One of my most favorite ways, to help cool off in the summer, is to have a glass of iced hibiscus tea. I make it in big batches so I always have a pitcher on hand, perfect during the hot summer days and nights when friends stop by unexpectedly. Hibiscus tea is known as Karkady in Egypt or Agua de Jamaica in Central and South America. Through the ages, it’s been used medicinally mostly to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. I’ve had Agua de Jamaica from street vendors in Queens and other places, but I’ve always found store bought versions overwhelmingly sweet. When you make it yourself you can adjust it to your own taste. You will find hibiscus flowers in health-food stores and specialty shops. You can sometimes even find the hibiscus flowers in bodegas on the Lower East Side where I live.
I thought it would be interesting to do a gelee out of hibiscus tea, rather than using a fruit juice base, or other sweetened mixture. I’m really happy with how it turned out, delicious and incredibly refreshing, either as a palate cleanser, or a light sweet treat. Here I’ve made it with agar-agar, which is a vegan gelatin substitute made out of seaweed flakes. I prefer agar to gelatin, it’s more versatile for a larger range of people, because it’s vegetarian friendly. Gelee is just a more sophisticated way of describing jelly (or jello without all of the junk in it). Call it what you wish depending on your mood and the occasion. You can serve this recipe in sliced cubes, but I prefer pouring the gelee into a nicely shaped clear glass and building a little parfait.
Hibiscus Gelée with Fresh Whipped Cream and Pistachios
7 cups water
½ cup dried hibiscus flowers
1/3-cup maple syrup
1 Tablespoon agar-agar flakes
½ cup heavy whipping cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons Pistachios, finely chopped
For the tea base:
1.Bring 4 cups of water to boil in a teakettle. Wrap the hibiscus flowers in cheesecloth and stir, along with the maple syrup, in a large heatproof pitcher. Allow to steep for 10 minutes. Remove the hibiscus flowers and add the remaining 3 cups of water to the pitcher. Remove 2 cups and place in a medium pot, store the remaining in the refrigerator to enjoy chilled later.
For the Hibiscus Gelee:
1.Place the agar-agar flakes and the Hibiscus tea in a medium pot and let sit at least 20 minutes.
2. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the agar dissolves.
3. Pour into 4 small glasses, teacups or ramekins and let cool slightly. Finish cooling process in the refrigerator, at least 2 hours.
4. In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream and vanilla until thick.
5. Dollop the cream over the hibiscus gelee with a sprinkling of pistachios and enjoy!