Savory Pancake with Mustard Greens, Onion & Cumin

by Maja Lukic

Happy new year, all! Everyone prepare their list of artificial goals for self-improvement? I'm joking. After months away from this place, I have a new recipe--and this dish should fit well into whatever health regime you've adopted for January. 

Staring into the dark tunnel of 2016, I can only hope for better things in the new year. Recent history gives us little reason to be optimistic. 2015 was strange and difficult, often so full of hatred and intolerance that turning away from the onslaught of news and social media commentary seemed the only rational choice. 

But as the brilliant writer George Saunders has often pointed out, regressing into darkness is easy--to be hopeful is hard. 2015 had its moments. I traveled to France and Serbia to see family, rediscovered cities I knew when I was younger, and remembered how much I love studying languages and discovering other cultures through music, food, and literature. I met fantastic writers, incredible people and thinkers, and there were many long and inspiring conversations. There were many great moments of silence, too--practically kneeling at the foot of some art piece or marveling over a beautiful poem or book. I moved further toward poetry as a way of thinking and understanding our world and reconciling its terrible and brutal complexities. 

From a more global standpoint, I was thrilled to see climate issues receive greater (though belated and still insufficient) attention in public discourse. And who wasn't impressed by these climate change activists in Paris who left their shoes behind on the Place de la Republique after the French authorities prohibited their scheduled march?

In a spirit of kindness, here is a recipe constructed almost entirely from farmers market ingredients. I say "almost" because the chickpea flour, spices, and oil certainly did not come from the market, but we're close. This savory pancake is a cross-breed between something like socca/farinata and a frittata. For lack of a more adequate term, I call it pancake. 

Technically, any other type of leafy green (or other vegetable) would work well here, but I love using mustard greens. There have been beautiful bunches at the market for a few weeks now. Their color is a chlorophyll yellow-green, and their scent and flavor are equally pungent. Eaten raw, the sinus-clearing abrasion of the greens is sometimes overwhelming. But when cooked down with onions and spices, they become beautiful and muted with only a background of Dijon sharpness remaining on the plate. And eating greens today is supposed to bring good luck in the New Year, yes?

I'm not the first person to make this request but in this new year, do something generous for others, for the environment, and for yourselves.

I end this note as I began it: wishing you a happy year.  

Savory Pancake with Mustard Greens Onion & Cumin (gf)

Makes 1 10" pancake

1/2 cup chickpea flour

1/2 cup water

2 eggs

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra 

1 onion, sliced into half-moons

1 bunch mustard greens, washed, trimmed and sliced into ribbons

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

Aleppo pepper and sea salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees.

Whisk chickpea flour, water, and eggs together until the batter is smooth. Add turmeric, a pinch of sea salt, and a tablespoon olive oil. Cover and store in the fridge for at least two hours, and preferably overnight.

Wash the mustard greens and trim off any thick stems. Stack the leaves together, roll them into a cigar, and slice into 1-inch ribbons.  

Over medium heat, warm a little bit of oil in an oven-safe 10-inch skillet. Sautee the sliced onions until translucent. Add cumin seeds, Aleppo pepper, and a pinch of salt. Cook for a minute or so until the spices are warmed through. Add the mustard greens to the pan and cook for about three to five minutes until the greens have cooked down. Add more oil if the pan is dry.

Spread the vegetables evenly over the pan and pour in the prepared pancake batter. Tip the skillet slightly to evenly coat all over the vegetables. Continue cooking on the stove for a minute or so. 

Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for about five to seven minutes, or until the pancake is firm to touch. Be careful and don't over bake. 

Allow the pancake to cool slightly before using a heat-proof spatula to loosen the edges from the pan and slide the pancake onto a platter. Slice and serve immediately or cover and store in the fridge for up to two days. 

Vegan Blackberry Chocolate Mousse

by Maja Lukic

The weather feels transitional this morning, neither too hot nor chilly, though even the hottest days right now carry a subsurface transience. Summer's intensity has diminished, but I'm currently packing for a Europe trip (or should be) as I write this so things are beginning as well. This closing time, then incipience of a new cultural season, and the slow repopulation of August's city is why this month is one of my favorite months of the year. Nor do I hate the glorious produce available at the markets, which I would advise everyone to consume raw as often as possible--with good sea salt and olive oil. Tomato season, can you be always?

One recent humid afternoon, when it was still true summer, I set about making chocolate avocado mousse, which has been a point of contention for me for quite some time. (I realize how absurd that sounds). The basic recipe, a favorite among vegans and raw foodists, is avocado whipped in a high-speed blender and flavored with cacao or melted chocolate. The promise is a dessert that replicates the silky texture and flavor of traditional chocolate mousse but sans eggs, cream, or tofu. For as many years as avocado mousse has been a thing, I've thoroughly mocked the idea.

I never understood how something that is ostensibly sweetened guacamole could rise to a flavorful dessert beyond the sum of its unlikely parts.

I won't name the source of the recipe I first tried,but the ingredient list called for enough raw avocado to make California weep. I was already fairly dubious about the whole enterprise, and when the final result came out of my blender, it looked creamy enough. But the flavor was no good. There was a bland avocado aftertaste--even with banana and almond butter thrown into the mix. I tossed the lot of it into the trash and tried not to be bitter about all the avocado toast (or guac) I could have had instead. 

I think the key to a successful avocado mousse is breaking or masking that flavorless avocado aftertaste, a sort of bland fatty feel on the tongue. A higher ratio of banana to avocado is the first step. The second step is either actual melted chocolate or at least a healthy infusion of high-quality cacao.  And then it needs a top note of some sort. This additional flavor could be vanilla, espresso, or even mesquite powder, which is reminiscent of caramel. Me, I was inspired by a pretty bottle of liqueur sitting on my shelf.

French crème de mure, for the uninitiated, is a blackberry liqueur. For gin fanatics, it's most commonly associated with blackberry brambles. The concentrated blackberry flavor and sweet scent are intense and fantastic. Crème de mure is more than adequate when served on its own with a splash of tonic water or club soda. But I figured it wouldn't hurt a dessert either. I was right--it didn't hurt.

Crème de mure can be difficult to find so you may substitute a different fruit liqueur such as cassis (black currant liqueur), cherry liqueur, or raspberry liqueur. The adventurous are welcome to experiment with pomegranate molasses. There is an intentional theme at work here--I love the combination of ripe dark or red fruit with chocolate.

Vegan Blackberry Chocolate Mousse

Adapted from Oh She Glows

Serves 2-3

The mousse can be stored in the fridge overnight, sealed well with plastic. Because of the bananas and avocado, the surface may darken from exposure to air. This is no problem--if you wish, scrape off the thin dark layer before serving.

3 frozen bananas, chopped

1/2 avocado

2 tbsp. raw almond butter

4 tbsp. cacao powder

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

splash of almond milk

1 tbsp. crème de mure

pink Himalayan sea salt

Toppings: blackberries, edible flowers, cacao nibs, etc.

Add the first five ingredients to a high-powered blender and pulse a few times to incorporate. Blend until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides and adding almond milk as needed to process. Add crème de mure and  a pinch of sea salt. Blend again until incorporated. Serve immediately topped with fruit, flowers, and cacao nibs. Chill in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Garlic Scape Pesto

by Maja Lukic

Midsummer. Slow heat. I have not been cooking much and, accordingly, today's recipe requires no cooking. What I'm feeling these days is alt-pesto, as in pesto without basil, pesto without cheese. Kale, collard green, or plain nut pesto. Anything alternative or unusual is welcome. And I do not eat my pesto with pasta, which dilutes its raw, pungent magic. The pesto-pasta dialogue has been stale for some time, I think. Pesto, as far as I'm concerned, is an unaffiliated, nonpartisan sauce/condiment that works beautifully in any number of non-traditional pairings.  

Here, basil makes some room for tangles of garlic scapes, which you can find in massive piles at the market (though they may be on their way out now). Last summer, I passed them by--they seemed too alien, and I had other plans. This summer, I've been packing them into plastic bags whenever they appear, often buying more than I could possibly use.

These lovely green coils are the stems that grow from the bulbs of hard-necked garlic. Left on their own to grow, the stems eventually bloom and you can see the creamy tips have already formed, but they're generally pulled from the ground before they reach that stage. Their garlic flavor is discernible but far softer than mature garlic--analogous to chives.

There's a beautiful simplicity to using garlic scapes in the kitchen and unlike a lot of organic or local produce, they're a terrific bargain. Fresh produce from the farmers market typically has a short life. Most items, even if properly prepped and stored, will not last beyond a few days. Some vegetables require immediate use. Remember ramps? Exeunt: those things. Enter: garlic scapes and their remarkable longevity. Stored in a plastic bag in the fridge, garlic scapes will stay fresh for up to two weeks, though I have discovered that the garlic flavor deepens as they age. The stems are hardy and smooth, unblemished and relatively clean, requiring no peeling or scrubbing beyond a rinse in cold water. This eliminates my least favorite part of cooking--peeling, cleaning, and then chopping garlic cloves. Nothing maddens me quite so much as the whispery tissue scraps of garlic skin that cling to my fingers, my knife blade or the cutting board.

This is a dairy-free pesto because with both nuts and pine nuts, the cheese seems superfluous to me. And without dairy, it keeps better in the fridge and freezer. The lemon juice, however, is indispensable. I'm serious. I've never understood recipes that deploy green vegetables without at least a hit of lemon juice or vinegar. The acid is necessary to cut through the grassy bitter flavor of most raw green vegetables and to balance the fat from the nuts and oil. Use the lemon. Typically, I'll finish this with a healthy dose of Aleppo pepper because I use Aleppo indiscriminately these days, but you can certainly substitute another dried red pepper.

Give this pesto a shot. Most recently, I've used it on polenta, on avocado toast, on frittatas and poached eggs, stirred into cooked grains, on a bagel with smoked salmon, and as a dip for sliced cucumbers. Enjoy & stay cool!

Garlic Scape Pesto (v/gf)

Makes 2 cups

I love using mostly walnut oil here, but you can reduce the stated quantity or substitute olive oil. I have tried this pesto with walnuts, but I found them too bitter and grainy. The trinity of nutritional yeast, cashews, and pine nuts is most pleasing to me. but depending on the state of your pantry, you can substitute any other type of nut. The lemon juice, though, is non-negotiable. See above. 

1 cup basil, lightly packed

12-15 garlic scapes, trimmed and chopped

1/2 cup pine nuts and/or cashews

1 tbsp nutritional yeast

3 tbsp walnut oil

1-2 tbsp olive oil

zest of 1/2 lemon + lemon juice, to taste

sea salt, Aleppo pepper (or other dried red pepper), to taste

Toast the nuts in a dry skillet over medium hot or in a 350 F oven until just warmed through and lightly browned, about 4 to 7 minutes. Toast cashews and pine nuts separately.

Rinse the garlic scapes, and trim the cream-colored buds. Discard the buds. Chop the green stems and add to a food processor along with the basil, toasted nuts, and nutritional yeast. Process until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in both oils. Season the pesto with lemon juice, sea salt, and Aleppo pepper to taste, and process until completely smooth. Pesto will keep in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for 3-4 months.

What should you do with your pesto?

Roast these mushrooms.