About a year ago I found some agar agar at the oriental market. It was a big package for only a dollar. I bought it. Not because it was only a dollar but because I have very fond memories of an agar agar dessert made by a xangan, ZSA_MD that she served after a wonderful dinner many years ago. Her dessert was made with milk and flavored with Rose Water. It was delicious. After sorting through my pantry I found the forgotten agar agar. For those of you not familiar with agar agar it comes from a red algae and has many uses. Agar has been used as an ingredient in desserts throughout Asia, and also as a substrate for culture media for microbiological work. Agar can be used as an appetite suppressant, a vegetarian substitute for gelatin, a thickener for soups, in fruit preserves, ice cream, and other desserts, as a clarifying agent in brewing, and for sizing paper and fabrics. It is really amazing stuff!
So I went about making the dessert with Dr. Z’s encouragement and a framework of her recipe. First problem was getting it soaking overnight. I decided to use only half the package. It was all woven together like the fancy pasta that comes in little nests. Extracting half resulted in little brittle bits all over the place. I managed to get it in the big bowl and covered with water and also sweep up the floor, wipe down the counters, and pick pieces off the stove. It wasn’t until I was getting ready for bed that I discovered little chunks of it in my hair.
The next day I came home from work exhausted and had the house to myself since my husband, Sparky, was working the late shift. Perfect I thought – I’ll make this dessert and it just might be ready when he comes home at 11:30 PM. The first thing I discovered is that we were nearly out of milk. How can this be?? There was half a gallon when I left in the morning. Seems Sparky decided to dilute some cream soup (that was a generous cup) and then he ate cereal (another cup). He made 3 mugs of coffee and I’m talking 16 oz mugs, which are at least half milk (3 more cups). As I measured it into the sauce pan I had a scant 2 cups. So I debated whether to run to the store or improvise. I looked in the pantry and noted that I had 6 cans of coconut milk. Perfect. I selected 2 cans of the full fat variety and added them to my existing milk. I drained and cut up the agar.
As I brought it to a boil stirring gently, I rummaged through the cupboard looking for my bottle of rose water. I had bought it at the Indian Grocery and had never opened it. I looked all over. It was nowhere to be found. I found some other items – the Garam Masala, a small package of powdered wasabi, a forgotten bottle of star anise, and a few whole nutmegs rattling around in a spice grinder. Alas, I had to choose between imitation vanilla flavoring, lavender oil, clove oil, almond extract, and peppermint oil. This was not going as planned. I settled on the vanilla.
Once it was boiling I gave it a few gentle stirs. The agar had melted away and disappeared – gone were gooey strands. Now was the time to add the vanilla and the sugar. I opened my sugar canister and IT WAS EMPTY! I was able to scrape together about 1/3 cup from the bottom of the canister plus the sugar in the sugar shake on the kitchen table and the good sugar bowl in the cupboard. By this time it was too late to go running over to my neighbor’s house (they have 2 babies and there was no way I’d risk waking them). Panic was setting in. I made the executive decision to open a can of tropical fruit and use the syrup in the agar.
I decided to put the fruit in the bottom of my glass pan. As I was standing on a chair to lift it off the top shelf, I accidentally bumped a casserole. The 2 quart casserole dish is fine, not even a chip. The 9″ rectangular glass pan now is in the trash. It developed a crack that started at the corner and ran along one side just under the lip. *sigh* Plan B – I finally used the 10 custard cups I bought at a garage sale last summer. So I divided the fruit into the cups and poured in the agar agar.
For a first somewhat botched attempt amid a comedy of errors, it isn’t bad. Sparky really liked it. He loves coconut anything. He hates really sweet things (except for me). Plus he is a big fan of mango, pineapple and papaya. I like it too.