For Ginger Lovers: A Ginger Menu

December 18, 2010

A good friend fell off a cliff, broke his neck in two places, but is fine (thank you, gods!) and recovering. Recently, however, he’s been having some nausea as he tries to wean himself off the narcotic pain pills.

Because I know ginger is good to relieve nausea, plus it helps digestion, I whipped up a dinner for him with ginger in every dish, took it over to him, and had a great meal.

If you love ginger, you might get some ideas from the menu. Everything had ginger in it, but it was never overpowering. It’s one of those ingredients that can be aptly used to give depth of flavor, spiciness, or warmth. It can blend quietly into the background, or sing loudly as a star flavor.

Here’s what we had:
Asian Black Bean Dip, served with tortilla chips and sugar snap peas

Asian Slaw with Ginger-Wasabi Dressing (a very simple salad with won bok, Asian pear and green onions)

Rice (a mix of brown rice, white rice, and barley)

Tofu, Broccoli, and Sweet Potato
seasoned with ginger and soy sauce

Pineapple Sorbet with Mint, Basil, and Ginger

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with pecans and candied ginger
Next time I will serve them without the pumpkin, since you couldn’t really taste it. I’ll use it instead to make Pumpkin Smoothies!

Ginger-Mint-Lemongrass Iced Tea

Ginger Ale the old style, fermented (my first attempt at this)

Samosas and Banana Lassi

November 23, 2009

I couldn’t resist the temptation to have some Indian food. There are two restaurants in my neighborhood here, and one was closed, so I tried the other one. This one is New Delhi Restaurant on Ratchawithi Road, near the intersection with Ratchaphakhinai Road.

Like most places, it looks unpretentious enough: a few tables roadside and about eight more inside, just a step up onto the platform and under the roof. The man sitting at the front looked unfriendly and bored, watching people go by. But he was actually quite sweet, making suggestions to people as he took their orders, and encouraging me to add the cilantro-mint sauce to the samosas.

I decided on two samosas and a banana lassi, since my stomach was feeling a little gurgly and unstable, and I know the beneficial bacteria in yogurt not only helps to balance the digestive tract, it also helps improve immunity.

The creamy, tart yogurt was in perfect harmony with the apple banana, which has just a hint of “green” flavor to it. I could taste the touch of salt along with the sweetness, something I think many of our desserts at home could benefit from.

In Asia, it’s quite common to add some salt to your dessert, which balances the sweetness and makes it not cloyingly sweet, as desserts can be.

Crisp samosas, stuffed with curried potato filling, and cilantro-mint sauce

The samosas were perfectly crisp and crunchy, without being heavy or oily, despite the oil stains on the red tablecloth, which were there when I sat down. The filling was flavorful and light, not overly spicy, and not tasting like it just mashed potatoes inside, like other samosas I’ve eaten have been.

As I left, I told him the man it was delicious, patting my stomach. He smiled broadly, which transformed his face into one of a boy. That alone was worth the 100 Thai baht I paid (about $3 US.)

The Travelers’ Curse: The BRAT Diet

November 20, 2009

Surely you’ve heard of the BRAT diet to cure diarrhea? Bananas, Rice, And Toast (white, plain). I offer you my Thai version: Bananas, Rice, And Tea.

Apple bananas, 15 baht per hand (about 50 cents U.S.)

The bananas were apple bananas, the smaller version popular in Asia, with a more tangy taste and firmer texture (to hold up to those delicious desserts, like bananas in coconut milk, bananas steamed in leaves with sticky rice, and tapioca and coconut milk pudding with bananas.)

The rice was the Thai version of something my grandmother and mother used to eat when they got sick, called okayu in Japanese. Not sure at this time what the Thai name for it is…if I find out, I’ll get back to you…

The tea was ginseng first, then grachai later. Grachai (said with a low tone) is Chinese keys, which is obviously in the ginger family.

Chinese keys, Grachai, for stomach upset

It smelled a bit like turmeric, looked like orangey mud, tasted bitter and earthy and had a bit of heat and pungency to it, just like fresh ginger and turmeric do.

It reminded me very much of the horrendously bitter “berbena con jugo de limon,” another herbal brew that I was served in the jungles of Ecuador, after pulling our boat through the river made my bronchitis worse….but that is another story!

My sister said I was being a drama queen, making faces with every sip, so I told her to try it. She gagged. It was the last time she drank my tea, and the last time I traveled with her (by choice, that is…but that is also another story!)

(Am I bitter? Perhaps–but not as bitter as that tea! ha ha)

Where was I?

Oh yah, the tea. The kind husband manager of the guesthouse, Jimmy, came up to my room on the fourth floor to check on me several times all day and night. I was supposed to have my vegetarian cooking class, but I was rudely awakened at 2:30 am with stomach cramps and the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge. Or, since this is Chiang Mai, Thailand, perhaps a better name would be Moon Muang Road’s Revenge.

I’ll “spare you the gory details,” as my mother used to say…

By 8:00 am I was no better and went downstairs to ask them to call to cancel. I needed help getting back up and spent the day and night in bed and the bathroom, basically.

I asked for bananas, which he brought, along with tea, and some Chinese herbal medicine from their uncle across the way, who, coincidentally (although there are no coincidences in life, apparently) had also been sick the day I arrived, and had an extra vial.

They were tiny pellets which looked like they had been dipped in brownish-red royal icing and left to dry. He motioned for me to tip my head back and empty the vial into my mouth. I took a swig of liquid and managed to down them in three swallows.

“Guarantee you better by this afternoon,” Uncle said. “Guarantee.”

That afternoon, I would have joked with him, “I want my money back,” but 1) he wasn’t around, 2) he gave it to me free, 3) I had barely enough energy to open the door, and 4) I was in no @#$^ mood to joke.

I kept popping acidophilus tablets every hour, and by evening, I was thinking, I wish I had rice. Not that I was hungry, but I remembered the BRAT diet. I didn’t want to bother the hotel manager, either.

As it was, he must have read my mind, because he showed up several hours later, surprising me with a bowl of watery rice porridge, in a little plastic bag secured with a rubber band, the way they do take-out here, a tiny zip-top baggie of salt, and one mandarin orange. So kind of him.

Watery rice gruel, salt, and a mandarin orange: gifts from kind Jimmy, the guesthouse manager

He must have gone back down and climbed up again to bring me the cup of muddy grachai tea.

I’m happy to report that I am back in commission today and extremely happy to be eating more exciting fare!

What have I learned? Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to pinpoint what made me sick, which is frustrating, because I can’t avoid it if I don’t know what it is. I ate at restaurants I had eaten at before, where they cook the food when you order it. (On my last trip, I had gotten sick from places where the food has been sitting in trays for a while.)

I have been drinking bottled water and taking acidophilus tablets to keep the good bacteria outbalancing the nasties. Perhaps it was the fresh orange juice with ice. Ice is apparently suspect, because they don’t always use purified water to make it.

I haven’t been using bottled water to brush my teeth, just the tap water, but I thought once you’ve been to a place, you body gets used to the bacteria there and you’re fine?

Whatever it was, it wasn’t nice. Another woman in the guesthouse had the same problem, and I was just trading notes with a man at dinner (although his was from India.) Not the most enjoyable travel story to share, but important nonetheless.

I also was reminded of the kindness of strangers, and how the simplest acts can mean so much. How grateful I am for them. It’s one of the reasons I travel. It reaffirms my faith in humans, which can quickly erode if I bother to watch the news.

Finally, I have a few more possible remedies for when I travel through this part of the world, natural options that do not just squash the symptoms and leave me with unwanted side-effects. Nature is amazing.

Vegan Banana Smoothie

November 9, 2009

banana smoothie

Yet another use for that homemade yogurt--smoothies!

A friend of mine has been enjoying the soymilk smoothies I’ve shared with her, and she especially likes anything with bananas in it. She wanted to know how to make a drink with yogurt, which her husband likes, and bananas, which she likes. I whipped this up for her.

Banana Smoothies

1 cup yogurt (soy or dairy–both work great)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups or 1 tray ice, or 16 ice cubes
1 haole banana* or 3 apple bananas

Put all ingredients in a blender. Blend until mostly smooth. This is quite thick; you’ll need to stop and scrape down the sides several times in the process.

If you can’t fit all the ice into your blender, leave a few cubes out, blend a few seconds, then add the remaining ice.

Makes 2 to 4 drinks.

*By haole bananas, I mean the big, long ones you will find in any grocery store. I don’t know the variety names. Their ends are smooth and blunt.

The apple bananas are the shorter, stubbier, tangier bananas with a “nipple” on the end. They are often used in Asian desserts (such as Thai coconut milk and bananas) and retain a firmer texture when ripe or cooked.

Both the yogurt and apple bananas, which I used today, give a lovely contrasting tang to the drink. Adjust the sweetener and spices, which are inspired by lassi, an Indian blended yogurt drink, to your taste.

Vegetarian Halloween Party Food

October 31, 2009

The vegetarian Halloween party was a hit. Despite a few “WHAT are we eating?” comments throughout the evening, all the guests were great sports and tried everything. In fact, despite being so full after the appetizers that they only ate a small portion of the main course, everyone finished all their dessert….

I mentioned some of this in yesterday’s post…The vegan Coagulated Blood Dip and Mummified Skin Flakes (aka beet dip and pita chips) were a hit, as well as the Stuffed Roaches (dates filled with a vegan cream-cheese-like mixture and dipped in fake bacon bits.)

My friends very artfully laid out vegetable slices and strips to create this Skeleton Platter, which I served with my vegan ranch dip, renamed Moldy Brain Dip. Find the recipe here. Lip-smackingly delicious, and cute, too!

halloween party part two 003

Skeleton Platter with Moldy Brain Dip

“Eeyoo,” my friend said, as she ladled out the Pond Scum Soup. I had her pipe soy yogurt on top to create the spider web appearance, and next time I looked, she had consumed all of it. So it obviously tasted just fine.

I had another friend (who loves deviled eggs) work on these Devil’s Eyes. He put an olive in the center of each one and piped ketchup to create blood vessels. Not a great picture, but you get the idea.

devils eyes

Devil's Eyes, aka Deviled Eggs

The main course–Chunky Cat Barf and Steamed Maggots with Spider Web Bread was also eaten, albeit sparingly.

But I think the two standout dishes (if you had to choose two; they were all devoured with equal amounts of gusto) would have to be the Pumpkin Smoothies and the Black Widow Spider Cakes.

Vegan Pumpkin Smoothies
1 cup yogurt or soy yogurt
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup sugar or other sweetener, or to taste–depends on the sweetness of your pumpkin and the tartness of the yogurt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 cup water–you may need to add more
1 tray (=2 cups or 16 ice cubes) ice
Blend in a blender until smooth. Adjust sweetener and water as necessary.

For the Black Widow Spider Cakes, I used a basic vegan cake recipe, and tried to do a vegan molten chocolate lava cake using the method explained by Bryanna Clark Grogan.

Basically, you make a filling, freeze it in ice cubes, then put them into the center of the batter and bake. The cake batter cooks into cake; the filling thaws into ooze.

I made a filling of berries cooked with cornstarch and a small amount of sweetener, water and lemon juice, and froze them in an ice cube tray. I put them into greased custard cups and oven-safe tea cups, then poured the cake batter over them.

After baking, we turned them out onto a plate upside down and used melted semi-sweet chocolate chips to pipe legs. The heads were made by adding a commercial chocolate truffle (on top a tiny mound of melted chocolate, so it would stay in place.) Although the “guts” didn’t ooze like I had hoped, because I made the filling too thick, it did make the middle of the cakes appropriately mushy and the tartness of the berries complemented the cake nicely.

I got the idea for the spider cakes from this website called “Not Martha.”

Vegan Chocolate Cakes
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup water

Mix all ingredients together. Spoon over “guts” (optional) into greased custard cups or muffin tins. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Invert immediately onto a plate. Use melted chocolate to create legs and something (truffle, doughnut hole, cookie, mound of melted chocolate) for the spider head.

black widow spider cake

Vegan Black Widow Spider Cakes--fun to make and eat, and cute, too

Beverage was Body Part Punch, made with cranberry and grape juices. I froze a hand made from soymilk and orange juice, to create a realistic flesh color, in a latex glove. Lychees were stuffed with raisins and frozen for “eyeballs”, and a can of peaches was also dumped in for “flesh.”

Despite my worries, the food wasn’t so gross that it stopped anyone from eating it. Thanks to my friends for letting me have my dream of a Halloween party come true, and thanks to all the creative people and cooks out there who come up with these ideas and share them online.

I hope you can take some of these recipes and ideas and use them for your own spooky, fun, and delicious vegetarian Halloween party. Happy Halloween!

Pineapple Illusion Iced Tea

March 29, 2009
Clockwise from left: pineapple sage, orange mint, spearmint, and pineapple mint (center)

Clockwise from left: pinepple sage, orange mint, spearmint, and pineapple mint (center)

Recently I bought a smorgasbord of mint varieties, such as ginger mint, basil mint and water mint. The pineapple mint has done especially well, cascading its variegated leaves over the edge of the container it’s in.

Mixing it with pineapple sage, orange mint and spearmint produced a fruity iced tea without any fruit. There was the “idea” of pineapple in it, enough so that sipping it made me feel like I should have been hanging around a pool…instead of doing my taxes!

Pineapple-Mint Iced Tea

About 2 TBS each: spearmint, pineapple mint, pineapple sage, orange mint
2 cups boiling water
stevia or other sweetener, to taste
4 cups iced water

Pour boiling water over herbs and stevia in a tea pot. Cover. Let steep 30 minutes. Strain. Add iced water. Sip and enjoy.

Then get back to the real world and work on your taxes. Ugh!