I used to write once in a while for JCarrot, yet over the past few months, I have returned to bystander status. Ironically, it’s because I’ve been sucked further into the world (quite happily) of food. I am enrolled at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC. Their Chef’s Training Program program focuses on specifically on health-supportive food. They do a great job of training us to work in professional kitchens, to become private chefs and to really follow and pursue our dreams.
One of the most eye opening things I’ve been exposed to is all sorts of types of sea vegetables. Kombu, arame, hijiki, wakame, and my new favorite, agar. Using agar enables us to create dishes that would otherwise utilize gelatin, as it sets in a similar way. And for those scientists out there, it’s the same stuff you grow cultures in the lab.
Asian desserts called Kantens are delicious. They are the jello I never ate as a child, as I didn’t want to eat gelatin. And the best part is that you can flavor it any way you like. My favorite (for now) is poached pears in a good fruit juice, and then agar cooked into the juice to set it. To use it, you have to dissolve the agar flakes completely, or you will get chunky bits in your jello, which is not desirable.
I’m not sure about its kosher for passover status – do sea vegetables need a special kosher for P symbol? I’m planning on using it regardless, but I’d love opinions!
You can buy agar in the seaweed section of your local Whole Foods or natural foods store. You can buy kuzu, which is a starch made from the root by the same name, in that section as well.
Here’s a super easy recipe for making the poached pears with apple juice and agar: (serves 6-8)
4 bosc pears, peeled halved, and cored
1 quart unfiltered apple juice (or whatever is your favorite flavor juice)
1.5 tablespoons agar flakes
1 tablespoon kuzu dissolved in 1/4 cup water
1) Poach pears in juice until fork tender. Remove pears with a slotted spoon, cover, and chill. Slice when chilled.
2) Simmer remaining poaching liquid with agar flakes until agar is dissolved. Stir in kuzu “glaze” and cook over medium heat until mixture clears up. It will not be completely clear, but it will also not look chalky. Remove from heat and cool a bit.
3) Arrange sliced pears in a dish (bowl, casserole dish, pot if you’re desperate!) and pour over agar mixture. Refrigerate until set. It will keep well in the refrigerator for about 5 days.