As the first heat wave breaks, it's time to make the icebox work. Whip up some delicious creations with chilled fruits and vegetables; and wonderful, wobbly jellies. Pauline D. Loh offers the cool recipes.
Writing this week's column gave me great pleasure and I had no lack of volunteers to gobble up the finished products as well. In fact, I had to jealously guard one or two jellies for my own private feasting.
I love jellies. Jello was the first American product I fell in love with as a fledgling cook, and the affair has continued to this day. I love the melt-in the-mouth freshness of lemon-flavored gelatin, and I love the slight gumminess on the lips after a bowl of jelly has been demolished with satisfaction.
It's probably hereditary. My aunts did not like to cook but they were geniuses when it came to jellies, and the colorful concoctions that went into our ancient Hotpoint fridge foretold their future success as artist and architect respectively.
Multicolored layers were patiently added one by one, until the little gelatin tower was carefully unmolded to magnificent perfection. All manners of fruit and berries were added, although they also learned the hard way that kiwifruit would not allow gelatin to set and that fresh pineapple was another fruit not to use. The active enzymes in these fruits simply destroy the setting properties of the gelatin.
But we were blessed with a huge mango tree in the backyard, and its luscious golden yellow fruits were turned into equally delicious mango puddings, jellies and molds. I am still very partial to mango, although in Beijing, I now have to part with a small fortune to get a mango of the correct pedigree.
The gelling agent we used most often was agar agar, a seaweed extract that sets to a translucent jelly at room temperature. It is sold as strips of rough transparent noodles, and as powder in little packets. Combined with dark caramel-colored coconut sugar and coconut milk, it became delicate cakes that were served at festive occasions. Set hard with rose syrup, it was grated into a floral-scented drink. The variations were only limited by imagination.
But I always preferred cooking with jelly crystals. The fragile wobble of a newly unmolded jelly continues to fascinate me. Give me a bowl of jelly as dessert, and I'll forgive any imperfections in the meal.
Here are some of my own recipes for jellies. You may want to keep it simple, like the honey citrus cooler, which tops a citrus gelatin with segments of citrus fruit sweetened with drizzles of honey.
A more ambitious recipe is the mango madness pudding cake. But it is so spectacular that it is worth the extra effort. My colleague had a birthday recently, and knowing his fondness for mango, this was my gift to him. You may want to make this for someone special, too.
Recipe | Rainbow salad mold
1 young carrot
1 medium apple
1 tablespoon wolfberries, soaked in hot water
Zest of 1 lemon
1 packet lime- or lemon-flavored gelatin
1. Peel or scrape off the carrot skin and wash it clean. Grate the carrot into thin strips. Set aside.
2. Core the apple. You may peel it if you like, but it may be healthier to keep the skin. Slice the apple, then cut it into thin strips, about the same size as the grated carrots.
3. Next, prepare the jelly. Dissolve the gelatin with two cups boiling water, stirring until the granules are all dissolved.
4. Mix up the apple and grated carrot. Arrange the salad in a ring mold or a deep bowl and pour the jelly liquid over. Gently mix up the salad with a spoon. Add the soaked wolfberries.
6. Place the bowl or mold into the refrigerator and chill for four hours or overnight.
7. To serve, dip the bottom of the jelly mold into hot water for a few seconds then turn it over a flat platter or plate. Ease the mold out with wet fingers.
8. If you like, drizzle some salad cream over the mold.
This may be the one time your kids will demand seconds for salad. Enjoy your popularity and present them with variations over the summer by changing the mix of vegetables. Try orange segments and finely diced jicama or Nashi pears mixed with fresh or frozen green peas. Or blanch half a head of broccoli and add some diced sweet red bell peppers. As long as it's a vegetable or fruit, and its colorful, you can use almost anything you want.
Recipe | Honey citrus cooler
Ingredients (serves 4):
1 packet lemon-flavored gelatin
2 cups boiling water
1 cup cold water or 4 large ice-cubes
1 large orange
1. Dissolve the lemon-flavored gelatin in the boiling water, stirring until all the jelly crystals dissolve.
2. Divide among four red wine glasses. Add the ice-cubes or cold water and stir until the liquid is well mixed. Chill the jelly for two or three hours or leave in the refrigerator overnight.
3. Cut off the top and bottom of the orange and slice off the thick peel. Carefully remove the segments of flesh from their parchment skins. Pick out seeds, if there are any, and reserve the orange segments.
4. Do the same for the grapefruit, but cut the flesh into smaller pieces.
5. Divide the fruit into four portions and pile on top of the jelly. Chill until ready to serve.
6. Just before serving, drizzle the honey over the citrus segments. If you like, garnish with a sprig of mint.
This is a lovely chilled dessert that will guard your family against the summer cold and flu germs. It's one of the most delicious ways to get them to eat more fruit.
Recipe | Mango madness Cake
Ingredients (makes 1 small cake):
12 sponge fingers
1 cup mango nectar (or orange juice)
1 packet (12 g) agar agar or kanten powder
1.5 cup boiling water
1 large mango
Mixed berries or fruits for garnish
1. Peel and cut the mango into 1-cm cubes. Set aside.
2. Place six sponge fingers along the bottom of a square glass dish. Soak with mango nectar/orange juice until absorbed.
3. Spoon a layer of mango cubes on top of the soaked sponge fingers.
4. Layer sponge fingers on top of the mango and again, soak them with the fruit juice. Top with another layer of mango cubes.
5. Boil the agar agar in 1 liter of water (or according to package instructions) and cool slightly. Carefully pour the liquid over the sponge-and-fruit mixture.
6. Place the dish in the refrigerator and chill well preferably overnight.
7. Just before serving, pile some berries or cut fruit on top of the cake. Decorate with more mango cubes. Enjoy!
You can buy agar agar powder at provision shops selling Southeast Asian ingredients or at health food stores. Kanten powder is available at Japanese supermarkets. They are both the same product, just named differently because of the countries of origin. Agar agar will give the mold a firmer finish compared to gelatin. It also sets without chilling but tastes so much better cold.
(China Daily 06/11/2011 page12)