometown.

Pomegranate Tea Leaf Salad

Tea Leaves:

1/4 Cup Water
2 Tablespoons White Vinegar
1 Packet (1/4 Cup) Moroccan Mint Gunpowder Green Tea
1 Packet (1/4 Cup) Pomegranate Green Tea
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil

Salad:

2 Cups Shredded Cabbage and/or Romaine Lettuce
1/2 Cup Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, Halved
1/3 Cup Roasted, Unsalted Peanuts
1/3 Cup Roughly Chopped Fried Garlic
1/3 Cup Dried Green Peas or Moong Dal
1/3 Cup Pomegranate Arils
1/4 Cup Toasted Black Sesame Seeds
1 Small Jalapeno, Halved, Seeded, and Thinly Sliced
1/2 Lemon, Sliced into Wedges

The tea leaves can be prepared well in advance, so it’s best to tackle that component first and have it ready to go when you are. Simply combine the water, vinegar, both teas, and soy sauce in a microwave-safe dish, and heat for about a minute. Let the tea stand, loosely covered, for 15 – 20 minutes, until the leaves have more or less absorbed all of the liquid. Mix in the sesame oil and let stand at room temperature for an additional 5 – 10 minutes to soak in. You can use the tea right away or chill it in the fridge, sealed in an air-tight container, for up to a week. I find that it tends to taste better once the flavors have had time to meld for at least a day or two.

To compose the rest of the salad, get out a large platter and put your artist’s hat on. Spread the cabbage and/or lettuce out in an even layer on the bottom, and begin heaping neat piles of all the goodies around in a circle. Mound the prepared tea leaves in the very center, and place the lemon wedges around the sides at regular intervals. Deliver the plate to the table like this with great fanfare- Presentation is a big part of this dish! To serve, squeeze the lemon wedges all over the salad and use a large serving spoon and fork to thoroughly mix the whole thing together. Divide the beautiful mess amongst your guests and eat immediately.

Makes 3 – 4 Side Servings

Printable Recipe


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Special Delivery

When the average stack of mail contains little more than bills and catalogs, there’s a certain thrill in getting a parcel that’s been addressed by hand, bundled up with care and sealed by a real person. Care packages are a rarity for anyone beyond college age, which makes the Vegan Package Swap a singularly heart-warming concept, bringing together vegans from all corners of the world. Unlike many similar programs, international swappers are not only welcomed, but encouraged. When Glauce, the founder and author behind All About Vegan Food, invited me to swap with her directly, the offer was as irresistible as the goodies soon to come.

Thoughtfully curated with all the foods and flavors I love, this cardboard-clad treasure box bore a wealth of sweet and savory snacks, direct from Ireland. I must sheepishly admit that I devoured the whole lot too quickly to take proper tasting notes, but rest assured that there wasn’t a single lackluster pick among them.

Highlights include the two Nākd bars, particularly the Rhubarb and Custard flavor- An completely unheard of combination for a raw snack, let along a packaged food. Choco Goji Berries from Choco Delic are what chocolate-covered raisins can only dream of growing up to be: Bold, bitter but smooth chocolate on the outside, their subdued sweetness comes entirely from the tangy, chewy red berries within. On the savory side of the tracks, Bombay Snack Mix sold by The Happy Pear is an addictive blend of crunchy, salty, and slightly spicy lentils, chickpeas, and gram flour twigs. It’s the kind of stuff that you could eat by the handful without batting an eye. Kale chips are clearly a worldwide phenomenon now, and the Kale Crunchies made by Natasha’s Living Foods is a delicious reminder of why they caught on. Thick and hearty thanks to a cheesy nutritional yeast seasoning, they’re a healthy treat that has no language boundaries.

Getting a taste of the goodies available overseas was a thrilling experience, both for the actual eats and the privilege of getting to know Glauce and a few of her favorite local foods. For those who can’t travel the world but still want a taste of it, the Vegan Package Swap provides an opportunity to have it shipped right to your door. You may even make new friends across the globe along the way!

PS: If you want to take a peek at the goodies I sent over to Glauce, check out her post about the experience right here.


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Fictional Foods, Part Two

For part one and an explanation of the series, click here.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen:

Melissa raised the plate on upturned palms. “Cupcakes,” she said. “Thought you might be needing some cupcakes in your life right around now.”

Not being theatrical, Chip felt disadvantaged around people who were. “Why are you bringing me cupcakes?” he said.

Melissa knelt and set the plate on this doormat among the pulverized remains of ivy and dead tulips. “I’ll just leave them here,’” she said, “and you can do whatever you want with them. Goodbye!’ She spread her arms and pirouetted off the doorstep and ran up the flagstone path on tiptoe.

The cupcakes were full of butter and frosted with a butter frosting. After he’d washed his hands and opened a bottle of Chardonnay he ate four of them and put the uncooked fish in the refrigerator. The skins of the overbaked squash were like inner-tube rubber…He lowered the blinds and drank the wine and ate two more cupcakes, detecting peppermint in them, a faint buttery peppermint, before he slept.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway:

I took out my knife, opened it, wiped off the blade and pared off the dirty outside surface of the cheese. Gavuzzi handed me the basin of macaroni.

“Start in to eat, Tenente.”

“No,” I said. “Put it on the floor. We’ll all eat.”

“There are no forks.”

“What the hell,” I said in English.

I cut the cheese into pieces and laid them on the macaroni.

“Sit down to it,” I said. They sat down and waited. I put thumb and fingers into the macaroni and lifted. The mass loosened.

“Lift it high, Tenente.”

I lifted it to arm’s length and the strands cleared. I lowered it into the mouth, sucked and snapped in the ends, and chewed, then took a bite of cheese, chewed, and then a drink of the wine. It tasted of rusty metal.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck:

And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him. The lore has not died out of the world, and you will still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either.

Eat, Love, Pray by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Giovanni and Dario, my Tandem Exchange twins, are originally from Naples. I cannot picture it. I cannot imagine shy, studious, sympathetic Giovanni as a young boy amongst this—and I don’t use the word lightly — mob. But he is Neapolitan, no question about it, because before I left Rome he gave me the name of a pizzeria in Naples that I had to try, because, Giovanni informed me, it sold the best pizza in Naples. I found this a wildly exciting prospect, given that the best pizza in Italy is from Naples, and the best pizza in the world is from Italy, which means that this pizzeria must offer … I’m almost too superstitious to say it … the best pizza in the world? Giovanni passed along the name of the place with such seriousness and intensity, I almost felt I was being inducted into a secret society. He pressed the address into the palm of my hand and said, in gravest confidence, “Please go to this pizzeria. Order the Margherita pizza with double mozzarella. If you do not eat this pizza when you are in Naples, please lie to me later and tell me that you did.”

So Sofie and I have come to Pizzeria da Michele, and these pies we have just ordered — one for each of us — are making us lose our minds. I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair. Meanwhile, Sofie is practically in tears over hers, she’s having a metaphysical crisis about it, she’s begging me, “Why do they even bother trying to make pizza in Stockholm? Why did we even bother eating food at all in Stockholm?

Pizzeria da Michele is a small place with only two rooms and one nonstop oven. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the train station in the rain, don’t even worry about it, just go. You need to get there fairly early in the day because sometimes they run out of dough, which will break your heart. By 1 p.m., the streets outside the pizzeria have become jammed with Neapolitans trying to get into the place, shoving for access like they’re trying to get space on a lifeboat. There’s not a menu. They have only two varieties of pizza here — regular and extra cheese. None of this new age southern California olives-and-sun-dried-tomato wannabe pizza twaddle. The dough, it takes me half my meal to figure out, tastes more like Indian nan than like any pizza dough I ever tired. It’s soft and chewy and yielding, but incredibly thin. I always thought we only had two choices in our lives when it came to pizza crust — thin and crispy, or thick and doughy. How was I to have known there could be a crust in this world that was thin and doughy? Holy of holies! Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise. On top, there is a sweet tomato sauce that foams up all bubbly and creamy when it melts the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the one sprig of basil in the middle of the whole deal somehow infuses the entire pizza with herbal radiance, much the same way one shimmering movie star in the middle of a party brings a contact high of glamour to everyone around her. It’s technically impossible to eat this thing, of course. You try to take a bite off your slice and the gummy crust folds, and the hot cheese runs away like topsoil in a landslide, makes a mess of you and your surroundings, but just deal with it.

Remembering Blue by Connie May Fowler:

Nick was never a picky eater but after suffering through so many of my culinary failures he was well within his rights when later that same day he poked at his food with a fork and asked tremulously, “What is it?”

“Tomato pie.”

Lillian had given me the recipe and I followed it to a T. Four to five tomatoes, blanched for easy removal of the skins. Three quarters of a cup mayonnaise (feel free to use light but not fat-free). Pillsbury refrigerated crusts (bake the bottom crust for ten minutes in a moderate oven, otherwise you’ll have a juicy mess). As much garlic as pleases you (Nick, as you must know by now, loves garlic). At least one and a quarter cup cheese (I use feta). Plus fresh basil. Put it all together and bake at three hundred and fifty degrees for about thirty minutes.

I served it with a green salad and sweet tea. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Nick balanced a bite-sized morsel on his fork, lifted it to his lips, and discreetly sniffed. His face betrayed neither surprise nor disgust. Having gotten this far- even if the savory smell had offended him- he had little choice but to go ahead and eat. He popped it in his mouth and chewed tentatively but within seconds his eyes widened gratefully and his face relaxed in that way men have- you know, when they are suddenly and unexpectedly content (I have noticed that this phenomenon almost always revolves around food).

“This is really good!” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, ignoring the note of amazement in his voice.

That night, he chewed heartily. He ate two more pieces and I wrapped up what was left and handed it to him as he walked out the door.

Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi:

The winner of the race would receive a prize made by the last one to cross the finish line: an enormous pastilla, the most delicious of all of Allah’s varied foods. At once a pastry and a meal, pastilla is sweet and salty, made of pigeon meat and nuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Oh! Pastilla crunches when you munch on it, and you have to eat it with delicate gestures, no rushing please, or else you will get sugar and cinnamon all over your face. Pastilla takes days to prepare because it is made of layers of sheer, almost transparent, crust, stuffed with roasted and slightly crushed almonds, along with a lot of other surprises.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol:

Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words “EAT ME” were beautifully marked in currants. “Well, I’ll eat it,” said Alice, “and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door: so either way I’ll get into the garden, and I don’t care which happens!”

She ate a little bit, and said anxiously to herself, “Which way? Which way?” holding her hand on the top of her head to feel which way it was growing; and she was quite surprised to find that she remained the same size. To be sure, this is what generally happens when one eats cake; but Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way.

So she set to work, and very soon finished off the cake.

Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence:

When they had run and danced themselves dry, the girls quickly dressed and sat down to the fragrant tea. They sat on the northern side of the grove, in the yellow sunshine facing the slope of the grassy hill, alone in a little world of their own. The tea was hot and aromatic, there were delicious little sandwiches of cucumber and of caviare, and winy cakes.

“Are you happy, Prune?” cried Ursula in delight, looking at her sister.

“Ursula, I’m perfectly happy,” replied Gudrun gravely, looking at the westering sun.

“So am I.”

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