“The world’s first vegan pavlova!” claimed Professor Kent Kirshenbaum, while giving a presentation at Ruth Pretty’s unscheduled WOAP event. He thought he may have also produced New Zealand’s first vegan meringues, but was surprised to find Angel foods (an Auckland-based vegan supplier) had beat him to it with this product. Kirshenbaum, a New Yorker, was in New Zealand to help celebrate the 2011 Year of Chemistry.
Luxuriating in the space the commercial kitchen provided, Kirshenbaum and his assistant Anne McBride took us on a world tour of mysterious ingredients. First was the Chilean Quillaja saponaria - its soapy properties can be used to make extra head on low alcohol beer, fire fighting foam and of course the vegan meringues. The inner bark of this tree has also been linked to methane reduction in dairy cows and lowering of cholesterol in humans.
After being served an unusual warm syrupy drink by Ruth Pretty, the Professor introduced us to Salepli dondurma the Anatolian stretchy ice cream. The stretch ingredient in the ice cream is called salep and is derived from rare Turkish orchids – so rare the Turkish authorities have banned the export of this plant extract. I found out my syrupy drink was made with salep – apparently sourced in Wellington!
Not deterred by the unavailability of salep Kirshenbaum and McBride zapped us up a topping for the meringues using Versawhip, xanthan gum, sugar and raspberry sauce. Xanthan gum also has links with our dairy industry as it can be derived from whey, the by-product of cheese making. We got to eat the raspberry-topped meringues (recipe is below) – the dessert had good texture but the herbaceous taste of the meringue had me thinking I’ll stick to egg whites.
The Professor had clearly done his research on New Zealand, with his next topic being the barbecue. Obsessed with the smoky flavours of the BBQ, but unable to use one at his apartment (“I’d be arrested in New York if I started one”), Kirshenbaum was drawn to analyse liquid smoke. He deduced it is probably safer to use than untreated-wood smoke due to the carcinogens being removed. Could this be the end of this bastion of New Zealand culture?
The perfect steak? The exact time for a fillet of salmon? Precise times for cooking an egg? Try out sous vide cooking (precise temperature control). How about reductions without heat, centrifuges and rotovaps - it all sounds like science fiction but science in the kitchen is already nearby - think Martin Bosely, Ferren Adria, and Heston Blumenthal… read this for a good overview. For more about molecular gastronomy bookmark the Experimental Cuisine Collective headed up by the very engaging Professor Kent Kirshenbaum.
Recipe for vegan meringues
- Mix 60ml water with 3ml quillaja saponaria
- Add 5ml lemon juice and 15ml Campari
- Beat to form soft peaks, then add 65g granulated sugar one spoonful at a time until stiff peaks form. Sift in 40g confectioners’ sugar and quickly beat to disperse.
- Spoon meringue on to baking sheet lined with parchment paper
- Bake at 225F for 1 hour, then turn oven off and let meringues cool for 1.5hrs.