Tofu bánh mì

Vietnamese food has been on my mind a bit lately due to the recent opening of a great new vegan restaurant in the 9th arrondissement, La Palanche d’Âulac. I had lunch there a couple weeks ago and fell in love! Scrumptious food (noodles, egg rolls, soups, coconut desserts) and a dining room that manages to be both spacious and cozy at the same time. And it is of course always very nice to be able to choose what actually appeals to you on the menu of an Asian restaurant rather than having to select from only two or three items that happen not to contain oyster sauce. Paris did already have a vegan Vietnamese restaurant, Vietnam in Paris, but for some reason it didn’t win me over like this new place has. If you live in Paris or will be visiting, definitely put La Palanche d’Âulac on your list.

So today I thought I would bring you an easy but delicious Vietnamese recipe that also happens to have a French connection. As you may already be aware, Vietnam is a former French colony—from the late 19th century to 1945, together with what is now Cambodia and Laos, it formed French Indochina. During this time, the colonizers introduced bread to the region and this fusion sandwich featuring traditional Asian ingredients was eventually born. The name bánh mì literally means “wheat cake” and so is the Vietnamese word for bread, as I understand it, but outside of Vietnam, the term is used to refer to this iconic and so very delicious sandwich.

If you have a Vietnamese or general Asian grocery store in your area, you can try looking for Vietnamese baguettes, which are made with added rice flour and so differ a bit from the firmer, crustier traditional French baguettes. But any baguette-shaped bread will work. A must for this recipe is the toasted sesame oil—be sure not to buy untoasted sesame oil by mistake because it’s key to this sandwich’s yumminess.

Since the various components of this sandwich can easily be marinated ahead of time, it’s ideal for bringing to a picnic or a day of hiking. Just assemble it shortly before leaving to ensure that the bread doesn’t get too soggy (you may also want to bring the “sauce” or soy-sesame marinade along in a separate container to add just before serving).

Tofu bánh mì

Makes two sandwiches

  • 7 oz (200 g) firm tofu
  • 1 long baguette or 2 submarine sandwich type buns
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) carrot, shredded/grated
  • 1/2 cup (75 g) cucumber, sliced thinly and chopped into quarters
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) rice vinegar
  • 1 green onion/scallion, chopped into rounds
  • small bunch fresh cilantro (or coriander in UK English)
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) soy sauce or tamari sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) toasted sesame oil (be sure it’s the toasted kind)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha or other hot sauce
  • a few tablespoonfuls vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 or 2 limes

 

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The first thing you’ll want to do is get your carrot and cucumber marinating. Shred or grate the carrot and chop the cucumber into small pieces. Place in a smallish bowl and add 1/4 cup (60 ml) rice vinegar. Stir the veggies a bit with a fork to make sure they’re evenly covered by the vinegar. Set aside and take note of the time, as this should marinate for about an hour (longer is okay too).

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Next you’ll be preparing the tofu for its marinade.

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With a non-serrated knife, chop the tofu into slices as shown. Be careful not to cut overly thin slices as the tofu could break apart. Each sandwich will get three or four of these slices.

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In a non-stick pan over low heat and without any oil (this makes it firmer — also there will be plenty of oil in the marinade!), brown the tofu about five minutes on each side until golden as shown and slightly crispy.

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While you’re waiting for the tofu to brown, prepare the tofu marinade. Combine the soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and hot sauce, and then stir in the two minced garlic cloves.

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As soon as the tofu is done browning, transfer it to the soy sauce and sesame oil marinade and toss a bit to coat evenly. Allow to marinate for the remainder of the time that the veggies are marinating, or longer, but the tofu should ideally marinate for at least a half hour. Stir them halfway through, changing the positions of the tofu slices to be sure that they all get to soak up some of this magical marinade.

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Once the marinating step is finished, you can begin to assemble your sandwiches.

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With a serrated knife, slice a length of baguette (this one was about 8 inches/20 cm long), taking care not to cut entirely through to the other side as having one uncut side helps keep all the fillings in. Spread the bottom part with some mayonnaise and squeeze a bit of lime juice over the top. Alternatively, you could mix the mayonnaise and lime juice ahead of time, but the result will be much the same.

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Add three or four slices of marinated tofu, depending on the size of your bread and how stuffed you want the sandwich to be. Spoon some of the marinade over the top.

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Now top that with your marinated carrot and cucumber, plus some sliced green onion and fresh cilantro leaves. Make sure you’re using only half of all the ingredients for your first sandwich so that the ingredients for the second one don’t come up short!

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Close the sandwich, and you’re done! If you have overstuffed it and it threatens to spring open, you can secure the bread with some of those long toothpicks that have fancy decorative tops.

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You can use the excess tofu marinade to stir-fry some seitan, mushrooms or other veggies for a great Asian umami dish (serve over rice or noodles). If any of the rice vinegar remains from the other marinade, you can add it to a homemade salad dressing.

Variations: Substitute or add different fillings: avocado, marinated radish, red bell pepper, etc. Experiment with a peanut-based sauce by mixing some peanut butter into the tofu marinade. Garnish the fillings with sesame seeds before closing the bread for an extra-fancy touch. For a gluten-free version, prepare everything as described (making sure that the soy or tamari sauce you use is a gluten-free one) but serve over a bowl of rice noodles.

Retro spinach-artichoke ring

In the United States in 1971, Nixon was president, the Vietnam war was going on, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18, National Public Radio broadcast for the first time, Amtrak was founded, Texas Instruments released the first pocket calculator, soft contact lenses became available for the first time, cigarette advertising on television was finally banned and the Walt Disney Resort opened in Orlando, Florida. And in less sensational news, the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library was created.

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The recipe card collection was available through a subscription arrangement, where you paid in installments and received a new set of cards every couple of weeks for a few dollars each time. In 1972, my newlywed mother subscribed. In the first shipment, she received her first set of cards and the (otherwise empty) plastic box in its trendy shade of avocado green. Over the following months, she received the remaining 23 card sets with titles such as Family Breakfast Brighteners, Hurry-Up Main Dishes, Fondues, Recipes for Calorie-Counters and Entertaining on a Shoestring.

Visiting my parents this past month, I happened upon the familiar green box in the basement and opened it up to delve into the memories.

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Living abroad as I do, and being regularly called upon to explain the cuisine of my country, or lack thereof, I found the American Classics set quite interesting. I know the traditional Midwestern dishes, of course, but sometimes forget what the iconic foods of other regions are. Also noteworthy is that in 1971, Hawaii and Alaska had been US states for only 12 years. It must have been rather a novelty for homemakers of the day to make recipes paying tribute to them, if not necessarily originating in the states.

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My favorite set is Children’s Parties. My mom made the top three cakes for our birthdays on various years, and the first two of the bottom row on other occasions. She never made the Lincoln-inspired Patriotic Birthday Party cakes as far as she can remember, but it would be a cute thing to make for a lumberjack-themed party, if you’re ever invited to one of those.

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Men’s Favorites is a set that you (hopefully) won’t find in a recipe card set today, but in the world of the 1970s it was perfectly normal. As the introduction to the set goes, “When a man’s fancy turns to thoughts of his favorite foods, chances are good that you’ll find the right recipe in this collection. . . . They’re all here—princely recipes for kingly dishes, tested and male-approved for you.” There was clearly always the chance of losing your man if you were hopeless in the kitchen. Fortunately, Betty Crocker had your back with her Man-Pleasing Appetizers (mugs of beef broth and chicken livers wrapped in bacon). As you might expect, the set is full of meat-based dishes (but then, so is the entire library, so I’m not sure what the difference really is), but confusingly there are also some suspiciously fussy items like the minted fruit cups in the third recipe and tomatoes and lettuce on a plate (not shown).

As we looked through the cards together, my mom commented that for most of the recipes, a pre-made mix of some kind was a main ingredient, forcing you to buy Bisquick or a can of frosting rather than telling you how to make it from scratch. This may be due in part to the limited available space—the entire recipe always had to fit on one side of a 5 x 4 in. (10 x 13 cm) card—but we also suspect some collusion with the manufacturers of the mixes. But that was how cooking had been since the 1950s, she said, when convenience took priority over healthfulness. I also heard her say “gross” while looking at the ingredients for the breakfast recipe Pork-Potato-Apple Bake (corn syrup, crunchy peanut butter, boiled crab apples and Spam, anyone?). But she got a good chuckle from seeing the cards again and reminiscing.

But let me finally get to the point of this post. As I was looking through the cards, I thought it might be fun to revisit one of the recipes for you. Choosing one was hard, but I finally settled on Tuna Ring with Cheese Sauce, with its entertaining impress-your-guests ring shape and ramekin of cheese sauce, from the Budget Casseroles set. In my first attempt, I experimented with a chickpea-based mock tuna salad that proved too starchy and heavy in combination with the thick biscuit crust. In search of a lighter, moister filling, I then tried a spinach-artichoke mixture that turned out to be very yummy with the crust and cheese sauce. I’m very happy with how it turned out. It was also a chance to share an activity with my mom, who helped me with the process of rolling the dough into a log and forming a ring, modeling the motions so I could take more action-oriented explanatory photos for a change.

I’m not sure how specifically 1970s this recipe is, since (as my mom informed me), people have been making sweet “tea ring” cakes with the same cutting-and-turning technique since forever, but something about this dish just spoke to me. And as it’s inspired by the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, I feel justified in tacking the word “retro” onto the title.

So roll up your sleeves, take a moment to feel gratitude for pocket calculators, soft contact lenses and NPR, and let’s get started!

Spinach-artichoke filling

  • 6 ounces (170 g) artichoke hearts
  • ¼ of a yellow or white onion, diced (about ½ cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup frozen spinach
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 batch stretchy mozzarella cheese (prepare last; see below)

If you’re pressed for time, you may want to start the cashews boiling for the mozzarella cheese recipe (see below) before you begin making this spinach-artichoke mixture.

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Dice the onion, mince the garlic and roughly chop the artichoke hearts, then place in a medium mixing bowl.

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Defrost the spinach a bit and squeeze to remove most of the moisture. “Fluff” it and place it in your measuring cup to ensure you have the right amount, then add to the mixing bowl. Add the non-dairy milk, salt and white pepper and stir to combine. Set aside and make the mozzarella cheese, which will be added to this mixture in the same bowl.

Stretchy mozzarella cheese

  • ½ cup raw cashews
  • 1 cup (236 ml) water
  • 3 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons tapioca starch
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon salt or more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder

Equipment needed: food processor or high-power blender

Place the raw cashews in a small saucepan and fill with enough water to cover the cashews. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the cashews are soft.

Drain the cashews, place in a food processor or high-power blender along with the cup of water and process until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and process again until everything is fully incorporated.

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Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and heat on medium-high, stirring constantly. After just a minute or two, clumps will begin to form, and then after a minute more it will become stretchy, gooey cheese.

Remove from heat and incorporate into the spinach-artichoke mixture. Set aside while you make the biscuit dough; if you end up making the mozzarella last for some reason, ensure that the mixture is somewhat cool before you spread it on the dough.

Biscuit dough

  • 2¼ cups (288 g) all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons (71 g) margarine
  • 1 cup (236 ml) unsweetened soy milk
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Equipment needed: pastry cutter (ideally) or fork, rolling pin, parchment paper, baking sheet.

Begin by mixing the soy milk with the apple cider vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside; mixture will thicken.

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Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Then, with a pastry cutter or fork, work the margarine into the flour just until you have a crumbly texture. Be careful not to handle it too much as this can make the dough tough.

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Add the soy milk and stir a bit to incorporate. Knead with your hands briefly until you have a somewhat sticky dough. Again, avoid overmixing.

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Place a large sheet of baking paper or waxed paper on your countertop and sprinkle it with a bit of flour. Put the dough in the center of the paper and gently roll it out using a rolling pin until you have an approximately 15 x 10 inch (38 x 25 cm) rectangle. Since I was making this at my parents’ house, I got to measure mine using a Reagan-era D.A.R.E ruler that one of us kids had gotten at school.

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Spread the dough evenly with the spinach-artichoke mixture, leaving a margin free around the edges. The longer edges should have a wider margin, and the short ends a smaller margin.

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Starting at one of the longer sides, roll the dough in one direction to make a log (do not roll the paper up with it). If using waxed paper, transfer to baking paper or, if you don’t have baking paper, directly to a greased baking sheet or pizza pan.

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Press along the long edge to seal the log, and bring the ends together to form a ring. Try to keep the center hole large enough to hold the ramekin you’re planning to serve the cheese sauce from.

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Transfer the baking paper with the log on it to your baking sheet (I forgot to do this until the next step) and press the ends together to seal the ring, trying not to pinch it too much and make it too narrow. Don’t stress too much if the dough stretches and breaks in some places; it will be less obvious once the ring has baked.

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With clean kitchen scissors, make cuts two-thirds of the way straight through the log at one-inch (three-centimeter) intervals all the way around the ring.

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Now, lifting each part of the log from both sides, gently turn each cut section slightly so that it rests partly on its side and the filling is partly exposed.

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Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in an oven preheated to 375°F (190°C). While it’s baking, prepare the cheese sauce.

Cheese sauce

  • 1¼ cups (295 ml) soy milk
  • 1 tablespoon miso (preferably red)
  • 1 tablespoon regular tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¼ cup (57 g) margarine
  • ¼ cup (30 g) all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

Equipment needed: wire whisk

First, combine the soy milk with the miso, tahini, soy sauce, lemon juice and optional tomato paste and whisk to combine thoroughly.

Heat the margarine over medium-low heat in a saucepan until it melts. Add the flour and whisk; it will form what is called a roux. Add the soy milk mixture and whisk thoroughly to prevent any clumps from forming. Add the nutritional yeast and white pepper, combine thoroughly, and taste to see if you want to make it saltier (add a splash more of soy sauce or a pinch of salt).

When the ring is done baking and the cheese sauce is ready, place a ramekin or small bowl in the center of the ring and fill with sauce. To serve, place a spoonful of sauce on each plate and top with a slice of the spinach-artichoke ring.

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Variations: Rather than making a log formed into a ring, cut the dough into four squares, divide the filling among them and fold each one over to make savory turnovers. Cut slits on the top for the air to escape, and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Ideas for other 1970s dishes you could serve with this can be found here.

For your dinner playlist, look no further than the Billboard Hot 100 list for 1971. Consider Donny Osmond’s “Go Away Little Girl” (no. 7), John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (no. 8) or Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone” (no. 12).

After dinner, relax with a Grasshopper and an episode of Mary Tyler Moore, The Partridge Family or The Odd Couple.

And if, after reading this post, you want some vintage Betty Crocker recipe cards of your own, check eBay, where several sets are for sale. Alternatively, someone has scanned the fronts and backs of all the cards and generously shared them with the world here.

For more fun, be sure to check out this collection of 1974 Weight Watcher recipe cards (don’t miss the commentary in the captions!). 🙂

If you make this dish, please comment and let us know how it was!

Cathedral spires and Jules Verne

A couple weeks ago, to celebrate a good friend’s birthday, I took him on a surprise day trip to the town of Amiens, just an hour north of Paris by train. Actually, it was only a partial surprise as I’d told him we were going on a day trip, but hadn’t said where to… only that it would take under two hours to get there by train (to throw him off the track a bit, since that encompasses a lot of destinations). He was pleased when he heard the train conductor announce that we were headed for Amiens, since (as I knew) he had never yet been there.

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Luck was mainly on our side, this day. The weather was nice—suitably sunny and warm. We got out of the train station and began heading toward the city center. As we walked, I took a few shots of some cute old-timey building façades. On the white building, in beautiful Art Nouveau lettering, it says North Train Station Seed Company.

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As soon as we started heading toward the river, we began to see the spires of the cathedral appear above the rooftops. A block or two later, after a turn around a corner, the enormous building emerged as a whole.

But before visiting it, arriving as we had at 1 pm, the first order of business was to have lunch. After the Lebanese restaurant I’d planned for us to go to disappointingly turned out to be closed during its normal business hours (the one thing that went wrong on this day, so I can’t really complain), we headed for another one on my list. Fuji Yama, listed on Happy Cow as an especially vegan-friendly eatery, turned out to be a good source of tasty maki, temaki and glazed mushroom skewers. As we savored our postprandial pot of green tea, my friend speculated as to the rest of the activities I had up my sleeve.

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One of the sites we would see was nevertheless easy enough to guess: the cathedral. We paid our check and made our way to it through some narrow streets full of old houses that were very charming indeed—especially to me, the non-European who is still in awe of such things even after eight years here.

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A network of narrow canals criss-crossing a section of town connects to the River Somme, which divides Amiens in half. Here, a canal flows along a street near the cathedral. It made me think of the film version of Girl with a Pearl Earring.

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Built remarkably quickly between 1220 and 1270, the Amiens Cathedral is the tallest complete cathedral in France (at 112 m/369 ft)  and the 19th largest cathedral in the world. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1981.

A nice little documentary about this cathedral can be seen here.

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I didn’t take many photos inside (to see the interior, check the documentary linked to just above), but this enchanting play of stained-glass-filtered light and shadow deserved to be remembered.

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I also happened upon three gilded feathers, which took my imagination to some fanciful places as I imagined cherub statues coming to life and flying around under the vaulted ceilings at night. Perhaps they soared a bit too enthusiastically and lost some feathers from their wings.

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I am not overly fond of either heights or very narrow, endless stone stairs in a spiral configuration, but Birthday Guy is, so I indulged him and we went up the tower for some panoramic views of the city.

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There are about 300 steps up, in total. But don’t look down before you reach the top!

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Some people from bygone days (to whom the cathedral was already ancient) left names and dates on the staircase walls.

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Views from the first level. Already quite high enough for me… but there were still more steps to climb.

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At the very top, we walked around among the tower’s uppermost stone encrustations under the watchful eye of a guide. In any case, it would have been harder to fall from this level than from the lower (but still lethal) one.

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A view of Amiens and the River Somme.

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I had to admit the views were rather worth the stomach-fluttering climb up those steps (and the seemingly interminable descent).

Next, we moved on to what I knew would be the highlight of our visit to Amiens: Jules Verne‘s house! Although born in Nantes, the prolific and visionary proto-sci-fi author lived in this house with his family for eight years just before the turn of the century. Today, it is a museum honoring his life’s work.

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A globe structure sits atop the building’s tower in homage to his most famous work, Around the World in 80 Days (1873). In front of the home’s winter garden, an elegant Art Nouveau verrière stretches out to shield visitors from the elements.

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Beautiful tiles on the house’s façade featuring the typical colors and organic floral shapes of the art movement.

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The music room.

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An imposing fireplace in the dining room.

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Jules Verne’s own personal shoebutton hooks, nail buffer and… toothbrush?

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Another impossibly elegant room.

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A parlor with sofas that were graced by the bottoms of many famous Victorians, back in the day. George Sand was one of them, but I have forgotten the others.

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Copies of Verne’s writings on his desk.

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A recreation of the interior of one of Verne’s boats, which may have inspired the vessel featured in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1871).

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An undated letter accompanying the gift of a gold-handled walking stick from the Boys’ Empire League in England. My favorite part, from a description of how the funds to buy the gift were raised: “Boys are not much burdened with pocket money, as you know…”.

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A set of Around the World in 80 Days dessert plates! What I wouldn’t give to have one of these.

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Period Around the World in 80 Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea board games.

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Around the World in 80 Days trading cards.

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I couldn’t help taking a moment to admire these embroidery-upholstered chairs!

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Here, we have a framed section of some Around the World in 80 Days wallpaper from the time of the book’s first success. Who wouldn’t like to have a room papered with this?

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An 1881 essay titled Ten Hour Hunt, in which Verne describes the trials and tribulations of his first and only experience hunting. “There are some who do not care for hunters,” it begins, “and perhaps they are not totally wrong.” Verne was a visionary in the realm of science; perhaps his forward-thinking extended to other areas as well.

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A wheeled lobster with bat wings… or, alternatively, a model of one of Verne’s imagined flying machinges.

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Cross-section of a model of the rocket used to travel through the heavens in From the Earth to the Moon (1865). A top hat is a must when exploring space—especially if you expect to meet with high-ranking representatives of moon people. You’ll also be glad of the table lamps, wallpaper and velvet-upholstered chairs when they come round for tea.

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A poster advertising an 1892 theatrical production of From the Earth to the Moon in Reims. Those moon women look suspiciously corseted.

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Ten years later, cinematography pioneer Georges Méliès would make a silent film adaptation of the story. You can watch it here in a restored version with a wonderfully otherworldly 2012 soundtrack by French band Air.

Visiting this house made me realize I haven’t yet read much Jules Vernes at all. Only Journey to the Center of the Earth, ages ago, and in English! This lamentable oversight is something I hope to correct in the very near future. One book that I’m especially eager to read is Paris in the Twentieth Century. Written in 1863, its depiction of the dystopian world of 1960 was deemed too unbelievable by Verne’s publisher and so was never published during his life. It was finally released for the first time in 1994 and the predictions apparently proved remarkably prescient. Still waiting for the monorail at Bastille though…

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The end of the house tour. Time to head home!

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On our way back to the train station, I noticed this decidedly modern building, which provided a curious kind of contrast to all the 19th-century (and Victorian retrofuture) images I had just been steeping in. Also, it strangely reminded me of a cute United Nude shoe, which has nothing to do with anything else I’ve been talking about. 😉

But I digress. What I wanted to say, to conclude this post, is that Amiens is well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Paris for a longer stay or are just a huge fan or cathedrals, Jules Verne, or both! If you reserve your ticket a couple of weeks ahead of time, train fare is only 10 euros each way.

French fruit cheesecake

Here’s a light dessert for the springtime—a vegan version of gâteau au fromage blanc, a traditional French recipe. Fromage blanc (literally “white cheese”) is a soft cheese that we don’t have in the US, so it’s hard to describe, but it’s said to be something between sour cream and cream cheese. The soft texture of silken tofu, with some structure from blended cashews, recreates this consistency for a 100% plant-based version. Lemon zest and juice add the tartness of fromage blanc, while vanilla and almond extracts balance the flavors.

This crustless cheesecake is sometimes made with fruit (cherries, raspberries, apple, pear or stonefruit). Here, I have used canned apricots.

I used a springform cheesecake mold that measures 8 in. (20 cm) in diameter, and the cake was 1 in. (2.5 cm) high. A larger mold could be used, for a lower cake, or a smaller mold for a higher cake.

French fruit cheesecake

Ingredients

  • 14 oz (400 g) silken tofu
  • 1 cup (125 g) raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
  • zest of one lemon (about 1 tablespoon, loosely filled)
  • juice of one lemon (about 3½ tablespoons)
  • 6 tablespoons (55 g) arrowroot powder or cornstarch
  • 6 tablespoons agave syrup, rice syrup or maple syrup
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 14 oz (410 g) can apricots (8 oz/235 g after draining), or other fruit

Equipment needed: food processor or high-power blender, springform cake mold or pie dish

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The first thing to do is begin soaking your cashews—at least two hours before you plan to start making the cake. If you have a high-power blender or food processor, the soaking time can be shorter.

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When the cashews have finished soaking, zest your lemon and then juice it. Be sure to zest it before cutting it open!

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Drain and rinse the cashews, then blend them in your food processor or blender together with the lemon zest and juice.

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Add the remaining ingredients (arrowroot powder, agave syrup, vanilla and almond extracts) and combine well, either in the food processor or blender, or whisking in a bowl.

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To keep the cake from sticking to the cake pan, cut a circle of baking paper to fit into the bottom.

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Spread a bit of vegetable oil on the bottom of the pan to get the baking paper to stick.

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Fill the pan with the batter.

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Add the apricot halves, cut side down, pressing down gently to partially submerge. Avoid getting batter onto the exposed part of the fruit.

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Bake at 347°F (175°C) for 40 minutes. It will look something something like this, with a solid, dry surface and a golden-brown color around the edges.

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if you’d like to brown the top a bit more, move the cake to the top-most oven rack and broil for about 3 minutes—but stay close to the oven and check every minute or so to avoid over-browning. Given my oven’s small size, I did not increase the temperature for the broiling step, but if you have a standard-size oven you might need to.

Allow the cake to cool fully before unmolding. You will notice that the height reduces as the cake settles. Gently slide a knife with a thin blade around the edges before releasing the spring mold. To remove the cake from the metal cake bottom, first gently slide a thin spatula around the edges between the cake bottom and the paper, then using another spatula, cake server or flat, wide knife (or similar—I used a long wooden crêpe flipper) on the other side, carefully lift the cake from the bottom and transfer to a serving plate.

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When slicing the cake, be sure to remove the paper from the bottom.

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If you have some powdered sugar, you can dust the top with it for a pretty effect. Do this just before serving as the sugar tends to melt into the top after a little while.

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Finally, please enjoy this behind-the-scenes shot of Sésame supervising the photo shoot. 🙂

Variations: Use a combination of fruits in different colors for a range of flavors and a colorful appearance. Serve with a fruit sauce and/or whipped coconut cream.

A visit to rural Burgundy

Those of you who follow my Instagram may have noticed that I recently went away for a short visit to the countryside. More specifically, I went to a tiny village called Les Deschamps in Burgundy, one of France’s winemaking regions. It’s about a half-hour away from the smallish city of Mâcon in east-central France, which itself is 70 km north of Lyon and 150 km west of Geneva, Switzerland. This is where my friend Yukiko (the one who taught me how to make that amazing ramen dish) and her boyfriend were staying temporarily while housesitting for some friends. As the first blossoms appeared on the trees and a definite hint of springtime began to infuse the air, they invited me (with the owners’ blessing) to come and spend a few days with them surrounded by nature. Living as I do in a city and with zero green things visible through my windows, I could not resist!

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You will undoubtedly remember how much I love traveling in Europe by train (less so in the US, but that’s a story for another time). The ride from Paris to the Mâcon-Loché TGV station took only an hour and a half, the perfect amount of time to read a few articles in the new Véganes magazine. My friends then picked me up and we headed for the house.

I was captivated by both the old-timey charm and immenseness of this home, which is composed of two wings each with two or three storeys and an uncountable number of rooms. For someone like me who lives in a tiny city apartment (frustratingly without even a closet or storage space), it was somewhat disorienting, but in a thrilling way, to suddenly be surrounded by so much space. For perspective, my entire apartment could have easily fit into this house’s combined kitchen and dining room. It was a nice change.

The owners are in the process of preparing the house for sale, so I of course began daydreaming of what it would be like to live there.

Here are a few shots of the exterior.

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I believe the plaque in the above photo means that one of the previous owners of the home won 1st prize for their Beaujolais. About 95% of the land in and surrounding this village is covered with grapevines. The rest is covered by roads and random grassy plots. You’ll see the vineyards in a moment—first, let’s take a peek inside the house. I didn’t take too many photos indoors, but here are a few of the details that caught my attention.

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A beautiful old rug…

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The guest bedroom I occupied, with its beautiful ceramic tile floor and a spacious built-in armoire that took my breath away (remember, I’m someone without a closet at home). All these vintagey details made my heart sing.

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Sésame would have liked this regal chair, which has a certain air de famille. He’s not big on traveling (or even leaving the apartment at all), so I left him in Paris with a mountain of dry food and a friend coming to check on him.

During the house tour, we took a quick look into the house’s attic, which was suitably timeworn and full of antique things. It’s mainly a finished attic, with a series of rooms that seem to have been used as bedrooms at some point. The patterns of the fading, crumbling wallpaper suggest that this continued up until about the 1950s or 60s. Indeed, stepping into this attic felt like entering a time portal back to another era. I think that if I were to buy this house, I might leave these attic rooms as is, to preserve this window onto the past.

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If these walls could talk, I wonder what tales they could tell, and how many years of life they have seen…

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After a very delicious lunch of spinach soup seasoned with cumin and accompanied by potato salad, green salad, whole-wheat bread and various homemade tapenades, we set out for a walk among the vineyards.

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The overcast sky and misty hilltops created an interestingly ominous mood, as if nature were not quite ready to let us enjoy this early bit of springtime. The moors of Wuthering Heights somehow came to mind, and rambling along the paths in spite of the slight chill in the air and the threat of rainfall became a defiant act of adventure.

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We happened upon this friendly horse in a nearby field. We weren’t sure what she was being kept “for” and speculated that it could be to pull a plow through the vineyards, but a neighbor later told us that tractors can do all of that these days, even on steep slopes.

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A bit later, the sun decided to poke its face through the clouds for a bit, allowing me to get some warmer shots.

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Looking back at the entrance to the tiny village, which is composed of only some 20 houses. You no sooner enter it by car than you go past the “leaving” sign, which is the same sign with a red cross through it.

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To my great delight, this house (which seems also to be a winery) had a miniature replica of it out in front, complete with real terra-cotta steps and the frame for a gate without any gate. The only difference between the two is the addition over the garage on the life-size one. Can you guess what this little house was doing there?

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That’s right! It’s the mailbox.

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I now have a new reason for not being able to wait to have a house of my own: to create a miniature version of it!

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Strolling down the village’s mostly empty streets, we happened upon this sociable orange fellow. Shortly after shooting us this rather grumpy look, he flopped down on his back to show his readiness for belly scratches.

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The next day, after spending the afternoon working on our respective freelance projects, we began to prepare the evening meal. A neighbor was invited to join us, so we wanted to be sure it was extra-nice. Yukiko made pasta with a homemade red sauce and a vegetable soup for the starter (they were divine).

No ideas for dessert that matched our somewhat limited ingredient supplies were coming easily to mind. But we did have a lot of bananas, and I recalled a photo of a dessert with sliced bananas on top that I had seen somewhere in the meanders of social media. Chocolate was another thought, since we had cocoa powder, so we decided to combine the two. It was something of an experiment, as I had never actually baked anything with bananas in it like this, and we were also working with certain restrictions because we had less sugar than we initially thought and no vanilla. But the main ingredients were there (whole-wheat flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and oil), and with the addition of some chocolate chips, the outward appearance at least was quite promising.

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To our relief and satisfaction, it tasted pretty good too! The banana chunks inside the cake (barely visible in this shot) helped add sweetness and are probably a good solution for using even less sugar. I may recreate the recipe for a future post if people are interested.

We asked the neighbor about the area’s special attractions, to see if there was something we could do the next day before my departure. He told us there was a wine museum nearby, but also mentioned a rocky hill where some prehistoric remains had been discovered in the late 19th century. There was a small museum of prehistory there, he said, and a hiking trail. As we’d all been on winery tours before and are not much into wine these days, the choice was clear: the prehistory place!

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La Roche de Solutré is located in the municipality of Solutré-Pouilly (you might recognize the second part of this name—this is indeed where Pouilly-Fuissé wine is produced). The limestone escarpment visible for miles around is famous both as a geological curiosity and as the site where, in 1866, vestiges of Upper Paleolithic homes, tombs and animal bones had been discovered. The site has even lent its name to a span of time in the Paleolithic era, the Solutrean period, and a controversial hypothesis suggesting that Europeans, not Native Americans crossing over from Asia, were in fact the first humans to settle the Americas (!).

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At the foot of the rock, built right into the hill, is a small bunker-like museum of prehistory. Staffed by a very pleasant receptionist, the museum offers a number of artefacts inside glass cases, an audioguide in several languages and a series of short films showing excavations over the years. There’s an outdoor area behind the museum where you can stroll among some orchids if you’re there at the right time of year (we weren’t, but we didn’t mind).

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After the museum, we set off on the hike up to the top of the rock. As we climbed higher and higher, we enjoyed increasingly beautiful views of the countryside below, all vineyards and cute houses. They looked more and more like a toy train town as we ascended. These photos sadly do them no type of justice.

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I’m such a city-dweller that I cannot even guess at the names of the plants we walked among as we made our way up and down the paths, but the air was scented with a lush fragrance of fresh balsamy vegetation that did me a world of good.

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The view from the very top, more or less. So beautiful. The top is as pointy and slippery as it looks from down below, by the way, and is actually a bit dangerous if someone is not completely looking where they’re going (a sheer drop on one side, and no guard rails on this kind of thing). Don’t let that stop you from visiting, but be a bit careful if you do.

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Solutré is also famous because former French president François Mitterrand (1916-1996) made a vow at the end of the Second World War to climb it once every year, around Pentecost, and kept this promise from 1946 until 1995, the year before his death. The hard-to-read monument above testifies to his pilgrimages. In this video, you can see some parts of his 1976 climb. Note that he is climbing the very steep path; today there is also a longer, much more gradually ascending path for less avid hikers and those of us who arrive without the right shoes.

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The rock viewed from another side.

Soon after we descended, it was time for me to get on another train and return to Paris, where an impatient Sésame awaited. It was a very relaxing and re-energizing little trip, exactly the kind I’ve been telling myself I should make more often. 🙂

Deviled avocados

If you can devil an egg, why not an avocado? This is one of those recipes that are quite easy to make but seem more complicated, and are thus perfect for impressing dinner guests. 😉

As a starter, one avocado half can be served per person, or for a light lunch (perhaps with a larger salad), serve two.

Traditional deviled eggs are made by mixing the cooked yolk with mayonnaise and mustard. This healthier vegan version just subs cooked chickpeas for the yolk and adds kala namak Indian salt (also known as black salt—comes in packages like these), which provides the sulfury flavor reminiscent of egg. It can of course be made with regular salt, but the effect would not be the same. A bit of turmeric makes the mixture more yellow, which also helps recreate the look of the traditional dish. Black pepper is added to boost the turmeric’s bioavailability.

The most challenging part of this recipe is probably having the luck to land upon perfectly ripe avocados. Once you’ve managed that, the rest is a breeze! If serving at a party, the filling can be made ahead of time.

Deviled avocados

Makes 4 filled avocado halves

Ingredients

  • 2 avocados, ripe but still firm
  • a few handfuls of baby greens

Chickpea mixture:

  • 1 cup (165 g) cooked chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon kala namak Indian salt
  • pinch ground black pepper
  • several pinches ground paprika

Equipment needed: food processor or blender

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The first thing you will want to do, before making the chickpea mixture, is to cut open your avocado to make sure it really is ripe and also hasn’t gotten overripe and formed black spots inside. If the avocado isn’t useable, you’ll have saved yourself the trouble of making the filling, and you can try again another day. If the avocado is fine, put the two halves back together to keep them fresh while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

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Now combine the chickpeas, mayonnaise, mustard, turmeric, Indian salt and black pepper in a food processor or blender. Pulse until you have a hummus-y texture. If it seems too dry, add more mayonnaise or perhaps a tiny bit of water (a little goes a long way, so start with a teaspoonful). Add more turmeric if the mixture does not seem yellow enough. Taste and adjust the other ingredients to your liking.

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At this point, you can open up the avocado again and place the halves on a bed of greens (here, I have used spinach dressed with a bit of tamari sauce and olive oil and garnished with pink peppercorns). You can opt to serve the avocados in their peels, or to be a bit fancier, remove the peel as I have done here. If you choose to remove it, proceed slowly to prevent large chunks of avocado from coming away with the peel. If this nevertheless does happen, you can to a certain extent gently press and mold the avocado flesh back onto the side or bottom of the avocado without it being very noticeable.

Fill the avocado halves with the chickpea mixture. If you have a pastry piping bag with a wide nozzle, you could try forming a swirl shape. Otherwise, just fill them with a spoon, taking care not to press down too hard on the avocado as this could cause it to break. Sprinkle with the paprika and a dusting of additional Indian salt.

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Enjoy!

Variations: If you’re in the mood to be creative, you could try adding fresh chopped herbs or spices like curry powder or Ethiopian berbere to the chickpea mixture.

Creamy miso ramen soup

Have you ever met a new friend and immediately felt as if you’d always known them? I experienced this not long ago when Yukiko, an online contact of mine (we first met in a group for volunteers of an international vegan organization) visited Paris from her native Japan and we got together for a smoothie in the Marais. It turned out she was planning to move to France very soon to be with her French boyfriend. As we shared impressions of Paris and discussed expat life in France, and of course the usual favorite topic of vegans from anywhere in the world—food and cooking!—the time ran short and we still had more to say. Another meetup was thus in order, and we decided to make it a culinary one so she could introduce me to one of her favorite Japanese dishes.

One chilly day not long after, she appeared at my door with a smile, bearing a cloth shopping bag full of goodies—fresh organic oranges, carrots, green onion, ginger root, vegetable bouillon and, best of all, some homemade miso that she’d brought with her from Japan! On my end, I’d stocked up on ramen noodles, sesame paste and toasted sesame oil, shiitake mushrooms and soymilk. We put on aprons, rolled up our sleeves, and set to work making the dish she had chosen: tantanmen, a Taiwanese-Japanese fusion dish featuring Chinese ramen noodles and a Japanese-style creamy miso broth, served with a crisp carrot salad for a balance of textures in line with the traditional Japanese approach.

As we worked, Yukiko and I chatted about this and that and all kinds of things and Sésame padded in and out of the kitchen, the tip of his tail curled into a question mark, checking on our doings and trying to detract our guest’s attention to himself. We kept discovering more and more things we had in common, from similar past (mis)adventures in the romance department to literary interests and even our age—we were born the same year, exactly one month apart! In spite of all our chatter, we eventually managed to finish the dish, and sitting down to this fragrant soup at the end of the afternoon was just heavenly.

Tantanmen has since become one of my new favorite dishes. It’s the perfect comfort food for a chilly winter day, especially around this time of year when sunshine and fresh warm breezes are but a distant memory and there’s at least another month of cold ahead. The creamy miso broth with earthy garlic notes and a touch of spicy cayenne warms your tummy while the noodles fill it, the tender shiitake mushrooms and toasted sesame add an extra dimension of texture and flavor, and the tangy ginger and citrus of the carrot salad provides a burst of freshness that reminds you of the spring season that is surely coming back around sooner or later.

Since we can all benefit from a warming winter pick-me-up right about now, I decided (with Yukiko’s blessing) to share her recipe with you!

There’s some room for variation in this dish, for example substituting seitan or tofu for the mushrooms or using a different crisp vegetable (cucumber, radish or a crunchy lettuce such as romaine) in place of the carrot, according to what you have on hand.

The soup and salad may be served separately, as shown in the main photo above, but they’re best enjoyed together for the contrast of textures, so for the presentation you may opt to place the salad directly on top of the noodles, either to one side as shown in the last photo below, or all around the edges of the dish, leaving the noodles and mushrooms visible at the center.

Carrot salad with tangy sesame-ginger dressing

Serves 2 (about 3/4 cup dressing; some will be left over)

  • 14 oz. (400 g) raw carrots, julienned or roughly grated
  • small bunch fresh parsley or cilantro
  • 4 tablespoons sesame paste (tahini)
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Equipment needed: food processor or blender for the dressing, julienne peeler or other device (spiralizer, grater) for the carrot (or just cut julienne style with a regular knife)

Start by making the dressing (can be made even a day ahead). Place the sesame paste, orange juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and grated ginger in your food processor or blender and pulse until you have a creamy consistency. Taste and add more soy sauce, sesame oil or ginger if needed.

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Julienne the carrots, roughly chop the herbs, and toss together in a salad bowl. If you will be serving the noodle soup within the hour, you can go ahead and add the dressing, tossing to coat the carrots evenly. If you’re using a more delicate item such as lettuce or cucumber in place of the carrots, wait to add the dressing just before serving or your salad may wilt. Add the dressing a little bit at a time; you probably won’t need the whole amount, but it’s good to have it on hand in case you do! (If some remains, it makes an excellent dip for crudités, and can also work as a spread in a bánh mì type sandwich.) Transfer to serving bowls and top with an extra sprig of parsley.

Creamy miso ramen soup

Serves 2

  • 10 oz. (280 g) brown rice ramen noodles, or other noodles
  • 6 oz. (175 g) fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon miso, preferably red
  • 2 tablespoons blond sesame paste (tahini)
  • 1 cube vegetable bouillon
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
  • 1 and 3/4 cup (400 ml) unsweetened soy milk
  • 3/4 cup to 1 cup (200-250 ml) hot water
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, or more to taste
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 green onions/scallions

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Begin by rinsing and slicing the shiitake mushrooms.

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Place them in a nonstick skillet or frying pan over medium heat, without any oil at this stage as the mushrooms will release liquid as they cook. As always with mushrooms, the volume will reduce considerably, so don’t worry too much about overcrowding at the beginning if your skillet is on the smaller size, as is this one in the photo above.

While the mushrooms cook, slice your green onions (for the garnish at the end) and set aside.

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When the mushrooms have become tender and browned, as shown, you can push them to one side and, tipping the skillet slightly, add the toasted sesame oil and minced garlic to the other side. Reduce the heat to low or medium-low, cook the garlic a minute or two, stirring gently, then mix it in with the mushrooms and remove from heat. Note that this is just my own convenience-based approach and not the way my friend did it. You can alternatively remove the mushrooms and return them to the pan again to combine them once the garlic has browned. Set the mushroom-garlic mixture aside. Ideally, keep them in the skillet and cover them so they retain some of their heat (unlike what I have done in the photo below). 😉

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Prepare your ramen (or other) noodles according to the directions on the package, being very careful not to overcook them because they will be heated further once combined with the hot broth at the end. If in doubt, go for al dente. Drain the noodles, return them to the pan they cooked in, cover to maintain the heat and set aside.

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You will now make the creamy miso broth. Combine the sesame paste, minced garlic, miso paste, bouillon cube, soy sauce (not shown) and 1 tablespoon of the toasted sesame oil in a small or medium ceramic or glass bowl. Ideally, you should prepare these ahead of time so the mushrooms and noodles don’t lose too much heat while you make this part. Heat 1 cup water in a tea kettle, but not to boiling. If you have a way to check the temperature, it should be around 158°F (70°C). Add about 3/4 cup hot water to the bowl and whisk to combine.

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Heat the 1 and 3/4 cup (400 ml) unsweetened soymilk on the stovetop until close to simmering (do not allow to reach a boil). Turn off the heat and quickly incorporate the miso mixture with a whisk. Important: avoid reheating after this stage, and definitely do not bring it to a boil since the soymilk would most likely separate and the health benefits of the miso (a fermented product) would be neutralized.

Add the pinch of cayenne pepper, taste, and adjust if needed. If you want the broth to be saltier, add a bit more soy sauce. Cover the broth and transfer the drained noodles directly to the serving bowls. At this point, you will want to work somewhat fast since you need to put everything together without losing too much of the heat—this is why it’s useful to have the salad already prepared ahead of time.

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Ladle the broth over the top of the noodles, dividing it evenly between the two bowls, until you have the right quantity of broth for a soup but the noodles can still be seen poking through the top.

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Add the shiitake mushrooms to the top of the noodles and ladle a bit of the broth over the top of them. Top with the sliced green onions and you’re ready to serve your dish!

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As I mentioned above, you can serve the soup and salad separately, as shown here, or in the same bowl, as below. Encourage your guests to combine noodles and salad together in each bite. 🙂 You will want to remember to provide a spoon too!

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I hope you enjoy this soup, a fusion dish that celebrates international encounters and friendship. It tastes best when made with a friend! 🙂

Variations: Instead of mushrooms, use finely sliced tender seitan or diced tofu. Substitute lettuce leaves or sliced cucumber for the carrot.

Rosewater raspberry hearts

I know many people who object to Valentine’s Day on the grounds that it’s mainly a commercial holiday invented to get people to buy things. This may be true, but whether we actually go out and buy things or instead just celebrate love in ways that cost little or nothing is entirely up to us. I guess you can see which way I lean!

My thought is that a day dedicated to love is a pretty good thing. Especially if you don’t make it exclusively about romantic love but expand your focus to include the love you feel for family members, friends and your cat or dog. It can be a reason to think back fondly on times that others have shown you love and that you have shown love to others. The trick, of course, is not to get sidetracked into unpleasant memories of past partners… and that’s why the more general focus is useful.

If you opt to celebrate the day by also giving a gift to someone to show your appreciation for them, consider something handmade. Like heart-shaped cookies flavored with rosewater and raspberry! It’s something you don’t come across every day, and definitely a departure from the usual chocolate.

This recipe combines a basic sugar cookie base (with a slight rose scent) and a fruity, floral and colorful royal icing. Traditionally made with beaten egg whites, royal icing (a hard, dry type of frosting) can now easily be made in a vegan version thanks to the magic of aquafaba.

I decided to color the icing with raspberry juice for the natural color and fruity notes. If you’ve ever bought frozen berries and then forgot the bag on the counter, you know that when they thaw, they release a juice (which invariably manages to leak out of the bag). This juice is fairly concentrated and thick, so is an effective coloring agent when used in a small enough quantity—something like a store-bought cranberry juice would probably be too thin and might water down the icing. If berries are in season where you live, you could try blending and straining fresh ones to obtain a juice. If you attempt this, comment below and let us know how it went! Be sure to choose red-colored berries, unless of course you want the darker, more purple color of blackberries or blueberries.

After coming up with this rose/raspberry combination, I realized it has a lot in common with my new favorite perfume, Diptyque’s L’Ombre dans l’eau, a truly unique scent showcasing notes of Bulgarian rose and crushed blackcurrant leaves. So who knows, this scent may have been working on the back burner unbeknownst to me as I chose the flavors for this icing.

But let us move on to the recipe, at last…

Rosewater cookies

Makes about 2 dozen heart-shaped cookies measuring 2 in. (5 cm) across at widest part

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rosewater flavoring

Equipment needed: mixer, plastic wrap, rolling pin, heart-shaped cookie cutter

(For the icing recipe, scroll midway down the page)

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Start by combining all the dry ingredients, except for the sugar, in a medium bowl: flour, cornstarch, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

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Place the margarine and sugar in a large mixing bowl.

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Beat on medium-high for about four minutes, until the sugar and margarine are completely combined.

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It will look something like this (above).

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Now add half the flour mixture and beat until just moistened (as shown above). Incorporate the remaining flour mixture, beating only as much as necessary to achieve a uniform texture and form a dough. Add a bit more flour if the dough seems too sticky.

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With your hands, shape the dough into a flat disk shape and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for at least three hours or even overnight. Go read a book or watch a documentary about love while you wait!

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After the chilling time has ended and you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Remove the dough from the refrigerator and, on a floured surface, roll it out flat with your rolling pin. Dust the rolling pin with flour as you go along so the dough doesn’t stick to it. The rolled-out dough should be about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick across the entire surface.

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Cut the heart shapes with your cookie cutter and transfer them carefully to a baking tray lines with baking paper (or oiled). You may want to use a thin metal spatula to unstick the hearts from the table top so they don’t get deformed as you pick them up. Continue until you have filled up the tray or used up all the dough.

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The cookies will not spread as they bake, so you can place them fairly close together on the baking tray. Place on a middle rack of your preheated oven and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the 10 minutes are up, check to see whether the edges have turned a bit golden-brown. If they have not, leave them in the oven another couple of minutes.

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Remove from oven and leave to cool while you make the icing.

Rosewater raspberry royal icing

Makes about two cups of icing

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons aquafaba (liquid from a can or jar of chickpeas)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, plus 1 cup extra in case needed
  • 2-3 teaspoons rosewater flavoring
  • 1/4 cup juice from thawed frozen raspberries or other red berries

Equipment needed: mixer, small strainer

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Open a can or jar of cooked chickpeas or other legumes such as navy beans, kidney beans or black beans.

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Measure three tablespoons of the liquid from the can or jar into a mixing bowl, ideally with a round bottom (best for working with an electric mixer). Put the can of chickpeas in the fridge to make hummus or chickpea salad with later. If you have not begun thawing your raspberries yet, take them out of the freezer and pour them into a bowl.

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Beat on medium until frothy, about 30 seconds. Do not go beyond this stage, as the mixture will start to turn into marshmallow fluff!

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Add the powdered sugar (must be powdered—granulated is too grainy for this recipe) and begin beating to incorporate. If your bowl is shallow, you may want to place a kitchen towel over the top of it, around the beaters, so the sugar doesn’t fly out of it at the beginning. Once it has become moistened, you can remove the towel.

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After four or five minutes, the icing will have reached more or less the right consistency (as shown above). Add the rosewater, one teaspoon at a time, and incorporate briefly with the mixer. Taste the icing after adding each teaspoonful to see if you want to stop there or make it rosier. I personally found that three teaspoons were necessary to really taste the rose, as it’s a somewhat subtle flavor, but you might have a different rosewater-tolerance threshold. If you want to ice some of your cookies with a white color, as I have done, reserve some of the frosting in a small bowl or cup at this point.

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Your thawing raspberries will be releasing juices as their temperature increases. If they have not yet done this, you can help the process along by placing the bowl into another bowl with a small amount of hot water inside. If you do this, make sure that the bowls are heat-resistant enough to withstand the temperature change without cracking. Skim some juice from the side of the bowl with a spoon.

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Add a few drops of the raspberry juice to your icing. If there seem to be some seeds mixed in, or if you can’t tell, use a small strainer to ensure that the icing remains seed-free (and thus smooth).

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Incorporate the juice with the mixer bit by bit until you have achieved a nice pink. Note that the more juice you add, the more liquid the icing will become and the less uniform the final result may be (and it will also take longer to dry). A lighter pink is thus safer, especially if you’re pressed for time and need to take the cookies somewhere soon after icing them. If you want to use multiple shades of pink, reserve some of your lighter-pink mixture before adding more raspberry juice.

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If your icing gets to this color or darker, you may end up needing to add a bit of extra powdered sugar to make it thicker again.

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Now that you have all your colors ready, you can begin icing the hearts! Use a smallish spoon, like the one above, to place a small amount of icing on the cookie’s surface and kind of push it around to cover the top.

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Leave the iced cookies somewhere safe (where your cat won’t walk on them, etc.) to dry. Again, the darker pinks will take longer to dry than the white icing and lighter pinks. In the photo above, the white hearts had been iced some time earlier and the pink icing had just been applied.

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It’s funny how I got such different sizes using the same cookie cutter (must be due to stretching when picking the hearts up from the tabletop), but I guess that gives the collection a true artisanal look. 😉

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In the photo above, you can see what each color looks like when completely dry. The darker pink, being thinner, ended up with bubbles and some streaking, so again, I would recommend sticking with the lighter pinks.

Now you can package up your hearts to give to that special someone. They’ll love the handmade touch.

Variations: Use a different flavoring in place of rose (vanilla, almond, coconut, etc.). Create even more colors of icing using turmeric (yellow), spirulina (blue-green) and açaí (purple). Use different shaped cutters (star, moon, Eiffel Tower, etc.).

Tunisian sorghum pudding

Last weekend, I had a visit from a longtime Tunisian friend who is very dear to me, and who was passing through Paris on his way to the US. There was just enough time for a short visit. In between updating me on his family’s doings and his plans for the upcoming months, he fished some interesting things out of his bag and placed them before me.

One was a mtabga, a sort of sandwich his sister had made that same day—harissa and chopped yazoul (a delicate wild garlic) in a folded-over homemade semolina flatbread. We shared this, and it was divine, although harissa always involves some sweating and nose-blowing for me (of all North African cuisines, Tunisia’s is said to be the spiciest). Next, he produced a box of scrumptious chickpea cookies from a local bakery, which you may already have seen if you follow my Instagram. And finally, he plunked a clear plastic bag containing an unfamiliar gray flour on the table. “It’s drah,” he explained, in response to my perplexed look. This did not help me much. But we did a quick search and found that its English name is sorghum!

I don’t know about you, but sorghum is not a grain I could have identified in a line-up. I had heard of it, of course, but could not have guessed at how it is used. Turns out it is native to Africa, although the US is now its largest producer, and it’s used as both human food (in part to make sorghum molasses) and as animal fodder. It is the world’s fifth-leading grain crop. As it doesn’t have an inedible hull, it is usually consumed as a whole grain with all its nutrient-rich outer layers. It also happens to be gluten-free and is apparently a common ingredient in gluten-free baking mixes. And after making this dish, I can understand why—the flour gelled easily into a thick flan consistency without any binder.

And now a brief aside for the linguistics enthusiasts among you. The Tunisian name, درع, is sometimes transliterated dro3 with a number 3 at the end to represent the ayn, a pharyngeal consonant that is notoriously difficult for non-native Arabic speakers to pronounce—having studied the language for two years, I can confirm this! The ayn creates a sound almost like an extra syllable (although it is actually not) and, to my ears, the word comes across as something like drah-ah. Elsewhere in the Arabic-speaking world, sorghum is called سورغم, which sounds very similar to the English word. An etymology search revealed that our English word comes to us from Modern Latin via the Italian sorgo, “a tall cereal grass”.

I now bring you a recipe for an easy Tunisian sorghum dish that my friend’s mother makes. Called simply drah after its main ingredient, it’s most commonly eaten as an energy food for breakfast and so can be considered a sort of porridge. But since the consistency is similar to that of flan, I think it would also make a very nice light dessert.

I made mine with rice milk so it would have some extra natural sweetness, but in Tunisia some make it with water only. Flavorings can also vary, but I chose orange-blossom water for its subtle floral notes (ginger is another popular ingredient). In Tunisia, this dish is most often eaten topped with some crumbled halwa chamia, a dense sesame-based confectionery, but almonds and honey are another common way to enjoy it. For a fully plant-based dish, I used Bee Free vegan apple honey, and I imagine that maple syrup, agave syrup or molasses would also work well. Because the honey is so sweet, I did not put any sugar in the pudding itself, but you could add 1 or 2 teaspoons of sugar to the mixture as it cooks if you prefer a sweeter taste or don’t want to use a syrup on top.

Sorghum pudding can be eaten either shortly after it’s made (allowing some time for it to cool, as it immediately forms a skin underneath which the temperature remains molten for a time) or room temperature/chilled. Wait until just before serving before adding the almonds and syrup to ensure that the almonds remain crisp.

Tunisian sorghum pudding

Makes two servings of one cup each

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons sorghum flour
  • 1 cup rice milk (or any plant-based milk)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons orange-blossom water
  • small pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons flaked or slivered almonds, toasted (see directions below)
  • 2 tablespoons vegan apple honey, maple syrup, agave syrup or molasses

Equipment needed: strainer, hand whisk

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Begin by sifting the sorghum flour through a strainer into a medium saucepan to break up any lumps. The burner should not be turned on yet.

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Add the (cold or room-temperature) rice milk, water and pinch of salt and whisk to thoroughly combine BEFORE turning on the heat. Note that once the liquid heats, any additional sorghum flour added will turn into lumps and it will be next to impossible to break them up.

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Turn on the heat to medium and heat to simmering, stirring constantly or at least very frequently. When the mixture begins to boil, add the orange-blossom water and continue stirring until it thickens. You will want to stand right there and watch it until it’s ready, whisking to prevent the formation of lumps. It takes about five or six minutes for it to reach the desired thickness and could boil over quickly, so stay put! Make sure you have your serving bowls nearby.

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When it’s ready, it will look pretty much like this and be making dramatic glopping sounds as the mixture boils. When it has the consistency of a thick potato soup, it’s done. Pour it into the serving bowls right away because it begins to form a skin as soon as it’s taken off the heat.

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After the pudding has been poured into the serving bowls, and while it cools a bit, toast your flaked or slivered almonds. Place a dry non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat and stir or toss occasionally until lightly browned. You will want to stick around for this step too as lightly-browned can become far-too-browned or even burnt in very short order. Have a small ceramic bowl ready to transfer them to when done.

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When they look like this, they’re ready. Transfer them quickly to the bowl or (as I have done) a cutting board or other heat-resistant surface. If you leave them in the hot pan while searching for a bowl, you run the risk of the almonds browning even further.

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If the pudding’s surface seems firm (by now it should have cooled enough, but check the top to be sure), drizzle your honey or syrup on it and finish with the almonds.

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And there you have it! Once the honey or syrup and almonds have been added, it should not sit around too long as the almonds will gradually get soggy and the syrup watery (becoming like a flan with caramel sauce, which is not bad but not the intended presentation either). You can see this effect a bit in the photo below because I got distracted by something between the preceding photo and this one. 😉 But the taste is still good, however it looks. Enjoy!

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Variations: top with halwa chamia or any type of chopped nut (pistachios would be great) or even dried fruit such as golden raisins. Sprinkle some gomasio in with the nuts for a salty contrast to the sweet topping.

Basic sweet crêpes

Every year on February 2nd, while people in the US and Canada are worrying about groundhogs, people in France celebrate Candlemas, mainly (these days) by eating crêpes. That sounds like a more worthwhile endeavor to me!

La Chandeleur, or la fête des chandelles is celebrated at church with special services, but in the family home, candles are lit and people determine the luck they will have over the coming year by attempting to flip a crêpe in a frying pan (without a spatula!) while holding a coin in their other hand. If it lands back in the pan correctly, good things will come their way over the next 12 months. I’m not sure, in reality, how many people still engage in this crêpe-flipping tradition, but the crêpe-eating part has been confirmed! Candlemas is also the last feast day of the Christmas cycle, and if you had a manger scene up as part of your decorations, Candlemas is when you’re supposed to finally put it away. I suspect this may also apply to my bouquet of pine branches, which may still (ahem) be in a vase on my table…

And so, in honor of La Chandeleur (coming up in just a few days!), I bring you an easy plant-based crêpe recipe, translated and adapted from this French one.

I happen to own an electric crêpe-maker, which is VERY useful anytime you want to make pancakes of any kind, as it automatically heats to the perfect temperature for that sort of thing, reducing the risk of burning (other electric crêpe-makers may have different settings, however). It came with two essential wooden utensils: a batter-spreader and a spatula or crêpe-flipper. If you’ve ever had a crêpe made at one of those street stands in France, you may have seen these utensils before. My crêpe-maker is second-hand, and judging from the harvest-gold color of its base, may have been made in the 70s or early 80s. If so, planned obsolescence was not factored into its design, as it’s still going strong. You can still get similar devices in France online or at department stores (ask to see the crêpières), and the wooden utensils can be purchased separately too.

My favorite way to eat crêpes is with a little lemon juice and sugar. Right now, bergamots (a citrus fruit similar to a lemon, but darker in color and sweeter) are in season—I picked some up today from my local farmers’ market, the Marché Bio des Batignolles. If you’ve never tried them before, bergamots are quite the experience. They have an indescribable scent that you will recognize immediately if you’re a fan of Earl Grey tea, which is made with essential oil of bergamot. For a touch of sweetness, I added a few sprinkles of coconut sugar, but you can use any sugar you like, or even a liquid sweetener such as maple syrup.

Crêpes are most often served as a dessert but also make for a nice breakfast item if you have servants and own a smoking jacket. Any extras should be packed away in an airtight container (rolled up or folded into fourths) or on a plate covered with plastic wrap.

Basic sweet crêpes

Makes 10-11 crêpes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (250 g) flour (T65 type in France)
  • 3 tablespoons (30 g) cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (500 ml) non-dairy milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil such as canola

Crêpe garnishes (see also the variations at the end of this post)

  • 1 or 2 lemons (bergamot or regular)
  • several tablespoons of sugar (coconut, raw or other)

Equipment needed: large bowl, whisk, ladle, spatula for flipping crêpes, electric crêpe-maker or wide and shallow frying pan

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Combine all the dry ingredients and mix well with the whisk to incorporate.

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Add the non-dairy milk, vanilla and oil and incorporate briefly with your whisk, stirring only long enough for it to reach a smooth consistency. Be careful not to overmix. Set the bowl aside and allow the batter to sit for 45 minutes, but (IMPORTANT) no longer than that or it will get too thick and you won’t be able to achieve the thin, somewhat elastic result you’re going for.

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When the resting time is up and your crêpe-maker or frying pan is hot enough, pour one ladleful of batter onto the surface (if your frying pan doesn’t have a non-stick surface, you may need a splash of oil). Working quickly, spread the batter, either by hand with a wooden spreader on an electric crêpemaker or, if you’re using a frying pan, by rotating the pan evenly until the batter covers most of its bottom. I sadly could not get a photo of this step, since I was making these on my own, but it looks a bit like this, though on a smaller scale. Aim for the same thickness throughout the crêpe (avoid having thinner edges, which will become too brown and crisp).

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After a minute or two, once the edges of the crêpe begin to look firm, gently slide your wooden crêpe turner or spatula underneath it. If the underside is slightly browned, flip it over. Otherwise, give it another 15-30 seconds and check again.

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Allow the crêpe to cook for 30-60 seconds on the other side (it will need less time than the first side). Slide the crêpe off the heating surface with your flipper or spatula and onto a plate, and repeat until the batter is gone. You will have 10 or 11 crêpes, depending on size. Consider placing a wide saucepan lid on top of the stack to keep them warm as you work.

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Squeeze some lemon juice on top of the crêpe (the less browned side) and then sprinkle some sugar over that. In the bottom left corner of this photo, you can see one regular lemon next to two bergamots, for comparison.

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Next, either fold the crêpes into fourths as shown above, or roll them up into a long cigar shape. If you are adding ice cream or whipped cream, or other similarly voluminous toppings, you may wish to simply fold the left and right edges of the crêpe together (and eat it with a fork).

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Other yummy things that are nice on crêpes are chestnut spread (called “cream” on this label, but it is always dairy-free) and chocolate spreads (dark chocolate in the center and a chocolate-hazelnut version on the right). The chestnut and dark chocolate spreads are accidentally-vegan items and come from Franprix, while the Nuté+ is a vegan version of Nutella and can be found at most organic shops in France.

More variations: The possibilities are endless. Consider banana slices (might as well, if you’re already using chocolate!), applesauce, vegan apple honey, cubed fresh mango or pear, berries, white almond butter, jam, poppyseed paste, fresh fig with toasted walnuts. Top with some coconut whipped cream if you want to be fancy.