Wednesday, December 31, 2008


We here in the Western world are constantly turning to the East in search of elixirs that will allow us to live a prolonged and healthy life. Sure, there are the yogis and wise men of the orient whose lives ultimately span a century or more but really, when you're sitting down in the lotus position and remaining calm all day then you're bound to live a long, happy life. Reduced calorie requirements from not moving much means that you can survive on far less food than those villagers starving to death at the base of your holy mountain. Living at such great heights also makes it harder for roaming bandits to come and kill you in your sleep.

kombucha light

The latest oriental potion boasting mystical properties that I've encounter is kombucha.

Wikipedia says: "Kombucha is the Western name for sweetened tea or tisane that has been fermented using a macroscopic solid mass of microorganisms called a kombucha colony."

Perhaps the recent introduction of this drink to the US stems from the popularity of probiotic drinks and other microbe infested foods that are purported to support well-being.

kombucha bullcrap

Now, I have no problem whatsoever with claims of reasonable health benefits but the label of this drink goes a bit far, forcing me take the Bill Hicks stance on marketing. What we have here is essentially a soft drink. There is a decent amount of good nutrients loaded into this little bottle but you also get a dose of added sugar (which, admittedly, is significantly smaller than what one typically encounters in most soft drinks). So you can pack the mini-fridge next to the couch with these things to your heart's content but kombucha alone is not going to do anything for your longevity.

kombucha ingredients

Spurious claims aside, this commercial implementation of the kombucha recipe is marvelously flavorful. It tastes like a lightly carbonated ginger sweet tea which is funny because it's actually a lightly carbonated ginger sweet tea with magic microorganisms (they apparently don't add much to the taste).

I don't remember how much this was because I received it as a gift but expect a high price tag attached to those mystical properties, even if you are just buying it for the taste.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Elvis Sandwich

Edible Oddities is proud to announce the very first episode in an exciting new series called Creating Culinary Abominations! Not really, but this is the first post where we run you through the process of making the disgusting food before consuming it.

Abandoning the sleek figure and sex-symbol status of his young life, Elvis Aaron Presley became a bloated fat man throughout the years leading to his demise and it's no surprise (his fatness or his death) considering what he was eating. One of his favorite foods, a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, appropriately dubbed the Elvis sandwich, has attained a cult status all of its own. As with most cult figures, including the barking fat man himself, there are many different theories and conflicting ideas floating around about this iconic snack. Some claim the sandwich also contained bacon and, instead of being fried in butter on a hot skillet, the left-over bacon grease was used to do the dirty work. So, in the spirit of going that extra mile for an extra disturbing experience, I thought why not try both? Half with bacon and half without for that simultaneously authentic and awful experience.

Here's what you will need for one sandwich:

2 slices of white bread
1 banana
peanut butter
3-5 slices of bacon

toasting bread

Start by toasting your bread. Don't make it too dark since the sandwich is going to be charred a bit more during the frying process.

cut banana

Cut your banana into relatively thin slices. This will ensure the sandwich fits together tightly and if you want your bananas thick you can always layer them up.

cooking bacon

Now, start cooking your bacon. Keep that grease, we can use it to fry the sandwich later.

elvis sandwich ingredients

The toast should be done so, while the bacon is cooking, spread the peanut butter thickly over one piece of the toast. Although the authentic recipe only calls for one piece to be subjected to the peanut butter treatment, you can do both pieces if you'd like. Doing so will probably help the sandwich stick together better.

elvis sandwich pre frying

Once the bacon is done cooking, keep the grease warm while you collect the ingredients and assemble them together. Again, we were doing half of the sandwich with bacon and half without. Whether you use bacon at all is entirely up to your personal preferences and gastrointestinal fortitude.

elvis sandwich

Grab your assembled sandwich, press firmly, and drop it into the cooking grease. If you find that there isn't enough grease to do a sufficient frying job then butter the outsides of the bread. Once peanut butter starts oozing out of a disgustingly crispy and greasy sandwich then you know you're done. Whip that sandwich out of the frying pan and get yourself excited whilst letting it cool down a bit.

elvis sandwich close up

There's nothing truly horrific about the taste of the Elvis sandwich. The bacon fits surprisingly well with the banana/peanut butter mush, which by itself is also quite nice. Overall, the sandwich is pleasantly flavorful albeit in a disturbing way. But with such high levels of fats and carbohydrates you can almost feel yourself going into shock. Sure, as animals we are supposed to be uncontrollably drawn to foods with high calorific content but this is almost too much. A few bites into this beast and you'll be fighting the urge to bring it all back up again.

I couldn't finish the entire sandwich, leaving a large corner of the bread untouched despite still feeling a bit hungry. I can imagine eating a couple of these things and not being satisfied due to the lack of bulk but I felt so disgusting after my one that I didn't want to eat another thing for the entirety of the day. Still, this is something adventurous eaters should definitely try. Once. I can't fathom how anybody can eat more than one of these in a lifetime, much less with any regularity, but there is ample photographic evidence depicting what happens when you do.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

soan papdi / patisa

The formal education system of the Western world, the United States in particular, unjustly neglects to pay much attention to the rich culture and history of India besides giving a cursory nod to Gandhi and the Indian Independence movement and that's only because a movie was made about the period. Now that I mention it, almost everything I "learned" about the history of other countries throughout my time in the American primary education system had some sort of movie tie in. There was "Gandhi" for India, "The Last Emperor" for China, "Nicholas and Alexandra" for Russia, and "Excalibur" because the fictional account of British history is somehow more relevant than the actual history (of which we learned naught). If I remember correctly, think we might have even watched "Braveheart" because everyone knows that it's an accurate portrayal of Scottish history.

soan papdi box

Anyway, back to India, the seventh largest country in terms of land mass yet the second most populous country in the world with over one billion people. A smattering of Indian cuisine has been assimilated by the Western world with curry crossing culinary borders into all sorts of foods, Mulligatawny soup appearing on both menus and sitcoms, and naan bread gracing the shelves of the local supermarket. But, in a place with over a billion people and more than a thousand languages (29 of which have at least a million native speakers each), there's bound to be more that we're missing out on.

One class of foods that haven't quite made the mass exodus are sweets and confections. Now, I love curries and could easily eat traditional Indian meals daily but I'm not a fan of desserts hailing from any of the world's many nations. However, given that I've enjoyed all of my Indian food experiences, I gladly accepted my friend and colleague's offer to try some of his cherished sweet: patisa (aka soan papdi, sohan papdi, or sohan halva).

soan papdi close

The ingredients in this confection are sugar, gram flour, sugar, flour, sugar, ghee, sugar, milk, sugar, and cardamom. First a quick explanation of some of the ingredients foreign to the Western world: Gram flour is a flour made from chickpeas/garbanzo beans. Think dehydrated hummus without the tahini (sesame seed paste). Ghee is a clarified butter and is a very important ingredient in Indian cultures. It is used for culinary, medicinal, spiritual, and even cosmetic purposes. Rather than attempt, and subsequently fail, at piecing together a proper explanation of this substance, here's a quote from Wikipedia:

"Ghee is made by simmering unsalted butter in a large pot until all water has boiled off and protein has settled to the bottom. The cooked and clarified butter is then spooned off to avoid disturbing the milk solids on the bottom of the pan. Unlike butter, ghee can be stored for extended periods without refrigeration, provided it is kept in an airtight container to prevent oxidation and remains moisture-free."

The resultant dish is a giant block of dry, flaky, meringue-like confection. It's fairly difficult to pick a segment up when the slightest pressure causes it to crumble. If you are able to manage getting a piece in your mouth you will find this strange substance instantaneously melts upon reaching its destination. Despite the apparent dryness during handling, the fats and oils from the ghee come to the forefront when mixed with your saliva producing a creamy texture and flavor. The initial experience is very pleasant and stimulates that cream-loving beast locked within each of us. However, the situation quickly falls apart for me when the second wave hits.

Sugar. There's so much of it in this dish that I could almost feel my pancreas convulsing uncontrollably and screaming "don't glaze me, bro." Being somewhat sensitive to things high in sugar, I was afraid that I had gone too far given myself insta-diabetes, like the tragic teenage drug-addict who either gets hooked or overdoses during their first curious self-experiment. And like the young addict, I found myself intensely craving the stuff a mere five minutes later. "Just one more try," said the trembling inner voice, "one more little bite won't hurt." Temporarily weakened by the thought of the lovely creamy taste and sensation, I picked a small piece up and popped it into my waiting mouth. Oh creamy bliss, but again there was the second onslaught of sugar and I had to resolve never to eat the stuff again out of fear for my health.

soan papdi top

I also sampled another dish similar to the patisa / soan papdi but this was more milky and needed refrigeration. It inhabited a realm somewhere between ice cream and cottage cheese in appearance and consistency. It also had a very nice flavor but was, again, loaded with an incredible amount of sugar.

For health reasons I'm going to have to stay away from these tasty treats but anyone with a sweet tooth is sure to enjoy them. I will, however, visit one of the many local Indian grocers in the near future and stock up on some other interesting foods so that I can further offend an entire nation by calling their food weird.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fried Green Tomatoes / Yellow Tomatoes

Tomatoes are my favorite fruit. But they're a vegetable, you say. Fruits are sweet and are thus appropriately artificially approximated as flavors for candy. Even the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1893 that tomatoes are to be labeled, and therefore taxed, as vegetables. But the term vegetable is not scientific and, biologically, a fruit is defined as the ripened ovary of a flowering plant, the simple defining characteristic being the seeds. But regardless of what you want to call it, I think the tomato is grand.

fried green tomatoes

One oddity involving tomatoes that I had long been interested in sampling was the fried green variety. Most fruits are strictly off limits for consumption prior to ripening due to the tough texture, bitter flavor, and occasional toxicity. Cooking an unripe fruit can take care of the hard texture and alter the flavor to a more palatable form. One such treatment is the Southern favorite, fried green tomatoes.

Being of Australian origin and British descent, when I think "fried tomato" I think of a few naked slices of tomato fried up in sausage grease, part of a traditional English breakfast. Suffice to say, I was a little confused when I received my order of fried green tomatoes at Savannah's wonderful Moon River Brewery (highly recommended if you're in the area) and quickly realized how obviously mistaken I had been to think they wouldn't be breaded. The breading, in my opinion, masks the full flavor of the green tomato so I ripped the outer covering from one of the bunch to fully appreciate the taste. With the breading they tasted much like other fried fruits and veggies like fried okra and even onion rings. Naked, however, the flavor was more distinctly "tomato" yet with some of the pungency one finds in the vegetation of the plant.

Not being a fan of battered and fried foods, I think I'll steer clear of these in the future but I might experiment with my own pan-fried green tomatoes to see how they compare.

yellow tomato halves

While the green tomato is simply an unripe red tomato, over the past few years we have seen an increase in the number of tomato cultivars being offered by supermarkets which include some odd colored and strangely shaped varieties. Recently I picked up a yellow tomato thinking that the extraordinarily high price tag would correlate to an extraordinarily wonderful tomato.

yellow tomato + red close

Note the difference between the two tomatoes above. One is of a typical red tomato hue, the other inhabits a more orange/yellow position in the spectrum. But if you're thinking that's the only difference between the two, well then, you're just plain right. The yellow cultivar was really no different from a red of comparable quality. There may have been a slight difference in certain components of the flavor but these were only very subtle.

yellow + red tomatoes

Here's my advice for anyone who loves tomatoes as much as I do: grow your own. I have never bought a tomato from the store that has been anywhere near as amazing in odor, flavor, and texture as those I've pulled off the plant myself. Even when they're scabbed and mottled, the amazing succulence and intense flavor put any of the store bought varieties to shame... yes, even those from high-end, over-priced organic markets. They're relatively easy to grow and incredibly rewarding. Just watch out for the caterpillars.....................

Thursday, December 11, 2008


"The most delicious fruit known to men," proclaimed Mark Twain in The Sacramento Daily Union on October 25, 1866. While he may be right, the cherimoya is certainly one of the ugliest too. I have a sneaking suspicion that these things are actually the eggs of the reptilian humanoids purported by small bands of delusional neanderthals to be in control of the world's governments and financial systems. If my theory is correct then I, for one, welcome our delicious reptilian overlords.


The official story our government wants us to believe is that cherimoyas are fruits native to the Andean-highland valleys of Ecuador and Peru and currently produced throughout many temperate regions throughout the world. The trees don't like frost and snow but thrive in cooler temperatures, leading to the indigenous peoples of the Andes to claim that, "while the cherimoya cannot stand snow, it does like to see it in the distance."

The skin of a cherimoya is soft and smooth, not unlike that of a reptile, and the sweet perfume of the flesh comes through slightly, entirely unlike that of a reptile. Cutting the fruit open reveals a creamy white interior and some very large brown seeds, an appearance that could partly explain why it is also commonly called a custard apple. The flesh is actually segmented into velvety pods that each contain a single seed and can be peeled out intact.

cherimoya cut

Be careful not to eat neither seed nor skin. The seeds are poisonous if cracked and can be crushed up for use as an insecticide. Even better, eating the skin can result in paralysis for a period of 4 to 5 hours. Learning of this only made me want to try it but I didn't want to chance having my diaphragm or heart paralyzed. Death by cherimoya may be exotic but definitely not too glamorous.

Mr. Twain has a fairly solid case for proclaiming the cherimoya the most delicious of fruits. The closest comparison I can draw to the flavor is a well made, not-too-sweet, non-alcoholic piña colada but really this does no justice to the complexities and smoothness of the flavor. The sweetness teeters on the safe side of being overbearing so that no matter how many pieces of velvety flesh you eat the taste does not become tiresome. There are hints of banana, pineapple, feijoa, and dragon fruit. The texture, sweetness, and flavors also bear a striking resemblance to bubblegum.

cherimoya seed

The major drawbacks to the cherimoya are its relative rareness, small window of availability, and high price. Five bucks a pound was what they were going for at my local store and my insane cheapness prevented me from buying more than my initial sample. But I can imagine that the passage of time until next season will compound my craving and leave me compelled to indulge in this succulent fruit once more.

Saturday, December 6, 2008



You can tell a lot about the agriculture and staple food items of a region by taking a cursory glance at their sweets, snacks, and liquor. Here in the USA, land of the almighty corn kernel, everything is sweetened with corn syrup, we stuff our faces with corn chips, most American beer contains some amount of corn, and proper Bourbon, arguably the most American of spirits, is made exclusively from it.

moshi side

To quote the late, great novelist, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: "Harold Newcomb Wilbur got his medals for killing Japanese, who were yellow robots. They were fueled by rice." If you can wrap rice around a stick of raw fish and call it dinner then it's not too strange an idea to pummel it into a paste and call it desert. This paste, called mochi, is used as a base for many confections and sweets in Japanese candies. One common preparation, called daifuku, involves rolling the mochi into a ball and stuffing it with a sweet paste made from the red azuki beans.

Red beans and rice, eh? Sounds like the only other side item at a Cuban restaurant besides fried plantains, not a piece of candy. But trust me, this little ball of sweetness is a lot nicer than it sounds, sort of like the japanese version of a jelly donut except that eating a couple won't put you into a diabetic coma.

"What the hell is that crap?"
"Mochi!" chirped my chipper Chinese colleague, thrusting the box in my face. I reluctantly grabbed a piece and retreated to my sanctum for closer inspection.

moshi bit

The weirdest thing about my little mochi/daifuku sample was the strange covering of blackened sesame seeds, seaweed, and lint with some little green balls that, keeping in mind all of the unsettling ingredients in the sushi I've eaten in the past, are probably best left unidentified. I wasn't expecting much at all from this little morsel, particularly since previous experiences with Asian candies and snacks have been less than wonderful. With facial muscles tensed, I took my first bite... not bad, not bad at all. Having demolished half of my ration in one solitary nibble, I was saddened to see how little I had left to savor. Even without the strange outer coverings the mochi and red bean paste filling would have been a nice, subtly sweet treat but the addition of the complex savory flavors and crunchy texture made it a lot more interesting on the whole.

I'm going to have to hit up a local Asian food market for some interesting eats in the near future and, despite not being a big fan of sweets, I can definitely see myself picking up some more of these to stuff my face with on the drive home.