Monday, July 26, 2010

Going green

When it comes to green foods, with the rare exception of some fruits and vegetables, I find the best advice is to avoid them. Green meat, for example, is probably best left alone. Green eggs and ham are more suited for Dr. Seuss. And I would suggest straying from any bread or cheese with a little green on top. Yet, despite my wariness toward green fare, green cuisine has been popping up in my life in unexpected ways as of late.

Singapore’s infamous ice-cream ‘sandwiches,’ in which an actual slice of bread is folded around a chunk of ice cream, come in a green pastry shell. My mom and, in particular, my sister were fond of the green grub when they were here on their visit. The ‘sandwiches’ include every flavor from ordinary raspberry ripple, mango, chocolate, and mocha to extraordinary corn, red bean, and yam. But what makes the sandwiches really unique is not the ice-cream flavor, but rather the green bread in which the dairy sweet is snugly tucked.
The ‘sandwiches’ are made with pandan bread. Pandan is a tropical green plant that looks a bit like a cross between a fern and an aloe vera shrub. The leaves are common in Southeast Asian cooking, used to wrap chicken or fish before frying, woven into a basket in which to cook rice, or mixed in to give a nutty, botanical fragrance to breads and cakes.
While pandan can be mixed in to give bread a distinctive green shade, Kaya, spread on top, can achieve the same coloring and flavoring affect. Kaya is something like thick, green, coconut-flavored jam and, when spread on toast, is a popular breakfast food and snack in Singapore and Malaysia. Kaya is made using eggs, sugar, coconut milk, and, of course, pandan. When I first moved to Singapore, I was initially a bit skeptical of the eggy jam, and my hostility toward green foods did not help the matter. However, because it is a year of risk-taking, I eventually found myself quite fond of the green spread and have happily spread the love by sharing the green toast-topper with my loved ones on their visits.

The biggest green surprise of all, though, was a little green package that made it all the way from 213 W Capitol in Pierre, SD to my doorstep at the Singapore Polytechnic Staff Apartments. After hearing my numerous complaints about the $13 pints of Ben and Jerry’s (really how is a girl on a teacher’s salary suppose to get her ice cream fix!?) and all about my yearning to satisfy an intense Zesto craving, Tim brought me a quart of lime sherbet all the way from half-way around the world.

The last of the strange green substances in my life the last couple weeks, though not a food, was substantial non-the-less. At Red Dot Brewery, Tim and I tasted the Monster Green Lager. Not to be mistaken for a typical St. Patrick’s Day beer, the Monster Green is made incorporating spirulina.
After hearing all about the positive health affects of beer on a Tiger Brewery tour with my dad and grandma, I was curious to try this ‘healthy’ green tonic. If regular beer can, according to our expert Tiger tour guide, raise the levels of good cholesterol thus keeping the arteries free of dangerous build-up, give one a boost of vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6, help to calm and relax the nerves before bed, and improve performance, concentration, and reaction time in athletes, then a beer chock-full of vegetable protein, beta-carotene, essential fatty acids, and Vitamin B12 must be nothing short of bottled health. (Dad, you can thank me later for relaying this information to Mom.)
So, Tim and I gave the green, liquid, vitamin concoction a try. Spirulina is produced from blue-green algae and is particularly touted for its 60 percent vegetable protein content. In beer it is used to create a light, refreshing taste without the heavy flavor of hops, and, according to Chinese mixologists, to add the above mentioned healthy components.
The color green may get a bad rap; it is the color of jealousy, mold, and roller-coaster-induced nausea after all. However, I have found a strange sort-of joy in all things green this month. Here’s to going green.

Three down…five to go.



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