Lemongrass is just about the only thing I have growing right now, and it’s a wonderful (and easy-to-maintain) potted plant that lends a signature flavor to many Southeast Asian dishes.
You can buy it in a jar, but if you’re a gardener, consider planting some this fall for uses in dishes like this coconut panna cotta from UK author Paul Merrett’s new book “Spice Odyssey: From asafoetida to wasabi, recipes to really excite and inspire” (Kyle Books, $24.95).
As the title suggests, Merrett’s book explores creative ways to use spices (and strong flavoring agents that aren’t technically spices) from just about every continent. It’s not a five-ingredient cookbook, like the one we featured last week. For more advanced cooks who are itching for new ideas for every kind of paprika on the market, this is a good place to start.
If making panna cotta isn’t up your culinary alley, consider assembling this sweet chile pineapple as a condiment on its own, especially if you like a little chili powder on your mango.
Coconut Lemongrass Panna Cotta with Sweet Chile Pineapple
The pineapple and chile part may seem a bit wacky at first, but I’m not the first cook to use this combination in a dessert. Just trust me — it works. I serve my panna cottas in recycled jam jars, which makes me a modern, planet-friendly type of guy, and also saves a few bucks on fancy dishes. I’ll let you decide which one was my motivation.
— Paul Merrett
1 2/3 cups coconut milk
1 1/3 cups coconut cream
4 lemongrass stalks
1/2 cup sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 envelope gelatin
4 Tbsp. Greek yogurt
For the sweet chile pineapple:
3/4 cup pineapple juice
2/3 cup sugar
1 red chile, seeded, membrane removed, and very finely diced
1/2 pineapple, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Pour the coconut milk and coconut cream into a medium saucepan.
Meanwhile, bash the lemongrass, a stalk at a time, using a rolling pin, until it splinters into shards. Add to the pan and push below the surface of the liquid. Add the sugar and lime zest and juice and heat to a simmer. Cook for 3 minutes, remove from the heat, and leave to stand for 5 minutes.
Pass the mixture through a fine sieve, making sure you push through all the liquid. Discard the lemongrass and zest in the sieve. You now have a coconut-flavored liquid, lightly sweetened and infused with lime and lemongrass.
Place 1/4 cup cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let stand for two minutes to allow the gelatin to bloom. Add the softened gelatin to the lemongrass cream and stir well. Gently whisk in the yogurt. Pour mixture into 6 jars and chill in the fridge for 2 hours or until set.
Meanwhile, make the sweet chile pineapple. Pour the pineapple juice into a small pan and stir in the sugar. Heat to a simmer and cook until reduced by a third to form an intense pineapple syrup. Remove from the heat and stir in the chile and pineapple. Chill in the fridge.
Remove the panna cotta from the fridge about an hour before serving to allow to soften very slightly. (Also, the flavor is better if they are not eaten straight from the fridge.)
Spoon the chile pineapple over the coconut panna cotta, adding a little of the pineapple syrup as well. Serves 6.
— Adapted from a recipe in “Spice Odyssey: From asafoetida to wasabi, recipes to really excite and inspire” by Paul Merrett (Kyle Books, $24.95)
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