Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New Textures and Tastes

 A number of weeks ago, an acquaintance of mine from our apartment complex and I began walking together on weekday mornings. Since our route is a six mile loop, it takes us just under two hours to complete, and we have quickly become good friends. She is from China, and we both love to learn about the traditions, foods and other differences between our two countries, so we have hardly a moment of silence.
    It has seldom rained in the morning here, but usually at night, so we have only had one rain cancellation on our walk. However, we decided to turn it into a grand occasion. She came to our apartment to play games and have tea with me, and carried with her these neat little pumpkin shaped snacks. They were molded out of a dough composed of sweet potato puree mixed with sticky rice powder. As the stem and as a filling, she used red bean paste. They are a bland little snack of an uncommon texture around here, but it was fun to have them with our tea. (She said I could roll them in sugar if I wanted them to be more dessert-like.) In exchange for this treat I taught her to play Pass the Pigs and Phase 10. Perhaps not the most iconic of American games, but we had fun nonetheless.

Another new thing I have tried lately is bitter melon, also known as bitter gourd. I had seen it at a few different Asian markets, but finally purchased it at a produce stand with a wide selection of mostly local produce. I had a recipe for preparing bitter melon from my favorite Indian food cookbook (Cooking with My Indian Mother-in-Law by Simon Daley).

My recipe instructed me to empty out the seeds and pith, cut 1/2inch pieces, and layer them with salt in a colander for 30 minutes in order to reduce the bitterness, but I have to admit I was still surprised by the intensity. The vegetable reminded Nathanael and I of a cucumber, but dense instead of watery, and the flavor was very reminiscent of a bitter cucumber skin. However, unlike the bitterness of a grapefruit or some cucumber skins, the flavor dissipated quickly and did not disrupt the enjoyment of the other flavors in the dish. I would not prepare bitter melon often, but it would be a neat side dish occasionally. Nathanael will be growing some in his garden during the coming season. (He probably liked it a little more than I did.)

And if nothing else, they are fascinating to look at.

Finally, during our Thanksgiving focused grocery trip, Nathanael and I picked out three Mexican grown mirlitons. They looked familiar, but I neither of us had ever tried one, or heard that name before. When we eventually looked them up we recognized the Spanish name, chayote, which they are more commonly sold under elsewhere in the United States, but here in Louisiana they go by their Cajun name, mirliton. Another cucurbit (member of the cucumber, melon, squash family), the mirliton can be eaten raw or cooked, but either way, it has almost no flavor. Inside there is a single seed, but not a pit, but a very soft squash-like seed, which is also edible and essentially flavorless. 

   We ate our mirliton raw, and it reminded me of a zucchini or summer squash, but very very crisp. Nathanael wasn't a big fan, but I enjoyed it very much, purely for it's interesting crunch. Eventually I had some pieces with salt on them, and ate the others with strawberry-rhubarb jam. I recommend the jam especially.

1 comment:

  1. Next time you cook with the mirliton, will you post a picture of one sliced lenghtwise? I've never cooked with them before and I'm curious about this one large seed business.


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