Carbonated Mojito Spheres

What do I do after weeding my garden and ending up with a crap load of mint? Mojitos of course! Initially I was going to make a few regular Mojitos that would use a fraction of the mint I had. However, I had so much mint that even after drying half of it for the pantry I still had more than enough to make the carbonated Mojito spheres from Modernist Cuisine. Actually the original recipe is credited to chef Jose Anders, the wiz elBulli desciple at Minibar in Washington, DC.

The recipe relies on reverse spherification, just like the basil in the crab recipe here and the yogurt in the recent short rib post here. The sphere mix is made just like a typical Mojito with sugar, water, lots of mint, lime and rum. Into that  mixture I blended in Calcium Lactate and Xanthan gum. The Calcium Lactate will react with the Sodium Alginate in the water bath later and form the skin on the outside of the sphere. The Xanthan is there to give it some body and substance. Without the Xanthan the mixture will be too liquidy. It will not “sink” into the Alginate bath and the mouth-feel will be too watery. Chris over at eGullet.org has a very good pictorial of how to successfully “drop” the mixture into the Alginate bath to make the spheres. It is not too difficult, but it helps to see it.

To carbonate the Mojito spheres, they go into an iSi canister. After getting two charges of CO2, it sits in the fridge for a few hours. Now, to serve it, at Minibar they just put it on a spoon I believe. In Modernist Cuisine, it is pictured in a cocktail glass filled with soda water. For both taste, texture and aesthetic, I opted to serve it in a large porcelain spoon on top of a “Mojito” granita. Right, I still had a good bit of mint which I used along with lime, sugar and water to make a base (no rum). That went in the freezer in a shallow container and got scraped and fluffed every thirty minutes or so to make a nice granita. The end result overall was delicious and the texture was perfect, although I am not sure if the carbonation was worth it for me. Many of the spheres got popped during the transfer to and from the iSi canister. The ones I did serve did not seem like they where carbonated enough to justify the effort and loss. So, I am not sure I will do that part again, but sphere cocktails are very cool especially if you have guests who have never experienced this before. I would love to make maybe a Mai Tai next on a base of coconut or pineapple granita.

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Short Rib, Chard Ribs, Eggplant, Yogurt

It might not look like it, but this dish’s inspiration and flavor is Lebanese. I love swiss chard ribs, those central stalks in each  leaf that usually get thrown away. My mom always quickly boils them and tosses them with tahini, garlic and lemon juice. I was eating some of those recently and wanted to make them part of a more substantial plate. Lamb came  to mind first, but Diana is not crazy about lamb. So, beef was my other option and short beef ribs seemed like they would work best with the chard ribs. The eggplant and yogurt made sense as natural companions flavor and theme-wise.

The beef ribs were cooked sous vide for 72 hours. They were tender but not mushy or falling apart. Before serving them, I browned them in some heavily seasoned clarified butter. In Lebanese cooking Samneh is the name for clarified butter and it is used extensively as both a cooking medium and for flavoring. To season it I used a spice mix that I get from my grandmother every time I am in Lebanon. I usually pick up a good size bag of the mix and store it in the freezer. It’s made form a mixture of whole spices and herbs including allspice, marjoram, anise, rose buds, cinnamon and a few other varieties. Typically, I just grind as much as I need in the spice grinder. I melted the clarified butter and added a couple of large pinches of the ground spice mixture. That warmed and heated up a bit before the fully cooked boneless ribs went in for a nice spiced butter bath. That also helped them get a very attractive dark mahogany color in addition to a spectacular exotic flavor.

I used swiss chard in two forms here, the sauced whole ribs and a ragout made from the ribs and leaves. I was hoping to retain the nice red color that red swiss chard ribs have so instead of boiling them as is typical, I cooked them sous vide in a pouch with herbs, garlic and a little olive oil. Unfortunately, it seems that the red color is not just water-soluble, but also not very heat-stable. The ribs ended up losing most of that color when cooked. I selected most of the nice looking ribs and left them whole, the rest got diced up to use in the ragout. The whole ribs were dressed with a walnut-tahini sauce. The sauce is just an update of the classic tahini+garlic+lemon juice+cumin with the addition of finely chopped walnuts. It worked very well with every component on the plate.

For the ragout of chard, I diced the rest of the cooked ribs and chopped the blanched leaves. I then cooked these with plenty of shallots and chopped walnuts in clarified butter. I tossed in a few sliced dried apricot and seasoned the mixture with black pepper and pomegranate molasses. It ended up delicious, with a good peppery kick, sweet-tart flavor and a touch of bitterness. This combination went great with the rich beef ribs.

The eggplant is based on a traditional Lebanese eggplant puree called mtabal. Typically, like it’s close cousin Babba Ghanouj, is made from eggplant that is cooked over charcoal in its skin until that turns black and charred. It is then peeled and pureed with flavorings that include garlic, lemon juice, cumin and in the case of Babba Ghanouj tahini sauce. I wanted something a bit more refined for this so I opted to cook the eggplant (I used the slender Japanese type)  sous vide along with olive oil, grated ginger, salt, Aleppo pepper and a little water. When completely soft, I pureed the  eggplant and it’s cooking liquid with a bunch of blanched cilantro and a small handful of blanched parsley. Last minute adjustments included the addition of some Meyer lemon olive oil, smoked paprika and lemon juice.

The yogurt dumplings are a variation on the yogurt spheres that I posted about here a while back made using an Alginate bath. In this case, instead of loosening the Labneh (Greek-style strained yogurt) too much, I left it fairly thick and seasoned it lightly with salt. Due to the thick consistency, the yogurt does not form perfect loose spheres, instead it makes nice slightly misshapen dollops when the skin forms around it. When plated the yogurt looks a lot like a dumpling and gently oozes a thick sauce when the skin is pierced. It was a very cool use for the of the spherification process and worked great in taste, texture and look.

About two or three weeks before this dinner I dehydrated red bell peppers and tomatoes. I knew I would be using them for something and this seemed fitting. To do that, I thinly sliced the fruit on a mandolin and laid them on parchment covered baking sheets. I seasoned them with a touch of salt and ground coriander seeds. they dried in a very low oven (around 165F) for about 12 hours until they turned crispy. They looked very neat and had a delicious concentrated flavor. Stored in an air-tight container with a disicator  packet they came out perfectly crisp still and probably would’ve lasted a few more weeks.

To plate the dish, I spread some of the eggplant puree on the rectangular plates with the spiced short rib on one end along with some of the sauced chard ribs. I used the chard ragout as a base for the short ribs and placed a couple of yogurt dumplings on top of the eggplant puree. These were seasoned with a bit of the spice mix and a few strands of saffron. Some of the tahini-walnut sauce also went on the eggplant in the form of small dollops from a squeeze bottle and on the short rib to act as anchor for a little garnish of cilantro leaf and scallion rings. The last garnish was a couple of “rings” of the dehydrated red bell pepper and tomato.