The nice thing about writing your own blog is that you can create rules and devise themes, then decide to completely ignore them when it suits your fancy. In this fifth installment of Hello, Stranger, my fancy (that makes me sound like a creepy psychological-horror-movie character, right?) is to pass off a few foods I’ve tried before as “new to me.”
Technically, I’ve cooked with star anise, nutritional yeast and Chinese five-spice seasoning before (once each). But if you put those things in front of me again, I’d just flail around the kitchen, spilling stuff on my feet and crying, “I still don’t know what to do with them!” If their newness could still induce hysterics, I figured they belong in the ranks of food strangers along with brown rice flour, kumquats, miso and tzatziki. Hopefully this little review of a week’s worth of edible weirdos will help calm any strange-food anxiety you guys have, as well.
Star anise. The star-shaped pericarp (wha?) of an evergreen shrub, star anise has the same clean, licorice-like flavor of real anise, but with a stylish eight-pointed star shape to boot. Wikipedia tells me star anise contains a lot of active compounds or extracts, including one used to make Tamiflu.
I’ve used it to flavor home-made chicken soup before, and still had some on hand to use in Managed Macros’ broiled grapefruit recipe. I was a little skeptical that just plopping the star anise on top would impart much flavor, but it did give the grapefruit a nice subtle licorice taste.
Sometimes, your friends have a new, awesome Friend that you haven’t met yet. This Friend is talked up as the funniest/daringest/best-looking/most-traveled person around, and your friends insist you just have to meet them. So one thing leads to another and a dinner party or kickball game or whatever the kids do these days is arranged, and you finally meet The Friend. But after small talk falls flat, or maybe The Friend rudely snatched the last Pretty Things brew from the fridge, or maybe they just aren’t as good-looking as promised, you’re left wondering what do they see in this Friend? Well, it turns out that I met one of those friends in this fourth installment of Hello, Stranger.
Who failed to meet expectations in this latest round of experimentation with foods I’ve never eaten or prepared myself?
Hemp milk. That’s right – despite all the praise heaped on help milk by other nutrition nerds I know, this just didn’t cut it for me.
Now, I like non-cow milks, don’t get me wrong. And I’m all for foods can boast about their omega fatty acid profiles. So I gave hemp milk several chances to win me over: I bought unsweetened, plain (sweetened), and vanilla, and tried each with my regular cereal, in oatmeal, in chia seed pudding, and straight from the glass. But in every incarnation, this stuff tasted like pressed facial powder (see: Cover Girl or similar), and I just couldn’t get past it. I might be tempted to give it one more go in a smoothie, like this chocolate banana one from The Naked Dish, but it would take a lot of convincing (and a big sale/coupon).
But thankfully, a few tastier foods were also invited to this meet & greet. Follow after the jump to strike up some small talk.
Thanks to a recent biochemistry exam, I am way too familiar with hemoglobin’s pH-dependent binding of oxygen, proteolytic cleavage as a regulatory mechanism for chymotrypsin, and a bunch of hooha about glycosidic linkages in polysaccharides. So as a break for the ol’ brain, let’s veer over to some unfamiliar territory with another installment of Hello, Stranger.
To the first and second lists of foods I’ve never eaten and/or prepared myself, we’re going to add just three: fresh figs, fish sauce, and chayote squash. “That’s not a week’s worth of strange foods,” one says, to which I reply: BIOCHEMISTRY EXAM, remember?! To make up for it, I’ve found a week’s worth of recipes that use these three ingredients, so there are multiple ways to try out something new.
Ready to revisit the strange-foods theme? Last time, I tackled a full week’s worth of ingredients I’d never prepared before – chia seeds, cactus paddles, farro, phyllo, star fruit, sunchokes, and tomatillos. This time, we’re going to have to abandon our strict definitions along the space-time continuum. First, I’ve only got four strangers to introduce; that’s technically not a week’s worth unless it’s shortened by holiday time or a three-day-long blackout. And second, I didn’t actually try these all in just one week, but have been trying things here and there for the last month or so.
But if you can forgive those tweaks to the usual rules, let’s get on with the introductions to amaranth, coconut oil, fiddleheads, and pepino melon. Just head past the jump to meet each of these ingredients, and see the recipes I dug up to feature them.
This week’s strange-foods theme has left me exhausted. I’m not sure why I expected this to be easy: I chose seven ingredients I’ve never prepared (and several I’ve never eaten, period), many of which are nowhere near local in Massachusetts or easy to find in February, and then I had to find seven brand new recipes in which to use them.
Star fruit, chia seeds, tomatillos, phyllo and sunchokes
But before anyone calls the waaaahmbulance, let me introduce you to Eating The Week’s secret weapon: my friend Drew, who is a professional word-other-than-chef. I call him that because Drew says he doesn’t like the term chef, but has been cooking professionally for over a decade. He has done fine dining, catering, personal chef, and taco truck work, and just accepted a position as the culinary instructor at a Seattle Whole Foods. He doesn’t think about healthy eating as much as he should, but knows local strawberries that are in season are one of the best things on earth.
I gave Drew the list of ingredients – chia seeds, cactus paddles, farro, phyllo, star fruit, sunchokes, and tomatillos – and a vague plea for help, and he delivered big time. As I write about each of the foods in this (very long) post, you’ll see Chef says sections featuring Drew’s expert guidance on preparing each food. It was an immense help, and if he’s not careful, I’m going to drag Drew back for future posts.