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Monday, April 23, 2007

Strawberries in hibiscus and vanilla syrup

(If you are reading this post on a RSS reader, you might want to click through to Chez Pim for the slideshow.)

Here is a veritable three-star dish you can do at home.

We had a small dinner party a few nights ago to celebrate our return from Europe. One of the friends who came was Joe, aka the hunky Joe of Dirty Girl farm. He brought a few pints of gorgeous strawberries which he picked for us just an hour or two earlier. The bright red berries were a new hybrid called Albion. They were unbelievably fragrant and flavorful, and -in a momentary lapse of judgement- I decided to share them with everyone for dessert.

The berries would have been great on their own, but I wanted to do something fun with them anyway. I first thought of whipping up a quick batch of cream –that would be crème chantilly for us snobs. I might even flavor it with the wonderful vanilla beans from the Reunion Islands that Malik gave me a few months ago.

Then I recalled a lovely strawberry dessert that Alain Passard serves at his restaurant l'Arpège in Paris. With his usual brilliance and delicacy, he baths the flavorful strawberries in a nage of hibiscus and vanilla flavored syrup –which at once enhances the true flavor of the strawberry while adding to it a whole new dimension. It's so simple, yet so extraordinary.

The recipe was printed in Alain's only cookbook, the illustrated children's cookbook he collaborated with Antoon Krings, Les Recettes des Drôles de Petites Bêtes -which, by the way, is so cutesy-cute it is indispensable for your French speaking children, be they real or imaginary.

I adapted the recipe a bit, and it worked perfectly well in my kitchen. Miranda, Joe's beautiful fiancée (sorry girls), loved it so much she wants to give out the recipe to people who buy their berries at the farmers market. Perhaps we will leave a stack next to the berries this Saturday.

Strawberries in hibiscus and vanilla syrup
Soupe de fraises au sirop d'hibiscus

500g or 2 pints of strawberries
2 cups of water
½ cups of sugar (if your berries are not very sweet you can add more sugar)
1 cup of dry hibiscus flowers (called Jamaica at Mexican markets)
1 pod of vanilla bean (A teaspoon of vanilla extract will do in a pinch.)

1. In a small sauce pan, add the water, sugar and bring it to a vigorous boil.
2. Turn off the heat. Add the dry hibiscus and the vanilla pod (halved and scraped into the pot.) Stir well. Set aside to let the hibiscus and vanilla macerate in the syrup.
3. Wash and dry the strawberries and cut into quarters. Set aside.
4. When the hibiscus syrup cools down completely, strain it into a large bowl. Add the berries to the bowl and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Can be served by itself or as on top of vanilla ice cream.


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