Monday, June 27, 2011

That Smuggler Kid

            So … that kid of yours just announced that s/he is off to spend the summer bumming around the Mediterranean. Don’t panic – they’re not (maybe) going to do all the things you did that fateful year, 1976 or 83 or whatever - instead, tell them if they just do one small favor you’ll forgive them their indiscretions. They MUST stop by the island of Chios or the Turkish city of Cesme and pick you up a kilo of mastic.

            Mastic is the sap of a tree that grows in those two places. Packaged as a gooey syrup, it’s a wonderfully weird, sweet and spicy stuff which I LOVE to put atop sticky cinnamon/pecan buns. Unfortunately the last time I was able to do so was a Christmas party in 2009; I ran out shortly thereafter.

            Fast forward to early this month, when my wife arrived home from 9 days in Izmir with, you guessed it, four 250-gram tubs in her luggage. (Full disclosure – we don’t think it’s illegal to bring mastic in). Since then I’ve been searching for a new way to use some.

            I came up with a strong contender yesterday: deconstructed “Asian” nut dumplings.

            Deconstructed? Well, yes … Asian dumplings are supposed to be savory, not sweet. If I hand you what looks like a pork-filled Chinese potsticker and you bite down on nuts, sweetness and a spice bouquet that tastes like a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, pine resin and a hint of hashish, your brain/taste bud connection is going to seriously misfire.

            Realizing this, the first thing I did was re-construct, not de-construct. I made the dumpling sticky on the outside (so the fingers knew the treat would be sweet) and gave it an unmistakable sugar-scent by adding maple syrup to the brazing water. However, the dumplings were still not right – they were simply too big. Thumb sized is huge for food as sweet as mastic. That’s when I decided to not only make them smaller, but to open them up – deconstruct them.

            I enriched the dough as one more way of instructing the body that these sticky discs were dessert, added prune juice to cut the bitter flavors that come with whole grains, and left out leavening so the “dumpling” would have a chewy texture. Ivory Teff flour augmented the mastic’s spiciness, and walnut oil became my choice for sautéing.

            The results are … interesting: discs the size of silver dollar pancakes, but heavier. They’re a mystifying cross of oriental flavors whacked new-world-ish with maple syrup. I have no idea what to call them – sticky discs maybe (???).

            I do suggest that when your kid comes home with the mastic you don’t allocate more than a tablespoon or two to sticky discs. They won’t appeal to everyone’s taste. Those who like them will be ecstatic, though, to find themselves in the company of those who don’t. Mastic is like that – love it or hate it, there’s no middle ground.

            (PS: one of the great things about measuring ingredients by weight, not volume, is that you can make a small recipe while retaining accurate proportions. Note the approximations for the filling. I’m thinking more tweaking is needed before raising the bar on accuracy.)

Sticky Discs
Makes about 12 deconstructed dumplings

Ingredients for the discs:

21 grams cassava (tapioca) flour (NOT tapioca starch)
21 grams Ivory Teff flour (available from Barry Farms)
10 grams unsalted butter
7 grams potato starch
1.5 grams xanthan gum
1 gram potato flour
0.9 grams salt

57 grams water
4 grams prune juice

rice flour for dusting

Ingredients for the “filling”:

@ 1 TBLS Turkish Mastic
6 – 12 walnut halves and/or 2 TBLS pignoli nuts
2 tsp walnut oil for sautéing
@ 1 tsp maple syrup (for brazing)
@ 1 TBLS water (for brazing)


1)            Measure and whisk together the disc dry ingredients. Pinch the butter into the dry ingredients as if you were making a pie crust. Add prune juice to water and add both to the flour/butter blend. Stir with a fork until well blended.

2)         Dust countertop with the rice flour and turn dough out. It will be thick and a bit sticky but will handle nicely once coated with flour. Press into a rough sheet, then use a rolling pin to flatten to @ 1/8” thick.

3)         Use a 1” or 1 1/2” cookie cutter to create discs. Peel these from counter and invert to dust on both sides. Place a 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. dab of mastic on each. Press walnut halves or pignoli nuts into surface.

4)         Heat a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan over medium flame until it is about 350 F. Add the walnut oil. Tilt pan around to spread oil into an even layer. Lay the discs on the oil, nut-side up. Allow them to sauté @ 1 minute, or until they are bubbling nicely.

5)         Mix maple syrup with brazing water. Pour into frying pan, working to get this under, not on top of, discs. Cover pan immediately and reduce heat to low. Braze 2 minutes.

6)             Carefully remove discs (they will be dangerously hot and very sticky) and arrange on a plate. It may be necessary to dust plate with flour and then transfer them to a second plate once they are cool enough to touch. Allow to cool before eating – they are actually better the next day.

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