Are you ready to channel your inner molecular gastronomist? If you’re like me, you’re always fascinated when Wylie Dufresne makes an appearance on a cooking reality show and encourages the contestants to use things like liquid nitrogen and syringes to prepare their dishes. I was delighted when the folks at Uncommon Goods offered to send me Cuisine R-Evolution’s molecular gastronomy kit so I could try techniques like gelification and spherification myself. Sadly, no canister of liquid nitrogen was included.
I decided to start with something simple – making pearls of balsamic vinegar to use in place of salad dressing. Since I had just posted a recipe for Roasted Squash and Pomegranate Seed Salad, it occurred to me that you could replace the seeds with “caviar” made from pomegranate balsamic vinegar and skip the dressing altogether. These pearls give a burst of flavor and a nice pop when you bite into them and are the perfect topping for a salad if you are trying to reduce the amount of oil and fat in your life.
I’ll be trying out some of the other molecular gastronomy techniques in the future, most likely when my nephews or my son-in-law (who is a chemical engineer) are visiting. Stay tuned.
If you are looking for a Christmas gift for a budding scientist or chef, this kit makes a great one. Everyone loves playing with their food! Check out other gift options at Uncommon Goods. I love supporting this company because of the way they champion artists and designers. Half of what they sell is made by hand and about a third is created from recycled materials. If you aren’t familiar with Uncommon Goods, they have some great personalized gifts as well.
Here are a few more notes specifically about the molecular gastronomy kit:
- The kits contains packets of agar agar, calcium lactate, sodium alginate, soy lecithin and xanthan gum plus a box of tools. The tools include a syringe, tubing and pipettes. The kit also features an instruction booklet and a DVD containing 50 video recipes. Here’s the video recipe for the balsamic vinegar pearls. (I just realized they use the syringe in the video, but say to use the pipette in the recipe booklet. No wonder my pearls were smaller than theirs!)
- I like that nutritional information for all of the ingredients was included.
- One negative for this particular technique is that you’re left with a giant glass of used olive oil to dispose of. I strained it and put it back in the freezer to use the next time I make the pearls. We’ll see how that works out.
- For your pearls to be perfectly round, the oil needs to be cold and you need to use a tall glass. The gelification process occurs while the drops move from the top of the glass to the bottom, so the more distance you have, the faster the pearls will cool.
I’m already looking forward to playing with my food some more!
Disclaimer: I received a free Molecular Gastronomy kit from Uncommon Goods. All opinions are my own.
Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar Pearls
Adapted from Cuisine R-Evolution Recipe Booklet
1 sachet (2g) agar agar powder
3/4 cup pomegranate balsamic vinegar (or any other type of balsamic)
Fill a tall glass with olive oil and place into freezer for 30 minutes.
In a small saucepan, combine agar agar and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour mixture into small bowl.
Remove glass of olive oil from freezer. Fill a second glass of similar size with water.
Fill a pipette with the vinegar mixture and slowly drip the mixture into the cold olive oil. Stir to separate pearls. Use a slotted spoon to move the pearls from the oil to the glass of water. Stir to rinse. Remove from water, drain and use on desired dish.
Makes 4 servings
Per serving: 27 calories, 1g fat (0g sat), 0mg cholesterol, 1mg sodium, 7g carb, 0g fiber, 6g sugar, 0g protein
I found the cutest little winter squash at the farmers’ market. It has the color of a butternut squash, but is shaped like a pumpkin. It tastes a lot like a butternut, but its texture is a bit stringier. It’s also a lot easier to cut than a butternut. The farmer told me what it was called, but I didn’t write it down because I just knew I would remember. Guess what?
I thought the squash would be perfect in a spinach salad with some tart pomegranate seeds for color balanced with a sweet maple vinaigrette. Just about the time I was working on this salad, I saw a fantastic post at Sue’s Nutrition Buzz entitled Pomegranate: Powerful Protection For The Diabetic Heart which I encourage everyone to read.
If you’ve never worked with a fresh pomegranate before, you should know that you only eat the seeds, not the light-colored membrane connecting the seeds. I’ve found the easiest way to extract the seeds is over a bowl of water. As you pop out the seeds, let them fall into the bowl. If any of the membrane gets into the bowl, it will float to the top and will be easy to discard (the seeds will sink to the bottom).
Make It Ahead: Roast the squash, extract the pomegranate seeds and make the vinaigrette ahead of time. Refrigerate all three. The squash will be best if eaten within 24 hours.
This salad would look beautiful on your holiday table.
Roasted Squash and Pomegranate Seed Salad with Maple Vinaigrette
Adapted from Prevention (November 2011)
1 acorn squash (or any other round winter squash of a similar size), halved top to bottom and seeded (about 1-1/4 pounds)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons coarse, grainy mustard or Homemade White Wine Mustard
4 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut each squash half lengthwise into 6 wedges. Arrange squash wedges cut side down on baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes, flip squash over, then roast another 10 minutes or until tender. Remove pan from oven and let squash cool on pan.
In screw-top jar, mix maple syrup, vinegar, oil and mustard. Shake until well-combined. Toss a little bit of the dressing with the spinach in a large bowl (you won’t use all of the dressing). Divide spinach among 4 serving plates and top with squash wedges and pomegranate seeds. Season to taste with pepper.
Makes 4 servings
Per serving: 132 calories, 4g fat (1g sat), 0mg cholesterol, 98mg sodium, 24g carb, 3g fiber, 9g sugar, 2g protein
So what’s the difference between an egg roll, a spring roll and a summer roll? Here’s what I think. If any of my Asian friends would like to comment or make corrections, I’d welcome it.
||Egg & wheat flour
||Pork, shrimp or chicken, cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts
||Pork or shrimp, rice noodles, mushrooms, carrots
||Pork, shrimp or tofu, fresh herbs, rice noodles, cucumbers
||Soft (not fried)
Spring rolls and summer rolls are usually gluten-free, but egg rolls almost always contain wheat. Summer rolls contain less fat than spring rolls and egg rolls because they are not fried.
In an effort to eat more meatless meals, I’ve been experimenting with tofu. I wouldn’t say I love it, but it is growing on me. One trick is to make sure you let tofu marinate in some sort of sauce so that it absorbs the flavors of that sauce. I’ve used ponzu here, which you should be able to find in the Asian section of your market. Ponzu has a watery consistency and a citrusy flavor. It’s made from rice vinegar, mirin, seaweed and Asian citrus fruits.
Some notes on the recipe:
- Do not attempt this recipe when you are feeling stressed or pressed for time. It’s not hard, but an adventurous spirit and a bit of patience are required until you get the hang of working with the rice wrappers.
- For the noodles, you can use rice vermicelli, maifun (rice angel hair) or regular angel hair pasta. I used brown rice angel hair. Whatever you use, make sure it’s a very thin noodle.
- You may not get 12 rolls out of this – it just depends on how full you stuff them. You should get at least 8.
- I used all of my mint and veggies, but had some tofu and a few noodles left. I mixed the tofu and noodles with a little bit of the dipping sauce and it made a most excellent snack. You could also “scramble” any leftover tofu for breakfast or throw it into a stir-fry.
- If you can’t bring yourself to eat tofu, substitute shrimp. Peel, devein, and remove the tails, then stir-fry in a little oil and ponzu until the shrimp just turns opaque. Drain on paper towels and cool before using.
- Mint gives these summer rolls a fresh taste, but if you don’t like it, experiment with basil or cilantro instead.
- I’m a vinegar-loving girl and this sauce is very tangy. If you aren’t a fan of excessive vinegar, substitute another sauce such as Thai sweet chili sauce or garlic chili sauce.
- Make these rolls on the weekend and pack them for lunch during a busy work week. They travel very well.
Summer Rolls with Ponzu-Glazed Tofu
Adapted from The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen (rolls) and Ellie Krieger (sauce)
FOR THE DIPPING SAUCE
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons warm water
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic chili sauce or Sriracha
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon fish sauce or tamari/soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely shredded carrot
1 scallion (green part only), thinly sliced
FOR THE SUMMER ROLLS
1/4 cup ponzu
1 pound firm tofu
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
2 scallions, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 ounces angel hair rice noodles (maifun)
12 (8-inch) round rice paper sheets (spring roll skins)
36 fresh mint leaves (3 large leaves per roll)
Make the dipping sauce: In a small bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water. Add rice vinegar, chili sauce, lime juice, fish sauce, carrots and scallions. Mix well and chill until ready to use.
Prep the tofu: Preheat oven to 375°F. Place two paper towels on a cutting board and place the tofu on top. Put two more paper towels on top and place something heavy on the stack. Let it sit for about 5 minutes to remove some of the moisture from the tofu. Discard paper towels and slice tofu lengthwise into 8 slabs. Pour ponzu into 11- x 7-inch baking dish. Place the tofu slabs in a single layer in the dish and turn to coat all sides with ponzu. Bake for 10 minutes, flip them over, then bake another 10 minutes. Let cool in pan, then cut each slab lengthwise into 3 strips.
Prep the veggies: Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger, stir for 30 seconds, then add the tamari, cabbage, scallions and carrots. Sauté until veggies are soft, about 5 minutes. Let cool.
Prep the noodles: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook rice noodles for about 2 minutes, then drain, rinse in cold water and drain again.
Make the rolls: Fill a large shallow bowl or skillet (that is large enough to hold one of the rice paper rounds) with warm water. Place one rice paper sheet in the water and let it soak until pliable, about 20 seconds. (Don’t soak it too long or it will rip when you lift it out of the water. Trust me on this.) Lift from bowl, letting excess water drip off, and place on a cutting board. Place 3 large mint leaves (pretty side down) end to end across the rice paper sheet, about a third of the way up from the bottom and an inch or so in from the sides. Add 2 strips of tofu, then some vermicelli, then some of the veggie mixture (in that order). Fold short end of wrapper up and over the filling (from the bottom). Fold in both sides, then roll up the wrapper tightly. Remove to a plate, then repeat with remaining wrappers.
Serve: Serve whole or cut each roll in half on the diagonal with sauce on the side for dipping.
Makes 12 servings
Per serving: 124 calories, 3g fat (0g sat), 0mg cholesterol, 251mg sodium, 21g carb, 2g fiber, 4g sugar, 4g protein