Thursday, 21 July 2011

Praise the Roots and Flick the Nanganator

Rory our third year apprentice keeps us on our toes. He has found his feet at school, getting down and dirty in the garden, spending time doing work experience at PM 24 and also keeping us fossils streetsmart with local jargon.
 I try to keep him tuned on current trends but when he asked why I don’t have a nanganator both Richard and I were stumped.
I have been trying to hone his skills using traditional methods to create natural  textures and flavours, taking the old fogey view that all the so called new molecular methods  can be created with real food and traditional techniques if the cook has the required skills.
 The nanganator he informed us is urban slang for the gas bottle used for nefarious means that has crossed over into the kitchen lexicon for making foams. I tried to explain to him that there were a multitude of methods using various natural gums, resins and of course eggs that if he was able to master, would put him in a very good position with respect to essential skills that would serve him well into the future. Then of course he pointed out that in all the school competitions he was doing the winners were invariably nanganating their way to victory.
 I needed a trump card.
It’s taken 6 months but I have finally tracked down Soapwort Roots, an ingredient that Anissa Helou alerted me to last summer.
  I met Anissa with her friend Mary Taylor Simeti when they visited Melbourne after the Sydney International Food Festival Chefs Showcase. It’s always a joy to show Melbourne to visitors. Many of you would have read Mary’s wonderful books on her life in Sicily On Persephone's Island:  Pomp And Sustenance: Twenty-five Centuries of Sicilian Food, Bitter Almonds to name a few and we spent a lazy wet Melbourne day cruising the galleries and eateries getting to know each other.
 Anissa is an expert on Middle Eastern Food and had just presented a session in Sydney where she used soapwort roots to make an intriguing desert called Natef.
 Last week while on the hunt for liquorice roots I noticed a little bag of dried roots labelled Halwa Roots in a shop on Sydney road. I remembered that Anissa had also blogged about Halva and how soapwort was also used in its manufacture.

I had the Ace of Trumps. The King of Foams was my new best friend.

Firstly I tried Anissa’s recipe [click here]  for natef this worked a treat and found soapwort to be an extremely fascinating and versatile ingredient.The technique is simple boil dry soapwort roots in water.10% by weight roots to water and cook till reduced by 75%. That is 600ml reduced to 150ml. This brown dishwater looking liquid whips up, hot or cold, to a pure white foam that visually is hard to distinguish from beaten egg whites. I tried to increase the acidity to cut the sweetness of Anissa's recipe by adding more lemon juice. This also works well. The foam is neutral in flavour so concentrated stock also worked. It is stable hot or cold. We started to make other Middle Eastern flavours using Pomegranate Molasses, Quince Molasses then we tried making a Halva Foam that was very good with all the flavour minus the excessive sweetness that makes Halva a bit cloying for many palates. We found we could make the lightest of chocolate mousses by folding in bitter chocolate melted into a little water thereby making a vegan mousse lighter than anything I had made with eggs.  We froze all the foams and they stay stable for at least a week? giving a type of frozen nougat that completely disappears on the tongue.Importantly we discovered that we could reuse the boiled roots at least 3 times.While we were getting sudsy in the kitchen Diane quietly informed us that soapwort has been growing in the garden for 30 years, an unassuming plant that comes back after frosts each year. So Rory will be able to dig his own roots quite soon.







And  I can put  my old fogey hat on and get back to learning how to use Natef in its traditional contexts starting with walnut biscuits called Karrabeej ma Natef. At least until the next challenge that Rory comes up with.


anissa said...

this is all v interesting. intrigued by the idea of freezing it.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Hi Anissa glad you got to see our efforts. Lots of possibilites


Thermomixer said...

Very intersting indeed. Now that El Bulli has closed they may be flocking down to Birregurra for the latest trends.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Thermo this is only about 1500 years old but its got legs...