Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) often tastes horrible, especially when a prescription is simply a number of ground ingredients boiled in water. The good people at website Soundinner have embarked on a culinary experiment to change that. Their project, dubbed food3.5, incorporates local Yunnanese ingredients with the use of TCM. The properties of these ingredients are valued following ancient Taoist and Indian Ayurveda traditions.
This delicate and spicy appetizer is balanced in taste and rich in beneficial health properties. The recipe below makes special use of maca (玛卡, or sometimes 玛咖), an herbaceous plant that is prized for its roots in the realms of both cooking and natural medicine. Among its holistic properties, maca is a valuable source of iodine and is currently being researched for its anti-inflammatory qualities. It is also said to increase stamina, endurance and is used extensively in China as an aphrodisiac.
Adding to the dish's healthy elements are licorice root and star anise. The former is used in TCM to tonify qi, stimulate the healthy functioning of the heart and spleen while decreasing general aches and pains. The latter ingredient not only lends a delicious flavor but also helps alleviate symptoms associated with rheumatism.
100 grams cold extra virgin olive oil
1 maca root
1/2 liter milk
1/2 liter vegetable broth
2 grams licorice root
1 small cauliflower (roughly 250 grams), washed and chopped
black pepper and salt
greased molds or small muffin tins
1 freshly peeled orange rind
1 star anise
1 clove garlic
200 grams spinach
Begin by chilling extra virgin olive oil in the refrigerator or freezer. Slice a small, ten gram piece from the maca with care as the dried root is quite hard. Place the chilled oil in a saucepan with the maca, keeping the flame very low. Starting with cold oil over low heat gives roots and herbs more time to infuse the oil. Remove the pan from the stove just before the root begins to darken significantly. Take the maca out of the oil and set both aside for later use.
In a large pot, combine the milk, vegetable broth and licorice. Bring to a boil, simmer for 15 minutes and then remove the licorice. Add the cauliflower, which should first be washed and cut into uniform pieces. Simmer for ten minutes adding salt to taste. Strain cauliflower from the milk. In a blender, pureé the cooked cauliflower with two big spoonfuls of the cooking liquid. Add a generous portion of black pepper.
In a bowl, whisk two eggs and the cauliflower pureé together — using two eggs for every six flan you plan to make. Beat with a whisk until fully blended and then pour the mixture into the pre-greased molds or muffin tins. Bake in oven for 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. Turn off the oven, keeping the molds inside for another ten minutes.
While the cauliflower pureé and egg mixture is baking, bring a small amount of olive oil to temperature and then fry the orange peel, one star anise, a whole clove of garlic and one whole, unsliced chili together. Once these have browned, remove them from the skillet and set aside while retaining the oil. Rekindle the flame and sauté the spinach using the same oil. Add salt to taste and remove from heat as soon as the spinach wilts.
Assemble the dish with spinach as the base. Place one baked cauliflower flan on top of the spinach bed and drizzle one tablespoon of maca-infused olive oil over the dish. Finish by placing one star anise, a piece of cooked orange peel, the garlic clove and the chili on top. This will help to enrich the dish with aromas and poetry.
Makes six individual servings and the leftover maca oil can be kept as the delicious base for a salad dressing.
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