Hola Hibiscus!

I’ve just recently become acquainted with the hibiscus. Yes, I’ve known about this beautiful flower for a long time but have never really taken a profound interest in it, afterall, it’s just a flower, right? Well it is, but it has much more to it than mere aesthetics.

HibiscusThe hibiscus is considered to have various medical uses in Chinese herbology from skincare, where it’s been shown to function as an anti-solar agent by absorbing ultraviolet radiation, to acting as an ailment for coughs, hair loss and hair greying.

It is also the national flower of Malaysia, where all my family on my mum’s side are from. There it is known as Bunga Raya, literally translated as ‘big flower’. It was introduced into the Malay Peninsula in the 12th century and was nominated as the national flower in 1958 by the Ministry of Agriculture amongst a few other flowers, such as ylang ylang, jasmine, lotus, rose, magnolia and medlar. On 28 July 1960, it was declared by the government of Malaysia that the hibiscus would be the national flower. The red of the petals symbolizes the courage, life, and rapid growth of the Malaysian people and the five petals represent the five national principles of the country. These are a belief in god, loyalty to king and country, supremacy of the constitution, rule of law and courtesy and morality. The flower is also found imprinted on the notes and coins of the Malaysian Ringgit.

That is not where it ends though. When hibiscus flowers are dried they also have multiple culinary uses. Soak them and watch whilst the water turns the brightest crimson hue! The flavour is very sour and slightly reminiscent of cherries which lends wonderfully to delicious drinks, in particular ‘Agua de Jamaica’ (pronounced Ha-mike-ah), or ‘Flor de Jamaica’ as it’s known in Mexico.

Agua de Jamaica, (Adapted from ‘Paletas, by Fany Gerson)

Makes 6 cups

1 1/2 cups dried hibiscus flowers

6 cups cold water

3/4 cup caster sugar

 Method
Rinse the flowers in cold water then drain them thoroughly. Put them in a saucepan with the water, and let steep for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
Agua de Jamaica
Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour in the sugar and stir until it’s dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher or large jug, pressing the solids with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Refrigerate until chilled and taste, adding more water if you think it’s too concentrated. Serve over plenty of ice. I also added some mint and a few slices of lime. Very zingy and refreshing!
Agua de Jamaica
Agua de Jamaica
Agua de Jamaica isn’t an overly sweet drink. I think of it as more of an iced tea really, but feel free to add more sugar if you think it might need it, or better yet, if you have some sugar syrup on hand you can add it to taste before serving! Now I’d suggest you go and find yourself some dried hibiscus and get well and truely quenched!

The birthday breakfast

Today I turned 24, and it was a good day.

For someone who’s always up for a good meal, for me indubitably one of life’s greatest pleasures, imagine my delight when I was told I was being brought out for a beautiful birthday breakfast! For that, I have a certain Ms. Scott to thank. Martina, you have to be up there with the worlds most thoughtful people.

So Martina, my sister Miriam and I took a walk to Le Petit Ormeau Café on the Ormeau Road, a place I’ve only ever heard good things about. Joris Minne wrote a nice review here for the Belfast Telegraph which is definitely worth a read. In fact his reviews are great in general. If you’re anything like me being disappointed when eating out is the epitome of annoying, so if you’re looking for a place to eat out in Northern Ireland, Joris has most likely eaten there, reviewed it and tested the water for you already.

Le Petit Ormeau 1

They had a nice variety of choices on their breakfast/brunch menu, and although other days the thought of a stack of pancakes with pure maple syrup trickling down the sides might make me swoon, today was definitely an eggs benedict kind of day. A toasted english muffin with soft poached eggs, crisp slightly salty bacon and a creamy hollandaise sauce, with just enough astringency to cut the richness, marrying the flavours perfectly. Both Martina and myself had the eggs benny and it was delicious.

Le Petit Ormeau 2

Le Petit Ormeau 3

Miriam went for the caramelised fresh figs with toasted brioche, vanilla mascarpone and crispy bacon which was a refreshing change to the usual cooked breakfast choices. As you can probably imagine, this was as tasty as it sounds.

Le Petit Ormeau 5

Le Petit Ormeau 6

The coffee was pretty decent too, made even better by the milk coming in a cow shaped jug! Wow! I know! It also had a flawless ‘pour’ to it might I add. Looking at the photo now though, maybe it looks a bit like the cow is projectile vomiting, and vomiting it’s own milk at that. Wait a second, no, it’s just a cute, happy cow. Cute happy cow.. Cute happy cow..

Le Petit Ormeau 7

Le Petit Ormeau 8

I think Le Petit Ormeau is a lovely café, well worth a visit if you’re up this neck of the woods. I hear the salt beef and pulled pork sandwiches are good, and if you order the eggs benedict at lunch time apparently it’s served with nice juicy pieces of ham hock instead of the bacon. The fact that my mouth is watering right now at the thought is a sure sign that I will be back again for a piece of the action, and maybe a piece of that salt beef too.

“He that but looketh at a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it, hath already commited breakfast with it in his heart.” – C. S. Lewis

Mmm matcha say?

One Saturday morning a few months ago, whilst perusing through the many wonderful culinary delights at St. Georges market, I spotted a single little packet of matcha at the Suki Tea stall. I could not have been more excited. For anyone who spends their time reading food blogs or recipe browsing online will know that many tasty treats can be made with this brightly coloured powder. Matcha is a very finely milled green tea in which the whole tea leaf is ground up so it contains stacks of flavour and is incredibly high in antioxidants.
Yesterday, after having one too many cups of coffee, I didn’t feel too great. So despite having primarily bought it for baking, I decided to wise up and start today off sensibly with a cup of this bright green concoction.

It was lovely. It had a deep grassy flavour which tasted so much fresher than other green teas I’ve had in the past. Usually this tea would be made in a special matcha bowl, known as a chawan, and whisked vigorously with a small bamboo whisk. I, however, decided just to shake it up in a clean jam jar I had lying in my cupboard. It did a pretty decent job! I enjoyed it so much I’m thinking of starting every morning with a cup of matcha instead of the usual tea or coffee. It can also be made with hot milk to create a kind of matcha latte, but I think I quite like the clean taste of having it dairy-free. Matcha is definitely a great find, but doesn’t come cheap. The price varies greatly, but I think mine cost around £16 for a 100g packet. It does go a long way though due to it’s intense flavour and colour so very little is needed whether it’s being made as a drink or used in baking. Also, did I mention it’s the variety of tea used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony? Yeah, it’s a bit special.