“Sharon,” she said in a smug whisper. “I did it!”
“What did you do?” I said, a bit distracted.
“I made Thai Jewels from scratch!” she declared proudly.
I was suddenly all ears. “No!”
Recently, my mom and I visited Spice Market in the Meatpacking District. My impression was borderline unfavorable, but the saving grace was a side of decadent ginger fried rice, and one of the most mind-blowing desserts I had ever tasted: Thai Fruit Jewels, a fantastically bizarre combination of coconut milk over crushed ice and an assortment of canned and fresh fruit. The taste was refreshing, exotic, not overly sweet, and the silky, slightly chewy texture of the “jewels” made me feel just like a little kid.
I was flabbergasted. The dessert seemed pretty complex.
Turns out, the recipe exists in Jean-George Vongerichten’s cookbook “Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges.” I’m not too familiar with copyright laws when it comes to re-publishing recipes, but, if you are inclined to try the recipe, give it a Google and you’ll be in business. Most surprising was learning that most of the “jewels” are actually water chestnuts—they are manipulated over a series of time-consuming steps involving tapioca starch, which transforms the water chestnuts into soft, pliant, pink and green treasures. Other “jewels” include fresh papaya, coconut, pomegranates, canned jackfruit and toddy palm; my mom also added her own special contribution, pineapple and coconut gelatin.
This, by far, is my favorite dessert of the moment, and possibly of all time. It’s worth buying Jean-George’s cookbook, and even turning your kitchen into an all-out disaster area like my mom did, just to make her kiddies happy. Or, I suppose, you could just pay Spice Market a visit.
But back to my mom’s ambitions: they have no limits. Last Saturday, she packed up her treasures in ziplock bags and Tupperware, and transported the Thai Jewels along with some other experiments, to my brother Bill’s house, where he and I were bent over my busted harddrive. He was busily working; I was watching him and re-tying my shoelaces.
As we re-formatted, copied, and updated, my mom got to work re-heating her creations. Bill’s gal pal Lori poured Awamori into cups.
We picked up bottles of this alcohol in Okinawa, where our relatives are distributors. It’s made from Thai rice, and is distilled, as opposed to brewed. It uses a black koji mold, indigenous to Okinawa, in its fermentation process. It’s somewhat similar to sake, yet not nearly as smooth. It actually kind of burns when you drink it. Yum.
Here was my mom’s first course of the evening.
That, my friends, is only something I now refer to as the best soup I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve had some mean soups. I’ve had rice cake soup at San Soo Kap San in Queens that made me want to do a dance; I’ve had a trio of seasonal soups at the Culinary Institute of America; and I’ve had soba noodles made with tree ash. Those soups would all bow down before my mom’s creation.
The broth is a simple miso broth with dashi, low-sodium soy sauce and sugar. My mom added buckwheat noodles, some carrots, shiitake mushrooms, baby spinach leaves, scallions, a hard-boiled egg, some red pickled ginger, and that thing on the right? That took finesse. That’s rafute, or awamori pork belly, which is succulent, melt-in-your-mouth meat, which somewhat resembles spare-ribs in flavor. My mom said later that while she was braising the pork in awamori and ginger, her house smelled of freshly-baked bread of all things.
Next up, was stir-fried chicken with curry sauce and a side order of ginger rice. Behold the beauty:
Again, my mom was inspired by Spice Market and did a remarkable re-creation of the ginger rice, crisping up fresh ginger and garlic until it resembled crushed nuts, and then adding some leeks, topped with an egg, sunny side up.
One of the most enjoyable dining experiences ever. Thanks, Mom.
Special thanks to my Billy Bob for restoring my computer.
And to Lori, for her absolutely mouth-watering homemade pretzels (in both cinnamon/sugar and salt flavors!)
Update: I was just informed that Jean George's Thai Jewels dish was voted "Dessert of the Year" in 2005 by New York Magazine. So, if my word's not good enough for you, take Adam Platt's.