Christmas is just around the corner, and if you’re as busy as me you may still be wondering what in the world to make for Christmas dinner. Today’s decidedly festive Nordic recipe, created by French chef Ôna Maiocco, may be the answer!
This savory dish offers a range of lovely textures and flavors. Smoked tofu comes together with onion, toasted nuts and mashed potato to form balls with a nice firm consistency and a bit of crunch. These are paired with fluffy mashed potatoes (everyone’s favorite!) and a rich, creamy brown sauce based on a buckwheat roux with fruity notes provided by blackcurrant juice. Finally, an armada of spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric and black pepper) makes this a perfect Christmas dish—juleboller in fact means “Christmas balls” in Swedish and Norwegian.
I discovered this recipe a few years ago in Ôna’s 2013 cookbook Boulettes et galettes végétales (in French only). I’ve made it for several Christmas dinners since then and it’s always a delight. And while I usually present only original recipes on this blog, this one is so good that I felt it deserved a wider audience and asked Ôna if I could translate it for you.
Before we go on, a few words about Ôna. From an early age, she had been familiar with healthy organic cuisine thanks to her parents, who were firm believers in the merits of this type of food. Several years ago, after a first career in biology, she returned to her roots, deciding to forge a path for herself in the culinary arts, her true passion. Ôna earned a degree in pastry-making and supplemented her knowledge through self-study. Building upon her family’s tradition and her own values, she opted to make local, organic, sustainable vegan cuisine her focus. In 2011, she won the top prize in the professional category of the French sustainable food culinary competition Saveurs durables.
Today, she offers cooking classes in her beautiful sunlit and spacious atelier in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. The classes are in French, but with enough advance notice and a minimum number of participants, a class in English can be arranged. In addition to the cookbook from which this recipe is adapted, she has also published Je mange veggie : Bien manger végétarien c’est facile ! (January 2016), a guide to plant-based eating, and Ma cuisine super naturelle : manger bio, végétal et local (October 2017), a larger and more comprehensive cookbook.
And now, back to our recipe. The version presented here includes a few tiny changes and adaptations from the original. I’ve doubled the original amount to serve more people, added the cranberries as an optional garnish and suggested pomegranate juice as an optional alternative to the blackcurrant juice. The mashed potatoes recipe is my own.
If you know you’ll be pressed for time on the day of your dinner, you can make all three parts (mashed potatoes, tofu balls and sauce) ahead of time and reheat them, but I recommend making at least the sauce the day of.
Let’s get started!
Serves 4 after removing 2 cups for the tofu balls. Can be made a day ahead and reheated on the stovetop.
- 8-10 medium potatoes of a variety that’s good for mashing (Yukon Gold or others)
- 2-3 tablespoons vegan butter, margarine or olive oil
- 1/3 cup unsweetened soy or other plant-based cream, or more as needed
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- a few grinds of white or black pepper, or to taste
Peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Place them in a large stockpot, add enough water to cover them and bring to a boil, covered, over high heat. After the water starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered but leaving a little space for the steam to escape, until the potatoes are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Drain the water and mash the potato chunks using a potato masher or immersion blender (if using a blender, try not to overmix).
Reserve 2 cups of the mashed potatoes (before anything else is added to them) for your tofu balls and set aside.
Add the vegan butter, plant-based cream, salt and pepper to the remaining potatoes and mash further to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Put the cover back on the stockpot and set aside.
Juleboller (Christmas tofu balls)
Makes around 30 tofu balls, enough for 4 people if served with mashed potatoes; otherwise enough for 2-3 people. Can be made a day ahead and reheated in the oven.
- 3/4 cup (80 g) nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts etc.) or seeds (pumpkin, sunflower)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 cups, loosely packed (300 g) mashed potatoes reserved from the above recipe
- 7 ounces (200 g) smoked tofu (or use plain tofu plus a bit of liquid smoke)
- 1/2 cube vegetable bouillon (enough to make 1 cup bouillon)
- 1/2 cup (50 g) rolled oats
- 1/3 cup (60 g) dried cranberries, for garnish (optional)
- Small bunch parsley, for garnish
- 1 recipe spiced blackcurrant sauce (scroll down for recipe)
Begin by chopping the nuts, tofu and onion.
I used a combination of hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, but you can use any nuts or large seeds. Chop roughly; the pieces should be around the size of a pumpkin seed. Be careful not to chop too finely as you want recognizable pieces of nuts in the final product.
Break the tofu into chunks with your fingers and then crush the chunks between your fingers and thumb to form coarse crumbs as shown.
Peel and roughly dice a medium onion.
Heat a dash of olive oil in a sauté pan and begin browning the onion over low-medium heat, stirring frequently.
After a couple of minutes, add the nuts. Stir to combine.
Add the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and black pepper and stir to incorporate. Take a moment to enjoy the wonderful Christmasy scents that are now filling your kitchen. 🙂
Continue browning the mixture, stirring often, until the onion is soft.
While waiting for the mixture to cook, dilute half of a bouillon cube in 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (88 ml) hot water. Keep the remaining half-cube out as you’ll need it for the sauce recipe.
Transfer the reserved 2 cups of mashed potato to a medium or large mixing bowl. Mash any remaining lumps, as the potatoes need to be as smooth as possible to hold the tofu, oats, nuts and onion together.
Add the tofu, rolled oats and onion/nut mixture.
Pour the bouillon uniformly over the top of the mixture and stir thoroughly to combine. Preheat your oven at this point to 350°F (180°C).
Roll up your sleeves and, with scrupulously clean hands, shape the mixture into balls of around 1.5 inch (4 cm) in diameter. But they don’t have to be exactly this size—just try to make all the balls the same size as each other for a uniform result. Place them on a baking sheet covered with baking paper.
When the tray is full, put it in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. In the meantime, you’ll prepare the sauce and reheat the mashed potatoes (if serving).
Spiced blackcurrant sauce
Makes enough sauce to go with the tofu balls in the above recipe.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons buckwheat flour (the buckwheat plays an important role in the flavor)
- 1/2 cube vegetable bouillon (enough to make 1 cup bouillon)
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (100 ml) unsweetened soy cream
- 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons (70 ml) blackcurrant juice (not syrup!) or pomegranate juice
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar (or more to taste), UNLESS you use a sweetened juice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over low-medium heat. While waiting for it to heat, dilute the remaining half cube of bouillon in 1 and 1/4 cup (300 ml) hot water and set aside.
When the oil is hot, add the buckwheat flour and whisk to incorporate. Stir frequently.
After a few minutes, it will have formed a thickish roux base and be simmering lightly.
Add the bouillon (not shown), blackcurrant (or pomegranate) juice, soy sauce and spices. Whisk to combine.
Add the soy cream and whisk to incorporate. Simmer, stirring frequently, for another two or three minutes. Taste the sauce to see if it needs any sugar (if it’s too acidic) or more salt (add more soy sauce) or more of the spices. Turn off burner and cover the saucepan to keep the sauce warm. At this point, if the tofu balls are almost ready, you can reheat the mashed potatoes if they need it.
Once the tofu balls are done baking, begin plating the mashed potatoes (leave the tofu balls in the oven for the time being so they don’t lose heat). If you want to get fancy, a circle mold like this one will give you a nicely defined cylindrical shape. But you can achieve a similar effect using a measuring cup or small ramekin or bowl.
Just after baking, the tofu balls can be a bit fragile (they firm up more after they cool a bit), so remove them from the paper carefully, using a twisting motion to gently release the part that’s stuck to the paper.
Arrange the tofu balls around the mashed potatoes. You can use more tofu balls than this if your plate is larger, and also depending how many people you will be serving (just make sure you have enough for everyone). 😉
Spoon the sauce over the tofu balls, add some cranberries and garnish the potatoes with the parsley sprigs.
You can also opt to serve the tofu balls alone without mashed potatoes.
Finally, here’s a more casual presentation with a mound of mashed potatoes (not molded) in the center and the sauce poured over the top.
Whichever way you choose, waste no time in getting everyone around the table and tucking in, as this dish is seriously yummy and you’ve been sweating in the kitchen long enough!
Enjoy and God Jul (Merry Christmas) to you!
If you liked this dish and can read French, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Boulettes et galettes végétales, the book it comes from. I’ve been impressed by every one of the recipes (both savory and sweet) that I’ve made from it. It’s actually now out of print, but (as of December 2017 at least—act fast!), you can still get it on Amazon.fr. Also check out Ôna’s new book, Ma cuisine super naturelle : manger bio, végétal et local.
Variations: Instead of mashed potatoes, serve with rice or couscous (note however that you will still need mashed potatoes in the balls to hold them together). Use roughly chopped or whole pumpkin seeds as an additional or single garnish.