Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tamarind

If you ever wanted to eat a fruit that tasted like a warhead, this would be it. This one is really sour – think a pulpy, fibrous, sour-sweet warhead.




I've had it in sauces, in juices, but never before straight from the pod. Here's how you eat it:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cotton candy apriums (apricot-plum hybrid)

I'm envious of the biologists or whoever get to name varieties of fruit. (These are actually written out as "Cot-N-Candy" but not a big fan of that...)


This fruit looks like a smaller peach from afar, but is actually a hybrid fruit – an apricot crossed with plum.  It's more apricot than plum though, which is apparent in its orange skin and flesh, and slight fuzziness.  The deeper red flushes are what give it its peachy look.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Loquats

Loquats are little yellow pear-shaped fruits, a little fuzzy, like apricots.  They were once forbidden to common people in China because of a legend about a carp who, after eating loquats, was able to swim upstream and leap over a waterfall, transforming into a powerful dragon. The emperor didn't want his people to similarly become strong like dragons (and kick him out of office), so they were banned, and only royalty was allowed to eat them.




These are a small bundle of loquats from a backyard in San Leandro, CA. They're technically a subtropic fruit that originated in Southern China, but now can be found growing even in cold San Francisco. They bruise easily, which makes them less suitable for commercial purposes – you won't find them at a Safeway.

Like you can see above, the flowers grow in small clusters on the tree.  Apparently the blossoms give off a very sweet and heady aroma that can be smelled from a distance – I'll need to find a loquat orchard and investigate this myself.

The ones I ate were yellow, but varieties can be yellow-orange or flushed with red. The flesh can range from white to yellow to orange, and is tangy and sweet (most sweet when they are very soft). It tasted a little like a combination of citrus, peach, and plum. 


They aren't my favorite fruit, mostly because of the tanginess (could be because the ones I had weren't fully ripened). They're also a lot of work – I peeled off the skin – and the ratio of fruit to seed is quite low.

They can have anywhere from three to five large (toxic) brown seeds, which are smooth and remind me a bit of tarmarind seeds - they're heavy and smooth to the touch, and could probably be made into jewelry.




But I can definitely see how I would enjoy these in other formats.  If not served fresh, they can be preserved into jams and jellies, or baked into pies and tarts – I'd definitely try those.

They can also be fermented into a sweet fruit wine, which sounds amazing (I visited a tropical fruit winery in South Florida last year that served sparkling lychee wine...it was so so so so so good). You can also apparently make sake exclusively from the seed (which has an aroma like an apricot kernel), but due to the cyanogenic glycosides, you could get cyanide poisoning if you have too much. Probably won't be trying that one.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Corn smut: a delicious parasitic fungus

Last night, I went to Delfina for dinner. I saw corn soup with "tarturco crema" on the menu, and because of a mild obsession with corn (I LOVE CORN), had to ask our waiter what tarturco* was. He explained that it was a type of "mushroom" that grew on corn, that it was also called a Mexican Truffle...

He went for a little while more, but I had already decided we had to get it. I recognized what he was talking about as corn smut, known in Mexico as huitlacoche.  "Mexican Truffle" is just a term that people came up with to try and make the product more marketable – because in reality, it's a plant tumor.

This used to be a normal ear of corn. Source

Smuts are pathogenic fungus that replaces the fruits (ovaries) in a plant, interfering with its ability to reproduce, and causes the plant to grow galls (tumors).  In corn, the normal kernels become abnormally enlarged with fungal threads and spores.

I'd previously seen a picture of corn smut looking like the one above, so imagine my surprised when my soup came out looking like this:


"Corn soup | tarturco crema"

The corn smut had come a very long way from its tumoristic origins.  It was now an elegant shiruken-shaped dollop on top of a puréed soup. The taste was both familiar and unfamiliar, of corn and mushrooms, sweet and vanilla-y and earthy all at the same time.

I was surprised mainly because I thought there were going to be giant abnormally-shaped kernel-tumors in my soup (yes, kinda disappointed, not going to lie) but also because it was so black.

The latter shouldn't have surprised me, because apparently the blueish colors of the corn smut turn black when heat is applied.  Heat, in the form of a slow simmer, also removes the starch of the corn and turns it into the black oily paste that you see above, in the soup, and below, in the quesadilla.

Inside a huitlacoche quesadilla. Source

And even if it hadn't been cooked, the smut would've ultimately turned black anyway. When the corn is newly-infected, it becomes tinged yellow-green.  After two to three weeks, the galls are still immature, but that's when they're harvested. They're still a bit moist, which is good for cooking.

If you don't harvest the corn then, the galls start turning dry and black as they fill with the blue-black spores.  They'll make the corn look somewhat scorched and moldy, which is fitting, because the Latin name for the smut genus, Ustilago, comes for the Latin word ustilare (to burn).

After the galls have fully matured, they burst, releasing the black spores. Which then in turn attempt to infect more plants nearby, thereby continuing their cycle.

Infected corn with galls that have burst and released spores. Source

Huitlacoche is a delicacy in Mexico (as its consumption originated from ancient Aztec cuisine), and four to five hundred tons are sold annually there.  The fungus is sold at a significantly higher price than corn.  In the US though, growing the product domestically hasn't really taken off, since farmers still associate it as being a blight, and marketing "smut" or "parasitic corn fungus" to consumers has its challenges.

Fresh huitlacoche at a market in Mexico City. Source


* I tried to google the word "tarturco" but literally no results showed up.  Apparently, according to the owner of Delfina, it's just a made-up Italian word.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

May Highlights

– A sunny brunch with my good friend Aluma at one of my favorite SF cafes (it's tiny and has a lovely outdoors patio). Waited outside for my order to be ready, and when I went back in to pick it up, the song "Cecilia" was blasting.  I actually thought it was a coincidence until I noticed the barista and the guy who took my order laughing. Happy little moment :)

– To celebrate Cinco de Mayo: coronitas (cute toy beer!) with lime and fajitas grilled-to-order at Golden Gate Park. I made slow cooked carnitas and pico de gallo, which I learned is surprisingly easy to make, you just have to chop and cry a lot. (Onions.)

Mt. Sutro in the background

Fajitas!

– Dinner at Cotogna.  See below for food amazingness.

– Dog-watching at Espirit Park in (appropriately) the Dogpatch. Seriously, dog-watching is better than people-watching, cause you get to observe both dogs and their owners.

– Hanging out at home on Mother's Day.  Since it was Mother's Day, my mom told me I had to do whatever she wanted.  This included taking many, many pictures of her newly-purchased chicks, in different poses, against different backdrops...I was also required to photoshop the not as cute ones.

One of the 390800 poses I captured

– Working from home with coworkers on a gorgeous sunny day in Woodside, CA.  This was not my home, sadly...but how gorgeous is this.



– My first Bay to Breakers! Yes, I've lived in the bay for about a decade. But no, it is NOT overrated.  I was very averse at first to the thought of walking long distances and trekking up steep hills in the scorching sun, while drinking, which is what I ended up doing, but the energy and creative costumes (and lack thereof) of the people around you makes such a difference.


Oh yeah, and we made it to the end ;) VICTORY!

–  Working on a new Tavern Books website.  I'm pretty excited. Hoping to get it all coded up and ready sometime this month.

–  A Memorial Day weekend trip down to Orange County and Vegas.  I think I'll try and do a write up about it so I can preserve my memories of the trip...but I'll just say. I really like my girlfriends. Also, I'm getting old.

Birthday girl in the middle!

– Finally finding some light buttons.  I didn't come at the right time of day to get the full effect, but they are still truly mesmerizing.





Best things I ate this month

–  The foccacia bread at Cotogna.  It's complimentary, yes, but so delicious.  It's dense and moist and herby and slightly crispy at the edges...I could eat a whole 9"x14" pan of this in one sitting and sadly I do not lie.


– Also at Cotogna, and not as complimentary: a giant glob of burrata with ramps, bread crumbs, and hedgehog and yellow foot mushrooms.  I love wild mushrooms.


– A really delicious and seemingly simple roasted pork soup at Tao Cafe.  It came with bok choy and fried wonton-wrapped shrimps, but the best part was the incredibly flavorful broth.

I may have eaten half of this before remembering to take a photo


– Vietnamese spring rolls at Brodard, in Little Saigon. My roomie had always insisted that Vietnamese food was infinitely better in Socal than in Norcal, and these are what she uses to prove her point.

It was kind of hilarious – there was an assembly line of cooks making these, but there were sheets of metal hiding their hands, so you couldn't observe their "proprietary" methods.

It was pretty ingenious of them to think of putting what tasted like fried egg roll wrappers (with crispy fried onions inside) in the center of these. The grilled pork sausage inside was pretty good too – it was slightly sweet and reminded me of la chang, which are smoked Chinese sausages seasoned with soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar.

–  Vietnamese coffee at Lily's Bakery, also in Little Saigon.  My first time having Vietnamese coffee – why did it take so long?  I have no idea what's in this version, but it tasted very rich, not too sweet, and very hazel-nutty.  I saw them put a good amount of whipped cream in...I'm sure that has something to do with it.

It comes with a free beignet <3

– Epi bread at Bouchon Bistro in Vegas.  Yes, it's the complimentary bread they serve you, but whatever.  My entree (corned beef hash with two eggs and toast) was good, but this bread has a special place in my heart. I think I sometimes just go to fancy restaurants for their bread.

I really like how crispy and chewy the outside of the bread is, and I highly enjoy pulling apart the loaves from the "stem."

Interactive bread

– Wild nettle pizza at Gialina Pizzeria. Holy sh*t. So good! The nettle leaves were seasoned and really crispy (kind of reminded me of kale chips), layered underneath the pizza, which also came with pancetta, red onions, mushrooms, and provolone. I think it's the best non-deep-dish pizza I've ever had.


(So far. There are still a few pizza places I haven't yet tried yet in the city.)



(I would like to take a second to pat myself on the back for the relative timeliness of this post...)