Heavenly hot homefries

My recent discovery of a French vegan blue cheese here in Paris brought back some fond memories from my student days. I was living in downtown Milwaukee, finishing up my bachelor’s degree and working at a popular restaurant on Cathedral Square Park. Some nights after finishing up our last tables, a few fellow servers and I would take our exhausted selves down the street to Elsa’s On the Park, a cocktail bar that was way cooler than the place we worked at. We loved its sophisticated ambiance, avant-garde art, high-end cocktails and the fact that its kitchen stayed open late enough that we could get something to eat after our restaurant closed.

Looking online, I was happy to see that Elsa’s (described on the Google map as “trendy eatery for burgers & martinis”) was still there, in the same beautiful Victorian building. It now had a website and on it I found their menu, which didn’t seem to have changed. I recognized the same burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and, best of all, their Hell’s Fire Fries: thickly sliced rustic housemade chips topped with melting gorgonzola cheese and hot sauce. Tucking into this spicy dish was the perfect way to forget that awful table that had run you off your feet all night and then tipped you only 10%, I found. The dish was also the perfect accompaniment to a stiff drink, ordered for the same reasons.

This Proustian trip down memory lane of course inspired me to see if I could reproduce this yummy treat, now that blue cheese had re-entered my world. A friend from the olden days volunteered to stop by Elsa’s to order the dish and report on what she was served, and it turned out to be the same as I’d remembered – thick fried potato slices with the skin on, something midway between fries and chips.

I’m quite happy with the result, which I have named in homage to the original dish.  The vegan blue cheese I used, the Jeanne from Jay & Joy, is made with the very same mold cultures that you find in animal-sourced blue cheese (just in a base of cashews and almond milk instead of animal milk), and its flavors go as well with the hot sauce as I remembered.

Elsa’s is part of the student-days nostalgia I share with my brother, who also lived in Milwaukee in that time, also worked as a server (at a different restaurant) and also loved visiting this favorite spot. If recipes could be dedicated to people like books are, I would dedicate this one to him.

Anyway, if you can get your hands on a cheese like this and want to try it for yourself, all the info is right here.

Heavenly hot homefries

Makes a smallish dish of homefries (serves 1 or 2)

  • 12 oz (350 g) firm potatoes, skin on, or more for a bigger portion
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (such as canola, rapeseed or colza) for frying
  • vegan blue cheese, as much as you like – I used about 0.5 oz (15 g)
  • Mexican hot sauce
  • salt

Equipment required: mandoline slicer (recommended)

The potatoes I used are a variety called Grenadine in French, but any firm potatoes, such as you would use to make regular fries or a potato gratin, will be fine. If you opt to leave the skin on, clean them thoroughly with a vegetable brush.

Using a mandoline, cut the potatoes into slices about 1/8th in. (3 mm) thick. Be REALLY careful and make sure to use the safety attachment when you get near the end of the potato.  If you don’t have a mandoline, you can try slicing them with a knife, but cutting them evenly may prove challenging.

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In a deep saucepan, heat the vegetable oil on high. Once it’s hot enough for frying (350°F or 180°C – check out these directions for determining the temperature without a thermometer), carefully immerse the potato slices in the oil. I used 1 cup of oil and fried my potatoes in two batches, but you could opt to use 2 cups and fry them all at once if you like. The goal is to not crowd the slices so they don’t stick together.

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Once the slices have begun to turn golden brown (it took about 10 minutes for mine), carefully remove them from the oil using a metal slotted spoon and place them on paper towel, ideally in a single thickness. Sprinkle a bit of salt over the top. As soon as the paper towel becomes saturated with oil, get another sheet for the remainder of the slices or the whole batch is likely to be overly oily and might get mushy.

Now that they’ve been fried, in your home, the potato slices are homefries!

Before they cool too much, transfer the homefries to a plate or bowl. Crumble some gorgonzola or blue style cheese over them and then drizzle some hot sauce on top. I used a Mexican sauce I brought back from my last stay in the US, but just about any hot sauce will do – choose whatever level of heat you can tolerate. I recommend against Sriracha, since it has a sweet side that might not be so good in this dish.

If your homefries have gotten cold or you just want to warm up the cheese a bit, you can place the fully assembled dish under the broiler for a few minutes (in an oven-proof container, of course). Note that vegan cheese tends not to melt as much as animal-sourced cheese.

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And there you have the perfect dish to help you unwind, along with a martini, mojito or merlot, at the end of a long and aggravating day. Be sure to keep the hot sauce handy so you can turn up the heat if needed.

Rumor has it this dish tastes even better when you’re wearing Tapatio socks!


Where to find ingredients…

Vegan blue cheese: This may not be an easy item to find, depending where you live, but if it does exist in your area, it’s likely to be at organic or vegan food stores. In France, you can find the Jay & Joy brand at their own shop in Paris (and online shop), Naturalia organic food stores, and also vegan shops like Aujourd’hui Demain, Un Monde Vegan (and its online shop) and Mon Epicerie Paris. And if you’re ambitious (and patient!), you can even make it yourself with this recipe.

 

 

Bannocks and apple honey

If you’re an Outlander fan, this recipe is for you!

Haven’t seen the show? If you enjoy history, adventure and romance with a side of time travel, there’s a good chance you’d like it. It’s an adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s series of books following Claire, a married former army nurse who in 1945 accidentally slips through a time portal into 1743 Scotland, where she meets a dashing Higherlander and becomes embroiled in the Jacobite risings.

Like the books, the show has become enormously popular and continues to get renewed season after season. In just a few short days, “droughtlander” will finally be over as season 5 begins! Here are a few photos from seasons 1 and 2, which I have carefully chosen to be not-too-spoilery for anyone who’s completely new to the show.

I won’t reveal any more plot points, but as time goes by Claire and her companions sometimes venture out of Scotland to other lands. Season 4 finds them in a beautiful virgin forest where, in “The Birds & the Bees” (episode 9), as fans will fondly recall, some of the characters take a break from their thrilling adventures to go “hunting” for bees, following them back to their hive to nab some honey.

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And they find it!

So to pay homage to Outlander, I thought it would be fun to post a recipe for apple honey – yes, honey you can make yourself! – adapted from Mary’s Test Kitchen, and also for bannocks, a type of Scottish biscuit often mentioned on the show. They’re the perfect thing to spread honey on when you get back to your cabin after a long day in the woods. Or to make for an Outlander watch party!

My idea for this post came to me just before a vacation with my family in the northwoods of Wisconsin, where my grandmother owns a beautiful log cabin built in the 1920s (its furniture, tableware and linens are all early 20th century). I really couldn’t have asked for a better place to make an Outlander season 4 tribute recipe.

As I’m not from Scotland and haven’t yet found a time portal to the 18th century, I can’t guarantee that these bannocks are super similar to the ones Claire and friends would have enjoyed. But bannock recipes seem to vary anyway, so I think these will do. They were quite the hit with my family at least.

Freshly baked biscuits are popular with most people, so that was no shocker. But I was surprised by how much they all loved the apple honey! Although most of them do consume traditional bee honey, they really appreciated the unique flavor profile of this one – it’s honey-esque but lighter, with subtle fruity notes. My mom and sister even said they now prefer it to regular honey, which they often find too sweet. I agree, and have never really cared it for that reason.

I recommend making the honey first and the bannocks second so you can enjoy them when they’re fresh out of the oven.

If you prefer to make just the bannocks but are still curious to try vegan honey, a bunch of brands offer it now. See the very end of this post for more details!

vegan bannocks

Apple honey

Makes about 1 cup (236 ml) of honey

  • 2 cups (475 ml) 100% pure pressed apple juice (with no additives)
  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Equipment needed: saucepan, lemon juicer, glass jar, bee costume (optional)

Combine the pure pressed apple juice, lemon juice and sugar in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat (be careful not to let it boil over). Once it reaches a rolling boil, turn the heat down to medium-low.

Let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by about half or has reached the desired thickness (this may take 20 to 30 minutes). Note that you won’t be able to see the final thickness until it cools, so to test it, chill a spoon in the freezer briefly and dip it in the simmering honey. Once the honey on the spoon has cooled, you can assess its consistency. Note that if you end up simmering the juice too long, you’ll have thicker honey (more like honey jam) but it will still taste nice.

When the honey is done, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes before transferring it to a glass jar. Let it cool completely before putting on the lid.

Bannocks (Scottish biscuits)

Makes around 15 bannocks

  • 2¼ cups (280 g) all-purpose flour + extra for dusting
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons margarine or vegan butter
  • 2 tablespoons shortening, or substitute more of the above
  • 1 cup (236 ml) soy milk (no substitutions)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or white vinegar

Equipment needed: baking sheet, biscuit cutter or drinking glass, rolling pin

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Preheat your oven to 475°F (250°C), then whisk the soy milk and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside (the milk will thicken after a few minutes). Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Prepare the margarine and shortening.

Transfer the margarine and shortening into the bowl with the dry ingredients. With a sturdy fork or pastry blender, mash these ingredients into the flour mixture until crumbly. Add the soy milk mixture and stir until just combined (be careful not to stir too much as it can make the biscuits tough).

Dust some flour on a clean countertop or cutting board and roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it’s about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. With a biscuit cutter or drinking glass, cut out rounds. Transfer these, placed close together, to a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Piece or mash the leftover dough together to make a few last bannocks (which may look a little wonky, but will still taste good). Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them while they’re baking to make sure they don’t overbake.

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Remove from oven and immediately transfer to a cooling rack or other suitable surface. Now get out your apple honey and (optionally) some margarine or vegan butter, and you’re ready for a picnic or a fireside snack!

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As Claire Fraser and I can both confirm, bannocks and honey taste best when enjoyed with your family!

If you make these recipes, please leave a comment and let us know how they were, and tag @rd.violet on Instagram.


Where to find ingredients…

Shortening: widely available in North America but not, for some reason, in France (I don’t know about the rest of Europe). Substitute more margarine/vegan butter for it.

Vegan honey: In the US, check organic shops for brands like Bee Free Honee. In Europe, English brand Plantbased Artisan honea is a good option (available at Aujourd’hui Demain in Paris) and I have recently spotted a new brand, Vegablum, at Naturalia Vegan in Paris. I actually brought some Plantbased Artisan honea (original flavor) with me to the northwoods just in case my apple honey recipe tanked, and we all ended up liking the homemade one better. But I like their lavender flavor a lot.

Why do some people avoid honey from bees? You’ll find an explanation here.

 

White squirrel

Baileys AlmandeToday we have yet another recipe I concocted while visiting my parents back in the US this summer. I’d purchased a bottle of Baileys Almande, which isn’t easy to find in France but is so very delicious, and wondered if I could create a cocktail of some kind with it.

Its creaminess seemed to make it ideal for an ice cream drink. That made me remember the pink squirrel, a fun retro cocktail involving crème de cacao and crème de noyaux (made from apricot, peach or cherry pits, which give it an almond flavor – perfect for squirrels!) and prepared with either heavy cream or ice cream. Crème de noyaux usually also contains red food coloring, which is what gives the pink squirrel its pretty pastel hue.

Incidentally, in researching the pink squirrel, I learned it was actually invented at a cocktail lounge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of the cities where I spent my formative years.

wh squirrel 2I thought it would be fun to make a similar drink with a vegan twist, using Baileys Almande and nice cream (blended frozen bananas) instead of ice cream made from animal milk, and this is the result, which I have named “white squirrel.”

Of course, the drink is a bit more beige (or banana-colored) than white, but “beige squirrel” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and even actual white squirrels are kinda beige, so it works, right? I think so.

The white squirrel would be a nice after-dinner indulgence for Valentine’s Day, which is nearly upon us. All you need are a few key ingredients and some advance planning, since the bananas have to be frozen for a few hours before you can start. Of course, if you have some vanilla dairy-free ice cream on hand, you could use that in place of the nice cream. If you can’t get your hands on Baileys Almande, you can substitute amaretto or another similar liqueur (scroll to the bottom of this post to see a Baileys-like product that’s available in France).

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I found this fun vintage pink squirrel recipe, which appears to come from one of those great 1970s recipe card libraries like my mom has. As always with these old recipe photos, the creation is given a confusing mise en scène with unattractive colors and problematic lighting. What’s a cocktail doing on the kitchen table from Little House on the Prairie? And why is it being served with fruitcake? It’s an elegant drink that functions as a dessert in its own right, and as such should be served by itself.

So let’s make some white squirrels, shall we?

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White squirrel

Makes 2 one-cup (236 ml) servings

  • 3 frozen bananas (roughly 16 oz/450 g in total)
  • 2 ounces (59 ml) white (clear) crème de cacao liqueur
  • 2 ounces (59 ml) Baileys Almande (or similar – see end of post)
  • non-dairy whipped topping
  • cocoa powder or ground cinnamon/nutmeg, for garnish

Equipment needed: freezer, food processor or high-powered blender

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Take your frozen bananas out of the freezer (after freezing for at least 4 hours) and weigh the amount you need, depending how many servings you want to make. In the photos in this post, you’ll see larger quantities because I was making more than two servings. Place the bananas in your food processor, but allow them to thaw for 10 or 15 minutes so they’re soft enough to blend without damaging your food processor.

Add the liqueurs to the food processor and begin blending the bananas. It’ll take a little while, but after a few minutes the bananas will take on a smooth soft-serve ice cream consistency. You may need to pause the blending to scrape down the inside from time to time, to help all the chunks to get blended.

When the nice cream looks like this and all of the banana has gotten blended, it’s ready!

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Fill up your glasses with the nice cream mixture and top with the nondairy whipped topping. Sprinkle a bit of cocoa powder or grated cinnamon or nutmeg on top if you like. Serve with spoons!

If you’re looking for additional Valentine’s recipes, check out the ones in my archives: mini fruit pavlovas, rosewater raspberry hearts and white chocolate mendiants.

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Variations:

  • Make a virgin white squirrel by substituting your favorite plant-based milk + 1/2 teaspoon almond extract per serving for the alcohol.
  • Turn this drink into a brown squirrel by adding some cocoa powder during the blending stage.

Where to find ingredients…

In North America: Baileys Almande can be found at most liquor stores these days, and most grocery stores carry a range of non-dairy whipped toppings, sometimes with a range of options (almond, rice, coconut). The products shown in the photos above were all purchased at mainstream grocery stores in the US.

In Europe: Baileys Almande is available in some countries (Germany and England, to my knowledge) but for some reason has still not become widely available in France.  You can substitute amaretto or a similar liqueur – for example, Aujourd’hui Demain in Paris currently has this maca and almond milk liqueur (photo below), which I haven’t tried but which seems similar to Baileys Almande. Non-dairy whipped toppings (in a pressurized can or small carton) can be purchased at vegan grocery stores and also sometimes at kosher stores or in the kosher section of a general grocery store. See also my whipped coconut cream recipe.

Plantain pizza

As you may have noticed, I really love fusion cuisine and the improbable but delicious flavor pairings that come into being when traditions from different parts of the world are combined. Today’s recipe is one such dish: part Italian, part American and part… Nigerian? Allow me to explain.

This summer, I had plantains on the brain because I’d recently gotten my hands on a really cool plantain cookbook – by Tomi Makanjuola, who runs the blog The Vegan Nigerian – which has over 40 recipes showcasing the underappreciated fruit in almost every kind of dish you can imagine. As I always try to make at least five recipes from every cookbook I acquire, in line with the philosophy behind my cookbook challenge, I set about making some of the dishes right away (my favorites are the beans & plantain pottage and the smoky plantain, mushroom & avocado on toast).

As I began to appreciate the humble plantain more and more, I thought it would be fun to create a plantain recipe of my own for this blog. As I set about reflecting upon savory and sweet combinations not already covered in that cookbook, Hawaiian pizza popped into my mind. Many are the opponents of pineapple on pizza, especially one Italian friend of mine, but I happen to love it. So I thought plantain might work on a pizza too as long as there was also something spicy to balance out the sweetness. After brainstorming a list of likely ingredients, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

To be honest, even I was not totally sure if plantain on pizza would work out. But I looooooved it! My mom and dad did, too (I was at their house when I made it). It has smoky, savory notes from the smoked vegan deli meat, crunchy oniony-ness from the red onion, freshness from the cilantro and of course the crispy sweet plantain goodness of the star ingredient. I also love how colorful it is (red, white, yellow, purple, black, green).

So as I was saying, this pizza is a fusion dish – pizza has its origins in Naples but was developed into the dish we know today in early 20th century New York City (listen to this interesting How to Be American podcast episode for more on that) and this particular one has a key ingredient that’s grown in Nigeria, but also other parts of Africa as well as Asia and Latin America. Plantain is therefore not a specifically Nigerian thing, but since a Nigerian cookbook author inspired me to create this dish, I’ve associated it that way in my mind.

If all this has intrigued you and you want to try making it too, read on!

A note about the crust: when I made this pizza, I used an overly complicated homemade pizza dough recipe that I wouldn’t recommend, so I’ll leave it to you to find one you like. It just needs to be thick or firm enough to support the rather hefty plantain slices.

Plantain pizza

Makes an approximately 12-inch (30-cm) pizza

  • one thickish (but not deep-dish) pizza crust, purchased or homemade
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons pizza sauce (or tomato sauce plus Italian herbs)
  • 3/4 cup (75 g) mozzarella-style vegan cheese (optional)
  • 2 to 3 vegan deli-style smoked “meat” slices
  • 1 to 2 medium-ripe plantains
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) red onion
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) sliced black olives
  • 1/3 cup sliced canned banana, peperoncino or other hot pepper
  • small bunch fresh cilantro (coriander)
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal, for pan (or use baking paper)

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Preheat your oven to 475°F (250°C) and begin by preparing the plantains. Slice each one lengthwise and remove the peel. Slice into rounds of equal thickness, about 1/4th of an inch (5 mm) thick, and sauté on both sides over medium heat until golden brown. It’s important for the plantain to be fully precooked as undercooked plantain can lead to tummyache, and the time it spends in the oven might not be enough.

Sprinkle your baking sheet with the cornmeal to prevent sticking or, alternatively, line with baking paper. Place the dough upon it, rolling it flat if needed – mine was rectangular and measured 10.5 x 12.5 inches (27 x 32 cm) before baking. Spread the pizza sauce on it evenly, using more than the recommended amount if necessary or desired. Cover that with the vegan mozzarella, if using (I recommend Daiya in North America or Violife in Europe). But you can also opt not to use any cheese at all. If you don’t use cheese, a sprinkling of nutritional yeast before or after baking will add a somewhat cheesy flavor.

Cut the smoky vegan deli “meat” slices into squares. Use however much you like.

Slice your red onion (and black olives, if not presliced) and place on top of the pizza.

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Finally, slice up the hot peppers and place on top of the pizza in the amount that you like, depending how partial you are. I started with two peppers but ended up adding some more after the pizza came out of the oven as I really loved the combination.

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Place in the oven (preheated to 475°F/250°C) and bake for about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on things because baking times can vary quite a bit depending on the thickness of your particular crust. If after 10 minutes it doesn’t seem done, give it some more time.

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Remove from the oven and garnish with fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves. Your one-of-a-kind plantain pizza is ready! Slice it up and serve it to your hungry guests (…or yourself!).

By the way, what do you think of the tablecloth? An uncle of mine brought it from Liberia as a gift for my parents some years ago, and I thought it would fit well with this recipe’s West African theme.

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Soooo yummy, if I do say so myself! I want to make it again. 🙂


Where to find ingredients…

Plantains can be found at most supermarkets, but if you don’t find any, look for a Latin-American, African or Asian grocery.

Mozzarella-style vegan cheese is increasingly available at mainstream grocery stores in North America, but organic shops are even more likely to have it. In France, you’ll find it at some organic shops, but for best results check at a vegan food shop first (in Paris: Naturalia Vegan, Mon Epicerie Paris and Aujourd’hui Demain).

Vegan deli “meat” slices will also most likely be found at organic and vegan food shops. In Europe, I recommend the brand Wheaty.

Norwegian Christmas rice porridge

A few years ago, I happened to spend Christmas in the company of a Norwegian friend and got to experience a traditional dish commonly served the morning of December 24th in homes across his northerly homeland. The memory of its subtle sweetness and warming heartiness has stayed with me and this year, I decided to make it here in Paris. And to share it with you! Get ready to experience risengrynsgrøt (rice porridge).

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The rising sun announces a cold new day in Stavanger.

This vegan version of the grøt (porridge) is very easy to make, composed of a just a few ingredients. And if you use rice milk, which is naturally sweet, there’s no need to add any sugar.

In preparing my own recipe, I drew inspiration from basic rice pudding recipes and also this Norwegian vegan risengrynsgrøt recipe. Some versions call for other milks, including full-fat canned coconut milk, but I found that rice milk thickened up nicely enough.

Risengrynsgrøt is traditionally served with husholdningssaft, a juice made from apples, grapes and cherries. Personally though, I dislike pairing sweet dishes with sweet beverages. And since I’m not Norwegian myself, I decided to flout tradition and have it with coffee.

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Some Julenisser (Nordic Christmas elves), disappointed in me for not drinking husholdningssaft.

husholdningssaftMy Norwegian friend later assured me that it was okay to have coffee too (emphasis his). I promised to have some berry juice later in the day to make up for it, but he only sighed and shook his head in dismay.

A word of caution about cinnamon:

There are two types, Cassia and Ceylon. Cassia, the most common kind due to its lower cost, can cause stomach pains and more serious problems if consumed in higher doses (1 teaspoon or more per person, per day) due to the coumarin it contains. So although cinnamon is yummy, be careful not to overdo it if you suspect yours is the Cassia variety.

Norwegian Christmas rice porridge

Makes about 3 cups (2 to 3 hearty servings)

  • 1 cup (200 g) short-grain rice
  • 3½ cups (830 ml) rice milk or rice milk blend
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional, preferably the Ceylon variety)
  • 1 teaspoon margarine or vegan butter
  • ground cinnamon (preferably the Ceylon variety)

The rice you want for this recipe is the short-grain type, the kind used to make risotto. For the liquid, I recommend rice milk because it is naturally sweet (I used a rice and coconut milk blend). But you can substitute another plant-based milk and add a bit of sugar if needed.

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Combine the rice, milk, pinch of salt and cinnamon stick in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it is boiling, turn the heat down to low and simmer (still covered) for 15-20 minutes until the rice is soft. During this time, stay close, stirring occasionally and ensuring that the mixture doesn’t boil over.

When the rice is done, taste it to see if you want to add some sugar. Remove the cinnamon stick (tip: save it to make pot-pourri with later).

Serve the rice porridge in cereal bowls. Place a pat of margarine or vegan butter in the center of each bowl and sprinkle the top with a small amount of ground cinnamon (see my word of caution about cinnamon above). When the margarine has melted, stir it into the porridge to combine.

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Enjoy!

If reheating leftover rice porridge, mix in some extra milk while stirring to achieve a creamy texture again.

Variations: add diced raw apple, raisins or dried cranberries to the rice near the end of the cooking process. Dust some sugar and/or gomasio over the top if you like.

Sunrise and Julenisser photos courtesy of Jon Helge Hesby

Where to find ingredients…

Short-grain rice: most general grocery stores offer this type of rice, labeled variously as risotto rice, arborio rice or sushi rice. In France, riz rond is what you want.

Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum or true cinnamon): check at high-end or specialty shops, or look online. Note that Saigon or Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi) is closely related to the Cassia variety (Cinnamomum cassia) and therefore should probably also be consumed only in small quantities.

Vegan butter: make it yourself with this recipe, or, in North America, look for Miyoko’s amazing European-style cultured vegan butter.


Don’t miss my other Christmas posts!

Amish shoo-fly cake

During my visit back home in the Midwest this summer, I decided to try baking a molasses cake with a crumb topping that my mom used to make when I was little. It was one of my very favorites back in the day, but I hadn’t had it for ages and wondered if my result would be true to my memories. Turned out, it was every bit as yummy as I remembered and the traditional recipe was even accidentally vegan (although some versions use butter instead of oil). I thought it would be a fun recipe to share with you all, especially since it’s somewhat uncommon.

Its name comes from the large amount of thick, gooey molasses that goes into it… so sweet that it attracts sugar-loving insects which must then be “shooed” away.

Amish people

In researching it, I discovered that it’s actually an Amish recipe.  I’ve always been fascinated by this unique culture, which you’ve probably heard of even if you’re not from North America. This group, most famous for rejecting modern technology, is made up of several distinct but related traditionalist Christian church fellowships with German and Swiss Anabaptist origins. Several hundred thousand of them live in rural parts of the US and Canada, and their best known settlements are in Pennsylvania. There are some in my home state of Wisconsin, but I’ve never encountered them anywhere but on the Amtrak – since they don’t drive or fly, trains are their main form of transportation when going long distances. I find it quite remarkable that they’ve managed to preserve their way of life and language (Pennsylvania German) all this time.

This British reality TV show provides an interesting glimpse into an Amish community that hosted a group of decidedly non-Amish teenagers from the UK. Other more traditional documentaries can also be found on YouTube.

Molasses is the star of this scrumptious moist dessert, which in my view can compete with the most decadent chocolate cake any day in terms of richness of flavor. It’s made by refining sugarcane and tastes something like a stronger and darker maple syrup with notes of gingerbread and honey. Molasses isn’t used so often today, but it was a very common sweetener in the Americas before the 1900s.

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Butterflies love sweet things too. Beatrix Potter made the above illustration for her book The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse (1910).

Unlike white sugar, molasses contains nutrients. It’s an excellent source of vitamin B6 and key minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese (one tablespoon provides 20% the recommended daily amount of each).

Traditional versions of this cake call for a lot of sugar – one recipe I found actually calls for 3 cups of it (!) for 4 cups of flour. I read that the Amish view high-calorie food as a plus, since they do a lot of manual labor and need the energy. Fair enough, but being a sedentary city-dweller myself, I dialed the sugar back to just 1¼ cup, which was quite enough in combination with regular molasses. If you’re using the more bitter blackstrap molasses, you may want to add more sugar.

Finally, this recipe yields quite a lot of cake (enough for a large Amish family!) so feel free to cut the amounts in half and use a smaller baking dish. Alternatively, make the recipe as is but put half in the freezer for later.

Let’s make a cake!

Amish shoo-fly cake

Makes one 9 x 13 in. (22 x 33 cm) rectangular sheet cake

  • 4 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1¼ cups, packed (300 g) brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (236 ml) neutral-flavored oil such as canola (in France, try huile de colza désodorisée)
  • 1 cup (236 ml) molasses
  • 2 cups (473 ml) boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Start with the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar and salt and stir to combine.

Add the oil and stir to incorporate. You may need to knead it with your hands at some point to achieve a fully homogeneous result. The texture will be similar to moist sand.

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Reserve 1 cup of the crumb mixture to top the cake with just before baking. Set the large mixing bowl of dry mixture aside.

Take another large bowl for the wet mixture. Add the molasses, scraping the measuring cup thoroughly to get all of it out. Add the boiling water and stir to combine, then add the baking soda (the mixture will foam up, which is why it’s good to use a larger bowl).

Now incorporate the wet mixture into the bowl with the dry mixture. Stir to combine, being careful not to stir too much as this can make the cake texture tough (it’s okay if a few lumps remain). Pour into a greased baking dish.

Sprinkle the reserved crumb topping over the the batter, taking care to ensure the coverage is even. Place in your pre-heated oven and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Remove from oven and let cool completely before attempting to cut into it, otherwise the squares may not keep their shape.

Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap or transfer leftover slices to a Tupperware container so the cake doesn’t dry out.

I hope you enjoy this one-of-a-kind cake! Who knows, it may just become one of your favorites, too.


Where to find ingredients…

In North America: Molasses and brown sugar can be found at most grocery stores with a wide range of products.

In France: Molasses (mélasse) and brown sugar (sucre semoule) can be found at organic food shops but not always at mainstream grocery stores. Note that sucre semoule is a very specific moist sugar that’s different from sucre roux and sucre complet (also known as rapadura), which are dry sugars. Then moistness comes from the presence of molasses, so if you’re in a bind, you can actually make brown sugar yourself. Still, it’s better/safer to get prepared brown sugar if you can. Baking soda (bicarbonate de soude alimentaire) is not as common a baking ingredient in France as in the US, but you should be able to find it at most grocery stores if you look around enough. This is something I stock up on whenever I make a trip back home. Be sure the label says alimentaire or that it’s otherwise safe to use in baking, as you might find it in a cleaning-product form with non-edible chemicals added.

sucre semoule mélasse

French tomato-mustard tart

Summer is almost over, which means tomato season is drawing to a close. But it’s not over yet! And I have just the recipe you need to enjoy this year’s last fragrant, juicy tomatoes – a French one that will take you straight to the beautiful city of Dijon. Enter the tarte à la tomate, or tomato tart. This warm, pizza-like savory tart offers a crunchy, flaky crust with a spicy kick from everyone’s favorite Dijon mustard and the earthy, green notes of herbes de Provence. It’s super easy to make too, especially if you use a ready-made crust.

Dijon Invader art
The city of Dijon takes its mustard very seriously. In 2019, French street artist Invader paid homage to both city and condiment with a series of mustard-themed space invader mosaics (photo credit: @chesterlight75).

But you can also make your own crust, or use a pizza crust. Feel free to make your tart larger than the one I describe in this recipe – just add more mustard, tomato and herbs accordingly.

If you don’t happen to have herbes de Provence, you can make your own blend using equal amounts of the herbs often used in it: savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and oregano. Herbes de Provence blends vary though, so you’ll sometimes see other herbs such as basil and lavender included – just use the ones you like. Another option would be an Italian herb blend.

French tomato-mustard tart

  • 1 premade vegan flaky pastry crust, 11 in. (28 cm.) in diameter
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 or 3 medium vine-ripened tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence or equivalent herb blend
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • pinch or two salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 425°F (218°C). Unroll the pastry dough and place it on a baking sheet. Poke it with a fork. When your oven has reached the target heat, bake the pastry for 4 minutes.

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Spread the Dijon mustard on the pre-baked pastry. What you see in the photo above is a fairly light layer of mustard, about 2½ tablespoons on a pastry measuring 11 in. (28 cm) in diameter. If you love mustard, feel free to use more.

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Slice your tomatoes – aim for ¼ inch (3 mm) thick slices. Start by slicing up just two tomatoes as you might not need more than that, depending on the thickness of your slices. Cut out and discard the tough white core.

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Arrange the tomato slices on top of your pastry, overlapping slightly.

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Sprinkle the top evenly with your herbes de Provence or equivalent herb blend.

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Then sprinkle a small pinch or two of salt over the top.

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Finally, drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil evenly over the tart.

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Place the tart in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Check on it midway – if the edges seem to get too brown too quickly, you can cover them with foil partway through the baking.

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Slice up your tart pizza-style and grind some black pepper over the top if you like.

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And enjoy! This tart is excellent paired with a nice green salad.

Lemon cheesecake nice cream

Today I’m sharing one of my very favorite summertime recipes. With just two ingredients, it’s also one of the simplest I know. Meet nice cream, the banana-based alternative to ice cream.

Not only is it yummy, but since it’s nothing but fruit you can eat it anytime, any day, all day everyday if you want to. Well, within reason! My point is that it’s a lot better for you than most ice creams out there (even vegan ones), since it has no added sugar, oil or saturated fat and of course is dairy-free and gluten-free. It’s actually everything-free except banana and lemon. Because the banana is so sweet, you don’t need to add sweetener of any kind.

Why “nice” cream? I’m not the inventor of the term, but I would imagine it’s because compared to cows’ milk ice cream, it’s nicer to animals and also the planet. No cows get involved and the carbon footprint of bananas is lower than that of milk even when transportation is factored in. For each kg of cow’s milk produced, 2.4 kg of CO2 equivalent are generated, while for 1 kg of bananas it’s just 480 g (one-fifth the amount for milk). But nice cream also just tastes nice, so maybe that’s why?

I find it makes a great breakfast on a really hot day. In fact, it’s better as a breakfast or an afternoon treat than as a dessert because it’s much more filling than traditional ice cream or sorbet.

The possibilities for variations are vast – you can add just about anything to the banana base to flavor it. Try mixing in frozen berries, cocoa powder or even a touch of your favorite liqueur (Bailey’s Almande would be great!). See other suggestions at the end of this post.

The flavor I’m presenting today is one that I call “lemon cheesecake” because although it contains nothing but banana and lemon, something about these two things together reminds me of cheesecake. Try it for yourself and see if you agree.

Lemon cheesecake nice cream

Makes 2 servings (the equivalent of around 3 scoops each)

  • 3 medium to large ripe bananas (not overly ripe)
  • 1 medium to large lemon

Equipment needed: freezer, food processor with an “S” blade (a regular blender will probably not be enough), lemon juicer, freezer-safe tupperware container.

Slice 3 bananas into rounds and put them in a plastic tupperware container with a lid. Place in your freezer for several hours or, ideally, overnight.

When ready to make your nice cream (the same day it will be served), remove the bananas from the freezer, take off the tupperware lid and let the bananas thaw for at least 10 minutes (less time on a really hot day, more time on a cooler day). Do not skip this step – rock-solid frozen banana pieces can damage your food processor.

Once the bananas have thawed a bit, transfer them to your food processor. Juice your lemon until you have about 1/3 cup (79 ml) juice. You can also use a bit less or a bit more, depending how much you like lemon.

Pour the juice into the food processor and begin processing. At first it may seem like nothing is happening but the bananas will eventually all blend into a wonderfully smooth texture. If you’re using a small food processor like mine, you may need to stop once or twice and scrape down the sides to move the remaining whole pieces toward the blade.

You’ll end up with a perfect “soft serve” nice cream and can enjoy it as is. Simply transfer to a bowl and, if desired, garnish with (non-frozen) fruit. This is how I eat it most of the time, when not taking photos for a blog post that is. 😉

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But if you want to impress a guest and present the nice cream in scoop form like in the photos below, transfer the blended nice cream back into your same tupperware container and freeze it again for an hour or so. It’s best to still serve the prepared nice cream the same day, without leaving it in the freezer for too long since it can become too solid and impossible to scoop.

When plating up the nice cream, either in soft serve or scooped form, keep in mind that it melts pretty fast! You may want to refrigerate the serving bowls ahead of time to slow down the melting process.

With any number of sweltering days ahead of us still this summer, this nice cream just might become your new best friend. Enjoy!

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Variations:

  1. Freeze some berries along with the bananas for a “fruit cocktail” nice cream (you’ll still need bananas for a base).
  2. Process the bananas with lime juice, mint leaves and a touch of rum for a “tropical island drink” nice cream.
  3. Add peanut butter to the bananas while blending, and incorporate some chocolate chunks at the end. Serve with salted pecans.Lots of other flavors are possible! Let me know in the comments what you try and how it goes.

Chia pudding, three ways

The curious superfood that is the chia seed has become quite a big deal in recent years among people interested in health and nutrition or just intriguing ingredients with unusual properties. These seeds can be used in a few different ways, but one of the most popular is chia pudding. There are already lots of recipes online, but I thought it would be fun to experiment with some of my own favorite flavors. So today I bring you three interpretations of this yummy, filling and nutrient-rich dish that makes the perfect breakfast, especially when served with some fresh fruit.

chia seeds
Close up, chia seeds look like rather beautiful miniature mottled gray stones.

So what are these health benefits? Well, chia seeds are high in protein and fiber as well as calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and vitamins B1, B2 and B3. They’re also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (more, gram for gram, than salmon). They furthermore have been shown to reduce certain risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure.

Each of the three single-serving recipes below contains about 30 g of chia seeds, which gives you roughly 4 g protein, 11 g fiber, 208 mg calcium (20% of the recommended daily requirement) and 110 mg magnesium (45% of the recommended daily requirement).

As you’ll see when you make this recipe, chia seeds (like flax seeds) become mucilaginous (sticky) and plump up in contact with liquid, which is why it’s so easy to make a thick pudding with them, with zero other thickener or binder. The texture of the finished pudding is somewhat like tapioca.

For best results, make these puddings the night before (or at least four hours ahead) and enjoy them for breakfast. They can be a dessert too, but as they’re rather filling it would be best to serve them after a lighter meal. Each recipe below is for one individual serving because I find it’s easiest to mix everything up right in the cup.

After you’ve made one of these puddings, you’ll see how easy it is to improvise different combinations of ingredients. You can easily use mashed banana to the ginger pudding, for example, or add coconut to the matcha one. Experiment with your favorite fruits (add blended berries to the milk for example) and toppings.

Ginger chia pudding

Makes a little under 1 cup (236 ml) pudding

  • 3 tablespoons (30 g) chia seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, or more to taste (or substitute ginger syrup)
  • 3/4 cup (177 ml) soy milk or other plant-based milk (almond, oat, rice etc.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid vanilla extract
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons maple syrup, ginger syrup or other liquid sweetener
  • tiny pinch salt
  • fruit garnish, such as nectarine

For this recipe, if you can find it, ginger syrup is an amazing thing. Use it in place of the sweetener and skip the ground ginger. Alternatively, especially if you’re a big fan of ginger, you can experiment with fresh grated ginger or homemade ginger juice to taste.

Begin by placing the chia seeds and ground ginger in your cup, then add 1/2 cup of the milk (reserving the remaining 1/4 cup until the end) and immediately begin stirring with a fork or small whisk to ensure that no clumps of seeds form. Once you have a uniform consistency, add the vanilla extract, liquid sweetener and salt. Stir well to incorporate everything. If you’re using a transparent glass container like mine, take a look at it from the side to check for any pockets of unmixed seeds or ground ginger. Now add the remaining 1/4 cup milk and stir again.

Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then return and stir again to break up any new clumps that may have formed. Although it will be tempting to skip this step, do not because it’s essential for a good result. You may want to give it an extra stir another 15 minutes later for good measure. At this stage, the pudding will seem thin and you might worry that you haven’t used enough seeds, but fear not – it’ll thicken up.

Cover the cup with plastic wrap or something else that will protect the pudding from absorbing odors, and place it in your fridge for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, garnish with some fresh fruit (I used nectarine slices). You may also wish to drizzle a little bit more of your liquid sweetener on top.

Matcha chia pudding

Makes a little under 1 cup (236 ml) pudding

  • 3 tablespoons (30 g) chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened matcha powder
  • 3/4 cup (177 ml) soy milk or other plant milk (almond, oat, rice etc.), added in stages
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons white sugar or neutral-flavored liquid sweetener (rice syrup etc.)
  • tiny pinch salt
  • fruit garnish, such as raspberries

Matcha powder can sometimes be found at organic grocery stores or at tea shops (in France, try Naturalia and other organic stores and Palais des Thés). Otherwise, try looking for it online.

Begin by placing the chia seeds and matcha powder in your cup, then add 1/2 cup of the milk (reserving the remaining 1/4 cup until the end) and immediately begin stirring with a fork or small whisk to ensure that no clumps of seeds form. Once you have a uniform consistency, add the vanilla and almond extracts, sugar or liquid sweetener and salt. Stir well to incorporate everything. If you’re using a transparent glass container like mine, take a look at it from the side to check for any pockets of unmixed seeds or ground ginger.

Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then return and stir again to break up any new clumps that may have formed. Although it will be tempting to skip this step, do not because it’s essential for a good result. You may want to give it an extra stir another 15 minutes later for good measure. At this stage, the pudding will seem thin and you might worry that you haven’t used enough seeds, but fear not – it’ll thicken up.

Cover the cup with plastic wrap or something else that will protect the pudding from absorbing odors, and place it in your fridge for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, garnish with some fresh fruit (I used thawed frozen raspberries). You may also wish to drizzle a little bit more of your liquid sweetener on top.

Chocolate-banana-coconut chia pudding

Makes a little under 1 cup (236 ml) pudding

  • 1/4 cup (50 g) mashed ripe banana
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried grated coconut
  • 3 tablespoons (30 g) chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) soy milk or other plant milk (almond, oat, rice etc.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid vanilla extract
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons maple syrup or other liquid sweetener
  • tiny pinch salt
  • fruit garnish, such as banana

Start by mashing the banana (about 1/4 cup worth) in the bottom of your cup with a small fork. Some chunks may remain but that’s fine. Now add the cocoa powder and stir thoroughly to incorporate. Add the coconut and chia seeds and stir. Now add 1/4 cup of the milk and stir until you have a uniform consistency, then the remaining 1/4 cup milk and stir again. At this point, you can add your vanilla extract, liquid sweetener (you might not need as much as for the other recipes, since the banana will add sweetness) and salt. Note that the last photo above shows the mixture before the milk was added. I forgot to take a photo of it once the milk was in, but you can get an idea from the photo of the three ungarnished puddings near the beginning of this post.

As you’ve probably guessed, this recipe uses less milk than the others because the banana takes up some space.

This chocolate chia pudding recipe is probably the most foolproof of the three, since the banana and coconut prevent the chia seeds from clumping. For this reason, once you’ve stirred everything in, you can proceed to cover the cup and place it in your refrigerator without having to come back and stir it first. Chill for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, garnish with some fresh fruit (like banana slices) and some extra dried grated coconut if you like. You may also wish to drizzle a little bit more of your liquid sweetener on top.

Whichever pudding you make, I hope you enjoy it and it inspires you to eat more chia seeds more often. 🙂

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Variations: Mix and match ingredients according to your preferences. Substitute dates blended with hot water for the sweetener. In a larger bowl, combine the chia seeds with dry rolled oats and extra milk to make overnight oats (place in fridge overnight just as for the recipes above).


Where to find ingredients…

Chia seeds, matcha powder and ginger syrup can usually be found at organic grocery stores or other specialty shops, or online. Matcha powder can also be found at some tea shops such as Palais des thés in France, but often at a higher price.

Nutrition information from Healthline and Wikipedia (click to go straight to the chia seed articles).

Chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce

Several people have recently told me they’re interested in eating more plant-based dishes as a way to lower their carbon footprint, but that they don’t know where to start, don’t have much cooking experience, or can’t easily find some of the less common ingredients such as seitan. It can seem daunting at first. And because some of the fancier vegan foods are often found at organic stores, there’s an unfortunate misconception that a plant-based diet is more expensive than a conventional animal-based one.

So today, I decided to show you a super simple, super yummy dish I’ve been making lately and really love. It’s based on a few very common ingredients – onion, canned cooked chickpeas, prepared tomato sauce plus optional soy yogurt and scallions – that can be found at even the most basic grocery store. I found all of these things at my local Monoprix, the French equivalent of Safeway in the US or Tesco in the UK. If you stock up on canned chickpeas and tomato sauce ahead of time, whipping up a dish like this is a breeze.

Legumes in particular are very easy on the planet, requiring far less fossil fuel and water to produce than meat and other animal-derived foods. This makes them an ideal food for a future marked by increasingly common droughts due to climate change.

Chickpeas (and other legumes) are also extremely good for you, packed with protein and offering long-lasting energy.

Furthermore, this is a super low-cost dish. To make the two servings in this recipe, I spent just €4.49, or €2.25 per serving ($2.55 or £1.91). That’s about half the price of a cappuccino.

The cost breaks down as follows: 2 cans chickpeas (€1.30), 1 jar arrabbiata sauce (€1.69), 1 small red onion (€0.32), 2 small 100 g containers of soy yogurt (together, €0.56), 2 scallions (together, €0.28) and 1 lime (€0.34). I also used tiny amounts of olive oil and ground coriander which would come to a few cents’ worth each.

This dish is fairly foolproof and can easily be adapted to incorporate other ingredients. You can use any other legume (navy beans, kidney beans, lentils) in place of the chickpeas, for example. I recommend not using red lentils, however, as they tend to turn into mush when cooked and you would end up with a kind of tomato-lentil mash (although it would probably still be delicious). But you can easily add other vegetables to this dish, perhaps adding extra tomato sauce to cover everything. You can also opt to serve it over rice or couscous if you happen to have some on hand, but it’s already very filling on its own.

Did I mention how yummy it is? The idea of chickpeas may not spontaneously inspire you, but when they’re prepared ahead of time (ie, coming out of a can), they’re wonderfully moist. I love their texture combined with the heat of the rich, spicy tomato-y sauce and the cooling yogurt and tangy lime juice. The flavors are somewhat reminiscent of Mexican cuisine.

A dish such as this is perfect as a make-ahead packed lunch too. Why not give it a try?

Chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce

Makes 2 servings

  • 4 cups (530 g) drained chickpeas or navy (white) beans (two 14 oz/400 g cans, before draining)
  • One 14 oz (400 g) jar arrabbiata or other tomato sauce
  • Drizzle olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (80 g) onion, any color, or shallots, chopped
  • ground spices/herbs such as coriander, curry, cumin, herbes de provence (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (200 g) plain unsweetened soy yogurt (optional)
  • 1 or 2 scallions (green spring onions) or bunch of chives, chopped, for garnish (optional)

Note: I was using a small frying pan, so the amounts shown in the photos below are for one serving. To make two servings at once, use a larger pan and the total quantities listed above.

The first thing you’ll want to do is roughly chop your onion (or shallot). You can either slice it, as shown, or dice it  do it however you want, cause this is an easy recipe, remember!

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Drizzle some olive oil into a frying pan, heat on medium-high, and sautée the onion for a few minutes. If you like, add a dash of herbs or spices (I often add ground coriander and thyme), but since the arrabbiata sauce is already seasoned, this isn’t strictly necessary.

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When the onions have become a bit translucent, add the chickpeas. Save the liquid from the can if you’d like to make meringues or something with (do a search for “aquafaba” on this blog to find recipes). Sautée, stirring often, for a few minutes to heat the chickpeas and allow the flavors to begin mingling.

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Now add your arrabbiata or other tomato sauce.

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Continue to heat until the sauce begins to simmer. Take off the heat soon after so the sauce doesn’t become dry.

Transfer to a serving bowl and top with a dollop of plain soy yogurt plus chopped scallions or chives. The yogurt has a nice cooling effect, counteracting the heat of the spicy sauce, and reminded me a lot of sour cream in this dish. I used the most basic grocery store soy yogurt, but you might want to try the thicker Greek-style soy yogurt that’s now becoming available (in France, look for the Sojade one at organic shops).

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Another nice touch to this flavor combination is some fresh lime or lemon. The vitamin C in the citrus juice also helps your body absorb the iron in the legumes.

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Enjoy!

Variations: serve on top of rice or couscous, add vegetables (spinach, bell peppers, potatoes, mushrooms etc.), experiment with spices.