The last installment of my gift guide is the best. Not only because it’s delicious, but because this is one thing that your foodie friend—especially if he or she is local—has probably never tried, and might never even have heard of.
I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered it at an area restaurant, nor have I ever seen it at one of the Asian supermarkets (though I might have just failed to spot it, which is a regular feature of my shopping at those sprawling depots).
So here we go…
Li Hing Mui powder ($10 for half a pound on Amazon)
This is a Chinese preserved plum, dried and pulverized into a hot pink powder. It’s a lip-smacking trifecta of sweet, tangy, and salty. I first encountered it in Hawaii, where it is popularly sprinkled on fruit and incorporated into candy. I’ve never seen it anywhere else—and to be honest, I only saw it once in Hawaii (though I wasn’t exactly on an expedition for the stuff). But still, now you know about it and now you know how to get your hands on it, which gives you a huge leg-up when shopping for the gastronaut who has (almost) everything.
I sprinkle the stuff on my popcorn, with just the barest bit of butter to help it cling. Amazing. That tangy-salty-sweet culinary three-way would also be fun to play with on the rim of a margarita glass. (I think it would be a knockout on top of a fresh donut, too—you know, in case the Federal Donuts folks are listening.)
But my favorite use continues to be in the guise I first discovered it: as a summer salad dressing—especially good with tomatoes—by Hawaii-based chef Alan Wong. Which leads me to…
Bonus gift: the recipe. (You can find ume paste at the Asian supermarkets, but I often omit it, along with the egg—and even the lemon, for that matter—when I’m in a hurry and I just want a hit of the li hing mui flavor.) Incidentally, half a pound of li hing mui power is a lot. But Amazon ships that size for free. Split it among smaller spice bottles and spread the holiday cheer.
Li Hing Mui Vinaigrette
- 1 whole egg
- 2 tablespoons ume paste
- 2 tablespoons li hing mui powder
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1 cup salad oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional)
Combine all the ingredients except the oil and lemon juice in a mixing bowl. With a whisk or hand-held immersion blender going, slowly add the oil in a steady stream to create an emulsion. Continue until the oil is incorporated. Add lemon juice to taste, if you want.
And happy holidays, Fooboozers.