Sticky Situation

So deeply rooted in history, so utterly essential that in many cultures, the word for “rice” is the very same word for “meal,” or just simply “food.” The whole world as we know it could have quite plausibly begun from a single grain of rice. Trying to break down the myriad varieties though, from ancient to modern hybrid, is where things start to get sticky.

That’s exactly what I want to pick apart today: Sticky rice. For starters, sticky rice is distinct from common long grain white rice, and no amount of special preparation will come close to its unique characteristics. Don’t let any blissfully thrifty cooks tempt you into thinking that any overcooked long grains, gummy and swollen with too much water, are even remotely acceptable substitutes. While many types of short grain rice may be lumped together and called “sticky rice,” true glutinous rice is a separate breed. It all boils down to its starchy constitution. Glutinous rice contains just one component of starch, called amylopectin, while other kinds of rice contain both molecules that make up starch: amylopectin and amylose. Amylose does not gelatinize during cooking, which keeps grains separate and fluffy. Without that buffer, you’ll find a range of creamier or downright cohesive results.

Thai sticky or glutinous rice has been the object of my affection and frustration since the very first forkful I enjoyed in Thailand itself. Back at home, understanding the culinary transmogrification happening to turn out such a familiar yet entirely unique staple has been a fascinating, humbling experience.

A medium-to-long-grain rice hailing from South East and East Asia, glutinous rice does not actually contain gluten, but the name refers to the rice’s glue-like sticky quality, which easily binds it into rice balls and cakes. Black Thai sticky rice is simply the wholegrain version, meaning the bran has not been removed. Contrary to the name, it’s actually more of a mottled, deep purple color and has an exceptionally chewy, toothsome bite. Like other unmilled or brown rices, it takes slightly longer to cook than white varieties.

Typically soaked overnight, gently steamed in a special bamboo basket, and painstakingly tended all the while, traditional methods of cooking are as intimidating as they are ultimately gratifying. Every minute of planning and preparation is well worth the effort, but not exactly an endeavor for an everyday meal. If you’re willing to sacrifice authenticity for the sake of almost-instant satisfaction, I’m happy to share a secret shortcut to get those sticky morsels on the table in a fraction of the time.

Use 1/4 – 1/2 cup dry grains per person and bundle them up in a nutmilk bag. Plunge into a pot of boiling water, keeping the top drawn tightly closed and out of the water, as if you were steeping an oversized tea bag. Turn off the heat and let soak for 10 minutes. Bring the heat back up to medium, bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Elevate the bag in a large strainer, raise the heat to high, and steam for a final 10 – 15 minutes. If using black sticky rice, soak for 15 minutes and simmer for 25.

Most Americans might be familiar with mango sticky rice, a simple dessert featuring ripe mango slices crowning tender grains in a pool of sweetened coconut cream. The combination is hard to beat, tried and true, but so easily adapted for further flavor sensations. Consider the avocado, if you would, as an alternate fruit to feature. Straying a bit from the beaten path, I played around with this Blue Lagoon Sticky Rice by adding a touch of butterfly pea tea powder to the rich and creamy sauce, since it’s also a native Thai ingredient.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with eating fresh, hot sticky rice straight-up, ungarnished in all its fully fragrant, tenaciously clingy glory.

 

 

 

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Birthday Boom

For reasons beyond my grasp, it seems like May marks the beginning of birthday season. Inexplicably, it’s as if millions of mothers across the globe decided that the late spring and early summer months were the ideal time to bring a new life into the world, plotting out their pregnancies accordingly. Facebook alerts me every morning about another dozen, two dozen friends celebrating another year on earth, growing more numerous and incessant with every passing day. Though entertaining in theory- and I’d never doubt the determination of a woman about to bear children- I can only chalk it up to coincidence, or at least on my part, good luck.

Having so many parties clustered closely together can be stressful for planning, but a boon for batch baking. Fire up the oven once, whip up a single batter in bulk, and fulfill your festive commitments for scores of friends with ease. The trick is picking something that everyone will like, won’t break the budget, and can suit all sorts of dietary restrictions.

Meet your new best birthday friends. These babies have it all, and yet, demand so little. Just three main ingredients gives rise to tender, chewy blondie bites that taste like cake, but are healthy enough to qualify as a legitimate protein bar. In fact, I must sheepishly admit, it was Luka’s first birthday that originally inspired these almond butter-based morsels. After adding rainbow sprinkles for the human party goers, it became abundantly clear that these were way better than bland dog biscuits here. No added sugar keeps these treats well balanced, but for the voracious sweet tooth, you may want to consider inviting up to 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar to the soiree.

The magic ingredient here is Noosh Birthday Cake Almond Butter. No, they didn’t sponsor this post; I’m just a super fan and can’t get enough of the stuff. How nuts can taste like spreadable cake is beyond me, but there’s no denying that buttery taste, rich with childhood nostalgia and subtle notes of vanilla frosting. Combining that with gluten-free flour and everyone’s favorite bean brine sounds like a formula too simple, too basic, too good to be true… But like the sudden abundance of birthdays, some mysteries aren’t meant to be solved.

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Kiku Sushi

Writing about hidden local gems presents an agonizing conflict of interests. On the one hand, such excellence should be recognized, properly praised and encouraged to persist. On the other, drawing attention to a restaurant no bigger than a tool shed that already garners intimidating lines, puts it in danger of becoming even more overcrowded than it already is. Kiku Sushi needs no press to bring business through the door; on a completely unassuming, undistinguished Tuesday, wait time can stretch well into the darkness of night, no matter when you arrive. Well known for their commitment to quality, what potential patrons may not realize is the utterly innovative vegan menu.

It never turns up on lists for the best plant-based dining options, and yet it’s far more deserving of the honor than many predictable staples. We’re talking about more than the usual suspects here, with cucumber maki giving way to sumptuous specialty rolls that are every bit as creative as their fishy brethren.

That said, there’s plenty to relish from this bill of fare, starting with a number of truly killer apps. Don’t pass up the opportunity to enjoy impossibly rich, savory spoonfuls of Mushroom Miso Soup, or meltingly tender Nasu Dengaku, without the fear of bonito lurking in the background.

Spicy Tuna takes shape from chopped tomatoes, of all things, generously seasoned with fiery shichimi togarashi. A hint of cumin-scented shiso leaf and the crisp bite of crunchy cucumbers creates a well-balanced, fresh composition that’s distinctly different from the typically mayo-laden approach, and dare I say, far better.

Made of mushrooms instead of mollusks, the Baked Scallop Roll is an umami explosion in a rice-wrapped package. Creamy avocado adds richness without smothering the nuanced, shockingly authentic oceanic flavor. Though your eyes and mouth may try to tell you differently, that’s not tobiko on top, but finely grated carrot that somehow becomes an unbelievably convincing imposter.

If neither seafood nor any vegetable-based facsimiles ever did appeal, then the Kiku Roll was made for you. Take futo maki to the next level, and one step beyond, and you’ll have some idea of the behemoth about to descend on your table. Fully deep-fried in a light tempura batter and drizzled generously with sweet soy and ginger sauce, one order alone could become a wholly satisfying meal.

In a similar vein, the Spicy Crunchy Roll should have wide appeal across all dietary preferences and tastes. Toothsome marinaded kampyo meets yuba and decadent piles of tempura flakes, impossibly grease-less and, as promised, resoundingly crunchy. The spice level is gentle yet bright, clear, and distinct, perfectly cutting through the indulgent topping.

Kiku Sushi clearly isn’t hurting for business, and while I fear jeopardizing my own chances at getting in the door, such edible artistry needs to be celebrated. For a restaurant that never sought vegan accolades, they certainly do treat their plant-based diners to a royal sushi experience.

Kiku Sushi
1316 Gilman St
Berkeley, CA 94706

The Mother Lode

She a teacher, a cleaner, a party planner, and a cheerleader. She’s your biggest fan and most honest critic. She drove you around town after school while driving you crazy at the same time. She’s your mom, through good and bad, and while she deserves more than just a day for a lifetime of love, this coming Sunday is at least a good opportunity to say thanks. Naturally, I’m most inclined to express my appreciation through food.

Fixing a fresh brunch spread for your beloved mother is really a gift for everyone, including yourself. Who wouldn’t want to settle into a leisurely midday meal, ideally taken al fresco, surrounded by friends and family? I’ve shared some ideas for a crowd-pleasing menu in the past, but I’ve hit upon so many new winners since them. Freshen up your own maternal celebration with something different this year.

Let mom wake up slowly with a chilled Cloud Macchiato in bed. If she’s late to rise anyway and ready to party before her feet hit the floor, consider adding a little splash of coffee liqueur for an extra little indulgence.

While she’s busy greeting guests, surprise them with an early appetizer of crackers or crudite served with Pea Leaf Cazuela. If you’re contending with unseasonably hot spring weather, prepare it in advance and serve cold. You’ll save yourself the hassle of last-minute cooking in the morning, too.

Kick off the main event with small bowls of punchy Chive Pesto Soup. Though unassuming on paper, the verdant green blend comes together in a matter of minutes and pays off in surprisingly complex layers of flavor.

I can only speak for myself, but if I was a mom, I would all but demand that avocados show up at my party in some form. Avocado Grapefruit Salad features my favorite fruit with a zippy citrus dressing that will satisfy any cravings.

When it comes to the entree, don’t hold back. This is an event worthy of this show-stopping, unconventional, unforgettable Green Cauliflower Cake. A savory torte reminiscent of a thick frittata stuffed with tender florets, you’ll do your mother proud by finally eating your vegetables with aplomb.

When it comes to dessert, you know your own mom best, but it’s hard to go wrong with chocolate. My own happens to have a soft spot for cheesecake, so this Marbled Chocolate Chip Cheesecake would be an easy win on my table.

To all the strong women leading the way (deliberately or not) for future generations, Happy Mother’s Day!

Instant Pot Gratification

Stay cool under pressure. Temperatures are climbing quickly as warmer spring weather settles in again, even across the typically mild-mannered bay area. Thankfully, with it comes the season’s peak produce, which is best with very little further modification. Coaxing out existing flavors, rather than smothering them in complex sauces or heavy spices, is the only to way celebrate such delicate ingredients. Especially with the right tools, tender green vegetables and vibrant fresh herbs practically cook themselves.

Instant Pots have been the “it” kitchen gadget for at least three years running, and they don’t seem to be losing any steam. I may not have the name brand model but that doesn’t mean my electric pressure cooker gets any less love around here, especially in the heat of midday meal prep. Despite nearly constant use since day one, I didn’t even realize that my pressure cooker could be set to “zero” minutes until I got my hands on Barb Musick’s new book, The Complete Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook. This little tidbit is just the appetizer in a wide-ranging compendium of everyday recipes, smart tips and shortcuts, and delicious inspiration, complete with luscious photos, of course.

I’ve been a big fan of Barb’s blog, That Was Vegan, for many years, so I really should have expected no less from such a brilliant culinary creator. Rather than preheating the oven and turning my whole apartment into a blazing inferno for a single side dish, the verdant, grassy, and even subtly sweet flavors of asparagus really come alive with just a flash steam bath. Adding just a kiss of citrus and ginger, Barb skips all the fuss and fanfare to simply let these tender young stalks shine. Living up to the name of the popular appliance, this easy recipe really is ready to eat in an instant.

Though the book won’t officially be released until May 14th, I’m delighted to share not only a little sneak peek to whet your appetite, but a GIVEAWAY leading up to the full launch! If you want a copy of this indispensable collection of recipes (and yes, of course you do,) use the Gleam form below to log your details and earn bonus entries. Don’t forget to comment on this post to tell me about what recipe will be the first one going into your Instant Pot if you win!

The Complete Instant Pot Vegan Cookbook Giveaway

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Head in the Clouds

Foam is just one important feature that sets espresso drinks apart from one another, but Starbucks has turned it into the feature, filling half of each plastic cup with the stuff for their new Cloud Macchiato. Literally translated as “stained coffee,” a standard caffè macchiato is much like a latte in basic composition, but wholly unique in assembly. Starting with a base of steamed milk, a shot of espresso marks the spot, and a layer of foam seals the deal. Since more is always better by the American Standard, we simply took that finale to all new heights, turning it into a veritable meringue island on a thimbleful of brown liquid.

Maddeningly, while a regular macchiato can be made vegan with any non-dairy milk, the cloud cannot. Whether served hot or over ice, with cinnamon or caramel, egg whites are the secret ingredient that give this frothy crown its loft.

Here’s the silver lining to this cloud: It’s really a snap to make at home.

Fluffy, ethereal spoonfuls of fine bubbles cloud chilled glasses thanks to everyone’s favorite bean brine. That’s right: Aquafaba strikes again! Lightly beaten before reaching soft peaks, it holds its shape admirably without casting an overtly beany fog over the beverage. Luxuriously velvety yet far lighter in texture than the more typical whipped cream, the results are arguably more satisfying than a slushy old frappuccino and considerably healthier, too.

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