Typically, on Valentine’s Day, restaurants are overpriced and overcrowded (and the menu items cliché). So, Walter and I have an agreement that we are not obligated to dine out on February 14th, opting for a quieter evening at home, and celebrating out on another date.For this Valentine’s Day, I made one of Walter’s favorite appetizers, (heart)beet and cucumber salad. For Walter’s love of science, I began my foray into molecular gastronomy.Molecular gastronomy – a new style of cuisine in which chefs explore new culinary possibilities in the kitchen by embracing sensory and food science and redefining food “states”.
For example, my first experience with this type of cuisine was at the Buick Discovery Tour event last year. Ben Roche, host of Future Foods on the Discovery Channel, demonstrated how to make his famous s’more bomb – a frozen, truffle-like interpretation of the classic campfire treat (for my s’more recipe, click here). If you have ever watched an episode of Top Chef, this is basically just a deconstruction of a basic dish, but to define it as molecular gastronomy, biological chemicals are used in the cooking process.
To make the balsamic pearls for the salad, you only need one special ingredient – agar-agar
. I received a sample packet of this substance (which is derived from a species of red algae, making it completely natural, safe and vegan) in a monthly subscription service box (Klutchclub) with instructions on how to use it. I was curious to learn more about agar-agar so after a web search, I found out it’s used in making agar plates (petri dishes) and is a common substitute for gelatin in foods (such a vegan marshmallows).Although I was a bit intimidated to try this recipe, it was surprisingly easy to make and Walter was thrilled with the results.
Heartbeet Cucumber Salad with Balsamic Pearls
- 4-5 red beets
- 1 cucumber
- Olive oil
- 7 oz. balsamic vinegar
- 1 sachet agar-agar powder
- 1 pipette
Clean and boil beets for 20 minutes (or until soft). Peel, slice and cut into hearts (if so desired) and repeat steps with fresh cucumber.
Fill a tall glass with olive oil and place in freezer for 30 minutes. In a small saucepan, combine vinegar and agar-agar and bring to a boil. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, and remove oil olive glass from freezer. Fill a pipette with the vinegar mixture and slowly dribble into olive oil, forming beads. Allow pearls to set for a few minutes and remove with a slotted spoon.
Rinse pearls in a bowl of water and serve. Note: beads will keep in the refrigerator for future use.