Flavour Pairing: Yuja Pomegranate Truffles + The Food Movement

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As a lifelong lover of cooking, I have always been passionate about food and food culture. I realize now how lucky I was growing up to have had information about healthy eating practices, access to fresh farm produce and an environment where food actually tasted like something that was plucked from the ground. My desire to cook and make flavor come alive was born from being around food that actually tasted like food and from being embedded in a community culture where food and its origins mattered.

America has always been known as a land of abundance. Unfortunately, where there is great abundance can come great ignorance. We do not have to deeply think about food because its abundance is embedded in the American consumer culture. We shop at supermarkets full of individually wrapped products, pumped full of preservatives to maintain longer shelf life. We see uniform produce, shipped during any season from around the world, stunted of true flavor and lacking nutrients. Ready-to-eat meals are pre-prepared to satiate our assertion of independence from the kitchen. Hefty cuts of meat are laid out in packages designed to make us forget that it was once part of an animal, while undesirable cuts are disposed of. What would it look like if our culture were designed to have us question our food and even beyond that and be genuinely curious about where it comes from and how it might help or harm our health?

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Michael Pollan, author of The Food Movement, Rising says, “The food movement gathers around “the recognition that today’s food and farming economy is unsustainable.” Vast expanses of fields containing a single high yield crop saps valuable nutrients from the soil. Our inability to stop the momentum of the system of supply and demand has left our once vibrant and nutrient rich land an assembly line of fast food catering to the needs of the masses. Our bodies have responded to our high sugar, high salt, and bland diets with chronic disease, obesity, diabetes and weak flavor palettes. As a chef in training, I cannot abide.

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Pollan aptly defines the food movement by stating that it reflects our “attempt to redefine, or escape, the role of consumer.” This can be seen in the small farms, businesses and markets popping up around the country. Farm-to-table dining was started with the realization that the best ingredients can be found close to home. Chefs are working with local farms and only seasonal produce to achieve the freshest meals possible. Huge growth in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) community has developed as well. People are actively learning how to make food products on their own in small batches with simple techniques. There is a strong urge to take part in the process of making food rather than just purchasing and heating it. The food movement is like beautification for our taste buds and our communities.

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To celebrate: truffles!

Korean Yuja (or Yuzu in Japanese) can be called citron in English as it doesn’t have a direct translation.. It is often used in honey teas, desserts and liquor infusions in both countries. The flesh of this citrus is quite tart and an excellent flavour booster for just about anything. I was clever enough to bring a small jar of yuja honey tea back to the States with me. Like all citrus, it compliments the bitterness of chocolate perfectly. And when the whole pomegranate kernels burst in your mouth, you know you can die happy.

 Yuja Pomegranate Truffles

 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 3-4 tablespoons yuja honey tea (order here)
  • 1 pomegranate
  • ½ cup of heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch of salt

Directions

Heat the cream, yuja honey tea, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a soft boil. Stir continuously.

Turn heat off and add coconut oil. Stir until fully incorporated.

Add cocoa powder in small batches and mix until thick and smooth.

Let cool to room temperature.

Form teaspoon sized balls by hand. Poke a small hole in the center and put in two whole pomegranate kernels. Envelope kernels and re-form the truffle into a ball. Dust with more cocoa powder. Repeat.

Store in the refrigerator. They should keep well in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. If removed, they will only last a day.

Makes 20-24 truffles.

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Flavour Pairing: Chocolate Beetroot & Black Tea Cake with Sweet Cream Cheese Icing

Yes: chocolate. And since you ask, yes: beets.

Dusted with cocoa powder and basking in glory

It was in Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus (one of my food bibles) where I first heard of chocolate and beetroot being paired. I think my head exploded a tiny bit when I saw the two foods listed side by side. Once I’d gotten over my initial shock of the idea, I found it made perfect sense to combine these two flavours (and textures, I might add). To my surprise, Segnit’s critique of the pair was rather negative. She wrote that it tasted like “a cheap chocolate cake that’s been dropped in a flowerbed”. No matter. Nothing could deter me from trying it. I was hooked.

Holy red and brown goodness

In fact, Segnit’s comments only fascinated me more. I wanted to start a chocolate and beetroot movement. Somehow I felt I had a duty to get the word out, because certainly no one else had the thought of making this sort of thing before…right? A quick web search proved me wrong and revealed that chocolate and beetroot cakes are everywhere. And in all sorts of forms: molten lava cakes, sweet breads, brownies and cupcakes. They looked good and the bakers/reviewers/eaters couldn’t stop raving about how gorgeously the two complemented each other. I felt the need to catch up with these baked goods. The challenge was on. ON!

 

Based on their individual flavour merits, beets and chocolate are meant for each other in cake form (or a gorgeous liquid nitrogen ice cream. Anyone?).  Here are a few reasons why:

beets for beet cake

Beetroot: Beets are unique for their sweet and earthy character. These qualities together have a tendency to turn people off. As a beet advocate, I find it tragic when people decide they don’t like beets based on one or two poor experiences. Like the time they tried plain boiled beets (or worse… canned beets!) or were the victim of someone’s boring, mushy cooking. The genius in the complexity and tones of beets is how they accent and respond to other flavours; sour, salty, herby and in the case of this recipe, sweet. The beetroot not only compliments the chocolate in flavour, it also makes the cake incredibly moist and light while still providing that rich chocolaty experience we all want when eating cake. Yum, yes and yeah. 

Chocolate: Chocolate has a wide variety of flavour due to the multitude of processing it undergoes. Cocoa beans, fresh off the tree, are bitter, astringent and pretty much horrible. Once processed, chocolate falls into the roasted flavour category. Left unsweetened, chocolate is still quite bitter, but the roasting process introduces a rich nuttiness that responds incredibly well to sweeter flavours. I like to think of cocoa powder as a black canvas ready for lightening, and since it’s sort of a black hole of roasted goodness, it is very forgiving and accepting. Chocolate regularly opens its loving arms to coffee, mint, fruit, nuts and chilies. I found no reason that beets shouldn’t also be a part of that following.

More? Yes, please!

Did chocolate beetroot cake disappoint? No, it’s only surged my expectations higher. There were no flowerbeds in my kitchen that day.

Chocolate Beetroot & Black Tea Cake with Sweet Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients

For the cake:

    • 1 ½ cup beets, boiled and mostly blended (about 2 or 3)
    • 1 cup cocoa powder (or melted bittersweet chocolate)
    • 1 cup sugar
    • ¼ cup black tea (or water)
    • 1 cup butter (melted)
    • 1 cup flour
    • 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
    • 5 eggs (separated)
    • ¼ tsp salt

For the icing:

    • 1 cup icing sugar
    • 1 cup plain yogurt
    • 3 tbsp cream cheese
    • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Peel and quarter the beets. Boil for about 30 minutes. Blend the beets in a food processor (I left a few small chunks unblended for a pleasingly colourful effect).

Preheat oven at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas mark 4.

In a large bowl mix cocoa, tea and butter together until smooth. When it mixed well, add egg yolks and the blended beets.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking powder and salt.

In yet a third large bowl whip the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold in sugar until it combines with the egg whites. Then fold in the chocolate/beet mixture. Once combined, fold in the dry mixture until smooth.

Pour into a greased pan and bake for 30-40 minutes. Test your cake by poking it with a fork. If it comes out clean, your cake is done.

While the cake is baking, combine your icing ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add more cream cheese to achieve a thicker consistency. Add more yogurt to achieve a runnier icing. Let your icing set in the fridge.

Let your cake cool. Then ice it. Then drool over what you just made.

Join the chocolate beetroot movement.