Friday, July 8, 2011

Colorful Snack Items

Vegetables in Saffron Maki and Truffled Pâté in Hibiscus Maki

Avocado, Ginger and Wasabi in Calico Maki

I've gone bananas for making these maki rolls. They're pretty easy and you can put anything you want in them. For the poker game on Tuesday I made three varieties using two kinds of rice, one I cooked conventionally in vegetable stock and saffron came out a nice bright yellow, the other was soaked in jamaica (hibiscus flower infusion) overnight and also cooked in it, with a little salt. I think the salt acted as a mordant for the color, allowing the rice to stay a vivid magenta-purple when cooked.

I knew I would be doing something with hibiscus rice this week, since it had been on my mind, and while shopping at Paulina Market I saw some nice looking pâté in their refrigerator case. The ingredient list was admirably brief: chicken liver, pork liver, truffle oil, parsley and salt, so I got some to try. The tart hibiscus rice suggested a rich, flavorful interior, and after tasting a bit on some bread, it seemed like this pâté should fit the bill.

Pâté is often served with pickled vegetables to cut its richness, usually pickled onions, cornichons or gherkins, so I sliced some red onion real thin and pickled it in rice vinegar while the rice was soaking. I also like the way strong herbs work in conjunction with rich, fatty elements so I buffered the pâté with some alley mint. In the end I made some with the pickled onion and some with sliced dill pickles, and both came out fine. The pickled onions were almost the same color as the hibiscus rice so weren't as striking visually, but that's a quibble. I could easily devise a method to highlight the difference by separating them inside the roll by changing the sequence of layering with the mint if I made them again.

The vegetable rolls were made with the remaining pickled onion, some shredded carrot, roasted red pepper and some kale, cooked with onions, garlic, alley basil and mint. I dressed the carrots with sesame oil and rice vinegar so they acted as a kind of slaw, and the acidic bite did wonders to liven up the dark, muted flavor of the cooked greens. The color combination inside the roll made a nice mock flame, which mimics the logo of either the Campfire Girls, Standard Oil or the BK Broiler.

Since I had two types of rice made, I tried making a variegated roll using both. I dropped little bits of rice all over the nori sheet from each batch, then spread them with my fingers into a kind of calico, then stuffed them with slices of avocado, dressed with some diced ginger and pickled onion. I remembered while constructing the first roll that I had bought a piece of wasabi root at Mitsuwa the other day for some rice balls and still had some left. I grated it with a microplane into a smooth paste and spread a little dollop along the avocado.

Holy shit, real wasabi is awesome. Having been previously only exposed to the pea-green nuisance conventionally served as wasabi, I was absolutely startled by the difference when using the genuine article. Genuine wasabi is a lovely pastel green and has a little kick to it, but it isn't the assault on your palate and sinuses I've come to expect from the mealy paste served with most sushi. It has a smooth, gradual build of flavor with a raw, vegetal quality I described as "jungle-y" when I first tried it. The piece I bought was about the size of a 35mm film cannister (weed box) and cost me $13, so it isn't something to be used frivolously, but it is magical tucked into its traditional place next to rice and seaweed.

Yellow and calico rolls (v).

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