Marco Polo Pesto
I have named it for the Venetian explorer who traversed much of the Eurasian landmass and documented his travels (in particular his time as a guest of the Mongol emperor of China). It takes the Italian form of pesto and seeks to give it the function of a Chinese condiment. It is however entirely of my making and I cannot attribute any authenticity to it whatsoever. Nor can I say it is an original concept as a quick search of the Internet will show you that many others have developed similar recipes.
The motivation came in part from a desire to be inventive and also for a desire for convenience. I love how stirring some pesto into boiled and strained pasta produces a very quick meal and wanted something similar with a different flavour. The rest was a case of thinking of ingredient substitution and getting to work with my mortar and pestle. There is coriander and chives rather than basil... cashews rather than pine nuts (something commercial pesto does anyway)... ginger rather than garlic... and my cheese substitute is coconut cream (making this a vegan food as long as you carefully check the ingredients lists of constituent processed ingredients). So onto the recipe itself.
Ingredients: Raw Cashews (3 to 4 handfuls), Coriander (20g), Chives (10g), Ginger (4cm x 2cm x 2cm), Coconut Cream (150g), Soy Sauce (3 to 4 tablespoons), Sesame Oil (3 to 4 teaspoons), Chinese Five Spice (3 teaspoons), Chilli Powder (1/2 a teaspoon)
Note that amounts are approximate and in some cases fictitious. I resent having to offer them at all as my methodology involves getting a bunch of stuff that will fit in my shopping basket and then messing with things in the kitchen. This however is a description of more-or-less what happens.
A mortar and pestle has such a lovely look and feel and has associations with both cooking and ancient magics. Some of what follows may work better with a food processor but I chose the tiring way (also I only own the old technology).
Crush your cashews into a fine slightly sticky powder. There will be small lumps left over and this is okay. Put the crushed nuts into a bowl. Add the Five Spice mix and distribute it evenly into the powder till its colouration has shifted from beige to a pale brown.
Finely chop both the coriander and chives. The former is more difficult to cut than the latter due to the presence of leaves. I even considered only using the stems of coriander but decided that was wasteful. Try to get the herbs as finely cut as you can and then put them into the mortar and pestle and mash into a pulpy mess. Put this into its own bowl.
Finely dice or crush the ginger and mix it in with the coriander and chives till it is a well-mixed part of the whole pulp. By now you are experiencing all kinds of smells but there is more to come.
Pour coconut cream into yet another bowl and stir the chilli powder evenly into it. I imagine all these ingredients could be combined in different ways and it would all produce the same end product but somehow I feel as if sinking the chilli into the coconut cream is a mercy.
Now you have three bowls. You also have bottles of soy sauce and sesame oil. It gets exciting now. Take a fourth bowl. These are biggish bowls by the way.
Add the sesame oil into the bottom of the bowl of final unity of ingredients. Now start portioning each of the the three mixes into the bowl and stir them thoroughly. You want to try to produce a consistent paste. Do so in small portions so you can get the mix of wet and dry right (in other words you may end having to discard some leftover ingredients).
As you are mixing contents of the three feeder bowls also add some soy sauce. This is a key ingredient as it provides saltiness to this dish. Keep on mixing till you have added all the ingredients you can. Give it a whiff. Dip a bit of crust into it and give it an experimental taste-test. Hopefully you enjoy it but remember that it will be better warm. It looks a lot paler and more speckled than Italian pesto.
Packaging And Presentation
Spoon your Marco Polo Pesto into a cleaned used jar. The amounts I suggest should fill two of those 190g pesto jars. Screw on lids and refrigerate. Now cook some rice noodles. Now remove your Marco Polo Pesto from the refrigerator. It will likely have a firmer consistency than Italian pesto and gouges can be left in its mass. Anyway stir two spoons per serve into cooked strained carbs. Consume. Tell me what you think of it.
Now a word of caution. This stuff is brand new so I simply cannot tell you its shelf life. Best to consume it within the next week rather than forget it exists. Serve it for friends at a dinner party or take some to work every day. Keep one jar and give the other to someone you wish to surprise and (hopefully) impress.
And finally feel free to vary this recipe to your preferences and cooking experience. Other pestos may come of this. I wonder what ingredients would go into a dessert pesto...