13 July 2010

My Week Around the World

No, I did not actually do any globe trotting this week.  I don't really even have the luxury of domestic travel outside of my home state, and even day trips beyond county lines are few and far between.  One of the most tangible ways of exploring the world in some sense, without the physical travel, is through exploring a place's culinary profile.  I am endlessly fascinated by food culture, using what I learn about a particular region's culinary traditions to inspire much of what comes out of my own kitchen.  While I often stray from authenticity during my attempts to recreate the food of faraway places--an especially common occurrence when reinterpreting non-vegan classics to fit animal-free dietary preferences--I do try to stay true to the spirit of regional cuisine.  For now at least, this is my most immediate and sensory-engaging way to see the world.

Rather than fixate on any particular cuisine this past week, I ended up skipping about the culinary globe.  Somehow, the focus turned saccharine yet again.  No matter; each item took care of my sweet tooth in scrumptious fashion.  Let's relive the journey, shall we?


We'll begin with these Japanese-inspired treats meant to mimic obanyaki, a type of wagashi (Japanese confectionary) filled with anko (sweet bean paste).  It's quite similar to a stuffed pancake.  I have not eaten true obanyaki (or the very similar taiyaki and dorayaki) since going vegan, as they typically contain animal products.  My love of anko-filled snacks prompted me to attempt a vegan version of obanyaki, using this cast iron pan created specifically for the task:
I also had homemade shiro koshian (smooth, sweet white bean paste) on hand.  It is composed of navy beans, water, sugar, and salt.  Although the process takes a bit of time--from soaking and cooking the dried beans, mashing them through a sieve, and cooking them again with simple syrup--it is well worth the effort, because one can adjust the amount of sugar to taste.  Store-bought versions are fine, but they can tend to be cloying and fairly dry.
I simply used a vegan whole wheat pancake recipe (any will do) and was sure to adequately oil the obanyaki pan before using it, as it is not yet properly seasoned.  I then filled the decorative mold portions of the pan with just enough batter to cover the bottom, placed a disc of the koshian on top (red bean paste would also work well), then topped that with a thin layer of more pancake batter.  I used marzipan (a non-traditional ingredient) for some of the cakes, rather than koshian, just to mix it up.  When the bottoms were golden brown, I flipped each cake into the plain portions of the pan and allowed the obanyaki to continue to cook through.  Both versions of these snacks are delicious unadorned and served with hot green tea, but I prefer the more traditional bean-filled type.
Heading westward, we pass through Turkey.  Obviously, I purchased this box of Turkish delight rather than making the sweets myself, but I figured I would share them with you, what with the worldly theme.  For years, I've been curious about Turkish delight, especially after witnessing my college dorm roommate's terrible experience with some alleged form of it many years ago.  The ones I found contained hazelnut, which I love, and pretty much won me over by its direct mention of being vegan (ingredients: sugar, cornstarch, citric acid, hazelnuts).  I am no longer  the candy-loving child of yore, but I did not mind this particular confection in small doses.  I'll be sure to reassure my former roommate (with whom I maintain a close friendship) that not all Turkish delight is disgusting.  Maybe I should send her a box; she's also fond of hazelnuts and would get a good laugh out of the candy reference.  Ah, memories.
For this next dessert-like item, I was inspired by something I ate during an actual trip to Vienna, Austria a few years ago.  Having traveled there during August, I noticed the abundance of apricots and apricot-flavored edibles.  The Eismarillenknoedel (ice cream apricot dumpling) that some fellow students and I tried at an ice cream shop were particularly unique and delightful; it was frozen ball resembling traditional German and Austrian knoedeln, but with a core of apricot-flavored ice cream surrounded by vanilla-flavored ice cream, rolled in crushed hazelnuts.  Recently seeing that I had leftover boiled potatoes and several ripe apricots, I sought to revisit the more traditional, boiled version of knoedel by fixing up a vegan version of my own.


For the dough, I eyeballed amounts of mashed potato and whole wheat flour and used a flax "egg" (milled flax seed and water) to create the dough that would surround the fruit.  Rather than replacing the seeds of the apricots with a sugar cube, as is often done, I filled each fruit with marzipan.  I then rolled each into powdered sugar before covering it in the dough.  After boiling the dumplings for 10 minutes, I drained them briefly and coated them with whole wheat breadcrumbs toasted in a bit of melted vegan butter.
I also tried to get a little creative by using a few plums from my backyard (again, filled with marzipan), and pitted bing cherries with a chunk of sugar cube placed in the center of each.  All versions were delectable, although the sourness of the plum skins made for a few tart knoedeln.  A dusting of powdered sugar remedied the issue.
Perhaps my favorite results from this week's worth of exploring sweet treats from around the globe came courtesy of Belgium. As a child, I was a waffle-eating fiend, consuming various frozen toaster versions of them on a regular basis.  My waffle of choice was the Belgian variety, although they were probably not very authentic, being no more than a regular waffle cooked in an iron with deep pockets.  Like many of the foods I attempt to recreate or reinterpret whose origins are places I have never visited, an authentic Belgian waffle--the sugary, no-syrup-necessary Liege type, in particular--is something I have never actually tasted but have always wanted to try.  Everything about this snack--the yeasted dough, deep pockets, caramelized sugar exterior, interior sugar pockets--intrigued me.  A brief Google search did little to ease my curiosity, but after a bit more searching, I finally found a recipe that sounded appropriate for helping me attain the goal of replicating the Liege waffle.  With a few vegan alterations and a little patience, my waffle adventure ended in sweet, sweet success.


Having read the recipe author's proclamation of having devised the closest-to-the-real-thing formula for Liege waffles, I did not want to make any unnecessary changes to the dough or method, following the recipe fairly closely while making the appropriate vegan substitutions.  I replaced whole milk with almond milk, the egg with a flax "egg," butter with Earth Balance vegan butter, and honey with agave nectar.  I couldn't resist replacing some of the bread flour with whole wheat pastry flour.  Because I used Earth Balance, which is a little salty, I omitted the added salt called for in the recipe. I also used only one half-cup of pearl sugar, despite the recipe author's insistence that the waffles are meant to be sugary.
I could not quite master the method for achieving perfectly caramelized waffles--I was afraid of burning the sugar--but the waffles turned out well, in my opinion.  I rather enjoyed the chunks of sugar dotting the tender but crisp dough, with the slightest sticky-sugar outside coating.  The amount of pearl sugar I used worked out perfectly, as the waffles were certainly sugary, and any more so would have probably been too much.  They were oh-so-divine, and had I lacked self-control, I would probably have eaten the entire batch of waffles in one sitting.
There you have it.  It may not have been the most comprehensive or authentic of culinary journeys, but my taste buds certainly enjoyed the trip.

5 comments:

  1. I love your obanyaki with the bean paste! Have you ever heard of or ate halo halo? I think you would love it!

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  2. Thanks, Carissa. My parents have so many jars of the mung beans, jackfruit, macapuno, and other halo halo fixins'...it's ridiculous haha. I haven't eaten halo halo in years, so I will have to try a vegan variation of it sometime! Thanks for reminding me. :)

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  3. YUM! What delicious looking treats! I think the carmelized waffles would be my favorite

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  4. YUM! What delicious looking treats! I think the carmelized waffles would be my favorite

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  5. Thanks, Carissa. My parents have so many jars of the mung beans, jackfruit, macapuno, and other halo halo fixins'...it's ridiculous haha. I haven't eaten halo halo in years, so I will have to try a vegan variation of it sometime! Thanks for reminding me. :)

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Thanks for reading! Your comments are always welcome and appreciated. :)