BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Steamy Secrets

It’s remarkable how the most ubiquitous, seemly mundane ingredients can be utterly transformed with a fresh perspective. For example, eggplants show up in nearly every culture, every grocery store, and every cookbook. For the wide range of varieties available across the world, accompanied by the distinctive palate of flavors that each locale prefers, there’s truly an eggplant preparation for everyone. Despite the abundance of options, it seems we’re drawn back to the same recipes time and again, sticking to the familiar for the sake of simplicity. That was certainly the case for me, which is why the promise of an all-eggplant cooking class held both intrigue and skepticism. What new was there to learn about this staple vegetable that I naively presumed had already divulged its culinary secrets long ago?

The one way I would never have attempted to cook an eggplant turned out to be one of the most revolutionary. Believe it or not, steaming these burnished violet nightshades created one of the most superlative eggplant dishes to hit my plate in years. Previously ignorant to this dramatic metamorphosis, the idea of steamed eggplant sounded about as appealing as stewed gym socks. On the contrary, the softened and shredded fruit is downright silky, luxuriously caressing the tongue with unexpected richness.

Hailing from China, this unsung hero of eggplant cookery comes to life with an impossibly creamy glaze of toasted sesame, soy sauce, vinegar, and a gentle kick of heat. Such complex flavors seem to contradict the simple procedure, but that’s the true beauty of this secret formula. This radical departure from the standard menu was right there all along, hidden in plain sight

Beijing-Style Steamed Eggplant with Sesame Sauce
by Chef Philip Gelb

2 Chinese Eggplants, Halved Lengthwise
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Teaspoons Light Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Black Vinegar
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Palm Sugar
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 Tablespoon Chili Paste (Optional)
1 Thinly Sliced Scallion, to Garnish

Steam the eggplants for 10 – 15 minutes, until very tender. Meanwhile, combine all the remaining ingredients for the sauce in a large bowl.

Let the eggplants cool for a few minutes so that you can handle them comfortably, and then use your hands to tear them into long strips.

Toss the eggplants with the sauce and top with scallion. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Spread Hope

Once relatively unheard of in the US, the popularity of hummus has risen to astronomic new heights within the condiment hierarchy. Now rivaling longtime champions ketchup and salsa for top honors, it’s more noteworthy when you can’t find this beloved dip at any establishment selling food. No where is the craze made clearer than in the mainstream marketplace, where even corner store bodegas are likely to carry at least one or two brands. For that matter, there’s a good chance you can even scrounge up a package of the creamy chickpea puree at your local drug store, right alongside the emergency rations of plain saltine crackers and white bread. It’s impossible to escape, as if anyone would ever want to, but such an overwhelming abundance of options does make it challenging to weed out the winners and losers in the field.

Hope Hummus sets itself apart from the pack by blending up unique yet approachable flavors that offer a delicious departure from the average bean dip. Sure, there’s still the austere plain and garlic options for the traditionalist, providing a solid standby for the pickiest palates, but greater gustatory adventures await the more intrepid eater. Heat things up with Thai Coconut Curry or Sriracha hummus, or explore new territory entirely with sweet Dark Chocolate hummus.

Though I can’t claim to have experienced the full range of inventive combinations, it’s only a matter of time before I can hunt them down, since my initial experiences have proven so gratifying. Picking favorites is never easy, but I need to give a special shout out to the Kale Pesto hummus, which combines everyone’s favorite leafy green superfood with basil pesto, lending vibrant, fresh flavor to this coarse blend. Primed for any party platter, it also strikes me as a promising candidate for enlivening creamy pasta sauce or topping a bowlful of piping hot tomato soup. Speaking of hot, Spicy Avocado hummus lights a smoldering savory flavor with piquant jalapeno peppers, tempered by creamy avocado. Though not nearly a five-alarm fire, it certainly boasted a well-defined spice that would appease any heat seekers in the crowd.

In this booming category, surprisingly few variations can be found on the classic staple, despite increasing demands. Hope Hummus is one company clearly thinking outside the plastic tub while always emphasizing high quality, organic ingredients. For a quick fix snack, consider branching out and trying their fresh twists on hummus next time.


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Flying High on Plants

No one looks forward to being locked in an airborne tin can, strapped down at an unnatural acute angle for hours on end, and that’s to say nothing of the hoops to jump through to qualify for such abuse in the first place. Yet we all accept these offenses as the necessary evils of air travel; small, cumulative personal injustices that must be suffered for the prize of a new adventure. On the bright side, this mild form of torture makes the joy of arrival all the greater, if only for the relief that comes from getting out of that maddening contraption.

Every small pleasure found in this unpleasant process is thus magnified, savored with aplomb, in hopes of turning down the volume on the rest of that logistical cacophony. for this reason alone, it’s worth the extra hassle whenever I book a flight out of SFO, because that means I can at least find a good meal while waiting at the gate.

It’s true: There’s fresh, healthy, and satisfying food to be found in an airport! The Plant Cafe Organic lays claim to many outposts across the bay area, but ironically, this inaccessible, highly guarded location is the one I stop by most often. Every time, the only thing I ever want is a pile of delicious produce, and every time, the understated yet dazzling grapefruit and avocado salad delivers.

Thankfully, there’s no need to subject yourself to such pain for such gustatory gratification, nor schlep out all the way to that isolated airport terminal, either. It turns out that while the sharply unpleasant contrasts surrounding this small morsel of pleasure do enhance the experience to a degree, it’s even more enjoyable when eaten at leisure, sprawled on the couch at home, preferably clad in completely unflattering sweatpants and slippers.

Something about the acidic, subtly sweet citrus, creamy avocado, and crunchy macadamia nuts make this salad utterly unforgettable. Don’t just take my word for it, because I’m afraid I can’t do it full justice in a few short sentences. It’s just too good to fully explain in words. This simple, invigorating combination will brighten the darkest of post-daylight savings time evenings.

Avocado Grapefruit Salad

Macadamia Nut Dressing:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons White Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Scallions, Sliced
1/4 Cup Raw Macadamia Nuts
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Salad:

8 Cups Arugula
2 Cups Thinly Sliced Fennel
1 Large Pink Grapefruit, Sliced into Segments
1 Large, Ripe Avocado, Sliced
1/3 Cup Toasted Macadamia Nuts, Roughly Chopped
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

The procedure is pretty much self explanatory once you glance through the ingredient list, but here goes. Toss all of the ingredients for the dressing into your blender or food processor and puree on high, until creamy and completely smooth. Toss the dressing with the arugula and fennel, and divide the greens between 2 or 3 bowls. Top with equal amounts of grapefruit, avocado, and macadamia nuts. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper if needed, and enjoy.

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Smooth-Talker (With a Matcha Giveaway!)

Making the leap from blender to bowl, smoothies are no longer strictly liquid nourishment. Morning, noon, or night, it’s time to put away the straws and break out the spoons. Acai bowls paved the way for this natural evolution, but smoothie bowls are entirely unique creations, free from the constraints of the typical toppings or construction. Browse through instagram for a few seconds, and you’ll see a full spectrum of colors, layers, textures, and sometimes even actual glitter fill your screen. These run the gamut from austere to more indulgent than chocolate custard, so as with most other edible art forms, the real struggle is finding a happy balance between the two.

For me, that means going green, but not in the predictable way. Kale, spinach, and collards alike are mainstays in my meals, but not in my blender. The green smoothie movement is one that i could never fully embrace, simply because I couldn’t rationalize adding ingredients that didn’t contribute positive flavors to the mix, but rather, unfavorable tastes that would need to be covered up or otherwise compensated for. Green is great, but when it comes to smoothies, matcha is always my favorite source.

Enthusiasts will agree that there’s no wrong way to enjoy this verdant powdered tea leaf, but many are missing out on matcha’s full flavor potential. Did you know that there are numerous different grades of the emerald superfood, which vary greatly in flavor and potency? Separated into three distinct categories, it may be difficult to suss out when it’s best to employ ceremonial matcha, culinary matcha, or any of the shades of green in between.

Contrary to my first naive assumption, it turns out that culinary matcha is not actually of lower quality, and in fact contributes a stronger tea flavor to baked goods, as it’s better suited to withstand the heat of the oven. Ceremonial grades possess greater nuances, best to sip, savor, and carefully contemplate. Each one tells it’s own story, so carefully calibrated through every step of processing, that no two batches will taste precisely the same.

If you’ve never experienced the glorious green joy that comes with the full spectrum of matcha, you’re in luck. Matchaworks offers three wholly unique options to keep you steeped in good taste from morning to night- Or whenever the caffeine wears off. Picking between the trio might seem like an overwhelming decision to make, but today, you may not have to. Matchaworks has generously offered to send one lucky reader a bundle of all their tasteful teas: Japanese ceremonial grade, ceremonial grade, and culinary grade.

You must be a resident of the US to be eligible for this gift, and don’t forget to get social! Interact with Matchaworks on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and then hop on over to the OFFICIAL GIVEAWAY PAGE to make your entry count.

No matter how your brew or blend it up, green is always good when it means matcha!


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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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On a Roll

Tender. Gooey. Buttery. Decadent.

The very best cinnamon rolls are defined by these words. They should be rich, no-holds-barred indulgences, dripping with liquefied cinnamon sugar and redolent of the eponymous spice. One bite should be enough to sustain an athlete for a day, and yet that seductive sweetness makes it impossible to leave a single crumb, no matter the size of the bun. The inevitable sugar rush and crash that follows is always worth the pain, but does it truly have to be that way? After one such an experience, head reeling and fingers still sticky, I couldn’t help but seek out a better option.

Clearly, I’m not the only one looking for that sweet satisfaction without such a deleterious impact. Pro(Zero), makers of my current favorite protein powders, have just unleashed a new Cinnamon Roll flavor, proving that you really can have your cake and eat it, too- Or, cinnamon roll, as it were. Naturally, I still had to take it one step further and craft a true baked rendition to bring the cinnamon-spiced concept full circle.

I’m not usually one to toot my own horn, but it needs to be said: These exceeded my wildest sugar-encrusted dreams. Soft, supple, and impossibly rich, these treats can roll with the big boys. They’re not sad imposters of the real that would necessitate a warning label of being “healthier” alternatives, but wholly gratifying desserts in their own rights. In sum: Toot!

Why reach for another dry, shrink-wrapped protein bar when you can have a luscious cinnamon roll instead? As far as I’m concerned, baked goods are the new health foods now.

Protein Cinnamon Rolls

Protein Dough:

1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Packet (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
3 – 3 1/2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Pro(Zero) Cinnamon Roll Protein Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt

Cinnamon Filling:

1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil, Melted
1/3 Cup Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon

Cream Cheese Protein Icing:

1/4 Cup Vegan Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Cinnamon Bun Protein Powder
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1 – 3 Tablespoons Water

Heat your non-dairy milk in a microwave safe bowl for just a minute to warm, but do not bring it to a boil. Stir in the yeast and let is sit for about 5 minutes until frothy and active. Once re-awakened, pour the yeast mixture into your stand mixer, along with the olive oil and agave. Mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the first 3 cups of flour, protein powder, and salt. Make sure that all the dry goods are thoroughly distributed before adding them into the liquid mixture. Beginning at the lowest speed, use the dough hook to slowly combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to keep everything incorporated, until the dough forms a cohesive ball. If it still seems excessively wet, add up to 1/2 cup of flour. Bear in mind that the protein powder will continue to absorb liquid, so give it some time to fully hydrate.

Let the mixer continue to knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. You could also knead it by hand; just take 15 – 20 minutes to do so instead. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic, and let rest in a warm area for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Roll it out into a rectangle of about 14 x 18 inches. Brush evenly with the melted coconut oil. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl before sprinkling the mixture over the entire surface. Starting from one of the shorter ends, roll the rectangle up as tightly as possible, pinching the seam shut when you reach the other end.

Use a very sharp knife to cut the roll into approximately 1 1/2-inch pieces. You can either bake them individually in lightly greased muffin tins or together in two 8-inch round cake pans. If baking them in groups, try spacing them as evenly as possible. You can begin preheating your oven to 350 degrees at this point, and allow the rolls to rise for 45 – 60 minutes before baking.

Bake for 25 – 35 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before icing.

To make the icing, simply mix all of the ingredients together, stirring until completely smooth, adding more or less water depending on how thick you want the mixture. Less will give you something closer to a pipeable frosting, while more will create a thinner type of glaze. Bear in mind that the mixture will continue to thicken as it sits.

Makes About 12 Cinnamon Rolls

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by HPN Supplements, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.