BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Thai One On For Size

What is your personal litmus test when judging a new restaurant? Is it the spaghetti marinara at a place touting homemade pasta? The scallion pancakes at a dim sum joint? Hopefully it’s something common, found across all menus, to best compare, since the simplest dishes are the most telling. It takes attention to detail, consideration for ingredients, and true skill to make the basics stand out within a sea of similar options. Perhaps it’s unfair to appraise an eatery based on their drinks, but for me, Thai restaurants live or die by their Thai tea.

Traditionally made with copious amounts of syrupy dairy mixed in, simply finding a vegan brew can be quite a feat. If you’re willing to swap coconut milk and sugar for the sweetened condensed milk, you’ve already won a gold star by my assessment. Honestly, it doesn’t take much to convert this special treat, and yet surprisingly few think to offer such flexibility in the first place. It wouldn’t be such an issue if I could just whip up a big pot of it at home, but like all things that seem deceptively simple, hitting those same sweet, subtly spicy notes had proven elusive through exhaustive trials.

Mixes exist for those who want the authentic flavor without any of the extra work, but there’s no way around those pesky artificial colors. While I can’t promise that my unique blend would pass the standard litmus test, I’m quite pleased to say that it will do the trick when a craving hits.

That’s especially true when those same flavors enliven a cool and refreshing glass of chia pudding. Coconut milk thickened with yogurt and sweetened with a restrained hand top off this healthy reinterpretation, suitable for breakfast, snack, and dessert alike. Celyon or assam tea would be most traditional for this application, if you can get your hands on either, but let’s be honest: True “authenticity” goes out the window as soon as a home cook picks up the whisk. In this case, I’d argue that might be a very good thing indeed.

No one will think that this take on Thai tea came from the latest and greatest restaurant on the block, but it sure does satisfy the craving in a whole new way.

Thai Tea Chia Parfaits

3 1/2 Cups Water
1 Tablespoon Black Tea
1 Tablespoon Rooibos Tea
1 Whole Star Anise
1 Green Cardamom Pod
2 Whole Cloves
1/2 Teaspoon Tamarind Concentrate
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/2 Cup Coconut Palm Sugar or Light Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Cup Whole Chia Seeds

1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Cup Vegan Vanilla Coconut Milk Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar

To make the pudding, you’ll first need to make strongly brewed of Thai tea. You’re welcome to use a prepared mix in place of the tea leaves and spices, but for anyone who doesn’t have access to such luxuries or doesn’t have it on hand in time to satisfy urgent cravings, this blend of black and rooibos tea will do the trick. Heat the water in a medium saucepan along with both teas. Lightly smash the whole spices with the side of your knife to help release their flavors before adding them all in, along with the tamarind concentrate and turmeric. Cover and bring the mixture just to the brink of boiling.

Stir in the sugar, turn off the heat, and keep covered. Let steep for at least 30 minutes, undisturbed. The longer the tea steeps, the more flavorful it will be, but let it sit for no more than 2 hours to prevent the more bitter compounds of the tea from being released.

Strain out the leaves and whole spices before stirring in the vanilla extract and chia seeds. Let the chia seeds begin to hydrate and absorb the liquid, and stir again after 15 minutes to break up any clumps. Divide the mixture between 4 – 6 glasses and place them into the fridge. Chill thoroughly, for at least 2 – 3 hours, before serving.

Right before serving, mix together the coconut milk, yogurt, and agave. Drizzle it over the top of each chia pudding and lightly swirl it in. Don’t blend it entirely for the most striking effect, and the most satisfying flavor contrast.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Grab the Melon by Its Horns

Sharply spiked, thorny, and clad in an arresting hue of traffic cone orange, it was clear that this alien fruit was coming home with me from the moment we first met. It was just too bizarre to put back down, despite its pointed protests.

The kiwano, otherwise known as a horned melon, is truly a sight to behold. It becomes even more alluring once cracked open, revealing downright monstrous innards of large seeds suspended in a jelly-like green morass. Best described as an African cucumber, the flavor is quite similar to this familiar vegetable. Some claim to taste notes of banana and lemon as well, suggesting that it would be well suited for both sweet and savory applications. Unfortunately, the truth is considerably more bitter: The gooey mess is impossible to eat out of hand, watery at best but entirely bland at worst, and overall, quite disappointing.

Talk about misjudging a book by its cover!

That said, it has its charm as an exotic garnish, based entirely on its unnerving, almost unnaturally neon hue. Shock and amaze your friends this Halloween by presenting them with a ghastly glass of rice pudding, topped by this exotic produce pick.

You can’t beat it for shock value, but truth be told… You wouldn’t be losing anything in the flavor department if you left out the kiwano. No recipe needed here, as any rice pudding formula will do the trick. However, consider this your warning: While the kiwano does have horns, it certainly won’t bite back.


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The Ultimate Sushi Burrito Roll-Out

Wide-eyed, mouth agape, and stomach rumbling, I remember the very first time I heard of the concept. Sushi always had a special place in my heart and on my table, from a weekly after school maki roll habit to special birthday dinner requests, often cited as my last meal selection when asked. Despite my youth, I thought that such relentless passion had already exposed me to all the category had to offer. New vegetable, legume, or fruit combinations could shake things up from time to time, but there was nothing earth-shattering to be found in this time-honored edible art form.

That was until I came across sushi burritos. Hulking bundles rivaling the size of a newborn, these babies were instead swaddled in oversized sheets of slick, glistening nori, overstuffed with a rainbow of fresh and widely varied ingredients. Just one order would satisfy the average eater, if not push them right over the edge into a contented food coma. Back in the early days, there was only one: The Sushirrito, the granddaddy of them all. Scrolling through blogs that featured mouth-watering photos of the beast, I vowed that one day, I would venture out west, if only to taste this legendary creation for myself.

Almost a decade later, it’s safe to say that this is no longer a passing trend, but a hot ticket item that’s here to stay. Sushirrito has expanded its empire all the way out east to New York, with plans to unveil its 8th and 9th outposts soon. More tellingly, however, is the number of rivals now on the scene that offer up their own perspective on the giant sushi wrap. What might surprise you is the fact that all of these fish-centric establishments offer wholly vegan options, and the greatest variety is actually found across the bay, in Berkeley and Oakland. So who makes the one veggie sushi burrito to rule them all? It took me over a year of eating and countless packets of soy sauce, but what follows is my official* ruling on the very best of the bay area.

*Completely unofficial.

Pulling off the greatest upset in sushi burrito history, the young upstart Sushinista gets the gold star in this competition. Less than a year on the scene and still flying well below the radar, their offerings are some of the least traditional, but accordingly most inventive and exciting. Portobello mushrooms slathered in a mild green curry sauce are the shining stars of this menu, complimented by a range of seasonal vegetables and crunchy toppings that have previously included such unsung delights as persimmon and Asian pear.

Giving credit where credit is due, Sushirrito still carries the torch in San Francisco proper. Quite frankly, it’s hard to beat the obscenely rich mushroom fries found in the “Buddha Belly,” ringing with umami and wholly satisfying on their own. I’m tempted to call it a tie with my top pick, but points ultimately had to be deducted for sloppy construction. Kudos for providing a roasted garlic tofu aioli, but that added sauce frequently created soggy nori, leading to catastrophic blowouts while eating. You’ll eventually need to attack it with a fork in the end.

Big bonus point and serious kudos go to Sumo Roll for being the ONLY establishment offering not one, but two veganizable options. Although both the veggie-forward “Kabuki” and curried tofu “Midori” automatically come with egg-based aioli and one with slaw, just let your sushi burrito artist know about your dietary needs and they’re more than happy to customize. Ask for the tangy miso-ginger sauce instead, and you’ll be in business. Hat tip to Sumo Roll for providing what is quite possibly the best value around, serving up truly sumo-sized servings that don’t hold back on the flavorful fillings.

Placing Torpedo Sushi so far down the list feels downright heretical, considering the consistently luscious slabs of avocado and chunks of baked tofu wrapped up in every bundle. They simply got edged out for offering smaller portions, and occasionally bulking up their rolls with more rice than fillings. Burritos can be somewhat hit-or-miss based on these proportions, so I’d be more inclined to order the “Veganator” in rice bowl format instead.

Traveling back to downtown Berkeley, Sushi Secrets certainly doesn’t skimp on the goodies wrapped up in their “Denemon,” throwing unexpected ingredients like purple potatoes and corn into the mix. Unfortunately, their wraps also suffer from issues with structural integrity, and the sweet and sour dressing dominates the entire composition, drowning out any nuances that the unique vegetables might provide. Once unwrapped, the whole thing is liable to explode into your lap, and sadly, it’s not even worth the effort of picking up all the shrapnel.

Ordering sushi from a truck might seem sketchy, even when opting for a fish-free meal, but We Sushi has proven itself as a reliable source for sushi satisfaction. The “Vegan” burrito is solid, a fine fix if you’re craving vinegared rice and veggies, featuring sweet potato tempura most prominently, but nothing to rave about. It’s the beige cardigan of sushi burritos; reliable, comfortable, but nothing you’d want to show off in public. Go ahead and order up if you spot the truck parked in your neighborhood, but don’t go out of your way to hunt it down.

Pulling up the tail end of this edible parade, the “Tofu Teriyaki” burrito at Sushi Taka seems more like an afterthought than a feature. Ordered without spicy mayo, the wrap tastes only of seaweed salad. Soft tofu squares dissolve without any notable texture, and the promise of teriyaki flavor goes unfulfilled. In a word: Pass.

Honorable mention goes to Nombe, for taking the fusion concept to the next level and actually wrapping their sushi burritos in flour tortillas. These are a rotating item on the menu, but I don’t think you’re missing much if you don’t see them during your visit; the combination of carb-on-carb is just a total starch-fest, especially considering the fact that rice takes up more than half the bundle to begin with.

It’s safe to say that sushi burritos are officially having their moment out west, but time will tell if that enthusiasm of oversized maki rolls will continue their spread across the country. There are highlights and low lights to be found, with wide variations all over the board, but overall, there’s a lot to love about the concept.

Have you had sushi burritos? Have you made sushi burritos? Tell me about it, and let’s craft a better burrito, together!


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High-Fiber Diet

Veggie burgers have a very obvious nutritional edge over the meaty competition, bolstering their longtime reputation as healthy alternatives. Now that the options are tastier (and more realistic) than ever, it’s hard to imagine that anyone is left asking “Where’s the beef?” these days. Still, some hardcore health food fanatics are left wanting for an even more virtuous variety, immune to any of the frequent issues that plague prepared foods in general; high levels sodium, fat, and a lack of fiber can afflict even the most favorable plant-based patties.

Well, hold on to your green smoothies, because the burger of the future is finally here. Not just high in fiber, but ENTIRELY made of fiber, it’s even stuffed with more organic material.

Organic material in the form of tissues, that is. Call it silly, call it crazy, but I’m just calling it a cozy. There’s no arguing that whether it’s crafted out of cotton, hemp, or linen, it’s the healthiest burger you’ll ever find.

Pattern from Twinkie Chan’s Crocheted Abode a la Mode.


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Wordless Wednesday: Once (or Twice) in a Millennium

Heirloom Tomatoes & Nectarines

Warm Roasted Turnip & Brussels Sprout Salad

Peanut Glazed Smoked Tempeh

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Seared Chickpea Cake

Smoked Potato & Beet Cake

Vindaloo Glazed Cauliflower

Passionfruit Crème brûlée

Chocolate & Confections

Millennium Restaurant in Oakland, CA


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Plot Twist

It’s one of those days. The sky is still dark when you finally wrestle off the heavy covers and swing your feet out of bed, never seeming to lighten a single shade all day. Rain falls intermittently, just enough to mock any attempt made to leave the house while remaining dry. Strangers hustle by with umbrellas carelessly outstretched, acting more as blunt weapons than shelters from the elements. How many times can you get whacked in the face during a brief 10-minute walk? Oh, let’s keep a tally and find out; it’s easy to lose count while tabulating the results in your head.

You know the script and play your part, muddling through as best you can, but wait- Who’s writing this story anyway? Why should you stick to your lines when a much more satisfying ending could be crafted with a bit of improvisation?

Here’s the plot twist you’ve been craving. Get home, throw off your muddy boots, cozy into a soft sweater, and break out the flour and yeast. There’s no antidote to those days, but there is a salve, and it comes in the form of baking bread. Something about the kneading of dough is indescribably cathartic, while the warmth of the oven can melt the iciest of hearts. Merely the smell of fresh dough transforming into golden brown loaves has a wholly restorative quality, even before taking a single bite.

Savory herbs mingle with roasted garlic in a rich, aromatic filling woven through every layer of soft, tender dough. You might think that they’re fussy, or too fancy to serve as an everyday loaf, but it takes no more work than the average bread. Treat yourself to something a bit more special than the standard; take back control and write your own story.

World Bread Day 2016 (October 16)

 

These two loaves are my ninth annual contribution to World Bread Day, and second submission to the baking contest mixed up by Simply Organic and Go Dairy Free. Should you find yourself in a baking rut and need new material to revise your personal script, just hit these links for ample inspiration, both sweet and savory.

Twisted Garlic and Herb Bread

Dough:

1 Package (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1 3/4 Cups Warm Water
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
3 – 3 1/2 Cups Bread Flour

Garlic and Herb Schmear:

2 Heads Garlic, Roasted
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Pumpkin Puree
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Simply Organic Dried Parsley
2 Teaspoons Simply Organic Dried Rosemary
2 Teaspoons Simply Organic Dried Thyme
1 Teaspoon Simply Organic Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Simply Organic Ground Black Pepper

In a large bowl, combine the yeast, agave, and warm water. Let stand until the yeast reactivates and surface of the liquid becomes bubbly; about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil, salt whole wheat flour, and 2 cups of the bread flour, mixing with a sturdy wooden spoon or the dough hook attachment of your stand mixer.

Once the initial addition of dry goods has been completely incorporated, add the remaining cup of bread flour. Slowly knead by hand or machine for 10 – 15 minutes until the dough is smooth, supple, and elastic. If it still seems very wet, add up to 1/2 cup additional bread flour.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel.
Let rest at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size; about 1 – 1 1/2 hours, depending on your local climate.

Meanwhile, prepare the garlic and herb schmear by first squeezing the cloves of roasted garlic out of their skins. Place them in a small bowl and roughly mash with the salt. Let the mixture remain somewhat chunky, but smooth enough to spread without too much difficulty. Add in all of the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine. Set aside.

After the dough has properly risen, punch it down and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Take one at a time and on a lightly floured surface, press it into a rough rectangular shape. Use a rolling pin to further smooth it out, until it measure approximately 15 – 16 inches long (the exact width isn’t critical.) Cover the surface evenly with 1/4 of the garlic and herb schmear, and roll the dough up in a tight cylinder exactly the same way you would for cinnamon buns. Repeat this process with the remaining dough and schmear.

Now that you have your 4 filled rolls of dough, focus your attention at two at a time, to form each loaf. With the seam-sides down, use a very sharp knife to slice right down the center of each roll, but NOT all the way through. You want to reveal the layers within, but not cut the dough entirely in half. Press the tops of the two split rolls together to adhere, and very gently twist the pieces together, keeping the cut sides facing up. When you reach the end, press the bottoms together to seal, and curl both ends under to keep the pieces from separating in the baking process. Very carefully move the twisted loaf over to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and allow the loaves to rise once more, until not quite doubled in size. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until golden brown and utterly aromatic. The tempting smells will make it very difficult to wait, but allow the bread to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Makes 2 Loaves

Printable Recipe