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.


Late Spring Fattoush Salad w/Rosemary Farinata (v/gf)

by Maja Lukic


 

Friends, it's been too long. The last few months have been hectic and surreal. I won't bore you with the uninteresting details, but January feels like a long time ago. I’ve been writing other things, which you can dig into and read, assuming surrealist/imagist poetry is your thing. 

And I was out of the country. I traveled around France for a few weeks, which rewired my thinking in a fantastic way. Europe is home, and I miss it most when I'm actually there. I visited family in Nantes, absorbed the loveliness of a damp but green spring in the Pays de la Loire, and then I spent a glorious week in Paris, where the weather was equally rainy. 

But Paris glows for me--in vintage beauty and grace and silence. The color green predominates—in the waters of the Canal Saint-Martin, the park benches, the ornate historic doors of the Marais. The city meets a traveler’s expectations but then blooms and saturates beyond that, defying any attempts to document or photograph or write about it. But we all do, even though we should be content with just existing in its complex system of architectural magic, romance and nostalgia--and occasional ugliness. It’s hard to overlook the city’s mementos of tension and brutality, like the black-and-white “Je Suis Charlie” posters peeling and fraying on the Place de la Republique. And, for women, street harassment levels seem to be high. 

Even so, the streets, wide boulevards or narrow cobblestone passageways, are meant to be walked in solitude or with company, and always, there is the scent of perfume from some unknown source trailing you, or you are trailing it. Twilight sinks between the low buildings and the sky, pink and gray, sort of expands over you. 

One of the things that struck me about France is how much better the food is--I know it's beyond basic to say that but stay with me. It wasn't just the obvious notes we all expect of France--macarons, bread, galettes/crêpes, pastry, chocolate, wine, dairy--it was more the subtle, unexpected elements that came in at a slant but really solidified my desire to quit life and move to France immediately. 

I’m talking about lettuce. Salads. Mâche. Endive. Mushrooms. I ate absurd amounts of salad in France because it tasted the way salad should. Even the avocados were better there--buttery green and ripe. I checked off most of the restaurants I wanted to see, but more often than not, I shopped the local markets near my apartment in the Marais and brought salad greens, fresh eggs, and vegetables home. It seemed perfectly fine to eat salad and buttered bread (with wine, of course) for days.

Another pleasant revelation: the growing availability of gluten-free food. Counterintuitive, for sure, but sans gluten has spread to even France. Although I didn't do this the entire time (there were too many interesting “glutenous” things to sample), there seemed to be GF options almost everywhere I went, from galettes at Breizh Cafe (buckwheat crêpes are naturally GF) to macarons (again GF). When in doubt, French chocolate and salted butter caramels are always GF. While I was still in Nantes, we traveled along the Brittany coast, and paused in Guérande, a small medieval village near the coast. This charming town is home to the famous salt marshes that produce the iconic gray sel de Guérande. I bought the salt, and I also bought some outrageous salted butter caramels made with that salt. In Pornique, also on the coast, I devoured the best (GF) galette with leeks, tomatoes, and local goat cheese. (I regret not also trying the grilled sardines while there.). And everywhere I went, the French GF breads were shockingly good. The French have figured something out. Basic grocery store shelf-stable GF bread, with the same frightening and opaque ingredients as American breads (I checked the label) was somehow glorious.

I was tempted to stay, but I eventually simmered down and realized I had responsibilities and a life back in New York, so I flew back, suitcase packed with chocolate, Amora mustard, and salt. 

After this long monologue, you'd expect a French recipe, right? And you would be wrong. I'm serving up a cultural mash-up today. Neither of the countries involved is France. Inspired by my laid-back market salad and bread meals at home in Paris, here is a Middle Eastern fattoush salad with rosemary farinata, the Italian chickpea flour pancake.  

This salad takes its inspiration from a recipe in David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. David is a great and witty writer, his recipes are smart and careful, he loves chocolate, and he lives the expat life in Paris, all of which makes him my Francophile hero. (I mean, he recently picnicked at Versailles. How was your weekend?).  

A fattoush salad consists of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, bright sumac-tinged vinaigrette, and some crumbled toasted pita bread to soak up that vinaigrette. Instead of adding pita bread, though, I decided to make farinata, a close cousin of the French socca, but more tender with a custard-like texture. Typically, the pita bread is crumbled and folded into the salad and you can certainly do that here, or you can serve the salad with a whole slice of farinata and eat it on the side. It's your salad.

Late Spring Fattoush Salad w/Farinata (v/gf)

Adapted from My Paris Kitchen

Serves 2

These salad ingredients are optional. Experiment with the seasons and with what you have. Fava beans or fresh shelling peas would have been a delight in here. If you don't want to go to the trouble of preparing the farinata, toast some good pita bread and crumble it into the salad. Wine is also a delight with this meal.  Good flaked sea salt is not optional.

Sumac is a scarlet-colored, coarsely ground spice with a transient citrusy flavor. It’s a common spice in Middle Eastern dishes and familiar to anyone who Insta-stalks Ottolenghi and the Bon Appetit editorial staff (no apologies). It sort of “makes” the flavor of the fattoush salad. Though it used to be difficult to find, I have seen it in regular grocery stores. As with all spices, especially the ground variety, the most reliable source is a spice shop or ethnic food store like Kalustyan’s in New York.

4 cups lettuce greens (romaine, butter lettuce, etc.)

1 cucumber, diced 

2 medium tomatoes, sliced or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup radishes, thinly sliced

4 scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)

1 cup tender herbs (parsley, mint, basil, cilantro), chopped 

1 cup other add-ins (sprouts, micro greens, radish flowers)

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp ground sumac

to serve: toasted pita bread or Rosemary Farinata (recipe below), flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the farinata (see recipe below) and allow it to cool, or toast pita bread in a 350 F degree oven for about 8 to 10 minutes. 

Whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, and olive oil. Season with salt, and adjust acidity to taste. 

In a large bowl, toss together the lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, radishes, herbs, sprouts, flowers, and micro greens. Toss with the vinaigrette, the sumac, and additional sea salt and black pepper. 

Divide the salad into two bowls, and sprinkle with additional sumac or lemon juice and black pepper. Serve each salad with a slice of rosemary farinata (or shards of toasted pita bread). 

 

Rosemary Farinata (v/gf)

Serves 6

The standard formula for farinata is a 3:1 ratio (by weight) of water to chickpea flour. For me, with time and practice, this has evolved into roughly 3 cups water for every 1 1/2 cups chickpea flour. Expect a thin and watery batter, approximating the consistency of crêpe batter or heavy cream. It will look rather undone and soft when you first pull it out of the oven, but it firms as it cools. The farinata holds up well in the fridge and is delicious the next day as well. 

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups chickpea flour

3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for baking/serving

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced (optional)

freshly ground black pepper, flaky sea salt

Add chickpea flour and salt to a bowl. Slowly whisk in the water until a smooth, thin batter forms, and no clumps remain. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Cover and let the batter sit for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.  

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Slide a 10-inch cast-iron skillet into the oven for a few minutes to warm up. Remove the skillet from the oven and add enough oil to fully coat the bottom, swirling the skillet so that the oil coats the sides as well.  

Stir the batter (chickpea flour tends to settle on the bottom), and add the minced rosemary, if using, and some freshly ground black pepper. Carefully pour the batter into the skillet and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the pancake no longer jiggles in the middle. It will appear soft and undone, however. Allow it to cool until set.

Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and additional black pepper. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.