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 (担々麺), 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
  • 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, mince one clove garlic.

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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, the remaining clove of garlic (minced), 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 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, a truly unique scent featuring 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.