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Color Me Bad: USA, USA, USA!

Rambutans. Butterfly pea flowers. Langsat fruit. #rerun

A photo posted by Leela Punyaratabandhu (@shesimmers) on

It never would’ve occurred to me to use my favorite Southeast Asian flower that’s a source of blue food dye in a patriotic American dessert. Genius.

It did occur to me that my favorite Southeast Asian flower that’s a source of blue food dye would start mainstreaming through cocktails. (Wild Hibiscus Flower Company’s, b’Lure, an extract marketed specifically for cocktails, appeared at the Fancy Food Show last year.) . The Times is on it.

It’s a strange sensation to be irrationally possessive of a thing that no one is scrambling to really own. I have this with places and times like late-‘90s Ridgewood and pre-Portlandia Portland, also particular chain restaurants, Sizzler especially, Bonefish Grill too (no one’s fighting me for that one). Ok, so I have a thing for butterfly pea flowers.

blue rice

Achieving those brilliant hues isn’t as easy as it looks, though. My first attempt at dyeing rice for nasi ulam, a Malaysian salad that doesn’t traditionally use blue rice but whatever, resulted in a gray-ish periwinkle batch of grains.

pea flowers soaking


The ratio was off. I was winging it. I used a generous handful of dried petals in 1.5 cups of warm water. Next time I’ll use more.

nasi ulam

Like I said, nasi ulam isn’t supposed to be blue anyway. If you want to make one (there’s this), it’s really just an herbed rice salad, which is pretty summery and less gross than pasta salad, and you can use any herbs you’d like because you’re probably not going to find the ones you need in the US anyway. Have at it though, if you have access wild betel leaves, daun kesum/laksa leaves (I’ve seen this in NJ but not NYC), turmeric leaves, and torch bud ginger. At the minimum, I recommend the mint, cilantro, Thai basil trinity. It also includes slivered lime leaves, lemongrass rounds, shallots, and shredded coconut and dried shrimp (pounded afterward) both toasted for deeper flavor and makes it start tasting Malaysian. The belacan, shrimp paste that can really overpower an apartment, ensures that, though not every recipe calls for it and I didn’t use it not because of the small but because I’m lazy. It’s seasoned with salt and sugar. I eat it with Auria’s sambal because I eat that with everything already.

Ok, happy birthday, America!






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