BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Neither Fish Nor Fowl

Contrary to popular belief, ceviche needn’t include any seafood to be considered “authentic,” or more importantly, to be considered delicious. One of many dishes with murky origins, it’s largely credited to the Peruvians, but it made its mark on cultures across all continents. If one were to look at the Latin etymology, it would simply mean “food for men and animals;” an ambiguous free-for-all with very little meaning other than the fact that it was, indeed, edible. Turning to Arabic, we see the foundation for “cooking in vinegar.” Persian would agree, going further to suggest that it was a “vinegar soup.” Sure, fish or meat was almost always invited to the party, but that doesn’t mean it was essential to the soul of the dish.

Scores of creative ceviches abound, plant-based and seasoned with a wide palate of different cultural perspectives. The most successful ones that I’ve come across take texture into account even before the flavor is considered, as backwards as that may sound. Few people realize just how much of the eating experience comes down to texture, which is why ceviche is a particularly fascinating preparation to experiment with. As long as it has a somewhat meaty yet springy texture that approximates something like shrimp or calamari, accompanied by a brightly acidic twang, you can craft a highly satisfying vegan rendition, no questions asked. Thus, upon biting into a fresh, juicy lychee, inspiration for a new approach struck me like lightning.

As the rest of the country starts hunting through their closets for long-forgotten sweaters and scarves, predictably, the bay area is forced to start shedding layers. The heat continues to skyrocket and the only thing I want to eat is something quick, cold, and satisfying. Ceviche fits neatly into that definition, no matter what else you consider essential. Packing it with buttery avocados and young coconut meat adds richness to this otherwise very lean preparation, fit for either a light meal or a good snack. Packed with crisp vegetables, everything is open to interpretation based on your personal tastes and accessibility. Want to mix it up? Consider ripe tomatoes, cubed watermelon, fresh corn, marinated mushrooms, chunks of fried plantain, or even steamed sweet potatoes, just for starters. Borrow from as many different cultures as you like; for ceviche, as long as it’s cold and raw, pretty much anything goes.

The only inviolable rule is to use ONLY fresh lychees, and I must be adamant about that. Canned can never compare, possessing both an unnatural sweetness and unpleasantly sour, metallic aftertaste. If you can’t find fresh, just double up on the coconut, and choose your own vegetable adventure from there.

Island Breeze Lychee Ceviche

10 – 12 Fresh Lychees, Peeled, Pitted, and Quartered (About 2/3 Cup)
1 Fresh Young Thai Coconut, Meat Removed and Diced
1/2 Large Cucumber, Peeled and Seeded
1 Small Avocado, Diced
3 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Pineapple Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 tablespoon Vegan Fish Sauce or Soy Sauce
1 Red Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely Minced
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Cilantro, Roughly Chopped
Salt, to Taste

To prepare ceviche, you shouldn’t really need written instructions to break it down, but here goes: Toss everything together in a large bowl except for the salt, cover, and let marinate in the refrigerator for 15 – 30 minutes. Season with salt to taste and serve thoroughly chilled, with crackers if desired.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Hip To Be Shared

Puffed snacks represent the pinnacle of junk food innovation and technology. No matter how hard you try, there’s simply no way to replicate that characteristically light, airy, yet impossibly crisp texture at home; trust me, I’ve gone through the ringer in my own kitchen, to no avail. Coated in powdered cheese of varying fluorescence hues, the salty morsels have been staining fingers since the 1930s but never gained much traction among the nutritionally conscious. That should come as no surprise, since questionable oils and highly processed dairy ingredients have long been the “best” that these salty treats could offer.

Hippeas is a new company set to change all that, turning away from the traditional corn base and towards one composed of everyone’s favorite legume: the chickpea.

Much more substantial than your typical puffed snack, each kernel boasts a sturdy, satisfying crunch, backed by impressive protein and fiber values. Unlike the Styrofoam whips of yore, one serving really will do… Although the tempting flavors might convince you keep munching.

Six unique seasonings offer a different taste for every craving. Cheese is the gold standard, the essential foundation of the puffed snack hierarchy, so the Vegan White Cheddar has very high expectations to live up to. While the overall effect doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t entirely deliver either. Evoking the flavor profile of creamy mac and cheese, it will certainly scratch that savory itch, but an incongruous sweetness detracts from the experience. Simply put, they’re highly enjoyable, but would never fool an omnivore.

Where Hippeas shine is in their more creative offerings that make no allusions to imitation. Delicious within their own right as a completely unique snack, the Far Out Fajita was the stand-out winner by my account. Cumin and coriander ring clearest out of the seasoning melange, imparting a Tex-Mex vibe. Further munching evoked the flavors of crunchy falafel, which made me think they would pair brilliantly with a bold tahini dip.

Pepper Power presents a strong showing for the most basic option. Thoroughly flecked with ground black pepper, each bite provides a nice balance of spice and salt, creating a subtle warmth that doesn’t overwhelm. By contrast, Sriracha Sunshine takes a bolder approach, but falls far short of its scoville target. The initial taste is of vinegar, with a timid heat following quietly, slow to build up steam. Excess sweetness brings down the spice considerably for these morsels, but in the case of Happenin’ Hickory, that same quality creates a pleasing balance. Accented with tomato, onion, and garlic, the overall effect delivers the impression of barbecue sauce more than pure hickory smoke, but is highly munchable nonetheless.

For those with a sweet tooth, Hippeas has something for you, too! The taste of Maple Haze rings true for pancake syrup with subtle buttery undertones. Take a bag with you to the theater next time; I think they’d make delightful alternative to caramel corn.

The full line of Hippeas aren’t perfect across the board, but one thing is for sure: They’ve mastered the elusive ways of the puff, and taken the “junk” out of this particular junk food favorite. There’s a whole lot to savor if you stick with the top hits.


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A-Maize-Ing

Put down the pumpkin spice latte. Step away from the Halloween decorations. Summer isn’t over yet, for crying out loud! The kids may be back in school, but the days are still bright and warm, full of the very same glorious produce we were enjoying mere days ago. Why rush into the next season while there’s still so much to enjoy in this one?

Case in point: fresh corn. There’s simply nothing else like it, and it can never compare when purchased off-peak. Now is the time to get your fill or hold your peace for another year. That means an ear of corn a day by my estimate, if not more. I simply can’t get enough of the stuff, crisp and sweet, straight off the cob with a light pinch of salt.

Fresh corn doesn’t stick around long though; what remains after the height of the season is but a shadow of its former glory. Watery, starchy, a waste of valuable stomach real estate, corn eaten any other time of year guarantees disappointment. As threats of the approaching seasonal shift grow louder, it’s simply not enough to enjoy a few bites a day. To really get a proper fix that will hold you for a full year, you can’t hold back.

That’s why my current favorite corn preparation not only involves tossing crisp kernels with supple strands of homemade pasta, but incorporates the very essence of corn right into the noodles themselves. That’s right; fresh corn pasta.

No more difficult to fabricate than any other dough, this unique formula incorporates both whole corn and cornmeal along with the standard wheat flour base, yielding a satisfying, toothsome structure with a genuinely flavorful soul. No one could ever accuse this noodle of being bland, even when eaten straight out the boiling water.

The best way to do justice to such a simple, pure product is to leave it alone. In essence: don’t screw up a good thing. Toss the cooked noodles with good olive oil or just the barest veil of pesto, along with a handful of fresh seasonal vegetables, and let it do the rest of the work. Such unique noodles are special enough to speak for themselves, much like superlative fresh corn does in the first place.

Anyone else out there still clinging to summer, or simply feel that the autumnal push is just a bit too aggressive? Pull up a chair and have a bowl of pasta with me. You’ll forget all about that nonsense after one bite.

Fresh Corn Pasta

1/2 Cup Corn Kernels, Canned and Drained, or Frozen and Thawed
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal

To Serve:

Pesto
Fresh Corn Kernels
Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

To make the pasta, place the corn kernels, aquafaba, oil, and salt in your food processor. Puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container as needed, until completely smooth. Add in the flour and cornmeal and pulse to incorporate. It shouldn’t take long before the mixture turns into a cohesive dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, press it into a ball, and cover it loosely with a clean towel. Let rest for 10 minutes to allow the gluten to relax before proceeding.

Divide dough in half, covering one of the portions once more with the towel. Focusing your attention on the other half, knead it lightly until smooth and press it into the rough shape of a rectangle. Break out the rolling pin and roll it out to about 1/8th – 1/16th of an inch in thickness.

Lightly flour the entire length before rolling it loosely and gently to make a short scroll to can be cut in one stroke. Use a very sharp knife to slice the noodles to your desired thickness; about 1/4-inch for fettuccine or 1/8-inch for linguine. Toss the noodles with additional flour to keep the strands separate.

Hang the fresh pasta on drying rack (in a pinch, I’ve used metal coat hangers) for at least two hours to dry. Repeat with remaining half of the dough.

If preparing the pasta well advance, allow it to dry completely, about 8 – 10 hours depending on the humidity in your kitchen, before storing it an airtight container or zip top plastic bag.

To cook, bring approximately 4 quarts water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for just 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until firm but tender. Drain but do not rinse.

Immediately toss with pesto and fresh vegetables and enjoy!

Makes 2 – 4 Servings (Paired with a Salad or Soup to Make a Meal)

Printable Recipe


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Coconuts Get Cultured

“Plain” is almost never a compliment, nor a desirable description. The word evokes a certain homeliness, blandness, a lack of zeal or zest. Even worse than “basic,” which suggests a comforting familiarity, there’s little to say in defense of plainness.

Applied to yogurt, however, “plain” is the holy grail, the standard by which all cultured non-dairy products are to be held, and so few make the cut. Rare is the company that will even venture to offer such a demanding flavor in the first place. Without added fruits or flavors for embellishment, there’s nowhere to hide a lackluster base, marred with unpleasant sour notes or strange aftertastes. What’s even more elusive is a blank slate without sweeteners, making savory applications all but impossible. Despite the abundance of new vegan options on the market now, you still have to plan on making your own or finding a suitable substitution. If you happen to live in the bay area, however, you now have another option: Yoconut.

Yoconut is a small but rapidly growing startup created by self-described foodie Bonnie Lau. If you voted in the recent Veggie Awards, you may have noticed this brand on the ballot, right alongside industry giants like Silk and So Delicious. That alone should say volumes about the product- Not yet distributed in mainstream markets, but already competing with the big shots. What sets Yoconut apart is its focus on quality, which is immediately apparent from a cursory glance at the label. No weird gums, no preservatives, no sugar at all; just smooth and creamy coconut, plain and simple. The Original is a cook’s dream, able to blend seamlessly with dips and dressings of all stripes, finally giving “plain” a good name.

Granted, what most eaters will want to know about are the flavored varieties, and I’ll have you know that they’re held to those very same high standards. Vanilla simply shimmers with seeds from the whole bean, without any syrup sweetness to diminish from its glory. Chocolate is admittedly still under development, but the latest rendition I sampled was a revelation; nothing like the pudding I had come to expect from such a title, but a legitimate cocoa-tinted cultured snack. Nothing else on the market comes close to this sort of highly sophisticated approach, and I for one hope the final formula doesn’t stray too far from this exquisite initial taste.

Right now your best bet for scoring a few of these precious containers is directly from Bonnie herself, at the Fort Mason Farmers Market held every Sunday from 9:30am to 1:30pm. Keep a close eye on local grocery store shelves though, because I have a feeling it won’t be long before this small business strikes out in a big way.


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Taste the Rainbow

On paper, one year appears laughably brief. 365 days out of a lifetime is but a flash in the pan, a blip on the radar. Taken into the context of history, millennia in the making, it’s not even worth mentioning. Time continues slipping through our fingers unimpeded even as we speak, turning the most recent set of months into a shockingly short memory. It feels like no time has elapsed at all since I officially set down roots here on the west coast, and yet my calendar tells me that I’ve reached this first milestone, seemingly out of the blue.

Though many more months and a string of variably sketchy apartments in the bay area preceded this count, it’s been one full year that I’ve been parked in the same place, calling the address my own. You know it’s official when you finally set up shop and invest in a stand mixer, after all. Home is where the heavy kitchen equipment is.

While I felt it was essential to commemorate this first anniversary, it couldn’t be with any recipe that took itself too seriously. That just wouldn’t do for the occasion, or for the place. No, I wanted to create something that spoke of San Francisco’s modern whimsy and free spirit; the place that I know, not the place it used to be.

California rolls are something I’ve wanted to make for a while, and with the name of the state built right in, the easy pun was irresistible. Though it’s likely that this American maki originated a bit further down south, with this contemporary reinterpretation, I do hereby propose that we of the bay area reclaim it as our own. To create something truly San Franciscan, nothing short of a rainbow would do.

“Traditional” crab filling is replaced by fishless shredded jackfruit, spiked with vegan fish sauce and a touch of sriracha, if you so desire. This unique, oceanic addition would normally be the big selling point for any sushi roll, but it’s clearly the colors surrounding it that steal the show. 100% natural hues are derived from plant-based sources that are probably sitting around in your pantry or fridge right now, to tint plain sushi rice and transform it into something truly special.

Cheers, San Francisco! Here’s to many more vibrant, colorful years together!

San Francisco, California Sushi Rolls

Crabby Filling:

16 Ounces Young Jackfruit
2 Scallions, White Parts Only, Finely Minced
2 Tablespoons Finely Minced Roasted Red Bell Pepper
1 Tablespoon Vegan Fish Sauce or Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
2 Teaspoons Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Celery Seeds, Ground
3 Tablespoons Vegan Mayonnaise
1/2 – 1 Tablespoon Sriracha (Optional, for Spicy Rolls)

To Assemble:

2 Ripe Avocados
2 Persian Cucumbers, Thinly Sliced Lengthwise
8 Sheets Roasted NoriAdditional Sriracha, if Desired

Rainbow Sushi Rice:

2 Cups Sushi Rice
2 1/4 Cups Water
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Mirin
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Red: 1 Tablespoon Beet Juice
Orange: 1 Tablespoon Beet Juice, 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
Yellow: 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
Green: 1/2 Teaspoon Spirulina Powder
Blue + Purple: 1/3 Cup Diced Red Cabbage, 1/2 Cup Water, 1/8 Teaspoon Baking Soda (Divided)

It may look like a lot of ingredients, but it’s really quite simple to create your very own sushi rainbows. Prepare the filling first so that it has time to sit and marinate. Shred and/or chop the jackfruit coarsely to break it up and approximate the texture of shredded crab. Add in all of the remaining ingredients and stir well. Cover, place in the fridge, and let sit for at least 1 – 3 hours for the flavors to fully meld. This can also be prepared well in advance; up to a week if stored in an air-tight container.

The real fun comes with the rice. Rinse and thoroughly drain the rice, washing away the excess starch, before bringing the water to a boil. Add the rice, stir once to break up any clumps, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and let cook for 14 – 18 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed. Mix together the vinegar, mirin, and salt in a separate container before pouring it into the hot rice, mixing thoroughly to incorporate. Keep the rice covered and let steam until fully cooked and tender.

Allow the cooked rice to cool until you can comfortably handle it; about 30 minutes. Divide it equally into 7 bowls (yes, you’ll end up with a lot of dishes to wash, but it will be worth it!). Mix in the designated coloring agent for each individual hue, stirring until the grains are more or less evenly dyed. The only colors that aren’t entirely self explanatory are the blue and purple, which take a little bit more effort to extract. Combine the cabbage and water in a small saucepan and simmer, covered, for 10 – 15 minutes, until the water is a pleasing shade of purple. Strain out the actual cabbage pieces and use 2 – 3 teaspoons of the liquid to create your violet rice. To the remaining water, whisk in the baking soda, and watch the dye magically turn blue. Just as before, mix in 2 – 3 teaspoons to make the blue rice.

Finally, to assemble, lay out thin strips of each colored rice on a sheet of nori in rainbow order, leaving about a 1 1/2-inch span of nori clean. Press down lightly to adhere and even out the lines. Top with the marinated crabby filling, thinly sliced cucumber, and plenty of avocado. If you really like it hot, go ahead and add an extra squirt of sriracha in, too. Carefully roll the whole bundle up as tightly as possible, pressing everything together gently but firmly as you go. Lightly moisten the clean strip of nori to seal the end.

Slice into 6 – 8 pieces and repeat with the remaining ingredients. Serve with soy sauce for dipping and go ahead, taste the rainbow!

Makes 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts

In one of many ill-conceived business ideas, I briefly considered setting up shop selling coconut shell bowls. The obsession was short but intense, yielding many colorful vessels for my own enjoyment, but few to share with the general public. Alas, of all those tropical fruits cracked open and eviscerated, not a single one actually turned a profit. Anyone with an ounce of money sense could have seen that coming, considering the sheer amount of time and labor necessary for each individual piece. It turns out that even the most beautiful coconut shell really isn’t worth more than $3 an hour, if you’re being particularly generous.

The venture wasn’t a total loss though. Processing through so many coconuts yielded tons of fresh coconut water, coconut shreds, coconut milk, coconut butter, and coconut pulp to enjoy. The last step in that journey could be considered the least celebrated, but to me, the most intriguing. What remained after straining homemade coconut milk was not quite fine enough to call flour, but certainly not refined enough to call flakes. It fell firmly between the two categories; rough around the edges but quite sweet and charming once you got to know it.

Finding a way to eat through that volume of pulpy excess was ultimately a more rewarding challenge than the monotonous task of sanding down the sharp edges and fine lines of a coconut shell. Taking inspiration from their Asian origins, Thai spices join the mix to form tender patties, fashioned into bite-sized sliders perfect for celebrating the tail end of summer. They aren’t burgers by any stretch of the imagination and they don’t try to be. I wanted to celebrate the coconut in all its natural glory, succulent and tender, cradled between two buns- Mock meats need not apply.

I daresay that this unconventional take on the typical picnic fare would be perfect to liven up any Labor Day festivities you may have planned. Even if your plans for the three day weekend consist of little more than binge-watching Netflix and pulling your long sleeve shirts out of storage, there’s no reason why these flavorful sliders can’t be on the menu. These versatile patties are just the start of the fun, inviting a wide range of fully customization toppings to suit even the most exotic cravings. I’ve listed some of my favorites below to get you started.

In case you don’t just happen to have a couple of fresh coconuts on hand to turn into pulp, you can absolutely process plain old unsweetened shredded coconut into a coarse meal instead.

Thai Coconut Sliders

Thai-Spiced Coconut Patties:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1/2 Cup Diced Shallot
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tablespoons Red Curry Paste
1 Tablespoon Ketchup
1 Tablespoon Vegan Fish Sauce or Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Cup Dry Coconut Pulp or Meal
1 Cup Cooked Jasmine Rice
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Flour
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

To Serve:

Mini Slider Buns
Sliced Cucumbers
Sliced Avocado
Fresh Cilantro or Thai Basil

Additional Topping Suggestions:

Peanut Sauce
Mango Relish or Chutney
Coconut Aioli

To prepare the patties, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium pan and add the shallots and garlic. Saute until softened and aromatic. Stir in the curry paste, cooking it for 2 – 3 minutes to bring out the full flavors of the spices. Add the ketchup, “fish” sauce, and lime juice and cook for another 3 minutes, allowing the ingredients to meld.

Transfer the aromatics to a large bowl along with the coconut pulp, cooked rice, and tapioca flour. Use a wide spatula to mix everything together. It’s a very thick mixture so you may just want to get in there with your hands to speed up the process. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Use an ice cream scoop to portion out the most consistent slider sizes, or just aim for a scant 1/4 per patty. Roll them between lightly moistened hands and press them down gently to shape.

Heat a wide skillet over medium heat and coat the bottom with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Cook 2 – 3 sliders at a time, being careful not to crowd the pan. Allow 5 – 8 minutes per side, until golden brown, flipping as needed.

Serve on mini slider buns with as many toppings as your heart desires.

Makes 7 – 8 Sliders.

Printable Recipe


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Worth Its Salt

Considering my legacy of dessertfocused cookbooks, it might surprise some to know that my salt tooth often speaks louder than my sweet tooth. Call it an inevitable balancing act, brought on by years of saccharine excess, but it seems that there’s not enough salt in the world to compensate for my reckless, sugar-coated youth. I’ll still dive head-first into a bowl of ice cream or a plate of chocolate chip cookies, but there’s a good chance I’ll spike each serving with a pinch (or two) of coarse salt before indulging.

Clearly, I’m not alone on this impulse. Gourmet salts have taken off in a category all their own, exploring new territory with different flavors far more adventurous than the classic mixtures of herbs and spices. San Francisco Salt Co. is one of the leaders of that pack, blending gourmet ingredients with high quality sea salt for a luxurious finishing touch. While various flavors of smoked salts have been a mainstay of the brand for many years, their newest release offers something unique to this crowded, salty category. Whisky Smoked Sea Salt elevates the concept to a lofty new realm, utilizing empty barrels once employed to age Teeling’s Irish Whiskey to lend deep, oaky aromas to this most humble of seasonings.

Dusty grey and fine as soft beach sand, the powerful scent that emerges from the package is stunning. Earthy and downright primal, like a carefully tended campfire, there’s no liquid smoke nonsense going on here. It’s the truly natural, unmistakable aroma that even the most advanced flavor labs could only dream of synthesizing.

The flavor is naturally a bit more restrained when paired with food. Unless you add a heaping teaspoon of salt to every meal, it’s only natural that it would take a backseat to the taste of the food itself. That doesn’t mean that it disappears into the scenery by any means. As with any good finishing salt, it serves to accentuate those savory morsels, adding subtle notes of smoke that add depth and character otherwise impossible to achieve in a single bite.

Frosting the rim of a tall, icy glass of Bloody Mary, there’s no better way to get a full-frontal hit of this richly smoked salt. Regardless of your final destination on either sweet or savory route, it’s one unmistakable, inimitable condiment that’s definitely worth its salt, and then some.