4 articles Articles posted in drinks

Preserved Salted Kumquats (咸金橘, quat muoi)

When I was growing up, my mom always had a jar of preserved kumquats on her windowsill, just waiting for someone with a sore throat to soothe. I don’t remember eating them that often back then, but when I left for college and then grad school, my mom would pour some out into a jar for me to bring along.

It was only when I got sick that I’d remember I had these stashed away somewhere in a forgotten corner of my fridge. Then I’d take out a couple, smash them in a glass, and add some hot water and honey. I swear this easy little home remedy soothes the sorest of throats better than any lozenges or tea or medicine.

Now, with the air quality what it is in Beijing, sore throats, coughs, and colds are very common for us. So I decided I’d attempt to make my own salted kumquats to have on hand. Thank goodness, because we are just emerging from a nearly 2-week stretch of dreadful air quality in what has been dubbed a “nuclear winter.” Thankfully, we have done better health-wise this winter than last, and a little sore throat has been manageable compared to the previous year, especially with some preserved kumquats around (not to mention plenty of Emergen-C, Sudafed, and salt rinses)!

There’s no real recipe for this. Just look for an air-tight jar, wash it well, and give the kumquats a good scrubbing too. Then, alternately layer kumquats with a decent-quality coarse salt (I used kosher salt) until you’ve used up all of the fruit or reached the top of your jar. Let the salted kumquats sit for at least a few months, but ideally a year or more. The longer the better. During the first few days and weeks, turn the jar upside down or give it a gentle shake to redistribute the salt now and then.

Note: Growing up, my family never paid any particular attention to proper canning or storage methods. I actually didn’t bother doing more than a regular cleaning here because we’ve always used our preserved kumquats on an ongoing basis over a duration of years, so we don’t actually vacuum seal the jar. My parents always just kept their jar of salted kumquats on the windowsill, even after opening, for year after year, though I’ve tended to keep mine in the fridge just in case. We’ve never had any problems with spoilage. I think that Mediterranean salt-packed capers are stored similarly. But if you feel more comfortable, feel free to follow proper canning methods and sterilize the jar if you like. Preserving recipes usually tell you to store jars in a dark, cool spot, and after opening, in the fridge. They also say to use canned goods within a year, or within 6 months after opening, but that piece of advice pretty much defeats the point of these preserved kumquats, which are supposed to be more effective as they age. (I found mention of some kumquats here that have stored for 8 years!) Usually, we would tend to use ours up before they’ve had time to get too, too old. But as always — use your own good judgment. :)

Below is what my salted kumquats look like after 5 weeks. I didn’t put any water into the jar, so all the liquid you see here has been released by the fruit itself. At this point the kumquats have started shriveling up and getting darker in color, but they are still hard to break apart with a spoon. You can start using them, but they are not as effective as having preserved for longer.

To use, put 2-3 kumquats and some of the released juices from the jar into a drinking glass. (You can give the kumquats a rinse if you don’t want your drink to be too salty, but the salt is actually supposed to help soothe your throat.) Muddle the kumquats with the end of a spoon or mash with a fork. Then add hot water and honey to taste. Stir it all up and drink!

For a cold version, try adding honey, carbonated water or club soda, and some ice cubes.

As a home remedy, this follows the same idea as hot tea with lemon and honey, or Coke with salt and lemon. Start preserving a jar of kumquats now so you can give it a try the next time your throat begins to feel scratchy! Or maybe you know an Asian family that may have some long-preserved shriveled ones on hand to share with you. :) When I told my mom I was giving mine a try after 5 weeks, she said I should just bring some of hers back when I see her later this month. :)

Cocoa Tea from Grenada

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Most people know that chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, but have you ever seen where the cocoa bean comes from? Cocoa trees are abundant in Grenada, and you’ll see large, leafy trees covered with dangling yellow, orange, and red pods all over the island. When you slice a cocoa pod open (with your machete, of course), you’ll find a cluster of seeds inside covered with juicy, white flesh. If you ever get a chance to taste the flesh of a cocoa bean, it tastes similar to soursop or mangosteen — sweet, creamy, and delicious.

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But, of course, the main attraction is the cocoa bean itself. :) I had the chance to visit Belmont Estate, a fully functioning 17th-century plantation in Grenada, where they have a cocoa processing plant. I talk about the whole process in greater detail here if you’re interested in finding out more about how cocoa is made. It’s really quite fascinating, and it’s especially amazing how the Grenada Chocolate Company produces its organic cocoa with sustainable/carbon-neutral practices like sun-drying and sailboat exporting!


Cocoa tea tastes to me like Grenada in a cup. The bitterness of the pure, dark chocolate combines with hints of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves to create a drink that is one part hot chocolate, one part spiced tea.  To make cocoa balls, cocoa beans are dried, roasted, ground into a fine paste and then mixed with spices and rolled into balls. For this recipe, I used cocoa balls from Grenada to make cocoa tea (which you can buy here), but you can easily replicate this recipe by using 100% unsweetened dark chocolate.

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Cocoa Tea
Serves 2 – 3

2 cocoa balls (or 1 oz. 100% unsweetened dark chocolate)
2 cups water
1/2 – 1 cup milk (to taste)
sugar to taste

Optional: (definitely add some of these in if you’re not using a cocoa ball)
cinnamon stick
bay leaf
ground nutmeg

1. Bring two cups of water to a boil.

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2. While waiting for water to boil, grate the cocoa balls directly into the water. By the time you finish grating, the water should be at a boil. You can actually just throw the ball in the water without grating, but I prefer to grate the chocolate to avoid lumps.

3. Add in additional spices if desired.  I like to throw in some extra cinnamon and some ground nutmeg.

4. Let the cocoa simmer for 10 minutes, until everything is fully dissolved.

IMG_2692 copy5. Strain directly into a mug and serve hot.

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6. Add in milk and sugar to taste. For a richer drink more similar to hot chocolate, add more milk and sugar. For more of a “tea,” use less milk and sugar. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, add in a dash of rum. :)
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soda sua hot ga (egg soda)

I was craving some banh cuon the other day (Vietnamese rice sheets), so Dean and I headed over to Little Saigon to eat at Banh Cuon Tay Ho in Westminster.  They are famous for their banh cuon, which is always fresh and perfectly thin and chewy.  To accompany my plate of banh cuon that night, I decided to order an egg soda.

I had never had an egg soda before and was intrigued by the name and description: egg yolk, condensed milk, and soda.  To my surprise, it turned out the drink was literally made up of just an egg yolk, condensed milk, and club soda!  I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet, creamy taste.  The egg yolk added just that perfect hint of egg-y flavor and a creamy yellow color to the drink.

I’m not too sure about the science behind this, but apparently the carbonation in the club soda somehow “cooks” the egg yolk, and creates a foamy, fizzy concoction that tastes pretty darn delicious.

After I came home, I immediately ran to the grocery store to buy some club soda and condensed milk to recreate this easy drink!

Soda Sua Hot Ga
1 Serving

1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp. condensed milk
1 cup club soda
ice cubes

1. Place the egg yolk in a tall glass.

2. Spoon 2 Tbsp of condensed milk into the glass (or more, if desired!).

3. Pour in 1 cup of club soda, stirring vigorously with a chopstick to break up the yolk.

4. After the egg yolk and condensed milk have been blended thoroughly, pour mixture over ice cubes and serve immediately.

5. Stick in a stripey straw and enjoy!

mom’s infamous fairy drink and avocado smoothie (sinh to bo)

My mom is everyone’s mom. There’s something about her that makes people warm to her very quickly, whether young or old, stranger or family. This makes her role as a pastor’s wife all the more fitting. Within just moments of knowing her, people find themselves telling her their innermost thoughts. If you mention something in passing — an interview, a life decision, a husband out of town — without any conscious effort, she remembers and knows just the right moment to call you and just the right things to say and do. Even now, when I’m out shopping and can’t remember my husband’s clothing size, I’ll call my mom. She remembers these things. She remembers everyone’s things. And in all the ways that she is everyone’s mom, I’m thankful most of all that she is mine. And Becca’s. :)

For mother’s day, I thought I’d post a smoothie recipe or two, since smoothies have become my mom’s specialty in recent years. There’s something you should know at the outset, though: Many of my mom’s smoothies are questionable smoothies. They are smoothies in quotation marks. They’re what you might call “green smoothies.”

She started making these concoctions maybe five or six years ago and tried to convince Becca’s now brother-in-law, who was maybe 7 or so then, to drink them by calling them “smoothies.” Let me just say that one of the ingredients is bitter melon.

Most recently, Mom has moved on to more sophisticated green smoothies. When I visited my parents in Portland last month, she showed me what’s called the “fairy drink” that she got from a Chinese health book and now makes for my dad. It involves bitter melon, swiss chard, beets, carrots, apples, cucumbers, lemons, and — in accordance with the principles of Chinese medicine, to balance out the “coolness” of the vegetables, some “hot” spices like fenugreek, cumin, and cinnamon. When my husband tasted it, he declared, with much disturbance, that it was bitter, sour, and spicy all at once. When I tasted it, I said it reminded me of curry and seemed like something you might want to pour over bismati rice. Nevertheless, my dad faithfully drinks this stuff every day. Leave it to my mom to make sure he gets all his vitamins through raw, whole foods.

So here, in full form, is my mom’s infamous “fairy drink,” adapted from her Chinese health book. Make and taste at your own risk! For something a little more palatable, please scroll down to the avocado recipe. :)

Mom’s Infamous “Fairy Drink”
Adapted from her Chinese health book
Makes too many servings :)

This green smoothie requires a high-powered blender that has juicing capabilities.

1 beet, including leaves & stem, but no peel
3 carrots, including peel, but ends trimmed
2 cucumbers, including peel, but ends trimmed
1 large green apple, including peel, but cored
bitter melon, including seeds, but ends trimmed
2 lemons — including seeds and white pith, but peeled
4 pieces chard, including stem
6 slices ginger, about 1/4 inch thin
6 cloves garlic, peeled
5-6 Tbsp goji berries (also known as wolfberries)
1/2 fennel, including leaves and stem (optional)
handful of blueberries (optional)
4 tsp of cumin, fenugreek, cinnamon, and cloves (1 tsp each)

Clean, trim, peel, or chop all vegetables accordingly. Blend in batches in blender until thick, smoothie-like consistency is reached.

If the fairy drink is a little too scary for you, let me leave you with an old family favorite — the avocado smoothie. I like to have mixed fruit smoothies for breakfast every day during warmer months, and with avocados starting to go on sale, I’ve been making avocado smoothies as a mid-afternoon snack. American friends of mine usually think this is an odd smoothie flavor, maybe because avocados aren’t normally a dessert ingredient in American cuisine. But rest assured that this is a fairly standard fruit smoothie and definitely my flavor of choice. The Chinese call avocados “butter fruit,” and in Vietnamese, avocado (bo) is pronounced like the French beurre, for “butter.” So blend butter fruit with some condensed milk, and you’ve got yourself a rich, creamy drink.

Avocado Smoothie (Sinh To Bo)
Makes 1 serving

Traditionally, sinh to, or Vietnamese smoothies are made with condensed milk as the sweetener. My family also likes to make ice cubes out of milk to create a creamier drink.

1/2 avocado
3 Tbsp of sugar or condensed milk
6 frozen milk cubes
3/4 – 1 cup of milk

Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Use less milk for a thicker, smoothie-like consistency or more milk for a frothy, milkshake-like consistency.