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)

IMG_0064

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.

IMG_0089

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.

IMG_0091

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.

plantain pizza ed 3

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.

IMG_0142 (3)IMG_0144IMG_0147

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).

Norway sunrise
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.

norway-christmas.jpg
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.

img_5662.jpg

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.

risengrot.jpg

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.

beatrix potter butterfly
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.

IMG_9062

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.

IMG_9079

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.

IMG_9265

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.

IMG_9262

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.

IMG_9266

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

IMG_9268

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

IMG_9274

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

IMG_9278

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

IMG_9284

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.

IMG_9296

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

IMG_9298

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. 😉

nice cream 17

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!

nice cream 20

nice cream 19

photo_2019-07-11_11-12-47

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. 🙂

chia pudding 28.jpg

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!

IMG_0499

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.

IMG_0503

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.

IMG_0507

Now add your arrabbiata or other tomato sauce.

IMG_0508

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).

IMG_0539

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.

IMG_0545

Enjoy!

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

Chocolate-dipped orange segments

As the holiday season gears into full swing, you may find yourself invited to multiple parties and potlucks. What dish will you bring? This question is a source of stress for many, and understandably so – it’s no easy task to choose something that stands out from the rest and isn’t a duplicate of someone else’s contribution. If it’s a dessert you’re after, look no further than this very easy and unique idea.

What’s nice about it is that it’s light and provides a burst of freshness, an ideal contrast after typically substantial holiday dishes like mashed potatoes and cornbread. And at the same time, it’s fancy and looks pretty on a tray. But best of all, for you, it’s super simple to make!

You really need just three things: oranges, a bar of dark chocolate and some dried coconut. I make mine using mandarin oranges because of their tangier flavor, but any orange (or even Meyer lemon or grapefruit, if you’re adventurous!) will do. You could also opt to sprinkle the chocolate with chopped nuts (pistachio for a nice green color) or jimmies in holiday or birthday colors, depending on the season.

Chocolate-dipped orange segments

For about 50 segments (serves about 6 people)

  • 4-5 mandarin oranges
  • 3.5 oz (100 g) dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup dried grated coconut

Equipment needed: a double boiler or saucepan plus round-bottomed metal bowl to put on top for a bain marie set-up, heat-resistant spatula, trays for placing the chocolate-dipped segments on (small enough to put in the refrigerator), waxed or parchment paper.

IMG_6202b

Begin by gathering your ingredients. As you can probably guess, I had more oranges on hand than I really needed. That’s one of the nice things about this recipe, though – if you decide halfway through to make a larger quantity, it’s easy to just peel some more oranges and melt more chocolate.

IMG_6218b.jpg

Peel your oranges and separate the segments before anything else. Try to pick as much of the stringy white stuff off as you can. Make sure the segments are dry as the chocolate won’t stick to them otherwise (pat dry with a paper towel if any of them are covered in juice).

IMG_6210b.jpg

Roughly chop the chocolate.

IMG_6211bIMG_6208.JPG

Place it in the top part of your double-boiler or in the metal bowl. Heat the water on high until it boils, then reduce to low, ensuring that the water continues to simmer. During this time, you can prepare the trays that will be placed in the refrigerator. Line them with pieces of waxed or parchment paper.

IMG_6215b.jpg

Melt the chocolate, stirring with your heat-resistant spatula to ensure even melting.

IMG_6233.JPG

Once the chocolate is completely melted, you’re ready to dip the orange segments!

IMG_6226b.jpg

I prefer to dip the segments and sprinkle the coconut on just the top so the segments remain flat on one side and sit on the presentation plate better. But if you’re so inclined you can dip the segment into the bowl of coconut so it’s coated on both sides.

IMG_6238b.jpg

I usually sprinkle all the segments with coconut at the same time as soon as the tray is full. Next, put the tray in the fridge so the chocolate can set. It will be ready in about an hour. Keep refrigerated until the time you serve them so the orange segments don’t go bad.

IMG_6263bIMG_6270b

I brought this most recent batch to a party and they went over quite well! To transport it, I laid the segments in layers separated by waxed paper in a flat-bottomed bowl with a Tupperware-type cover. They stayed in good shape despite a fair amount of bumping and jostling from strangers during a 45-minute trip on the metro.

Bonus recipe: if a bit of chocolate remains in the bowl after you’ve finished dipping your orange segments, just add some milk, heat the bottom pan again and whisk to make yourself a mug of artisanal hot chocolate!

If you make these chocolate-dipped orange segments, please let us know in the comments how they turned out and if you tried any variations. Enjoy!

 

Chunky Monkey muesli

As a freelance translator with most of my clients based in France, I normally have very quiet Augusts due to the fact that every French person leaves on vacation for the entire month, reducing Paris to a ghost town of sorts populated largely by tourists and a skeleton crew of hoteliers and restaurateurs. But this year, just before leaving, a few of my clients decided to send me huge files to translate by the end of the month. That suited me as I’d already done a bit of traveling in July (to the Netherlands and England) and wanted to make some money.

When accepting these large files, I assumed that I wouldn’t be getting much of the usual work (smaller files with shorter deadlines), but it turned out that several of my regular clients had not completely closed up shop for August and still needed some things translated, and specifically by me. So I ended up having a very busy August indeed. At times such as these, my energy and patience for making elaborate recipes just isn’t there, and I find myself eating bowl after bowl of the same basic pasta with random vegetables thrown in.

One morning, fairly short on groceries and wondering what to have for breakfast, I noticed a box of rolled oats I’d bought to make muffins with and – too lazy to heat up water to make porridge – decided to put some of that in a bowl with some soy milk. Rooting around my kitchen a bit more, I found some walnuts and added them too. It turned out I also had a banana. After then, wanting to have an interesting photo for Instagram, I put some of the chocolate sprinkles I’d bought in Rotterdam on top.

I realized I’d basically made a muesli. Oats in this form are healthier than granola – if you’ve ever tried making your own granola at home, you know how much sugar and oil goes into getting the oats and things to stick together and be crunchy. And of course, plain rolled oats are much less expensive than granola of any kind, store-bought or homemade.

This particular muesli also reminded me of something. Walnuts, banana, chocolate… where had I seen that combination before? Of course, in Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream! Which to my great delight had recently come to Paris in the new dairy-free version. It’s a great combination of flavors, and what could be better than eating Chunky Monkey (of sorts) for breakfast?

I also put some chia seeds into this muesli, not for their gelling property – although you could easily make this into overnight oats if you, unlike me, have the presence of mind to get started the night before – but for their amazing health benefits. Walnuts too are bursting with good things. Even the chocolate provides magnesium and protein, so this is a breakfast nobody can argue with.

Of all the recipes I’ve posted on this blog, this is by far the easiest. It’s not really even a recipe at all but a suggestion for things to put into a bowl and eat. I’ve provided approximate amounts below, but you can really just combine these things without measuring. Just use whatever amount of each thing that seems good to you.

Chunky Monkey muesli

Feeds one hungry translator (or other type of person).

  • 3/4 cup (75 g) dry uncooked rolled oats (small oats if possible)
  • 1 tablespoon dry chia seeds (optional)
  • 1 cup (236 ml) soy milk (or other milk of choice)
  • handful (approx. 1/3 cup) walnuts
  • half of a banana
  • 1-2 teaspoons dark chocolate sprinkles/mini-chips

 

IMG_0940

Let’s get started!

IMG_0943

Combine the oats and chia seeds in your cereal bowl.

IMG_0944IMG_0948

Add the milk and give everything a good stir. You’ll see that the milk gets absorbed into the oats after a few minutes, so you may want to add a bit more milk later.

IMG_0951

Break the walnut halves with your hands (or roughly chop them with a knife if you want to be fancy) and slice some banana over the top.

IMG_0958

Finally, add your chocolate sprinkles. If you don’t have or can’t find sprinkles, mini-chocolate chips will do, or you can even roughly chop up some squares from a bar of dark chocolate.

IMG_0955b

You’re all set! After enjoying this hearty, healthful and delicious muesli, you’ll be ready to seize the day.

Variations: If you’re not as exhausted or busy as I was when I came up with this recipe, you may want to take the time to actually cook the oats and make this into a warm oatmeal. Alternatively, as suggested above, you can stir the oats, chia seeds (not optional in this case) and soy milk together and put them in the fridge overnight to make overnight oats. And you can always experiment with different nuts, different fruit, or different milks (vanilla-flavored rice milk for example, which is naturally sweet) for different results.

Waldorf salad

“What is a waldorf, anyway? A walnut that’s gone off?”

For many people, it’s impossible to think of Waldorf salad without remembering the Fawlty Towers episode of the same name, which sees neurotic English hotelier Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) confronted with an impatient and shouty American guest who demands a salad he has never heard of.

After Basil’s first attempt to dodge the request, claiming the kitchen is fresh out of waldorfs, the guest and his wife inform him of the recipe, shouting “celery, apple, walnuts, grapes—in a mayonnaise sauce!” in his direction several times when he is slow to produce the salad. When Basil fails to find all the ingredients and goes to unreasonable lengths to put the blame on his (absent) chef, the guest becomes more and more enraged and, as often happens when Basil is involved, the situation degenerates into a public shouting match. Try to find the episode if you haven’t seen it, and discover how it happens that Basil himself orders the elusive salad by the end.

As Basil’s wife informs him during the episode, the salad is named for a hotel—more specifically, the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, where maître d’hôtel Oscar Tschirky invented the dish in 1896 for a charity ball.

Now you can join in on the fun and make a Waldorf salad of your own! It’s a salad that everyone always likes and also the perfect dish to bring to a picnic or potluck Easter brunch, as I confirmed a few weeks ago. And the shouting match is optional.

Waldorf salad

Serves 4 to 6 people

  • 3 red-skinned apples, cored and chopped
  • 2 cups red seedless grapes, sliced in half
  • 2 cups celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups chopped, slightly toasted walnuts
  • Lettuce, for serving (optional)
  • 3/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

IMG_1281IMG_1293IMG_1295

Begin by cutting the apple, celery and grapes into bite-sized pieces. Combine together in a large salad bowl.

IMG_1304

Next, toast your walnuts, allow to cool, and then roughly chop.

IMG_1298

Now prepare the sauce by mixing the mayonnaise with the lemon juice and salt.

IMG_1305

Add the walnuts to the salad bowl, spoon the sauce over the top and stir until evenly coated.

IMG_1307c

Serve individual portions on fresh lettuce leaves, if you like.

IMG_1309

And there you have it! A Waldorf salad that will satisfy even the most demanding American that visits your hotel. 🙂

Variations: substitute raisins for the grapes (or use in addition), experiment with different types of nuts, use plain yogurt in place of the mayonnaise.