A guy usually walks into a bar... and then a lot of things transpire. Most of them cannot be included here in a family-friendly blog about Indian food. But this wasn't a bar the guy walked into, this was the Sonoma Basque Boulangerie where we locals hang out like a bunch of birds on a wire every morning gossiping and tourist watching. Sometimes people will ask us a question.
"You must be locals" they say. How can they tell???
Okay, so maybe it's not so hard.
"Where should we go for wine tasting?", they ask, or "what's the best place to get a burger here in town? Where should we go for dinner?"
The other morning we were hanging out the Basque Boulangerie as usual, when our friend Chip gave me a nudge. "Look over there. Check it out" he said. I looked. A few tables down a man was showing the owner of the bakery a number of items. Nothing surprising about that. A lot of business of all sorts is done in the Basque every day. After all, it's our local town gathering spot and I'm it's Foursquare Mayor. Which starts a whole other line of questioning when one of our running buddies shouts out "Hey there Mayor!" in front of a group of tourists.
"Are you really the Mayor of Sonoma?"
"Yes, and did you know we have a no pants law in this town?" Good fun.
What was different about this business was that it involved coconut, not something we see a lot of here in Wine Country. And of course that was why Chip gave me a nudge. When it comes to cooking, I'm all about the coconut. As it turns out the product that was being displayed was coconut oil, something I use regularly. When Francoise saw me staring, she immediately introduced me. "Kathy cooks Indian food with coconut. You ought to talk to her too. "
Great catch Chip! That little introduction led me to discover a whole new line of products from Sonoma Harvest, a local company I'd never heard of before. We started talking about cooking with coconut oil and the next thing I knew, John McEntee from Sonoma Harvest was handing me a bottle to try. Then he pulled out something I'd never seen or tasted before. A bottle of coconut white balsamic vinegar. I am a sucker for anything new. John poured a bit in a saucer, Alan broke off a piece of his country French sourdough roll and we tasted. Fresh, coconutty, slightly sweet (it's balsamic after all ), fragrant with just enough vinegar to make it interesting. I liked what I was sampling. More bottles opened, turns out John had come packin'. Mango balsamic vinegar Passion fruit, Fig, the combinations seemed endless.
"Want to take some home and try them?" John asked me, "See what you can do with them."
Now, I don't normally go out for morning coffee here in Sonoma and come back with exotic balsamic vinegars from a stranger, but in this case I couldn't resist. The stuff tasted pretty damn good and my curiosity was peaked. It didn't take long for me to figure out the first thing I wanted to try with the Coconut Balsamic Vinegar, and that was a granita.
Granita, which means grainy coarse ice, is a dessert from Sicily. Since my family hails form Florence and Lucca in the North, I didn't exactly grow up eating granita as a dessert. In fact we didn't eat a lot of foods from Sicily in my family . Part of the reason was a long drawn out and obscure feud that started back at the turn of the last century when a great great aunt decided to marry a Sicilian. You thought Romeo and Juliet was a mess???? What started in 1912 took me until 2001 to resolve when I got all the principals to the table again thanks to Ancestry.com.
As it turns out my half Sicilian cousins had grown up mere blocks from me and we'd lived our whole lives not knowing of each others existence. Denials of a feud from our end didn't work either when opened pieces of mail with "NO SUCH PERSON EXISTS HERE! STOP BOTHERING ME" scrawled across the envelops were produced. One memorable phrase sticks in my head.
"Don't Forget Marie, every dog will have his day!"
Who knows? If everybody had just been able to get along, maybe I would have grown up eating and making granita. As it was, it took me all this time to make my first batch, inspired by the watermelon granita I'd seen my friend Kathy over at Are You Hungry? making.
The process of granita-making is straight forward and simple in the extreme, No machine is needed, this is not high tech. Remember, this is a dessert that was probably served to Caesar. Mix, freeze and stir. The only two things to remember in making your granita is to go easy on the sugar and alcohol if you're using any, as that makes it tougher to freeze the mixture because it requires lower temperatures. So with this in mind, I plunged into granita making. I never like things too sweety sweet, I like fresh and interesting, so I decided to experiment and came up with my own seat of the pants flavor.
Coconut and Kaffir Lime Balsamic Granita
Here's What You Need:
1 16 oz can of fresh coconut water
6 Tbs of Kaffir lime simple syrup
3 Tbs of fresh lime juice
4 Tbs of Coconut white balsamic vinegar
Kaffir Lime syrup
2 cups of water
1 cup of sugar
zest of 1 lime
1/4 cup of chopped fresh Kaffir lime leaves sprinkled with a bit of sugar
a 13 x 9 glass or metal pan
Here's What To Do:
Make the Kaffir lime syrup:
mix together 2 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil.
Take the pan off the heat
Add in the Kaffir lime leaves, put a lid on the pot and let the mixture steep for an hour.
Strain the zest and leaves out, pour the simple syrup in to a container or bottle. It'll keep refrigerated for a month or so.
Pour the coconut water,Kaffir lime syrup, Lime juice, and balsamic vinegar together into the pan. Mix it together well.
pPop the whole thing into the freezer.
Every 30 minutes scrape the crystals together with a fork stirring them and breaking them up. Continue to do this for the next several hours until it's the consistency you want.
Check the flavor as you stir, if you'd like it sweeter, add more Kaffir lime syrup. For fresher, add lime juice. Making a granita is a matter of taste. Since it's merely frozen water and juices, or fruit purees, it can be played with during the freezing process so that it taste exactly the way you want.
As I said before, I Iike things to be a bit more tart, so my granita tasted of icy coconut lime with a bite of sweet balsamic coconut flavor, almost a bit of a sweet lime pickle. Scooped into a wine glass, it works as a lovely palate cleanser or a not too sweet treat on a hot Wine Country afternoon. Even Johnny Depp the cat was intrigued.
So, a guy walks into a bakery... What's the punchline for this? Well, I'm going to be making more granitas that's for sure. There are a lot of flavors I'm curious to blend together and a whole world of tastes from Sonoma Harvest that I can't wait to try and a whole lot more of their products that I found at Sonoma Market here in town and most likely coming to some place near you in the near future. I also found more uses for my Kaffir Lime simple syrup. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori