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愛玉泡泡酒：Ai Yu Jelly Punch and Soy Paste Basque Cheesecake
plus a Black Sesame Russian, Soy Sauce Caramel, and a Sour Plum Margarita
This is Yun Hai Taiwan Stories, a newsletter about Chinese Taiwanese food and culture. It’s written by Lisa Cheng Smith 鄭衍莉, founder of Yun Hai Taiwanese Pantry. If you aren’t yet a subscriber, sign up here.
This month, I’m excited to share a festive collection of drink and dessert recipes that make use of Taiwanese ingredients. But first, I spend some time reflecting on why it’s important to share new ideas as well as old stand-bys. Just want the recipes? Scroll down until you reach the glistening image of a picture-perfect Ai Yu Jelly.
飛雀餐桌行動 Future Dining Table
Cooking has always been the heart and soul of Yun Hai—it started as a home cooking instagram account in 2017 called @bawanbuddies where I informally shared Chinese Taiwanese culinary research; that DNA is still evident in our social media posts, the personal voice of some of our product descriptions, and this newsletter. As Yun Hai grows, I intend to keep that perpsective. We aren’t a “start up”, but an extended cooking research project. I’m not a “founder," just a hell-bent home cook.
As a mixed-race Taiwanese American born in the United States 23 years before it was legal to import Szechuan peppercorn, food has been an important gateway to understanding my Chinese-Taiwanese identity. I’ve spent years researching and recreating traditional foods I’ve had in Taiwan, favorites with my mom and sister growing up, and dishes from restaurants around the city (hi, 44 South Village). I’m often caught up in creating the most “classic” form of any given dish, the version that will transport me right back into the arms of my PoPo or that cafeteria style eatery in a strip mall in Houston, Texas.
Of course, home cooking isn’t defined by the pursuit of canonical dishes. There is no ideal form when it comes to nourishing ourselves and our loved ones; simultaneously seeking familiarity and new territory. While I may be discovering gu zao wei 古早味 (the flavor of old Taiwan, bless its heart), others in Taiwan are blending their own influences and experiences, creating an evolving culinary voice and new traditions. It’s inspiring to be able to access this contemporary cultural work in Taiwan through our producers, who are experimenting with ways that Taiwanese ingredients can contribute to both local and global food culture through daily cooking.
Ozzy (Yi-Cheng) Hsieh is a third generation soy sauce brewer at Yu Ding Xing. He leads @futurediningtable, a group of Xiluo slow food folks who meet monthly to cook with regional products and share industry experiences. The menu is not traditional Taiwanese food. Yes, fried purple sticky rice with mushrooms, miso grilled vegetables, and charred bamboo shoots, but also a sweet potato pound cake, citrus toast, and soy sauce creme brûlée. In their words, “創新嘗試，保持開放，持續學習", or “Try to Innovate, Stay Open, and Continue Learning.” It’s a lovely approach to traditional foods that I also adopt.
(Ozzy shared a few soy paste dessert recipes with us last month, scroll down for his decadent Soy Paste Burnt Basque Cheesecake.)
This introduction is definitely the long route to Ai Yu Champagne Punch, but I felt it was important to contextualize the recipes shared below. The Yun Hai project is not just about old school Taiwanese food, but also about how Taiwanese ingredients can be better understood and used in home cooking in general. When we share a Sour Plum Margarita, we aren’t trying to make plum powder palatable for the uninitiated, but to give the ingredient context in our day-to-day culinary vocabulary.
Find below new drink and dessert recipes that incorporate Taiwanese ingredients. Desserts were contributed by Ozzy Hsieh; drinks by Jolyn Yao, Callan Berry, and Michael Christensen (a group of cocktail and Taiwan loving friends with a background in mixology); and the soy sauce caramel by me. Most of the styling (and recipe testing) was done by Cat Yeh and Cher Lin of Off Hour Studio. Cat helped with some of the recipe copywriting as well. Thanks to all who contributed!
Without further ado, here’s:
A NYE drink that celebrates our largely amorphous but perhaps glistening future:
Ai Yu Champagne Punch 愛玉潘趣酒
Nothing like a jello shot (but certainly inviting the comparison), this delicate and refreshing punch is made with ingredients that traditionally accompany Ai Yu: lemon and sugar. Soju is added to make this a serious, grown up drink (though no need to be either serious or grown up). The punch is topped with bubbly, adding a crisp, fruity flavor, and a bread-like aroma.
A fancy-but-messy dessert that will be your new showstopper:
Soy Paste Burnt Basque Cheesecake
This recipe for Soy Paste Basque Cheesecake comes from Ozzy Hsieh, third generation brewer at Yu Ding Xing. We love it for showing off how versatile soy sauce is. This recipe uses soy paste, a type of soy sauce that's thickened with rice (in this case the grains are intact in the finished product). It's a bit sweeter and fuller in body. Use it in desserts and baked goods to lend chocolatey notes, a bit of salt, and a lot of depth and umami.
A medicinal tonic that won’t protect you from Omicron no matter what the CDC says:
Mesona Pimm’s Cup
Created and marketed as a tonic to aid in digestion, Pimm's Cup became a popular drink for its bright flavors and use of fresh fruits, cucumbers and herbs. Our friends created this clever update by incorporating Mesona (Grass Jelly Herb), which is also known for its medicinal properties. It adds a layer of minty, smoky flavor, complimenting Pimm’s cinnamon and licorice.
A wardrobe staple that easily goes from day-to-night:
Black Sugar Soy Sauce Caramel
The recipe for soy sauce caramel is a simple modification to a typical recipe. If you already have a favorite recipe, stir in a bit of soy sauce at the end, while still warm, to create a salty and complex version of this autumn staple. I’ll be using it to dress up this Black Sesame Pound Cake, drizzle it over poached pears, and, of course, as sauce for my favorite vanilla ice cream.
A White Russian spin-off not inspired by the Coen Brothers:
Black Sesame Russian
The Black Sesame Russian is a rich and creamy drink made with Kahlua, vodka, cream, and black sesame paste. The subtle bitterness of the black sesame paste cuts through the rich dairy components of the drink while bringing a nutty depth (and a dose of antioxidants) to the whole shebang.
The best thing at your 2022 New Year’s Day Brunch:
Black Sesame Soy Paste Pound Cake
Here's another brilliant dessert from Ozzy. The combination of black sesame and roasted cashews creates a deep, nutty aroma that will fill your house and envelop your senses, and the soy paste adds a tangy, bright, umami note to the flavor. The recipe calls for a mix of whole wheat and all purpose flour, giving it a crumbly, almost cornbread like texture.
And a drink to be enjoyed all year round because don’t I wish it was endless summer:
Sour Plum Margarita
Sour, sweet, and salty are the primary flavors of a classic margarita, but throw plum powder into the mix and make it Taiwan, where sour plum drink 酸梅湯 is a quintessential beverage to quench thirst and cool (calm?) down. This recipe replaces the traditional margarita salt rim with plum powder (which is salty) and MSG, for a big kick of old-fashioned 古早味 nostalgia.
I didn’t have room to include all the cocktail recipes; click the link below for the Pineapple Soy Sauce Bloody Mary, Sesame Mala Bourbon Shot, White Sesame Mocktail, and Mesona Hot Toddy.
Happy New Year from Yun Hai!
Here’s hoping that the 2021 cream cheese shortage doesn’t affect your 2022 basque cheesecake plans,
Lisa Cheng Smith 鄭衍莉
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