Scandinavian juleboller with spiced blackcurrant sauce

Christmas is just around the corner, and if you’re as busy as me you may still be wondering what in the world to make for Christmas dinner. Today’s decidedly festive Nordic recipe, created by French chef Ôna Maiocco, may be the answer!

This savory dish offers a range of lovely textures and flavors. Smoked tofu comes together with onion, toasted nuts and mashed potato to form balls with a nice firm consistency and a bit of crunch. These are paired with fluffy mashed potatoes (everyone’s favorite!) and a rich, creamy brown sauce based on a buckwheat roux with fruity notes provided by blackcurrant juice. Finally, an armada of spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric and black pepper) makes this a perfect Christmas dish—juleboller in fact means “Christmas balls” in Swedish and Norwegian.

I discovered this recipe a few years ago in Ôna’s 2013 cookbook Boulettes et galettes végétales (in French only). I’ve made it for several Christmas dinners since then and it’s always a delight. And while I usually present only original recipes on this blog, this one is so good that I felt it deserved a wider audience and asked Ôna if I could translate it for you.

Before we go on, a few words about Ôna. From an early age, she had been familiar with healthy organic cuisine thanks to her parents, who were firm believers in the merits of this type of food. Several years ago, after a first career in biology, she returned to her roots, deciding to forge a path for herself in the culinary arts, her true passion. Ôna earned a degree in pastry-making and supplemented her knowledge through self-study. Building upon her family’s tradition and her own values, she opted to make local, organic, sustainable vegan cuisine her focus. In 2011, she won the top prize in the professional category of the French sustainable food culinary competition Saveurs durables.

Today, she offers cooking classes in her beautiful sunlit and spacious atelier in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. The classes are in French, but with enough advance notice and a minimum number of participants, a class in English can be arranged. In addition to the cookbook from which this recipe is adapted, she has also published Je mange veggie : Bien manger végétarien c’est facile ! (January 2016), a guide to plant-based eating, and Ma cuisine super naturelle : manger bio, végétal et local (October 2017), a larger and more comprehensive cookbook.

And now, back to our recipe. The version presented here includes a few tiny changes and adaptations from the original. I’ve doubled the original amount to serve more people, added the cranberries as an optional garnish and suggested pomegranate juice as an optional alternative to the blackcurrant juice. The mashed potatoes recipe is my own.

If you know you’ll be pressed for time on the day of your dinner, you can make all three parts (mashed potatoes, tofu balls and sauce) ahead of time and reheat them, but I recommend making at least the sauce the day of.

Let’s get started!

Mashed potatoes

Serves 4 after removing 2 cups for the tofu balls. Can be made a day ahead and reheated on the stovetop.

  • 8-10 medium potatoes of a variety that’s good for mashing (Yukon Gold or others)
  • 2-3 tablespoons vegan butter, margarine or olive oil
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened soy or other plant-based cream, or more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • a few grinds of white or black pepper, or to taste

Peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Place them in a large stockpot, add enough water to cover them and bring to a boil, covered, over high heat. After the water starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered but leaving a little space for the steam to escape, until the potatoes are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Drain the water and mash the potato chunks using a potato masher or immersion blender (if using a blender, try not to overmix).

Reserve 2 cups of the mashed potatoes (before anything else is added to them) for your tofu balls and set aside.

Add the vegan butter, plant-based cream, salt and pepper to the remaining potatoes and mash further to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Put the cover back on the stockpot and set aside.

Juleboller (Christmas tofu balls)

Makes around 30 tofu balls, enough for 4 people if served with mashed potatoes; otherwise enough for 2-3 people. Can be made a day ahead and reheated in the oven.

  • 3/4 cup (80 g) nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts etc.) or seeds (pumpkin, sunflower)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups, loosely packed (300 g) mashed potatoes reserved from the above recipe
  • 7 ounces (200 g) smoked tofu (or use plain tofu plus a bit of liquid smoke)
  • 1/2 cube vegetable bouillon (enough to make 1 cup bouillon)
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup (60 g) dried cranberries, for garnish (optional)
  • Small bunch parsley, for garnish
  • 1 recipe spiced blackcurrant sauce (scroll down for recipe)

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Begin by chopping the nuts, tofu and onion.

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I used a combination of hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, but you can use any nuts or large seeds. Chop roughly; the pieces should be around the size of a pumpkin seed. Be careful not to chop too finely as you want recognizable pieces of nuts in the final product.

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Break the tofu into chunks with your fingers and then crush the chunks between your fingers and thumb to form coarse crumbs as shown.

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Peel and roughly dice a medium onion.

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Heat a dash of olive oil in a sauté pan and begin browning the onion over low-medium heat, stirring frequently.

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After a couple of minutes, add the nuts. Stir to combine.

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Add the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and black pepper and stir to incorporate. Take a moment to enjoy the wonderful Christmasy scents that are now filling your kitchen. 🙂

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Continue browning the mixture, stirring often, until the onion is soft.

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While waiting for the mixture to cook, dilute half of a bouillon cube in 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (88 ml) hot water. Keep the remaining half-cube out as you’ll need it for the sauce recipe.

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Transfer the reserved 2 cups of mashed potato to a medium or large mixing bowl. Mash any remaining lumps, as the potatoes need to be as smooth as possible to hold the tofu, oats, nuts and onion together.

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Add the tofu, rolled oats and onion/nut mixture.

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Pour the bouillon uniformly over the top of the mixture and stir thoroughly to combine. Preheat your oven at this point to 350°F (180°C).

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Roll up your sleeves and, with scrupulously clean hands, shape the mixture into balls of around 1.5 inch (4 cm) in diameter. But they don’t have to be exactly this size—just try to make all the balls the same size as each other for a uniform result. Place them on a baking sheet covered with baking paper.

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When the tray is full, put it in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. In the meantime, you’ll prepare the sauce and reheat the mashed potatoes (if serving).

Spiced blackcurrant sauce

Makes enough sauce to go with the tofu balls in the above recipe.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons buckwheat flour (the buckwheat plays an important role in the flavor)
  • 1/2 cube vegetable bouillon (enough to make 1 cup bouillon)
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (100 ml) unsweetened soy cream
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons (70 ml) blackcurrant juice (not syrup!) or pomegranate juice
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar (or more to taste), UNLESS you use a sweetened juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

 

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Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over low-medium heat. While waiting for it to heat, dilute the remaining half cube of bouillon in 1 and 1/4 cup (300 ml) hot water and set aside.

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When the oil is hot, add the buckwheat flour and whisk to incorporate. Stir frequently.

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After a few minutes, it will have formed a thickish roux base and be simmering lightly.

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Add the bouillon (not shown), blackcurrant (or pomegranate) juice, soy sauce and spices. Whisk to combine.

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Add the soy cream and whisk to incorporate. Simmer, stirring frequently, for another two or three minutes. Taste the sauce to see if it needs any sugar (if it’s too acidic) or more salt (add more soy sauce) or more of the spices. Turn off burner and cover the saucepan to keep the sauce warm. At this point, if the tofu balls are almost ready, you can reheat the mashed potatoes if they need it.

Plating

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Once the tofu balls are done baking, begin plating the mashed potatoes (leave the tofu balls in the oven for the time being so they don’t lose heat). If you want to get fancy, a circle mold like this one will give you a nicely defined cylindrical shape. But you can achieve a similar effect using a measuring cup or small ramekin or bowl.

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Just after baking, the tofu balls can be a bit fragile (they firm up more after they cool a bit), so remove them from the paper carefully, using a twisting motion to gently release the part that’s stuck to the paper.

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Arrange the tofu balls around the mashed potatoes. You can use more tofu balls than this if your plate is larger, and also depending how many people you will be serving (just make sure you have enough for everyone). 😉

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Spoon the sauce over the tofu balls, add some cranberries and garnish the potatoes with the parsley sprigs.

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You can also opt to serve the tofu balls alone without mashed potatoes.

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Finally, here’s a more casual presentation with a mound of mashed potatoes (not molded) in the center and the sauce poured over the top.

Whichever way you choose, waste no time in getting everyone around the table and tucking in, as this dish is seriously yummy and you’ve been sweating in the kitchen long enough!

For a festive Scandinavian ambiance, put some nice Swedish Christmas songs or choir music on.

Enjoy and God Jul (Merry Christmas) to you!

If you liked this dish and can read French, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Boulettes et galettes végétales, the book it comes from. I’ve been impressed by every one of the recipes (both savory and sweet) that I’ve made from it. It’s actually now out of print, but (as of December 2017 at least—act fast!), you can still get it on Amazon.fr. Also check out Ôna’s new book, Ma cuisine super naturelle : manger bio, végétal et local.

Variations: Instead of mashed potatoes, serve with rice or couscous (note however that you will still need mashed potatoes in the balls to hold them together). Use roughly chopped or whole pumpkin seeds as an additional or single garnish.

Apple-miso turnovers

In recent months, I’ve spent less and less time on Facebook, having noticed that I was lingering too long there, focusing on trivial or not-so-positive posts to the detriment of more productive activities. But I like to pop in every once in a while since there are also cool people to meet and useful discoveries to make. The other week, mindlessly trawling the site in spite of myself, I struck gold: Elizabeth Andoh had just posted her recipes for lemon and ginger flavored miso sauces designed to go with fruit. As a big fan of sweet and salty combinations—mango with lime juice and salt, chocolate with fleur de sel, popcorn tossed with both salt and sugar—I was immediately on board. I wasted no time in making these sauces and trying them paired with figs and nectarines, the fruit available at the time. Delicious.

Soon enough, my brain began trying to work out other ways to use these sauces, and I landed upon the idea of adding flavored miso to a fruit pastry! I tried it in apple turnovers, long a homemade breakfast mainstay for me, and loved the result. I understand if that sounds strange to you, but bear with me here. The miso adds a whole new dimension to the panorama of flavors, highlighting the delicate sweetness of the fruit with the contrast of its earthy, salty umami notes. The result is also vaguely reminiscent of a cheesy taste, so you could think of it as a Japanese cheese danish. Also, remember that French woman in Pulp Fiction who enjoys a slice of cheese on her pie?

I should note that I also tried using straight up white miso to see if it would be enough on its own, but it proved too salty and harsh. In the recipe below, the lemon and sugar tame it enough that it nicely complements the apple without overshadowing it.

I adapted Andoh’s recipe somewhat, using a little less miso and a bit more sugar, but feel free to try her exact version too. For the saké, I found a small “one cup” size at my local Asian grocery store for 2 euros (see photo below). If you can’t get saké, you can substitute white wine.

For the crust, I used a ready-made vegan puff pastry. This is known as pâte feuilletée here in France, and it’s easy to find in an accidentally vegan version even at mainstream stores like Franprix (Herta brand) or else at organic shops. Just check the ingredients as there’s also a version made with butter. In North America, you can look for this one by Pepperidge Farm. Or, if you’re inclined, you can make your own. If puff pastry is impossible to find or too daunting to make, you can use regular pie crust dough (pâte brisée in France). It just won’t be quite as light or flaky.

Note that puff pastry is not the same thing as filo/phyllo dough. You could try that too if you’re experienced at using this kind of dough, but the results may not be quite the same as what you see here.

There are two ways to shape the turnovers: cutting the pastry dough into four triangles and folding the corners inward to form a sort of square parcel (as I have done here), or cutting the pastry into circles and folding them in half to make the traditional turnover shape. For this, you can trace circles onto the dough with an overturned bowl or use a pastry mold. With this approach, some scraps of dough will be left over, but you can press them together for enough dough to make one more turnover.

For greatest efficiency, I recommend preparing the miso sauce the day before. Then all you’ll have to do in the morning is chop up an apple, take the dough out of the fridge and put everything together.

Sweet lemony miso sauce

Makes about ¼ cup sauce

¼ cup shiro miso (white miso) paste
1 tablespoon saké or white wine
3 teaspoons granulated sugar, or more to taste
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

miso sake

The miso and saké that I used. When buying the miso, check the ingredients to be sure it isn’t the kind with added bonito (fish) flakes. That would not be the nicest thing in a sweet pastry!

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Combine the miso, saké and sugar in a small saucepan. Before placing over heat, stir the ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Incorporate the water and half of the lemon zest. Cook over low to medium heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture is glossy and you can see the bottom of the pan after scraping the spatula across it.

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Add the remaining lemon zest, stir to incorporate, and taste the mixture. Add more sugar if you like, but don’t worry too much about the saltiness because you’ll be using only a small amount of it, and when the flavors of the apple, lemon and pastry come together, everything gets balanced out. Also remember that you can always add more powdered sugar to the baked pastry at the end if need be.

If the sauce seems too thick, you can add another tiny bit of water. Ideally, you want it to have the consistency of ketchup.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. If not using right away in the turnovers, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator (will keep for 3-4 weeks).

Apple-miso turnovers

Makes 4 turnovers

1 puff pastry dough, 12 in. (32 cm) in diameter (purchased or homemade)
1 medium-sized tart apple (I used Granny Smith)
A few teaspoons all-purpose or whole-wheat flour
A few squeezes lemon juice
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
A few teaspoons powdered sugar (icing sugar)

Begin by preheating your oven to 350°F (180°C).

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Chop your apple into small cubes (cut into thin slices, then again crossways to dice).

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Transfer to a small bowl. Add a few teaspoons of flour and a teaspoon of granulated sugar to the mix until the apple is uniformly coated. The flour helps the apple stick together and become more of a substantial filling.

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Add a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice to the mixture (it adds tartness and keeps the apple from browning) and stir to combine.

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Cut your pastry into four equal parts by running a butter knife gently down and across it. Note: if you have made your own pastry, be sure to roll it out thin enough.

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Spread a teaspoon or so of the sweet lemony sauce across each section of pastry. The amount you use will depend on how adventurous you feel or how much you like miso. You can also experiment by using more sauce in some of the turnovers and less (or none) in others, to compare. If you do this, try to mark them in some way so you remember which ones are which after they come out of the oven.

If any of the miso sauce remains, use it as a dip for whatever fruit you happen to have on hand.

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Now deposit a few spoonfuls of the diced apple on the center of the prepared pastry section. Be careful not to use too much apple, as you might have to stretch the dough to cover it and this could cause the pastry to break.

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Fold the side points in toward the center.

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Fold the bottom edge upward.

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Fold the top point downward.

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Press down on all the edges to seal so the filling doesn’t escape as the turnover bakes. I usually use the tines of a fork for this. It also results in a nice pattern, although with flaky crust the pattern doesn’t always remain after baking.

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Cut a few slits somewhere on the top of the turnover to allow hot air to escape during the baking.

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Your turnovers are ready to go in the oven! Bake at 350°F (180°C) for about 20 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

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They’ll look kind of like this when they’re done.

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I like to decorate the tops with a bit of powdered sugar (icing sugar) sifted over the top (do this while the turnovers are still warm).

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Allow to cool a bit, but not too long—they’re yummiest when warm! The ones you save for later can be popped into the oven for a few minutes at the same temperature (350°F/180°C) to warm them up before serving.

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Brew yourself some coffee or tea and enjoy!

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Yum!

I hope you love these turnovers as much as I did. Let me know in the comments if you try them!

Variations: Use any other fruit that happens to be in season and seems likely to go well with the miso sauce (pear or persimmon in the winter, peach or nectarine in the summer). Experiment with the gingery red miso sauce too. Decorate the tops of the pastries with slivered almonds (brush a bit of apricot jam on top first, then apply the almond slivers, all before baking).