Hibiscus

tangy and tart, full of good stuff.

Hello, from the first week of hell that 2021 has already been, 

I got through this week by cooking, reading, forcing myself to start the day with a workout (thank you, Apple Fitness+ trial), but the one thing that REALLY made me happy (and proud) is this incredible sourdough babka with Nutella, Pecans and Tahini. It took 2.5 days to make, but it was worth it. Just look at all the beautiful chocolate squiggles. 

This issue is all about Hibiscus, an ingredient that I got reintroduced to by Lope Ariyo through a book under the same title ‘Hibiscus’. Lope uses Hibiscus as a way to lift savoury dishes, enhance desserts and garnish her plates. Just like with every cookbook I buy, I read it back to front, make a list of essential items (it was a very long list) and get cooking. I was unfamiliar with Nigerian cooking, and each recipe had new ingredients. It was a revelation. So off I went, searching suggested stockists and familiar favourites to get my ingredients. The hibiscus arrived and I set my sight on making a gorgeous Coconut & Hibiscus Cake (pictured below). 

I made the cake, tried a slice and the sharp tang of hibiscus awoke forgotten memories from my childhood. A hot tea with the same sharp tang and striking red flowers. I googled hibiscus in Russian and came across a tea mix called Karkade. A frequent tea mix in our house which is a great caffeine-free alternative. I don’t remember whether I loved it or hated it but I remember the sharpness and my mother’s refusal to add any sugar to it. So there I was, 15 years later, making my own thing with hibiscus and adding as much* sugar as I pleased.

*too much :)

ABOUT HIBISCUS

What is hibiscus? Hibiscus is a type of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. The genus is quite large, comprising several hundred species that are native to warm-temperate, subtropical and tropical regions throughout the world.

What does it taste like? Hibiscus is tart and tangy, with cranberry-like flavour. 

First and foremost, the plant is popular amongst gardeners for its' striking blooms. It has travelled from Asia and the Pacific and has been cross-bred to create strong and resistant plants. As its popularity grew it was noticed by the U.S. and European cultivators.  

The plant is believed to have properties beneficial for skin and hair. It's anti-ageing, rich in anti-oxidants, purifies skin's complexion and offers a moisture boost. I bet, 2021 is the year when some women's magazine will call it a “superfood ingredient”... *eye roll* 

HISTORY OF HIBISCUS 

The exact origins of hibiscus are unknown. It has been cultivated in China, Japan and the Pacific islands for a very long time. There’s a large variety of hibiscus species, differing in colour and size. Some are used for cooking, some are used for medicinal purposes and some used as decoration. 

Hibiscus is used pretty much all around the globe. Across the African continent, it's used as a tea infusion, consumed both hot and cold. In Egypt and Sudan, the tea is drunk at weddings and celebrations, in Cairo, it's a common drink sold by street vendors and cafes. In West Africa, the tea is often flavoured with ginger and mint. 

In Thailand, the drink is made super sweet, almost like a fruit juice and is sold in plastic bags with ice by street vendors and outside of schools. Rarely it's made into wine and combined with Chinese Tea Leaf. 

It's also popular across Central and South Americas. Most commonly known as agua de Jamaica

In Italy hibiscus is used as a cold tea infusion with sugar and lemon juice. It was used as a tea substitute during the Second Italo-Abyssian War in 1935-1937, as the country was hit by trade sanctions. 

In Hindu worship, Hibiscus is an offering to Goddess Kali and Lord Ganesha.

Hibiscus is packed with vitamin C and therefore is excellent for supporting your immune system. It is now starting to make sense why we drank so much of it at home, protecting us from those cold Baltic winters. 

QUICK SUGGESTIONS FOR USE:

Savoury

Sweet

  • Cookies! (start with my cookie recipe below)…

  • Spruce up your cake batters and blondies.

  • Infuse cream for your summery pavlovas.

  • Panna Cottasss, baby!

  • In the Caribbean, hibiscus is used in jams and chutneys.

Drinks 

Hibiscus drink originates in Malaysia and is popular all across Asia and the Nile Valley area of Africa. 

  • Hibiscus infused kombucha for the warmer months.

  • Hot and cold tea (the cold version got me through the heatwave this year).

  • Hibiscus tea makes for an excellent Sangria base, so if you want to put a twist on your Spanish feast start with your Sangria.

  • Some people swear by having it with their vodka, with a splash of lime and honey ( a low cal, full of flavour mixer).

  • Sorrel Shandy- hibiscus tea combined with beer, popular in Trinidad.

Other uses

  • Some cultures use hibiscus for baths, face washing and hair masks. However, the concentrate needs to be very low as hibiscus flower can tarnish fabrics and skin. 

  • Hibiscus also protects the hair from falling out and helps with dandruff. The flower is also added to make hair oils. 

RECIPE OF THE WEEK: 

Hibiscus, Coconut and White Chocolate Cookies 

The inspiration for these definitely came from Lope’s white chocolate and hibiscus cheesecake recipe. Or maybe I saw something on Instagram (does anyone else absorb all sorts of shit via social media and then think that they’ve come with a brilliant idea?!), or maybe for once I just thought that the richness of white chocolate can be really complimented by the tang of hibiscus. 

Makes 12 cookies 

Ingredients:

  • 40g hibiscus 

  • 100g butter, softened (room temperature) 

  • 200g caster sugar

  • 1 egg

  • 175g flour

  • 1/4 tsp salt 

  • 150g white chocolate chips or roughly chopped white chocolate

Method:

I made 4 batches of these, so trust me when I say you’ll achieve the best result by taking the long way round. I used the dried hibiscus, I used the soaked hibiscus but the boiled hibiscus achieved the most edible texture. You can, of course, skip the boiling step and grind it super finely in a spice grinder or a pestle and mortar (my Magimix did absolutely nothing to it). Honestly, hibiscus is indestructible. 

  1. Add water to a small saucepan and bring it to the boil (or boil a kettle, it’s not 1920’s). Add the hibiscus and let it simmer for 25 minutes, the leaves should loosen and become soft. 

  2. Line a small sieve with a clean tea towel or muslin cloth. Pour the hibiscus, let it drain and then squeeze out as much moisture as possible. The drier it is, the better your cookie mix will be. 

  3. Finely chop the drained hibiscus. I mean really finely, as small as you can. 

  4. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the butter and the sugar. Use an electric whisk if you have one or a standing mixer. And whip it real good 8-10 minutes (that’s what Christina Tosi recommends and who am I to argue?) 

  5. Add the egg, followed by the flour and salt. Mix well so incorporate all the ingredients. 

  6. Finally, add the hibiscus and white chocolate and stir through. How pretty does that batter look now?

  7. Put the mixture in the fridge and let it chill for 45 minutes. 

  8. Heat up the oven to 180c (fan) and line a baking a tray (or two, if you have two) with some parchment paper.

  9. Once the mixture is chilled, use a large spoon (I always use a soup spoon) to make a ball. Roll it in your hands very quickly and lay on the prepared baking tray. Repeat until you have 6 cookies on the tray, allow for a lot of room for each. A lot, they’ll spread out. 

  10. Bake for 12-13 minutes, they’ll be still soft when you take them out. Slide them off onto a cooling rack and let them cool. Get the second batch in, repeat the process. 

P.S. I am super grateful to my neighbours for testing each batch and giving feedback. 

WHERE TO BUY

Sous Chef, always and forever.  I checked every supermarket (online) and none of them stock it yet, however, most do stock Hibiscus Tea infusions (they normally have other stuff added to the mix). I’ll be honest though, my first batch of Hibiscus was from eBay, and it was great.   

What to watch:

Cookbook to explore: Hibiscus, Flavour, The Cooking Gene (less of a cookbook, but an excellent read). 

A podcast to listen to: MiMi Aye and Huong Black launched a new podcast - The MSG Pod. And it’s really, really great! 

Something to watch: Korean Pork Belly Rhapsody on Netflix. 

Appetite Book Corner: a lot of us are trying to shop less on Amazon, so I put together an Appetite Bookshop on Bookshop.org. There are few different shelves and I updated them weekly. Full disclosure, if you buy books via this link, I will receive a 10% affiliation fee. But I hope these virtual shelves will inspire you to try something new or buy a gift to a friend that might need it. 

I hope you enjoyed this issue and are at least, a little bit intrigued by Hibiscus and want to give it a go. If you do, I'd love to see your creations! 

And last thing before you go SPECIAL EVENT - get your ticket and join us for a fantastic night - Cookbook Club Mandalay with MiMi Aye (Click through for tickets)

Join us on Monday, 1st February at 6:30pm (GMT) for an intimate chat and Q&A with the amazing chef; MiMi. Ticket holders can send their questions in advance and will get access to a small selection of recipes from the book to try out at home. 

Anya xx 

Coming up next time: I genuinely have no idea, should I take it to Instagram vote? 

If you enjoyed this issue of Appetite, you can buy me a Ko-Fi to help fuel the next issue.