Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sweet and Spicy Taro Fries with Sriracha Mayo

Taro is one of those flavors I didn't really discover until I moved to Chinatown. I first discovered the root vegetable in the form of a bubble tea. If you've never tried taro the idea of a root vegetable flavored sweet iced beverage may sound strange, but with taro, it just works.

Taro bubble tea (or, a taro slush- preferably with lychee jelly), tastes a bit like cotton candy, and a bit like coconut, with perhaps a faint vanilla note. As does taro ice cream, also, both the ice cream and the bubble tea are usually purple. Actual taro tastes nothing like any of those things, and a lot more like a potato. It is, however, swirled with lovely purple bits.

Taro, when served as a savory dish, tastes quite a bit like a white potato, but with a bit more flavor, and perhaps a dash of yam-like sweetness. However taro has a much lower glycemic index than white potato, is high in potassium and vitamin A, and has some great antioxidant properties. 

My first foray into savory taro was taro chips, which I love. Soon after I discovered taro fries at An Choi, a tasty Vietnamese spot by my apartment. It was there that S first suggested that we could make the fries ourselves at home. Taro is easily found in our neighborhood, as it's common in chinese cuisine, so if you can't find it at your regular grocery store, I would check your local asian market. 

The fries at An Choi are tossed in a spicy-sweet glaze that is heavy on the fish sauce. I wanted to maintain that same sweet-spicy-funky flavor, but cut down a bit on the fish sauce, allowing the taro flavor to shine more.  

The results are delicious. These taro fries crisp up wonderfully on the outside while the inside has a great texture, a bit heartier than regular white potato, and the glaze is delightful, a bit spicy, a bit funky, and with great sweet notes, it mixes really well with the creamy-spicy sriracha mayo. These fries make a fantastic appetizer or side dish. Or even an extra-tasty movie night snack. Enjoy! 

Sweet and Spicy Taro Fries with Sriracha Mayo
Serves 4 generously

Taro Fries
2 lbs taro
1 tbsp olive oil + extra for greasing the pan
1 tbsp sesame oil 
salt & pepper

Sweet and Spicy Glaze
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp honey
2 tsp chili garlic sauce (I use Huy Fong)
2 dashes fish sauce  

Sriracha Mayo
1/2 C mayonnaise
1 tbsp Sriracha sauce

Preheat oven to 400 F, use a bit of olive oil to grease a large baking pan. 

Combine all glaze ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk until well combined. Set aside. 

Peel the taro (it peels just like a potato), and cut into fries about 1/2" thick. Place in a large bowl, drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp sesame oil, and toss well to coat. Spread fries out in a single layer on the greased baking pan, and sprinkle with salt and a bit of pepper. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on the edges, and crisp on the outside.

While the taro roasts, combine the mayo and sriracha in a bowl and stir until the sriracha is smoothly mixed into the mayo. Set aside. 

When you remove the taro from the oven, don't turn the oven off, you'll need it in a moment. While the taro is still hot, remove it from the pan and pop it in a large shallow bowl, drizzle the glaze over the taro and quickly toss well to coat the fries in glaze. Spread the taro back out on the same baking pan (don't worry about it being too neat, they can overlap a little bit this time) and pop it back in the oven for about 4 minutes, to set the glaze, so the fries won't seem wet. 

Remove the taro from the oven after 4 minutes, and serve warm with the sriracha mayo for dipping. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Creamy Chai Smoothie

There's nothing quite like a cold smoothie on a hot day. Except maybe a cold milkshake on a hot day- but don't worry, this smoothie is as creamy as any milkshake! We've been having a bit of a mini heat wave here in New York, so I whipped up these smoothies last weekend to beat the heat. 

I love a good fruity smoothie, tropical mango-kiwi, or sweet strawberry-coconut, but my newest smoothie find is creamy date smoothies. My favorite smoothie shop whips up a mean date-almond-banana-cocoa-coffee smoothie that I adore, but I had something else in mind. 

I'm not a big coffee person, but I love tea. I like all tea, from matcha to hibiscus to earl grey to rooibos. My favorite morning wake up tea is a nice spicy chai. So I thought, why not make a creamy banana-date-chai smoothie? Turn my favorite breakfast drink into a a meal (or dessert!). 

I used Tea Pigs Chai, but you can use any type of chai you prefer. When I lived in Washington State, I used to make my own chai mix from loose black tea and spices I would buy from a quaint little spice shop downtown. My favorite combination was clove, cardamom, star anise, black peppercorn, and extra cinnamon. I liked to make mine super spicy, but I think any chai would be delicious in this smoothie. 

The best chai I've ever had was in Portland, Oregon. I don't usually like to talk up Portland because everyone already knows Portland is great, and the Northwest has so many wonderful but overlooked towns, but I have to give credit where it's due. The wonderful chai I had in Portland came from Spella Caffe, but back then it was just a little street cart, not a brick and mortar cafe. 

The man in the cart made the chai to order while you stood on the corner waiting in the chilly morning air, mixing together a melange of spices and boiling them up, then carefully pulling the chai- pouring it from pot to pot, moving his hands farther and farther apart until he was pouring the chai about 4 feet from pot to pot. Then he poured it off into a cup and passed it to me. That first spicy-sweet-clovey-cardamom-y sip was like a sublime revelation. 

This smoothie takes that same spicy-sweet complex chai flavor and pairs it with caramel-y dates and creamy coconut, a heavenly pairing. The spiciness of the chai really plays well with the mellow banana and coconut, and the caramel flavor of the dates adds just the right amount of sweetness to the chai. 

S and I sipped these smoothies for breakfast, but we agreed they would also make a brilliantly decadent, yet healthy, dessert. This recipe makes two generous pint size smoothies, but could easily be stretched to four servings, especially if being served as a dessert or snack. Enjoy!

Creamy Chai Smoothie
Makes 2 pint size smoothies

12 oz boiling water
3 teabags of your favorite chai
3 oz pitted dates + 1 C water
2 bananas
1/2 C coconut milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

There are two do-ahead steps for this smoothie. You can do these the night before you want to make the smoothie, or as much as 3 or 4 days before. 

Date Paste: Place the dates in a bowl and pour 1 C warm water over them. Allow to soak for 1-2 hours, then put the dates and about 2 tbsp of the soaking water in a food processor and process until smooth. Scrape into a bowl or tupperware and keep in the fridge until you need it. 

Chai ice cubes: boil 12 oz water, pour into a heat-resistant measuring cup, add the three chai teabags, and allow to steep 3-4 minutes. Remove tea bags, give them a little squeeze to get any extra chai out, and discard the tea bags. If using plastic ice cube trays, allow the tea to cool a bit before filling, if using silicone ice cube trays, you can fill the ice cube tray right away. Pop them in the freezer until frozen solid. I was able to make 9 ice cubes in my tray.

When your ice is frozen, your date paste is made, and you're ready to make your smoothie, place the bananas, chai ice cubes, and date paste in a blender, pour the vanilla extract and the coconut milk in, put on the lid and blend on high until smooth. 

Pour into two pint glasses and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Deep Dark Chocolate Super Fudgy Gluten Free Brownies

So these brownies are super chocolatey, like deep-dark-double-chocolate. They taste like one of those Fine Extra Dark Ritter Sport bars. They're moist and fudgy, with caramel-y date notes, they're loaded with equally dark melty honey-sweetened chocolate chips. Oh, and they're gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, and refined sugar free. You could almost call them healthy.

Now, I'm not always gluten free, typically I am a classic American omnivore, consuming just about any food laid in front of me (except mushrooms. I just don't do mushrooms). But I have a bit of a skin condition, and when it flares up I eat an anti-inflammatory diet to help speed up the healing process.  What that means is: no nuts, no gluten, no dairy, no refined sugar. In other words, no fun at all.

I'm kidding about the no fun, of course! It's actually a bit of a fun challenge trying to come up with tasty meals, especially when so many gluten/dairy free recipes rely heavily on nuts. Last weekend I really, really wanted brownies. I have an excellent gluten free chocolate cake recipe, but it involves a lot of almonds. I searched online, but was put off by the idea of running out to buy arrowroot powder or tapioca starch. I decided I would just make something up.

I borrowed ideas from a plethora of recipes full of other things I didn't have or couldn't eat and when I put it all together and popped it in the oven I was not 100% convinced it was going to bake up into a solid object at all, let alone fudgy dark chocolate brownies like I was hoping for. But I was in luck, the baking gods smiled upon me, and 27 minutes later I was pulling a pan of super dark chocolatey, ooey-gooey fudgy brownies out of the oven. 

These brownies are delicious. The chocolate is super dark and intense, not-too-sweet, but with plenty of caramel-y date flavor, and if you go ahead and whip up the honey sweetened chocolate chips you'll find pockets of melted bittersweet goodness sprinkled throughout. Enjoy!

Gluten Free Dark Chocolate Fudge Brownies

12 oz  dates (or 1 C date sugar)
3 tbsp Buckwheat flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
4 tbsp coconut oil
8 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 large eggs
3 tbsp maple syrup (optional, for a bit of extra sweetness)
Optional: 4 oz honey sweetened chocolate chips *recipe at bottom of page

First, make your date paste (if using date sugar, skip ahead). You can do this up to several days in advance, and keep the paste in the fridge. Pit the dates, and place in a bowl of warm water. Allow to soak for half an hour. Drain dates, reserving about 2 tablespoons of the soaking water. Add dates and the 2 tbsp of water to a food processor, and blend until a thick paste is formed. Scrape into a small bowl and set aside. 

Line a 8x8 inch pan with aluminum foil, then coat foil lightly with coconut oil. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Add the coconut oil and chocolate to a double boiler (or heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water), and place over low heat, stirring occasionally, until water and coconut oil melt. When the chocolate-oil mixture is completely smooth, remove from heat and stir in the date paste (or date sugar) in three increments, stirring well after each. The chocolate will become quite thick as the dates cool it down. Stir in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well. 

In a small bowl sift together the cocoa powder and buckwheat flour. Stir into the batter. Now begin to beat the heck out of your batter. I know, it's thick, it's hard work. But just go to town. I use a big wooden spoon. As you mix, the batter will begin to get glossy and pull away from the edges of the bowl- this is good! Keep going! Mix the heck out of the batter for about 2 minutes. 

If you're adding the honey sweetened chocolate chips, mix them in now. Scoop the batter into your foil lined, coconut oiled pan, smooth it out, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the center feels just barely set. Remove from oven, place the pan on a cooling rack, and let it cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting. 

Honey Sweetened Chocolate Chips (optional)

4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/3 C Honey

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over low heat until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the honey. Pour into a small parchment paper lined pan or dish, pop into the freezer for 20-30 minutes, then chop into small bits with a large knife.