Sunday, March 29, 2009

How to Make Thai Coffee

Over a year ago, while sharing a meal with a Thai family, I ordered an oliang, or black iced coffee. Everyone laughed for some reason. F told me I was drinking an old man's beverage. Whatever. Anyhow, I casually asked "So, what's in oliang exactly." Silence. I was surrounded by three generations of a Thai family and nobody ventured a guess. I prodded them so Tawin offered, "Butter."
"Butter!? Now way!" I replied.
"Maybe margarine." offered F.
I let the matter drop and forgot about it. Once in a while I would think about Thai coffee consumed at morning markets and from streetside stalls and wonder how it was made. I went online and looked in books and was confronted with a bunch of conflicting information. Some recipes just say put espresso and sweetened condensed milk together. Others say use cardamom, and others chicory. When I vented my frustration with how much lousy information there was out there recently, I was chastised for having too much faith in the information on the net and even in books. Maybe there's some truth in that.

I'm not usually content to tell you dear reader to go to the store and buy yourself a product to satisfy all your desires, but in this case, it's the way to go. If you want to drink some genuine Thai coffee go to the Asian import store and buy yourself a bag of oliang. What is oliang exactly? Oliang is coffee mixed with corn, soy, and sesame. How did I figure this out? I read the ingredients on the bag. God forbid my Thai friends could be any help.

For preparation you have a few choices. In Thailand they use a tall skinny pot and a coffee sock in which to brew the coffee. For an early attempt I used a coffee sock and a teapot. Subsequent attempts have involved a french press and a Turkish coffee maker. The latter works best as you want the coffee to steep with continued heat to produce a hot, dark, and rich brew that turns to sweet gold when mixed with sweetened condensed milk.

A bag of Oliang: $3.00
Sweetened Condensed Milk: $2

My advice to you is this: skip this beverage at your local restaurants. The money you save will allow you to invite all your little friends over and treat them to a drink or three. They will love you. If they don't, never have them back.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to Make Turkish Coffee

A couple of months ago a new coffee maker was acquisitioned and my coffee making has continued to diversify, for better or worse.

Much like the difficult to make Vietnamese coffee, Turkish/Arabic/Greek coffee, etc. is a tough one to master. I partly blame misinformation, like me here, and an easy to mess up method.

The first important thing you need is the maker, which has a different name depending on the country of origin. I call this one an Ibrik, which may not be the right name for this maker as it came from Yugoslavia, when it still existed as a country. If you're making Turkish coffee, the pot is called a cezve. I found my maker at a garage sale for a buck or two. Next you need to get a very fine grind of coffee. You can either get this done at the grocery store or at your own home. A warning: grinding coffee fine enough for this type of coffee is one day going to kill my coffee grinder. Make sure your is up to the task.

1. Fill your maker with water. Remember, you aren't going to drink a huge cup of this stuff. Quality not quantity.
2. Grind your coffee. Add one or two heaping teaspoon fulls of finely ground coffee per (small) cup. My maker is good for a couple of cups, so I used five heaping spoonfuls. Some recipes suggest adding cardamom with your coffee, which is really quite nice. I sometimes throw a pod in when I grind my coffee. Add your coffee to the water.
3. At this point you can add sugar. This is the only time you can stir the mixture. From here on out, you will not touch your brew!

4. Turn on your stove at a very low heat. This is important. you want it to slowly approach a near boiling temperature.

Notice as the water get hotter, a foamy head begins to form. If you see this, you are doing well.

5. When the whole top of your brew is covered with this foam and near or at the boiling point, remove from heat and spoon the foam into your cup(s). You may then place the maker back on the heat to get more foam.
6. After serving up the foam, serve up the coffee and enjoy. Do not add milk or anything else!

If you've done this right, you'll have a dark, rich coffee with sludge at the bottom. Drink with a friend and discuss the finer points of nothing. Look elsewhere for information on how to read the grounds. My interpretation is always for dark days ahead.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bleak Times, Black Walnuts

Every Friday at the Old Oakland Farmers Market, Harry and Jane Dewey set up a stand and sell their walnuts, almonds and pistachios. When in need, I drop by for a bag of nuts and a little conversation. People like the Deweys are an excellent reason to visit your local farmers market.

The other day while perusing the weekly selection, I was introduced to black walnuts. Black walnuts, Mr Dewey told me, are not black because of any genetic difference to their lighter colored brethren (This has caused me some confusion as there is a species of walnut known as Black walnuts) or imperfection, but rather, these walnuts are the ones grown on the hotter and sunnier side of the tree. They turn a rather alarming color, are hand separated and relegated to the discount bin.

They looked identical to the other walnuts on offer, save for the darker color. There was maybe a hint of increased bitterness, but the difference was really quite negligible. At three-fifty a pound instead of seven, it was a no brainer. I bought a pound.

As I made my purchase Mr Dewey added that times are "gonna get tough" to which I quickly agreed. To sum up: Tough times mean equally delicious yet less aesthetically pleasing food. There's certainly room for things to get much, much worse.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How to Make Quick Kimchi

Things have slowed down here considerably. Sorry about that. After running around the bay looking for the best this or that, exhaustion and frustration set in. A slower approach is being taken with a few longer term and slower food projects undertaken. Take today's post as an ideal example.

Many people the world over love cabbage and so should you. While cabbage has always been a vegetable I appreciated, it became even more appreciated after spending some time living in South Korea. While there are various varieties of kimchi, the most common kind is made with napa cabbage. When a napa cabbage arrived in our CSA box the other week, we sprung into action.

For you the reader, I have adapted a recipe.

Here's what you'll need:

1 napa Cabbage
1 Asian Radish (we used stunning watermelon radish)
1/4 cup sea salt
3 or 4 Green Onions sliced into 1-inch long pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
4 tablespoon chili powder

First, wash your leaves and cut into 2-inch lengths. Cut the radish however you like. We made small wedges. They certainly looked adorable.

Place your vegetables in a bowl. Dissolve your salt in water and pour over the vegetables. Let soak overnight.

The following day drain and save the water. Add your onions, garlic, ginger and chili and mix with your hands. Put the mixture into some kind of container. A gallon jar works well. We used a stone pot. Pour the salt mixture over vegetables leaving an inch or so at the top.

Let this mixture sit a couple of days and enjoy. Remember, lower room temperature means slower fermentation, so this step is a little arbitrary. But really, when you eat it is up to you as it will continue to ripen. Refrigerate after opening. As this mixture matures the smell will grow and fill your house every time you open the refrigerator door. I love this smell, but some people can find it a little overwhelming. If this is a problem, my advice to you is to get a gas mask.

While this kimchi is a quick and simple version, it really is quite delicious and useful in a variety of ways, snacking amongst them. As it continues to ripen, it becomes rather suitable for kimchi jigae (stew) or kimchi bokkeumbap (fried rice). We only made the latter with this batch. Don't worry, if you don't want to tackle korean cooking right now, you don't have to, as this kimchi is really quite wonderful all by itself.