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Friday, August 16, 2019

Vietnam’s Exotic Fruits

                                    Vietnam's fruit opens a whole new world for food-lovers

Vietnam is replete with exceptional tropical fruits.  These fruits are a strong part of the nation's culinary profile.  For example, there are as many street food vendors selling fruit as there are serving the country's signature soup dish, Pho.  Fruit is so popular that carving it has become an art-form.  Moreover, no meal in a Vietnamese home is served without some type of fruit.

Most of these exotic fruits are unknown to Americans and Europeans.  However, due to the large population of Vietnamese in California many of the delectable fruits are now showing up in Cali grocery stores.  Not only are they insanely delicious, but they present beguiling opportunities for the foodie to experiment with new products.  

Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world

I simply can't get enough of jackfruit.  I loved this fruit so much that when we moved to San Diego ten years ago I attempted to have a tree planted---until I learned that it took 20 years for the tree to bare the first fruit.  Thankfully, I was able to find an Asian market that carried it.  Last year my local grocer began selling jackfruit, so it appears that I'm not the only one wowed by this seductive fruit.

Jackfruit's taste is somewhere between a pineapple and a banana.  It's distinctive.  It's also addictive.  When cooked, the fruit has a texture similar to pulled pork, thus it has become popular in vegetarian cooking.  (Trader Joe's sells a frozen jackfruit curry that is subline!)  My favorite way, nonetheless, is the raw fruit.

 Durian's taste is delectable

I was introduced to this fruit on my first trip to Vietnam years ago by a Vietnamese friend living in California.  She and I went to Vietnam to retrace her roots from living there as a child.  She made certain to warn me that this fruit was like a horribly stinky cheese in France.  She was right:  just get past the smell and you find a mouth-watering fruit.

Durian's taste, an almost indescribable cacophony of flavors, is a combination of sweet and savory.  The texture is super creamy.  Unfortunately, durian is very expensive due to its short period of ripeness.  Don't miss it if you see it.

Rambutan are harvested twice a year in Vietnam

Rambutan, which belongs to the lychee family, is an absolutely visually stunning fruit.  The first time I saw it I thought it was a flower.  Its Vietnamese name actually translates to "messy hair."  Once peeled, the interior reveals a white fleshy fruit which is a little like a grape in texture and taste.

Longan is eaten raw or dried like a date

Longan is another member of the same family as rambutan and lychee.  Its name means "dragon's eye" for when the fruit is peeled it resembles a large eye.  The fruit's musky sweet taste is similar to that of lychee with gentle flowery notes.  While eaten raw, it is also popular in desserts.

Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit is a feast for the eyes & taste buds

While this fruit is actually native to Central America, it is widely grown throughout Vietnam.  Its bright red shell decorated with green scales resembles a dragon, thus, its name in Asia.  Inside is a white fruit studded with tiny black seeds.  Personally, I don't find much taste at all in the fruit, however, others feel its taste is a cross between a kiwi and a pear.

Star Apple
Star apple's interior is very creamy

The star apple is a gorgeous purple-tinged fruit when fully ripe.  Measuring only 2-3 inches in diameter, the small found fruit gets its name from the star pattern seen when the fruit is cut in half.  A spoon is necessary to scoop out the sweet interior as its delicate jelly-like pulp is juicy.  The Vietnamese call star apple "milk fruit" because of the rich milky liquid that oozes from its center.

The inside of the hard-shelled exterior is a big surprise

Native to Southeast Asia, the mangosteen is one of the best tasting fruits in all of Vietnam.  It's tough exterior resembles an acorn but a soft and sweet interior tastes like a melange of orange, banana and peach.  The fruit's segmented flesh is similar to than of an orange, however, the flesh is white.

Those coming with us to Vietnam in February 2020 will be able to sample most of these fruits on the foodie's tour of Saigon's exciting central market.  There are two seats remaining on this trip:

Friday, August 2, 2019

Worcestershire Was An Accident

                   Worcestershire sauce adds an umami complexity to both salads & meats

Wine-Knows has just returned from its inaugural group to England to sample the Brit’s exploding sparkling wine industry (recently the English “fizz” has beaten numerous well regarded Champagnes in blind tastings).   We stayed in the enchanting Cotswolds area, a region filled with fairy-tale villages right out of a painting my modern day artist Thomas Kinkade.   Worcestershire sauce, created by accident, comes from the Cotswolds' town of Worcester.

In the early 1800’s two pharmacists in Worcester were hired by a local aristocrat to construct a culinary sauce similar to a savory condiment he had tasted in India.  The pharmacists, John Lee and William Perrins, made a concoction but it tasted nothing like what the noble lord had savored on his Indian journey.  Mr. Lee and Mr. Perrins were stuck with an entire barrel of the sauce which set in their basement for years.  One day they discovered the forgotten barrel, re-tasted it and were delighted to discover that it had completely changed to something delicious with the passage of time.

Lea and Perrins began bottling the condiment in 1837 and it became a big hit.  Condiments in Britain at the time were very popular as they gave flavor to an otherwise bland cuisine.  Worcestershire also helped to tenderize tough cuts of meat so it became even a bigger success.   The sauce came to the US in 1839.  To ship it across the Atlantic the company wrapped each bottle in a classical paper wrapper to prevent breakage on the sea journey.  Today, bottles are still wrapped in this brown paper.  Worcestershire, the oldest commercially bottled condiment in the US, is now exported to more than 75 countries.

So what’s in Worcestershire sauce?  Lea & Perrins lists the ingredients on each bottle:   vinegar, anchovies, garlic, molasses, onions, salt, sugar and water.  Although the components are known, the actual recipe is a closely guarded secret. 

Why not celebrate summer with a bottle of English fizz and feature recipes made with Worcestershire?   Worcestershire is terrific as an ingredient in BBQ well as in the dressing of a Caesar salad.

The World’s Best Mussels

                                  Green-lipped mussels with onion & garlic in a wine sauce 

New Zealand’s green-lipped mussels are worth the trip across the Pacific to the southern hemisphere.  The good news, however, is that an international flight is not necessary.   Green-lipped mussels have become so popular in the US that they are now being widely imported.  Upscale Cali restaurants are featuring them cooked with everything from the classical wine and garlic sauce, to an Asian-inspired dish made with coconut milk and lemon-grass.  Google green-lipped mussel recipes and you’ll find nearly a half million suggestions.

So why are these mussels the latest craze?   This varietal (only found in New Zealand) is the largest mussel on planet earth---it can grow to over nine inches in length.  Biggest isn’t always best, but in the case of these mussels it surely is!   These mussels are flavor-bombs.  Their distinctive taste is both sweet and delicate… somewhere between a clam and an oyster.  Their plump meat is also tender and juicy.   In addition, the mussels also work well with a variety of cuisines (in Spain a few months ago I saw them prepared in a saffron-tomato sauce).  Last, let’s also acknowledge that these mussels are absolutely a feast for the eye---their electric green shell color is stunning, and the contrasting bright orange colored meat is a radiant against the backdrop of the green-black shells).

                                        Wine-Knows will visit a mussel "farm" 

The green lipped mussel industry in New Zealand is now valued at more than 350 million US dollars.  If you have a seat on the sold out Wine-Knows' trip in February 2020 to New Zealand you will not only be able to eat these delectable morsels, but will actually visit a mussel farm in the ocean.   Here you'll learn about how the mollusks are grown and harvested.  Then a chef will prepare for your lunch.  Of course, they’ll be washed down with some of New Zealand’s finest Sauvignon Blanc.