Luk Chup (Miniature Molded Fruits)

This is for when you have time for making life-like masterpieces of Lilliputian proportions which may be described as therapy by some and absolute waste of time by others. They create a sensation when served.

Ingredients

250 g/8 oz split yellow mung beans
250 g/8 oz white sugar
125 ml/4 fl oz thick coconut milk
few drops of jasmine or rose essence
food coloring
Glaze and decoration
3 teaspoons agar-agar powder
500 ml/1 pint water
calyxes and stems from fresh chillies and strawberries
sprigs of small, non-toxic leaves such as Murraya spp.

Directions

Buy mung beans which have been husked and split, and are therefore yellow instead of green. Wash several times in cold water, then soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse, put into a saucepan with cold water to cover. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer until the beans are soft and mash easily when pressed between finger and thumb, adding extra water if needed.

Drain off any remaining water and mash the beans until smooth. Put into a heavy saucepan with sugar and coconut milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture becomes dry and of moulding consistency, about 30 minutes. Keep the spoon moving all over bottom of pan to prevent scorching. Remove from heat and when cool enough to handle knead in the flavouring essence. (In Thailand the molded fruit is usually stored overnight in an airtight container with jasmine blossoms or a scented candle to absorb a faint perfume.)

Take half-teaspoons of the mixture (yes, that's how small the fruits should be) and roll into smooth balls. Mould each one into the likeness of a fruit or vegetable. Insert a fine toothpick in the end of each fruit and paint with food colouring. Stick the other end of the toothpick into a block of polystyrene foam to let the fruit dry without touching painted surface.

To prepare the glaze, sprinkle agar-agar powder over the water in a saucepan and bring to the boil, making sure it is completely dissolved. Cool slightly before dipping the fruit, but remember agar-agar sets at room temperature so it will be necessary to reheat the glaze gently from time to time to keep it liquid.

Dip each model fruit and vegetable into the glaze which will not only make them look luscious, but also prevent the paste from drying out. Once again, leave to dry on the toothpicks. When all have been dipped, start with those which were done first and give each one a second coat of glaze for a very smooth, shiny finish.

In a short time they will be quite dry and no longer sticky to the touch. Now put the finishing touches to your masterpiece - remove the toothpicks and insert tiny stems and leaves (they may be trimmed to size with embroidery scissors) or press in calyxes from strawberries or chilli stems to give a life-like appearance. Serve as the finale to a Thai meal.


Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)