Golden milk kudzu pudding with maple sesame brittle

Golden milk pudding brings together two of my favorite medicinal herbs, turmeric and kudzu, in one bowl of lusciousness that also happens to have a heap of health-supportive benefits. Golden milk is an Ayurvedic turmeric-based brew that’s long been used to prevent and treat colds and flus, headaches, and even depression. It’s a comforting and warming elixir that I’ve come to love especially during the winter, and during a walk in central park last week the idea struck me to marry this sunny elixir with another favorite, kudzu pudding, for a doubly potent healing food.

There are many recipes for golden milk out there. Fresh or dried turmeric is the key ingredient (this infuses the milk with a golden color), and ginger is often included as well — its bright spiciness and subtle sweetness are a great balance to the earthy and mildly bitter turmeric. Most recipes also call for the addition of a small amount of black pepper, which boosts the bioavailability of turmeric and its main active constituent, curcumin. The base can be dairy milk, nut milk, coconut milk — here I chose coconut milk since its creaminess makes for a thick and silky pudding. And typically a sweetener is added to balance the bitterness of the turmeric; I often use maple syrup or honey.

The healing powers of turmeric have attracted a lot of attention from the holistic health community over the last couple of years. But this herb (technically a rhizome) has been a staple of Ayurvedic medicine for much longer than that owing to its potent anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticarcinogenic properties. Consistent use of turmeric and its main active constituent, curcumin, has been shown to reduce joint inflammation, soothe and regulate the digestive system, and improve skin health, among other benefits. Turmeric is ubiquitous in curry powder blends, and I love to use it alone or together with other spices in curries and dals, kitchari, soups, smoothies and even scrambled eggs for its unique flavor and health benefits.

I first learned about kudzu, or kuzu, during culinary school, where we used kudzu powder (an extract of the plant’s root) in place of wheat flour, corn starch or gelatin to create silken sauces, desserts, and soups. Kudzu is hailed as a cure-all in the macrobiotic system and has been used traditionally in Chinese medicine to relieve musculoskeletal pain and stiffness (especially of the neck and shoulders), digestive disorders, headaches, anxiety, colds and flus, hangovers, and sugar overindulgence. This herb has a cooling and alkalizing effect on the body, and helps to reduce conditions of excessive heat, including skin rashes and reactions. You might be familiar with the macrobiotic beverage ume-shoyu-kudzu, which combines kudzu with alkalizing (and salt-rich) ume plum and shoyu (traditionally fermented soy sauce) and is a classic remedy for overindulgence in alcohol or sugary sweets. Kudzu can also be used to make a delicious pudding simply by dissolving the powder in fruit juice, such as apple or pear, and simmering the mixture until it has thickened and turned transparent (before cooking, kudzu gives liquids a cloudy appearance).

Back in the test kitchen, the addition of kudzu transformed my usual golden milk recipe into a luscious and decadent dessert. It’s delicious both warm and chilled — kudzu continues to thicken as it cools, so it will thicken and become even creamier and more pudding-like after an hour or two in the fridge. Lightly sweet and mildly spiced, it’s a sweet treat will actually feel good after indulging in. And the maple sesame brittle — I almost forgot to mention the brittle! This is worth making in its own right — toasty, nutty, sweet, slightly smoky, with a hint of saltiness for balance. A perfect crispy finishing touch to the silky pudding. It’s tough not to nibble on some brittle after it’s cooled, so consider making a double batch. It’s also fantastic sprinkled on a smoothie or added to a bowl of granola and is unexpectedly awesome on avocado toast.

Golden milk kudzu pudding with maple sesame brittle
Serves 4

Cheap kudzu, which is sometimes sold in bulk bins, is often cut with potato starch, so it’s important to buy a good brand here. It’s more expensive but you’ll know that you’re be getting the real thing, and a little kudzu goes a long way so it will last a while. I used Eden brand kudzu powder; Mitoku is another good brand.

I used full-fat coconut milk, but lite would probably work just as well if you are looking to lower the fat content. I like Native Forest, which is free of preservatives and packaged in BPA-free cans.

1/3 cup water
2-1/2 tablespoons kudzu powder
One 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (approx. 1-3/4 cups)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ginger juice squeezed from about 1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
pinch of sea salt

2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
pinch of sea salt

Combine water and kudzu in a saucepan and whisk until kudzu dissolves completely. Add coconut milk, turmeric, ginger juice, black pepper, maple syrup and a pinch of salt. Whisk until well combined.

Heat coconut milk mixture over medium-low heat, whisking often, until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pan. Once it comes to a simmer, reduce heat to low and whisk constantly for 3 to 5 minutes. The mixture will thicken and the golden color will darken slightly as the kudzu cooks and changes from opaque to clear.

Transfer to the mixture to a bowl. Allow to cool slightly before serving hot or warm, or for a thicker pudding chill for at least an hour (you can speed this up by transferring to small serving cups before chilling). Serve topped with maple sesame brittle, if desired (see below).

For sesame brittle, toast sesame seeds in a small skillet until lightly browned, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add maple syrup, stirring constantly, and allow it to bubble and caramelize; when its liquid has boiled off transfer the mixture to a plate and sprinkle with salt. The brittle will crisp up as it cools.

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