Butternut squash risotto with vegan chorizo, bell pepper & smoked paprika.

Either one loves the smooth, creamy texture of risotto, or one does not – or at the most exhibits a lukewarm attitude towards this comforting one-pot dish. Half of our household belongs to one league in this regard, and the other (mostly my best half) tends to display only semi-enthusiastic reactions when the dinner of the days turns out to be risotto. My husband misses a bite (at least when I cook a leek and pea risotto -which is one of my favourites) and finds its taste too uniform and lacking contrast. But that evenness is part of the risotto deal, and as long as the taste’s just right, I don’t see the problem with an entire portion of the same yumminess. Our differing appreciating of risotto, however, is why I cook this type of dish only occasionally.

Some weeks ago, I at one point had some leftovers in my fridge, including half a butternut squash, some bell pepper and a package of Wheaty chorizo. And that inspired me to pair both. Not in a soup, although that would certainly work – because butternut squash, bell pepper and a hint of smoked paprika actually make for a wonderful soup, and sliced vegan sausages are always nice in soup too – but in a risotto. I was quite pleased with the result, cooked it again two days ago (with the same satisfactory result), and decided this is going to be a keeper. At least for the risotto-loving part of the family, this is very good news :-).

Butternut squash risotto with vegan chorizo, bell pepper & smoked paprika.

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 grilled bell pepper (or a small jar of oil-packed bell pepper, which is what I used here), finely sliced or cubed
  • 4-5 chorizo sausages (Wheaty has great chorizo sausages, and also merguez sausages, which both can be used in this recipe), thinly sliced
  • 1 – 1,5 TB vegetable stock powder
  • 5-6 cups water
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1,5 – 2 TB smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp chipotle paste and/or some crushed chili flakes (optional, if you like things spicy)
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  • Take a pot and start frying the onion until translucent
  • Add the garlic, and fry for one more minute
  • Add the rice, and fry until the rice starts looking somewhat glazed
  • Pour in 1 cup of the stock and add the pinch of sage, stir every now and then, and each time when most of the water has been absorbed, add some more, until the rice has reached the consistency you prefer. Whilst you are doing this, take a grill pan, and grill the butternut squash cubes until they have a nice bite, then set aside until the rice is ready.
  • When the risotto is done, add all the remaining ingredients and give the risotto a few more good stirs.
  • Serve with a crisp salad on the side, with a drizzle of of a simple balsamic-based vinaigrette. You may add some smoked paprika to the vinaigrette as well.

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Quinoa salad with Belgian endive, caramelised figs, apple, and thyme-crusted cashew cheese

Let’s go back an entire four weeks in time, when I started writing this post – but did not immediately find the time to finish it:

It’s been unseasonably warm the past few days  and weeks (13 to 18 degrees C), but today it’s raining cats and dogs. Finally true autum weather and time for a hot oat milk cocoa and some cookies. I’ve been picking the last raspberries of our second harvest (perfect for a breakfast of homemade nut granola and unsweetend soy yoghurt) , and the same goes for our fig tree yield. Yesterday I took down the last 2 kg (!) of figs and immediately turned them into jam. Yet another set of jars. My cupboard is now officially crammed, although I have already given away quite some: fig jam (three ways), fig chutney (two ways), cherry jam, cherry-fig jam, cherry-raspberry jam, cherries on syrup and rhubarb compote. Given the fact that we only have a teeny tiny yard, it’s been a productive summer. My rhubarb plant succumbed under the scorching July heat, though, and so did my sorrel.

Some decent part of summer remains stored in our freezer, so that at certain intervals, I can use some figs on pizza or in a salad. Although there are numerous ways to include figs in salads, I last week created one with figs as its centerpiece, together with Belgian endive, apples, walnuts and cashew ‘goat’ cheese. Apart from the cashews, all ingredients are locally sourced. Apples (or pears) and Belgian endive are as popular a pair as both apples and a tangy cashew cheese or figs and cashew cheese, so I decided to just mix them all. No way one could go wrong, I thought, as all these flavours -sweet, bitter, tangy- and textures – soft, crunchy, melty – seem to blend favourably. And so they did.

Quinoa salad with Belgian endive, caramelised figs, apple, and thyme-crusted cashew cheese

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

For the breaded cashew cheese:

  • For the cheese ingredients and recipe: see one of my earlier posts
  • For the breading:
    • 3/4 cup panko
    • 1/2 tsp thyme
    • 3/4 tsp salt
    • 1/4 tsp black pepper

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup (120 cl) olive oil
  • 1/8 cup (30 cl) walnut oil
  • 1/4 cup (60 cl) red wine vinegar (or a mixture of red balsamic vinegar and white wine vinegar)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp mustard
  • 1/4 cup (about 3-4 TB) fig jam
  • salt and pepper

For the salad:

  • 1 sweet apple (such as Braeburn or Jonagold)
  • 2 heads of Belgian endive
  • 1 small red onion
  • a decent portion of lamb’s lettuce
  • a handful of toasted walnuts and pumpkin seeds
  • 8 fresh figs
  • 1/2 – 1 cup uncooked quinoa (I used red)

Directions

For the breaded cashew cheese

  • prepare cashew cheese mixture according to the recipe
  • take a silpat mat, spoon some mixture onto a serving ring and press, until you end up with a flat round ‘cheese’ – repeat this 4-5 times
  • freeze these cheeses (on the silpat mat) for at least half an hour, or until they have reached a solid consistency so that you can easily take them of the silpat mat
  • bread the cheeses with the panko-herb mixture, and subsequently fry them gently on both sides with some olive oil in a frying pan.

For the vinaigrette

  • mix all ingredients

For the salad

  • cut the figs in half or in quarters and gently let them caramelise in a frying pan with some agave syrup, salt and pepper
  • cook the quinoa
  • mix all ingredients, including the caramelised figs and the quinoa

Drizzle the vinaigrette over your salad, and place the herb-crusted cashew cheese on top of it. And above all: enjoy!

Mocha-speculoos ice cream.

Coffee and sugar are an inseparable pair to me. Not to say I take sugar in my coffee; truth is, I do not drink coffee (tea please!) and only take coffee in sugary treats: mocha cakes, coffee spiked chocolate, macchiato soy milk, café noir biscuits, … You name it, as long as it caters to my sweet tooth. Coffee and sugar established their – at least to me – crucial palatal partnership during my early childhood.

When growing up, I did have breakfast with a cup of coffee every now and then. Not to drink, but to dunk my speculoos biscuits in. A delicate operation, demanding experience, as the cookie needed to absorb the exact right amount of liquid that would make it spreadable on my slice of bread. One drop too many, and the completely saturated biscuit would crumble and dissolve, and sink to the bottom of the coffee cup as one irretrievable mash, only to be discarded in the sink at the end of the meal. But with the right instinctive feel, you ended up with a delicacy on your bread.

Entire generations of Belgian children must have grown up having coffee-infused speculoos sandwiches for breakfast. But then came the year 2006 and a reality tv show called De Bedenkers (The Inventors) in which contestants could showcase their inventions to a jury. Obviously meeting some need for ready-made spreadable cookie paste, two participants independently presented a recipe for ‘speculoos paste’. What ensued is quite an intriguing story containing all ingredients for drama, making headlines in Belgian newspapers between 2006 and 2011, the summary of which you can read in this article on the cookie butter patent wars.  It’s about competition, envy, lawsuits, a 180-degree plot twist, an elderly innocent blogging lady as ‘dea ex machina’ claiming to be the ‘real’ inventor (of something widely known…) and a multiply sold and eventually destroyed patent. But essentially that tv programme was the starting point for speculoos paste to surge into the ranks of both edible and non-edible eminent exported Belgian inventions, conquering the world and as such rubbing shoulders with French fries,  waffles, Brussels sprouts, Belgian endive, pralines, chocolate bars and chocolate spread. Some of these better for one’s BMI (also a Belgian invention) than others. The US demand is apparently so high an American production line is being set up. It should be functional in 2019.

Since the ‘invention’ and huge success of speculoos paste, this particular biscuit has slipped into plenty other food items, from liquor (speculoosjenever), over chocolate, to ice cream. Our custom cookie is now more custom than ever. Yet I still only buy the plain biscuits, mainly to use them for layering in freshly made vanilla pudding (a treat!). Never the speculoos paste (its caloric content being high, its nutritional value being zero), and never speculoos ice cream, as the store version is not vegan anyhow. Luckily speculoos ice cream is easy to make, and since speculoos is so strongly linked to coffee (there is a good reason why Lotus branded them Biscoff in the US), this weekend I decided to upgrade my ‘plain’ speculoos ice cream to mocha-speculoos ice cream. With a hint of chocolate, because coffee and chocolate are a good match too. Chocolate is a good match with just about anything, though perhaps not with Brussels sprouts (except as a prank).

The children and the husband were happy with this new experiment, and I doubly so, for not only was the taste just right and exactly as expected, the texture of the ice cream confirmed my suspicions (see my recent blog post on double cherry ice cream) that syrup is better suited for ice cream making than granulated (cane) sugar.

 

mocha-speculoos ice cream

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy, but you need an ice cream maker
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Ingredients

  • 160 ml (2/3 cup) strong coffee
  • 375 ml (1 1/2 cup) coconut milk
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) agave syrup
  • 75 g really finely ground speculoos biscuits, the equivalent of about 8 biscuits (I used a wholegrain variety, which I think tastes best)
  • 25 g coarsely crushed speculoos biscuits, so roughly 2 or 3
  • a handful of chocolate slivers/crushed chocolate callets and/or chocolate cookie crumbs [I used both. I started by adding chocolate, but then I remembered the bag with chocolate chocolate chip cookies that got crushed during a day out earlier that week, and decided to throw them in as well.]

Directions

  • Mix the coffee, coconut milk, coconut milk, agave syrup and the finely ground speculoos biscuits and pour the mixture into your ice cream maker.
  • Churn according to the directions of your ice cream maker (in mine it takes approximately 30-40 minutes)
  • Before removing the ice cream from the ice cream maker, add in the chocolate (chip crumbs) and the speculoos crumbs
  • Transfer to a container and let sit in the freezer for 3 more hours

Blackberry-peach salad with grilled smoky tempeh and balsamic blackberry vinaigrette.

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Blackberries – or brambles – are in season and there is no way not to notice, as they seem to be everywhere. Bramble bushes are vegetation of the invasive kind, something our bare legs experienced ‘first hand’ this July when trying to find the overgrown footpaths on Cornwall’s Ding Dong moor (don’t you just lóve that name?) that would bring us to neolithic stone monuments and remnants of a long gone industrial past. Wading through knee-high prickly shrubs (and carrying the children), we eventually got where we wanted to be, though not without scratches and scars.

Equally abundant (but of taller growth) were the blackberry bushes that seamed the less adventurous paths of the 12 km walk we made last Saturday (that was a record we set with the kids, and of course we celebrated that with ice cream afterwards ;-)). Here, the shrubs also carried loads of ripe blackberries, and having just consumed the apples and grapes we had carried along, we realised we had an empty container and thus an opportunity to pick these wild brambles and transport them without the risk of accidentally crushing them. [A propos crushing: that is what happened with my chocolate-chocolate chip cookies during a day trip earlier last week, and I ended up using the crumbs in… ice cream (but more about that in a separate blog post.]

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I am usually not that particularly fond of brambles. I mostly find them a little too tart to my taste. But the ones we picked last Saturday were, perhaps due to the extreme warm weather this summer, both smaller and sweeter than those I recall from my childhood days and my parents’ garden (where there is a huge bramble bush covering the entire length of one of the house’s exterior walls), and I was immediately looking forward to using them in… well, in something.

I did not rightaway know in what …(except for my soy yoghurt for breakfast), but still  being on a mission to bring more salads into this world I suddenly got this great idea, turned it into reality, and just look at this wonderfully colourful dish which part of my blackberry yield ended up in. That purple hue in the vinaigrette! The combination of ingredients was a bit of a calculated gamble, but lived up to its promise and truly did not disappoint. Absolutely a dish to keep.
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Blackberry-peach salad with grilled smoky tempeh and balsamic blackberry vinaigrette

  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

For the vinaigrette

  • 4 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB maple syrup
  • 2 TB white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 TB red balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1 garlic clove
  • salt and pepper

For the salad

  • 200 g smoked tempeh, sliced and grilled – I used the Veganomicon recipe for smoky grilled tempeh*
  • a handful of mixed greens
  • 1 peach, sliced
  • a large handful of toasted almond slivers
  • a cup of blackberries

*Smoky grilled tempeh (all credit to Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero):

  • 1 package tempeh (200 g)
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 TB soy sauce
  • 2 TB apple cider vinegar
  • 2 TB liquid smoke, hickory flavor
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

>> mix all ingredients for the marinade, and then grill the tempeh, pouring half of the marinate into the pan, until it has evaporated. Turn the tempeh slices and add the other half of the marinade. Grill until the marinade had again evaporated and the tempeh starts to caramelise.

Directions

For the vinaigrette:

Mix all ingredients in a  high (!) measuring cup with an immersion blender

For the salad:

Assemble all ingredients.

Serve with quinoa, rice, any other type of grain, pasta or potatoes. We had roasted fingerling potatoes.


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Double cherry ice cream.

As the heat (and unfortunately also the drought) persisted during the first week of August, I made the following my motto: ‘(at least) an ice cream a day keeps the warmth away’. Not really, but still. That week I made several types of ice cream. Creamy fruit popsicles to begin with. Those were coconut milk and fruit-based (#1: banana, orange and pineapple / #2: banana, nectarine and mango), fully naturally sweetened, and mainly for the children as this allowed them to have two ice creams per day ;-). I also churned chocolate-chocolate chip cookie dough and salty caramel pecan ice cream from the (no longer available) ice cream book ‘glass åt alla‘ (ice cream for everyone), starring recipes from five Swedish vegan chefs. They certainly pleased the palates of both our ice cream tasting guest on Wednesday and our dinner (+ dessert) guests on Thursday.

And then towards the end of that week I decided to mix some leftover coconut milk with a jar of my preserved cherries (on syrup) to make some instant ice cream, requiring only few ingredients and little time. The result was rather sweet, but very tasty. If you like cherries, of course, because the ice cream contains both cherry syrup and preserved cherries. As I wanted to eat that ice cream shortly after prepping it, I decided to skip the boiling part which is usually part of the process (since the arrowroot, which prevents the ice cream from crystallising, i.e. turning rock-hard, has to be added right after the mixture has boiled, but at that point no longer is 100 degrees Celcius). So no arrowroot, but no need to let the mixture cool down before churning it either, which saved me 2-3 hours, or actually more, as I usually let the ice cream sit in the fridge overnight.

And guess what, this must be, together with my lavender ice cream, the smoothest ice cream I ever made. Even when taking the last leftovers from the freezer yesterday, the ice cream was still pleasantly soft and had the ideal texture for immediate serving. My first guess would be it is because of the syrup, as syrup – instead of cane sugar – was also what I had used in my lavender ice cream. I will try and have this presumption corroborated in the near future with another ice cream flavour experiment, already having a very good candidate in mind. Never mind the fact that the weather finally is typically Belgian again.

Double cherry ice cream

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy peasy
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Ingredients

  • 300 ml coconut cream
  • 100 ml (whippable, but not whipped) soy cream (I used alpro)
  • 200 ml cherry syrup (from a jar of home-made preserved cherries in syrup)
  • 200 ml preserved cherries

Directions

Mix all ingredients and pour the mixture into your ice cream maker. Churn (in my ice cream maker, that takes about 40 minutes). Thereafter, let the ice cream sit in the freezer a couple of hours extra until it has reached a more solid consistency. Scoop and serve.

This ice cream will remain smooth even after more than a week in the freezer;

Oreo & Peanut Butter Ice Cream.

This July we spent our summer vacation in the UK. And as was the case in practically the whole of Europe, the (unusually) sunny weather and the temperatures we enjoyed (and I actually mean the ‘enjoy’ part, as they were between 22 and 27 degrees Celcius) called for ice cream, as did the plain fact that it was our holiday. So practically every day we went vegan ice cream hunting in the various local supermarkets (any other people out there who classify shopping in foreign supermarkets a full-fledged holiday activity, or are we just weird?) or at ice cream vendors’. Our catch: freshly made fruit and chocolate sorbets, lemon sorbet from Sainsbury’s, cornettos from various brands (Free From 4U and Cornetto), snowconut sticks from the Coconut Collaborative, smooze coconut and mango freezable popsicles, and the Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream range. Alas too many brands and flavours to my liking also were left untried, as there’s only so much ice cream one can digest. Among the ice cream we did eat, though, our number one was Ben & Jerry’s cookie and peanut ice cream. We had not bought that one in Belgium yet, as we frankly find it too expensive. In the UK, however, it was reasonably priced. Food items in general actually tend to be 20% cheaper there on average.

Once back in Belgium, and having to adjust to the scorching hot temperatures of a heat wave, I decided to make my own oreo (I know, palm oil… :-// ) and peanut butter (without palm oil!) ice cream. Making ice cream yourself has several advantages. It is cheaper, you can make a larger batch, you are fully in control of the ingredients (agave syrup, pure peanut butter, & more cookies!), you can pour it into popsicle molds (or not), and you do not support large multinationals (that are not so vegan or animal friendly at their very core, but just happen to have introduced some vegan products into their range now that they have realized that vegans spend money too).

I just improvised with the quantities and the ingredients, but I must have done something right, as the result was a very creamy, scoopable ice cream, which my husband proclaimed to be the best one I ever made. That might have been an exaggeration, but perhaps it was not. It was meant very sincerely, at least, and I honestly can recommend trying this recipe if you’re usually in for B&J’s.

Oreo & Peanut Butter Ice Cream

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup cashew milk
  • 2 cups (creamy) coconut milk
  • 2/3 cup syrup (I used a blend of maple syrup and agave syrup)
  • a pinch of natural vanilla (powder)
  • 2 TB arrowroot
  • 1/4 cup aquafaba
  • 4 – 5 crushed oreo cookies
  • 8 tsp peanut butter (I use 100% crunchy peanut butter)

Directions

  • Dissolve 2 TB arrowroot in the aquafaba and set aside
  • Bring the cashew milk, coconut milk, syrup and vanilla to a boil
  • Once the mixture is boiling, lower the heat and stir in the aquafaba/arrowroot mixture
  • Set in the fridge to cool (to speeden up the process, place the bowl with the ice cream mixture into larger bowl with chilled water)
  • Once the ice cream mixture has cooled down, it’s ready for the ice cream machine! Churn according to the directions of your ice cream maker (with mine it takes about 40 minutes). Towards the end of the process, add in the crushed/chopped oreo cookies and the peanut butter (by the dropfuls). If you do not want the peanut butter to dissolve somewhat into the ice cream, freeze it in advance (drop several half teaspoons on a silpat and freeze).
  • Optional: line a popsicle mold with chocolate, place it in the freezer, and fill it with ice cream once it’s ready. Freeze. Once frozen, decorate the popsicles with chocolate/peanut drizzle and oreo crumbs.

Hazelnut macaroons (Swedish nöttoppar).

Google Photos reminded me this week that it was four years ago since we made our first visit to Rosendals trädgård – Rosendal’s garden – in Djurgården, formerly a royal hunting domain, nowadays Stockholm’s largest and lushest park, its greenest lung right in the middle of the city. Although we lived in Stockholm for 2,5 years and visited Djurgården many times, it was only during the stretch of our final months there that we managed to pay this cosy flower garden / vegetable garden / orchard, with a small playground and renowned garden café a visit, for previously we never made it beyond the confines of Skansen, the open-air museum quasi next door to Rosendals trädgård. Our children were extremely eager visitors of Skansen (if you ever plan going there, it’s great to know that its traditional bakery sells some accidentally vegan sweet buns) and the place still holds a magical place in their memories. You might imagine that it was quite a task getting them to Rosendals trädgård along Djurdgårdsvägen without them noticing that we were actually passing by Skansen. But we actually managed that on that warm day in early June 2014.

Then half a year ago, when me and my husband were paying Stockholm a visit by ourselves, we biked from Slussen to Djurgården, and entering the domain of Rosendals trädgård, vivid memories of that day instantly resurfaced, and it felt as if our once nearly 3- and 5-year-olds could emerge right there, clamping first the trunks and then the branches of fruit trees, performing a balancing act on a wooden structure, giggling on the swings, and indulging in a cup of Lily & Hannah’s ice cream.

We did not have this raw ice cream this time, which in 2014 was still newly launched, and had at the time of our last visit in 2017 already made it to mainland Europe and our local Loving Hut‘s freezer. No, this time we decided to have a look at what that day’s buffet had to offer, and we unanimously settled on gigantic nöttoppar, hazelnut macaroons, that is. Ever since taking my first bite of that perfectly balanced piece of wonder (crunchy on the outside, tender and moist on the inside), packed with flavour and overwhelming my taste buds with pure hazelnut pleasure, I was determined to set out on a quest for recreation once we got home.

As things often go, that plan got snowed under. Autumn came, winter came, spring arrived, and no nöttoppar had emerged from my frequently used oven yet. But when I found some priceworthy packages of ground hazelnuts at a Lidl in Normandy during our Easter vacation, I picked some of these up, and knew what their destiny would be. Never mind that in Germany, Haselnussmakaronen are a typical Christmas treat, to me they can be baked and eaten all year round, be it May, August or September.

As I had previously experimented quite satisfactorily with aquafaba in coconut macaroons, I decided to sub the egg whites which you will find in regular hazelnut macaroon recipes by aquafaba here as well. As my previous subbing had yielded coconut macaroons that were perhaps somewhat moister than the result I had aimed for, I added some chia seeds here as well, hoping to achieve a more viscous liquid. A succesful thought, that was. Lo’ and behold the result and the recipe below.

 

 

 

Hazelnut macaroons.

  • Servings: 12 pieces
  • Difficulty: very easy
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Ingredients

  • 50 g vegan margarine
  • 200 g ground hazelnuts
  • 1 dl (1/3 cup + 1 TB) powdered sugar
  • 4 TB aquafaba
  • 1 heaped tsp chia seeds

Directions

  • Pre-heat the oven to 175 degrees Celcius
  • Mix the aquafaba with chia seeds and set the mixture aside until the seeds have reached a jelly-like consistency
  • Melt the margarine
  • Mix all ingredients in a bowl and form about 12 equal and slightly pointed mounds. Insert a full hazelnut in the middle, if you wish.
  • Bake for about 18-20 minutes
  • Let cool completely
  • Optional: decorate with chocolate

Double chocolate peanut butter-filled cookies. Or date caramel-filled, if you may.

Yesterday I came across this recipe for double chocolate peanut butter-filled cookies. I wanted to make those on the spot, and I immediately knew exactly how I wanted to veganise them. Forty minutes later these beauties were lying on my cooling rack, but I had to hide them until this early evening from the rest of the family so as to safeguard them for a quick photoshoot during daylight. Otherwise I don’t think there would have been any left!

For the filling, I used a combination of peanut and banana, but you could easily sub this with peanut & maple syrup, or even date caramel (which I plan to do next time, as I love date caramel and am curious about the result). Certainly to be baked again, judging after the children’s chocolate-smudged mouths after dinner.

Double chocolate peanut butter-filled cookies.

  • Servings: 10 cookies
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Ingredients

For the filling

  • 1/4 cup peanut butter (do use pure peanut butter, and avoid the processed kind containing palm oil)
  • 1/2 banana
  • A few drops of vanilla extract

For the cookies

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup besan (chickpea flour)
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 dark cane sugar (or use regular cane sugar in combination with a teaspoon molasses)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla (either pure vanilla, or vanilla essence)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 4 TB aquafaba
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 agave or maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup peanuts: for garnish

Directions

Pre-heat your oven (175 degrees celcius)

For the filling:

Mash the banana thoroughly with a fork and mix with the peanut butter (and vanilla) until it gets a smooth consistency

For the cookie dough

Mix dry and wet ingredients separately, then combine. Knead until you get a non-sticky dough. If it sticks, add a little flour.

Divide the dough into 20 equal parts, and roll them into walnut-sized balls. Each time flatten one ball (I find a flat-botttomed glass works fine), then scoop a teaspoon of the peanut fill in the centre, then place another flattened doughball – in which some peanuts have been pressed – on top, then seal the edges. Proceed like this until you have 10 temptingly looking cookies on your cookie sheet, ready to be baked. Transfer to the pre-heated oven and bake for 15 minutes at 175 degrees celcius.

Za’atar tofu bowl with mint-pomegranate pesto.

The sight or thought of pomegranates always catapults me straight back to the summer of 1999, the year when Prince’s major hit from 1982 again hit the charts after its re-release. The song, in a way, exuded that time’s atmosphere of anxious anticipation of the new millenium to come, which was generally left unspoken, except for the loud buzz around the supposedly looming Y2K bug, predicting inevitable chaos.

We could all die any day/ But before I’ll let that happen, I’ll dance my life away.

The song never failed to be played at parties in those days, at which my friends and me danced away, nearly imperceptibly already shedding the thinnest outer layers of our carefree student selves, gradually exposing our eagerness to embark on the terrifyingly exciting adult life ahead of us, not knowing where it would take us, as any direction still seemed possible. Which in a way was true.

In that summer of 1999, before embarking on our final year of study (or at least before obtaining our master’s degree, as in 2000 we all decided to extend our period of study to varying degrees) my friends and I decided to enjoy some of the final weeks of our 3-month summer break in Crete. Of course we had a wonderful time, for Crete was

  • abundant sun, every single day (as opposed to our habitual capricious climate back home) – and sunburns
  • sea and beaches
  • swimming pools (including the pool from the next-door hotel – fancier than ours – which we once sneaked into)
  • impressive historical sites
  • magnificent landscapes
  • walks in the rough countryside nearby (an activity regarded by Cretans as utterly outlandish, as we were offered rides several times, obviously assuming we were in need of transport)
  • both lousy Dutch beer in more touristy stretches and excellent Greek wine elsewhere
  • great Greek food (although quite monotonous after ten days, since the range for vegetarians – which I still was back then – was restricted)
  • dancing hassapikos with locals during wedding parties taking place at our hotel (as the management preferred inviting its hotel guests to join these parties and offering them free grapes and wine to receiving complaints about excessive noise and sleepless nights)
  • taking roadtrips, sitting in the back of a 4×4, the wind blowing through our long hair (yes, mine was pretty long back then too)
  • and just great fun

It was on such a roadtrip, taking us to Sitia, Vai and Agios Nikolaios, that I saw and tasted pomegranate for the first time. One has to remember that this was 1999. As odd as this may seem now, pomegranates had not made it to the average Belgian kitchen back then. Our car had just conquered a scarily steep slope in Vai (which I felt compelled to photograph – see below), when we decided to take a break and have something to drink. There was a café around the corner, where our youthful entrance – and of course the fact that we were tourists -apparently disrupted the clientele’s usual composition. Only old male Greeks of a very respectful age where having their coffee there. So the five of us (4 women and 1 man in their twenties) got some particular attention and were lavished with hospitality, which showed itself for instance in the fact that we were instantly offered some pomegranate kernels, from a freshly cut fruit, which I found quite intriguing. Today, meticulously picking out the pitch-red arils from a pomegranate fruit, some part of me always floats back to those early September days under the Cretan sun.

In this za’atar tofu bowl, pomegrate features in two ways: the arils in the salad on the one hand, pomegranate molessas in the pesto on the other. In this version, I prepared some couscous and incorporated this in the salad, but you might just as well have this salad, topped with za’atar tofu and mint-walnut pesto, with some pita bread or flatbread instead. Either way it will be lovely.

Crete & a perfectly azure sea, 1999

Crete & me, 1999

Steep street in Sitia, Crete, 1999

Za'atar tofu bowl with mint-pomegranate pesto

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

    For the za’atar tofu

    • 400 g tofu, pressed, drained and cubed
    • 2 TB za’atar spice mix (*see recipe below if you can’t find it at your grocer’s)
    • 1,5 TB harissa
    • 1,5 tsp agave syrup (or another sweetener)
    • 1 garlic clove
    • 3 TB olive oil
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 TB lemon juice
    • For the finishing touch after frying: 1 TB cornstarch or arrowroot, 1 tsp harissa, 1 tsp agave syrup

    For the mint-pomegranate pesto

    • 1 cup loosely packed mint
    • 1 cup loosely packes flatleaf parsley
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1/2 to 3/4 cup walnuts
    • 1 garlic clove
    • 1 TB pomegranate molasses
    • 2 TB water
    • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • za’atar spice mix
    • 3 TB sumak
    • 1,5 TB toasted sesame seeds
    • 1 TB oregano
    • 1 TB thyme
    • 1 TB marjoram
    • 1/2 tsp salt

    For the salad

    • 2-3 tomatoes, cubed
    • 2 cups flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
    • 1 garlic clove, pressed
    • 1 (roasted) bell pepper, cubed
    • 1/2 cucumber, sliced and chopped
    • Handful of toasted almond slivers
    • Pomegranate kernels of 1/2 pomegranate (or an entire one, if you wish and feel up to pinching all the kernels out of the fruit at once!)
    • A decent splash of both olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • Salt to taste
    • Some mint leaves and olives if desired
    • Optional: couscous or flatbread

Directions

For the tofu: mix all ingredients and pour over the tofu cubes in a container (with lid). Shake the container and let marinate at least overnight. When frying the tofu, sprinkle some TB of cornstarch over the cubes, and make sure all cubes are evenly coated. Fry until nicely browned. For a final touch, add a tsp of agave syrup and harissa, and add a final coating layer.

For the salad: mix all ingredients

For the pesto: mix all ingredients in a food processor

Watercress cream soup with spinach & sorrel.

Whereas France’s major rivers (the Loire, Rhine and Seine) probably ring a bell, chances are quite low you might ever have heard of la Veules, the country’s shortest river, its source and mouth only a little over a kilometer apart in the small, picturesque village of Veules-les-Roses along Normandy’s Alabaster coast.

During our Easter break, we paid Veules-les-Roses a visit on a day when an impermeable wall of dense fog only allowed the sound of rumbling waves falling onto the pebbly beach and the taste of salty sea air to slip through to where we stood on the boardwalk. The sea audibly and nearly palpably present, yet totally invisible. Luckily, once inside the village, there was plenty to be seen. Such as the pretty sight of la Veules’ riverbed full of watercress next to one of the village’s watermills. Watercress has been cultured in this shallow, clear watercourse since the 14th century until the present day. Someone was right in the middle of harvesting some watercress at the very moment when we were passing by.

But what to do with it once it’s been cut? Watercress is most frequently used in soups and salads, but can also be turned into a lovely pesto. Since I am an ardent soup lover, it is a soup recipe I came up with here, in which the peppery taste of watercress is paired with – but not overwhelmed by – crisp spinach and tangy sorrel, and smoothened by some silky soy cream.

Watercress cream soup with spinach & sorrel

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 1400 ml (about 5 to 6 cups) vegetable stock
  • 250 g celeriac, diced
  • 150 g watercress (stems included), finely cut
  • 100 g tender (baby) spinach
  • 40 g sorrel (stems removed)
  • 1 TB herbes de Provençe
  • salt and pepper
  • 150 ml soy or other plant-based cream

Directions

  • Fry the onion until transclucent, add the cubed celeriac and fry 2-3 more minutes
  • Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil
  • Once the celeriac is tender, add in all the chopped greens and the herbs
  • Once wilted, blend the soup with an immersion blender until smooth
  • Finally, stir in the cream