Last week on my way back from running errands, I dropped into my local Chinese supermarket. I feel a bit like a kid in a candy store every time I make these all too rare trips – it’s at these stores that I always find great deals on foods that I typically can’t find elsewhere. One of these things was a great big pack of agar agar.
Agar agar is a flavourless seaweed extract that is clear in colour (although I did see artificially died options as well) and makes an excellent vegan substitute to gelatin. You can use it to thicken liquids much like you would use gelatin, only it sets slightly harder, and will also work in liquids that are served warm. Personally, this is my ingredient of choice for desserts.
You’ll often find agar either as loose flakes or as a “brick” (pictured above). It is very light weight and is kind of like crunchy rice paper in texture. To use agar, you want to allow it to dissolve in hot water for up to 10 minutes before bringing it to a boil with your other recipe ingredients. Sometimes a hand blender can help too.
The recipe below was inspired by my discovery a couple years ago of dairy-free coconut ice cream when I was in Washington speaking at the annual American Library Association conference. It was one of the most delicious and decadent ice creams I had ever tried, and when I found this agar, I decided to experiment myself. I kept this dessert in my fridge, but I suppose there was enough fat content (from coconut oil) to put it through my ice cream maker. Nevertheless, it turned out thick and creamy and made a great topping over some freshly peeled lychees!
1 box Creamed coconut
1 can Coconut milk
15 drops pure Stevia liquid
3/4 cups Agar flakes (packed)
1 bunch Fresh lychees
- Heat creamed coconut, coconut milk and stevia in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Once the creamed coconut has dissolved and mixture is hot (but not boiling), use your fingers to crumble agar flakes into the saucepan. Stir well. Reduce heat to minimum, cover saucepan and stir occasionally until well incorporated, approximately 10 minutes. Be careful not to burn the coconut.
- Use a hand blender to ensure ingredients are all well incorporated. Bring mixture to a boil for 2 minutes.
- Pour mixture into a shallow ceremic or glass baking dish and refrigerate overnight.
- Serve over freshly peeled lychees. You can also enjoy it as a healthy substitute for whipped cream over hot chocolate or your favourite pie!