Chocolate Banana Açaí Bowl

by Maja Lukic


A quick note today to say that I haven't forgotten this blog exists but other projects have forced me away from recipe development. A friend is launching a special venture in October so look out for an announcement soon.

In other news, safe to assume you're all grieving the end of summer, too, no? The return of apples and winter squash to the markets is something to look forward to, I'll admit. But the claustrophobic presence of pumpkin spice everything everywhere--simmer down, Starbucks--feels premature. The whole thing leaves me feeling cold and sad, quite frankly. And if you're at all like me--that is, if you're human--grief is inevitably associated with chocolate consumption.

And since we're also heading into flu season--you're welcome for that reminder--I figured everyone could use a bright antioxidant boost with an infusion of chocolate.  Because, if you're like me, chocolate is associated with a critically high level of bliss.

This is a standard açai berry bowl but with a chocolate twist. For the açai, I love the unsweetened frozen puree from Sambazon, which arrives in individually wrapped packets. Açai is tart and not at all sweet so if you would like some extra sugar, buy sweetened puree or add more dates. Açai is a fantastic source of antioxidants and the frozen puree packets are the easiest way to incorporate açai into your diet.

I also love adding coconut butter (or coconut manna) to smoothies in general but especially if I'm using cacao powder. The combination of the two creates a creamy chocolate mouthfeel. Coconut butter, if you're not already familiar with it, is made from dried coconut flesh. Note that coconut butter is different from coconut oil--it's creamier and sweeter, with a texture redolent of other nut butters. Widely available now and absolutely delicious straight out of the jar. It hardens at temperatures below approximately 73 F degrees. For that reason, I recommend blending the room temperature ingredients first before adding the frozen banana and açai. 

Chocolate Banana Açaí Bowl (v/gf)

Serves 1

2 packets frozen Açaí berry puree, unsweetened (like Sambazon)

2 tbsp cacao powder

1 apple, cored and chopped

1-2 dates, pitted and chopped (or maple syrup)

1 tbsp coconut butter/manna (not coconut oil)

1 frozen banana

almond milk 

garnish: coconut flakes, hemp seeds, raspberries

Place the açai packets under running hot water for about 5 seconds or soak in boiled water for a similar time to loosen. 

Place the apple, cacao powder, coconut butter, and a chopped date or two into a blender and pulse until roughly incorporated, adding a splash of almond milk as needed. Add the açai packets and frozen banana. Blend just until smooth. Do not over blend.

Pour the smoothie into a bowl and garnish with coconut flakes, hemp seeds, and fresh raspberries (or other fruit). Serve immediately. 

Note: For the frozen Açaí berry puree, each Sambazon packet is 3.5 oz. or 100g. If you need a sweeter bowl, add an additional date or try sweetened acai. If you are not working with a high powered blender, use maple syrup instead of date for better texture. 


Cucumber & Borage Flower G&T (and a blog birthday)

by Maja Lukic


Veggies & Gin was a year old as of July 22. Did I miss this significant event in the life of my blog because, on that particular day, I was sitting on a beach in Puerto Rico with a little F. Scott Fitz and iced drink in hand? Possibly. But we've already established that I'm a lazy dilettante of a food blogger. 

In any event, to celebrate the belated blog birthday, I made some cooling gin cocktails. This seems appropriate because the idea for starting this blog probably has its origins in a glass of gin on some slow balmy night last summer. 

On vacation last week, I enjoyed days and nights of sweltering gin weather but because rum is king in the Caribbean, I had to wait until I was back in New York to indulge in this gin and cucumber combination. And, by the way, I'm going on record now to claim that I coined the phrase "gin weather" a few years back. If you'd like to dispute that, go ahead--please use the contact form. 

The cucumbers here are of the slim, spindly Asian burpless variety (the name derives from the fact that these varieties contain little to no cucurbitacin, a compound that produces a bitter flavor in other cucumbers and impacts indigestion in some people). If you see them at the market, don't pass them up. They're sweet and fragrant with no trace of bitterness. The thin skin can be prickly but becomes smooth after a good scrub under cold running water. 

And then I was doing my usual run at the market a few weekends ago when I saw these pretty blue and lilac star-shaped Borage flowers. Predictably, I was determined to buy them long before the girls at the stand informed me that Borage flowers taste like cucumbers. They didn't lie, by the way--Borage has a clean, fresh flavor, and plays well in fresh salads or anywhere cucumbers are welcome. The color disparity is due to the age of the flowers--Borage flowers are pale pink/violet when they first open but deepen into twilight blue as they mature. I've also since learned that Borage has healing properties, though I wouldn't assume those benefits hold strong in the presence of clear spirits.

The recipe itself is dead simple and requires no elaboration. You've handled a G&T with skill and grace before and I trust you can handle this one as well. One final note: with this interplay of cucumber flavors, I recommend using Hendrick's gin. Not because it's a special favorite of mine (which it is) but because Hendrick's has those lovely cucumber tones. 

Reflecting on this past year, it's been an interesting experience. My photography has improved from bad to less bad, I've upgraded to a serious camera, and I think I've been better at following instinct and inspiration when it comes to selecting and testing recipes (maybe). I still consider this blog a privilege (my lack of diligence notwithstanding) and a tremendous outlet for creative expression. Thanks for reading and thanks for the support!

Cucumber & Borage Flower Gin & Tonic 

Makes 1 cocktail

1 1/2 oz. gin (Hendrick's)

1/3 cup sliced, unpeeled burpless cucumbers

tonic water

Borage flowers

ice cubes, lime

Muddle cucumber slices in the bottom of a glass with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon. Add ice and a handful of Borage flowers. Pour gin over top and top off the glass with tonic water. Stir and squeeze some fresh lime juice into the cocktail. 

Serve, garnished with additional Borage flowers, if you wish.

Note: Use a decent brand of tonic--anything too harsh and acerbic will overwhelm the cucumber. 


Shredded Zucchini Salad

by Maja Lukic


Zucchini season has commenced. I, for one, am thrilled about this development. That, and the beginning of Summer of Riesling. Because how can you not get excited about an entire summer of delicious Riesling? (Though I must admit that this summer, like everyone else, I'm obsessed with Albariño wines). 

I've never understood why people complain about needing to dispose of large quantities of zucchini. I can never seem to keep enough zucchini in my kitchen. In any case, it's not even peak season yet and everyone is making zucchini noodles and pasta, which is an acceptable treatment. But I'm proposing that you do something a little different here.  I'm proposing that you shred or grate your zucchini and then serve it up as a fantastic raw salad.  

This is about as refreshing and delicious as it gets. For instance, it was so hot last weekend that I couldn't comprehend the thought of solid food. I walked down to Liquiteria for a smoothie lunch (though if it hadn't been so humid, I would have walked the 30+ blocks to The Butcher's Daughter for one of their juices). My liquid lunch turned out to be an ill-advised decision because I crashed by about 4 p.m.  But it was still blistering outside. I had this salad in the fridge, though, and it made for a satisfying and cooling mid-afternoon snack. I sat by an open window in my apartment, snacking on the raw zucchini and contemplating the rising stack of literary magazines on my coffee table. (They just keep arriving in the mail and I've been averaging, like, one short story every three days. It's absurd.).

I topped this off with purple micro radish, which has been a favorite ever since I discovered it at the market earlier this spring. If you can't find micro radish, substitute any other variety of micro greens or even sliced, spicy radishes. The shredded zucchini is the foundation, but the other ingredients are pretty flexible.

The one step you shouldn't neglect is salting the zucchini before you dress it. Zucchini releases more water than you might expect. In fact, as soon as you slice into it, little mercury beads of sweat begin to appear on the cut surface. And when you dress the salad and add salt, it will release even more moisture, diluting the dressing. Definitely salt the zucchini beforehand. 

Shredded Zucchini Salad (v/gf)

Lightly adapted from Cuisine Niçoise

Serves 4

4 zucchini, unpeeled

2 cups cherry tomatoes

1 cup micro radish (or other micro greens)

1/2 cup basil

1 tbsp champagne vinegar 

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tbsp olive oil

sea salt, pepper

Wash and trim the zucchini (no need to peel). Grate the zucchini on a box grater or process in a food processor with the shredding attachment. Toss the zucchini with 1/2 tsp salt in a colander. Set aside to drain for 30 minutes. 

Whisk together the champagne vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil. 

Wash and halve or quarter the cherry tomatoes. 

Drain the zucchini and squeeze out all of the extra liquid. You can either wrap up the zucchini in a clean kitchen towel and wring it dry or just use your hands for the task. 

Toss the zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and vinaigrette together. Adjust the seasoning, adding more lemon juice or vinegar. It should taste bright and refreshing, not dull or chalky. Add more salt, if needed. 

Chill for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Chiffonade the basil: stack the leaves like a deck of cards, roll them up into a cigar (or yoga mat) and slice into 1/4-inch thick ribbons.

To serve, portion out 1 cup of the salad on each plate. Scatter micro radish and basil over the salad and drizzle with additional olive oil.

Store in the fridge for up to two days.

Note: Substitute white balsamic, white wine, or red wine vinegar for the champagne vinegar, if necessary. The zucchini should be pretty salty after draining so you may not need to add additional salt to the salad.