Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hung Yoghurt

I have been cooking several Indian recipes of late, and many of them call for hung yoghurt, which is apparently also called labneh.

Hung yoghurt is created by taking regular whole-milk yoghurt and removing the whey by "hanging" the yoghurt over a cheesecloth or coffee filter for several hours.  The whey will drip through, leaving a thicker yoghurt with a more consistent texture for cooking.

The website Nourished Kitchen also encourages us cooks not to throw out the whey, but to use it to soak grains for bread baking, as a starter for fermented foods, and in smoothie drinks for added protein.  The whey can be refrigerated for several months.

I first came across recipes requiring hung yoghurt in the book The Food of India, by the chefs of The Oberoi Group.  The two recipes I was most interested in was for chicken tikka and chicken tandoori.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Kopi Luwak

Kopi Luwak is a coffee made from beans which have passed through the digestive tract of the civet cat (Musang in Malay; Paradoxus hermaphroditus).  It is a combination of the Malay words for coffee (kopi) and civet cat (luwak in Indonesian Malay).  Since civet cats are nocturnal, they are rarely seen by humans.  They also spend much of their time in trees (in the jungle), or in attics in towns and villages.

Civet cats that live in coffee plantations subsist upon a diet of coffee beans.  Their scat (feces) are collected, dried, and sold, or else processed into coffee.  The companies Animalcoffee and Paradise Coffee have excellent descriptions of the process used to turn this animal waste into a high-priced product.

Apparently, a 2006 article in Forbes magazine listed kopi luwak as one of the most expensive coffee in the world.  Not being a coffee drinker, I don't care!  It probably rates up there with Moose-Poop earrings for novelty value only.

Civet Cat (Musang) in the Attic

There is a civet cat (Malay Musang; Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) that hangs out in our attic now.  He doesn't belong to us exclusively, however, but is shared with the neighbors.  After months of hearing noises up above at night, we had speculated that neighbor cats were somehow getting into the attic.  But one morning, I spied a strange-looking critter out the window, on the fence between our front yard and the neighbor's.  It was unlike anything that I had ever seen, but the words that came to mind were "civet cat".  A quick perusal of our little booklet Malaysian Mammals showed it to be either a Common Palm Civet (Musang pulut) or a Common House Civet (Musang tenggalong).  Although I opened the window to get a photo and ask his/her name, the musang did not stick around long enough for a chit-chat.  He climbed up onto my neighbor's roof quite adeptly.  Since then, my wife and I have seen him going across our front yard right about the same time (7am) as the first sighting.

Since we have no photos yet or our neighborhood musang, I am reduced to links to photos elsewhere on the internet.

Musang are not to be messed with since they are apparently a protected specie in Malaysia (under the Akta Perlindongan Hidupan Liar, 1972) and may have been the vector that carried the SARS virus in southern China a few years back.

They also apparently like chicken.  While contemplating the musang the other day, I realised that I had not seen my neighbor's chickens which used to run around his yard and the street in front.  It had been months since I remember seeing the birds, so common and unobtrusive they were.  But now, in reflection, I realised that they are gone, probably incorporated into civet cat biomass!

In Malay mythology, an evil spirt known as bajang takes the shape of a civet cat (aka polecat).  In an earlier post, I referenced a British author who had mentioned a game played by village children centering around the tree-climbing ability of musang (Winzeler, 1995).

Another interesting item about musang is that there is an expensive coffee (Kopi Luwak), which is made from coffee beans that have been passed through the digestive tract of the musang.  This coffee sells for upwards of US$450 per pound!  Cups of the coffee were first sold for US$33-100 per cup when it was first introduced to the western world!!