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For the past year, I’ve kept a notebook filled with random ideas for boozy gelatin molds. (Or in this case, non-boozy agar agar molds.) Some of these ideas result in recipes I post, others turn into unfortunate globs of goo, while the majority remain quirky figments of my imagination. Anyway, last week, when looking through my notebook, I decided to knock out three separate ideas in one recipe: herb-infused panna cotta, vegan panna cotta, and coconut milk panna cotta.  Hence, I present the Lemon Basil Vegan Panna Cotta.

I didn’t realize it until after I tasted the final product, but coconut milk, basil, and lemons create a brilliant palette common in Thai cuisine. At once creamy, sweet, and tropical, the hint of basil adds a splash of unexpected herby brightness – typical of many Asian desserts.

If you’re interested in agar agar, a vegan alternative to gelatin, checkout my other agar agar posts: Blood Orange, Blackberry and Tea, Hibiscus Mint, Gelatin Tips and Tricks.

Recipe for 2 cups

  • ¾ teaspoon agar agar
  • 1 ½ cup coconut milk
  • ¼ cup sugar (or to taste)
  • ½ cup water
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 5-7 fresh basil leaves

In a saucepan, bring the coconut milk, water, and sugar to a boil. Take off heat, add lemon zest and basil, and steep for 10-minutes. Strain to remove leaves and zest, and return liquid to the saucepan. Add agar agar, and bring to a low boil for 15-minutes. Pour into molds and let cool.

To remove agar agar, put mold into a bowl or sink full of hot water for a few seconds. Gently shake the mold side to side to loosen, or run a knife around the edge of the mold. Put plate on top of mold and flip over. If gelatin does not come out, try repeating the process.

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Blood oranges, crimson and delightful, are quickly becoming my favorite citrus. Unlike their gory name, they are lovely, tart and sweet. With a vibrant color and distinct flavor, they are perfect for gelatin molds – or in this case, agar agar set in orange peels.

The blood orange agar agar seen here is inspired by this Blood Orange Jelly Smiles recipe from the fantastic website, The Kitchn. I changed the recipe by substituting agar agar for gelatin. These are surprisingly easy to make and fun to eat!

If you’re interested in agar agar, checkout my other agar agar posts: Blackberry and Tea, Hibiscus Mint, Gelatin Tips and Tricks.

Recipe for 2 cups

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine blood orange juice, water, sugar, and agar agar. Bring to a boil, and continue boiling for 15-minutes. Pour into halved orange peels – see these instructions on using orange peels as molds. Enjoy!

Damn, I love blackberries. Seriously. I can’t imagine a more deliciously sexy and complicated fruit. (Well, except maybe the mango. I don’t use fresh mangos in gelatin molds because some ridiculous acid inherent in mangos prevents gelatin from setting. This is a crying shame.) Anyway, this recipe was created to lament the end of another glorious blackberry season.

While the pairing of blackberries and earl gray tea may seem random – trust me on this – it’s not. The essence of bergamot oranges from the tea offers a subtle citrus punch that enhances and compliments the blackberries. I wish I can take credit for this brilliant union, but I got the idea from Annie Bell’s lovely cookbook, Gorgeous Desserts. While Annie’s recipe calls for gelatin, I decided to substitute agar agar for a few reasons. First, I have a compulsive urge to change any recipe I come across. Second, many people stumble across my blog when searching for agar agar recipes. And since I’ve noticed a paucity of homemade (and yummy) agar agar recipes online, I decided to help fill that void.

 

If you’re interested in agar agar, checkout my other agar agar posts: Blood Orange Agar Agar, Hibiscus Mint, Gelatin Tips and Tricks.

Recipe for 4-cups

  • 3 cups water
  • 3 earl gray tea bags
  • ½ cup sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons agar agar
  • 1 cup puréed fresh blackberries – approx 2 cups whole berries (seeds strained)

In a saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil, and take off heat. Add tea bags and steep 5-minutes, remove tea bags. In the same saucepan over medium heat, combine the brewed tea with sugar and agar agar. Boil for 15-minutes. Stir in blackberry purée. Pour into shallow pan to cool. Once set, cut into cubes.

For the past month I’ve been experimenting with agar agar. Agar agar, a gelatinous substance derived from red algae, is popular in Asian desserts. It’s also used as a vegan alternative to gelatin. (While often used as a gelatin substitute, agar agar has a different texture and cooking properties – see cooking tips below.) The alcohol-free agar agar seen here was made with a Hibiscus and Mint herbal tea from Austin-based Nile Valley Herbs. The Hibiscus creates a lovely floral taste with a vibrant, all-natural red. The touch of mint and sugar provide a cool sweetness.

A few tips for making agar agar desserts from scratch:

  • Agar agar can be found at most Chinese grocery stores.
  • In my experience, alcohol prevents agar agar from setting. If anyone knows how to make boozy agar agar molds – please let me know!
  • Use 1-teaspoon agar agar for 2-cups liquid.
  • Using the 1-teaspoon to 2-cups of liquid ratio creates a stiff jelly, often too stiff to work with gelatin molds. Instead pour into a shallow pan, let cool, and cut into squares. To create a softer substance, increase liquid.
  • Agar agar sets faster than gelatin, and can set at room temperature.
  • Check out my other agar agar recipes: Blood Orange Agar Agar and Blackberry and Tea Agar Agar.

Recipe for 4-cups

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 hibiscus mint tea bags
  • ½ cup sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons agar agar

In a medium bowl, pour 2 cups of boiling water over 4 tea bags. Let steep for 15-minutes, remove tea bags. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the other 2 cups of water with sugar and agar agar. Boil for 15-minutes. Stir the boiling water with the tea. Pour into shallow pan to cool. Once set, cut into cubes.

Agar agar, popular in Asia, is a gelatinous substance derived from red algae. I purchased agar agar at a Chinese grocery store, and the results were mixed. While the almond agar agar molds were pretty, it was soft and bland tasting. The red bean agar agar was fantastic, reminding us of red bean mochi. I need more practice making agar agar recipes from scratch, so in the meantime I’m sticking with gelatin.

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