AJ’s Favorite Things August 2015

In 2006 Oprah announced her “favorite things” and millions of people (mostly women) went wild. If Oprah loves it, I’ve got to have it. Clearly I’m not Oprah. But I do experiment in the kitchen with  alarming frequency and am always looking for interesting and out of the ordinary ingredients. This monthly column will feature my favorite food trends, gadgets, ingredients and restaurants in the hopes that you dear reader will be inspired to try something new in the kitchen.

AJ’s Favorite Things August 2015


Image from Verdant Teas: Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong Smoked Wuyi Black Tea

1. Lapsang Souchong Tea

Drinking this tea is like inhaling liquid smoke. It’s pungent and toasted and smells exactly like a fragrant extinguished campfire. Lapsang Souchong is a black tea from China that isn’t exactly easy to find the States. The reason for the smokiness? The tea leaves are smoked over a pine wood fire and that scent of pine remains when you steep the leaves in hot water. There are some unverified origin myths floating around about the origin of Lapsang Souchong. One story claims that the tea was discovered accidentally in the 1800s when bandits set the tea drying sheds on fire the night before the harvest was to be sold to Dutch traders. The farmers who had grown the tea feared their crop was ruined but the merchants loved the tea and Lapsang Souchong became and internationally acclaimed brand.

I drink a cup of this stuff everyday. Usually in the afternoon at my cubicle when my energy levels have fallen flat. Usually someone around me asks what’s burning. In the past I’ve used it as part of a marinade for roast pork and I bet it would be delicious ground up in a rib rub. Or iced with a shot of scotch for an explosion of smokiness.

My favorite brand is Harvey Nichols but I’ve been out of it for a month now. Try one of these suppliers: Verdant Tea, Adagio, and Harney and Sons.


Image by Vegan Feast Catering

2. Epazote

Do you love eating mexican food in the summer? Me too. Do you love making a large pot of black beans and rice when you are too broke to eat all week? Me too. Do you hate that beans make you gassy? Me too. Epazote is a bitter herb, not unlike tarragon that is used in Mexican cooking to reduce gas from consuming too many beans. Fresh epazote leaves can be found in Mexican grocery stores. Add chopped epazote to a fresh pot of beans or a large steaming bowl of rice.


3. Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa

This Chinese herbal cough syrup has been around since the Qing dynasty. For 400 years it has helped Chinese people around the world get rid of coughs and sore throats. Nin Jiom is the Hong Kong based company that exports most of the syrup to mainland China, Malaysia and the US. Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa is made from a combination of “herbal ingredients including the fritillary bulb (Fritillariae cirrhosae, 川貝母), loquat leaf (Eriobotrya japonica, 枇鈀葉),ladybell root (Adenophora stricta, 南沙參), Indian bread (Wolfiporia extensa, 茯苓), pomelo peel (Citrus maxima, 化橘紅), chinese bellflower root (Platycodon grandiflorum, 桔梗), menthol in a syrup and honey base,” among others, says Wikipedia.

I’m a sucker for the red and white patterned packaging and the syrup certainly tastes better than Robitussin. I took a spoonful during a particularly bad cold and did in fact feel the scratchiness in my throat subside.


Image by Kirk K via flikr

4. Mul Naengmyeon

As far as cold soups go, gazpacho has nothing on mul naengmyeon, a korean soup served with floating chunks of ice. This beef-based clear soup is served with chewy arrowroot or buckwheat noodles, hardboiled egg and sliced pear. On those 90 degree days with 90 percent humidity this soup is the only thing that keeps me going.

You won’t find this dish at every Korean restaurant but Madangsui on 35th St in Manhattan makes a VERY solid bowl of mul naengmyun. Just make sure to order mul and not bibim naengmyeon. Bibim naengmyeon is made with spicy gochujang and while delicious, is not exactly cooling.

I have yet to try my own mul naengmyeon but this Serious Eats recipe looks pretty serious.

greek olives

5. Greek Olive Oil

How can you help solve the devastating Greek economic crisis? Buy more olive oil. And make sure it’s actually Greek. Spain is the largest producer of olive oil, followed by Italy but Greece is known for it’s deliciously bitter Kalamata olives and the fragrant oil they produce. The Greek economy is in dire straights. Unemployment is at an all time high, austerity measures are in place to prevent new spending and strict government controls make investing in Greek infrastructure unappealing to foreign companies. Greece doesn’t have the mass olive oil production and bottling facilities that exist in Spain and Italy. Which is all to say, you can do your part by buying GREEK olive oil that comes from proud Greek farmers, and not Greek olive oil sold, repackaged and marked up in Italty as this NPR story would suggest. Though it’s a small gesture, do your part to restart the Greek export market.  Greek olive oil is nutty and pungent. I’ve fallen in love with the packaging and taste of Gaea’s Fresh variety. And here’s a list of award winning Green olive oils. 

Like this post? Try one of these! 

What to Buy at an Asian Market

Where to Buy Fish in New York City

Pork Tacos with Lapsang Souchong Tea 

2 thoughts on “AJ’s Favorite Things August 2015

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