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.


Mango Cucumber and Avocado Salad w/Honey-Lime Vinaigrette

by Maja Lukic


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I'm on vacation in Florida this week so naturally my mind turns to light, beach-friendly eats, which is not to say that I haven't indulged in my fair share of Cuban and Peruvian takeout - sweet fried plantains, ceviche, black beans, and fried yucca have all crossed my lips in the last few days and probably will again before I leave. But for the most part, I've been lounging by the pool or on the sand in sweltering heat and craving cool, hydrating snacks. I've had some version of this salad for lunch all week. Sometimes things get weird and I add chickpeas into the mix. And that works for me but you do not have to go there.

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Cilantro is a polarizing little plant so if you really can't bear it, substitute a little mint. (A little goes a long way). I have grown to really love cilantro. In fact, this salad is only a vehicle for me to consume mangoes, lime, and cilantro together.

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I learned something new about cilantro this week but maybe this is not new to you. At the grocery store the other night, I watched an older lady as she lifted bunch after bunch of the green stuff to her nose breathing deeply each time. Finally, she shook her head and said, "Not bad, not great." She explained to me that you can gauge how fresh the cilantro is by its smell - really fresh cilantro has a strong, gorgeous scent.

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Another cilantro tip I picked up in a cooking class recently: no need to remove the stems. With cilantro, a lot of the flavor resides in the stem. This is the complete opposite of parsley where almost all of the flavor is found in the leaves and the stem is virtually tasteless.

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This salad is best served chilled. Feel free to leave out the avocado until the very last minute. Then take it outside and eat it in the sun, preferably on a beach.

Mango Cucumber and Avocado Salad w/Honey-Lime Vinaigrette (gf)

Serves 3-4

1 large cucumber, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes (peeled if not organic)

1 mango, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes

3 medium red plums, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes

1 avocado, cubed

1/2 cup organic cilantro, roughly chopped

1 cup cooked chickpeas (optional)

Honey-Lime Vinaigrette:

2 tbsp fresh lime juice (approx. 1 1/2 to 2 limes)

1 1/2 tbsp honey (or other sweetener for a vegan version - see Note)

1 tbsp olive oil

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together and season with s&p to taste. Toss the salad ingredients (except for the avocado) with the vinaigrette.

Chill for 30 minutes or until ready to serve. Just before serving, add in the avocado and gently incorporate. Serve cold.

Optional: if you want to get weird and maybe you do, add in 1 cup cooked chickpeas for a more substantial meal.

Notes: For a vegan version, substitute the honey in the dressing with maple syrup, coconut nectar, or brown rice syrup. 

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I've been watching the waves and listening to this track all week.


Simple Kohlrabi Salad w/Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette

by Maja Lukic


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I am in love with this little summer salad. I didn’t think I would be because it’s so simple but that really is its charm.

It's so light and refreshing that I now keep it in the fridge and snack on it throughout the week. It's the perfect summer meal on a warm night. You need this, maybe some wine or good, crusty bread, and very little else. If you need something more substantial, though, I imagine it would complement grilled seafood very well.

I was inspired to use kohlrabi after reading about it in Deborah Madison's very excellent Vegetable Literacy and, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that this is my first time working with it. I'm an instant fan. It's such a light and crisp vegetable that it really makes for the ultimate salad ingredient.

The vinaigrette is adapted from Vegetable Literacy. In her book, Madison suggests Meyer lemons, which I did not have but if you do have some, please use them. If the dressing seems a little too tart and lemony at first, don't worry - the kohlrabi really needs a bright dressing. It has this subdued flavor that can stand up to bright citrus, mustard, and herbs.

Simple Kohlrabi Salad w/Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette (v/gf)

Serves 2 as a meal or 4 as an appetizer

Salad:

1 lb kohlrabi (3-4 medium or 4-5 small kohlrabies)

1 large tomato, chopped

a large handful of flat-leaf parsley, stemmed and chopped 1 avocado, chopped (optional)

sea salt, to taste

Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette:

juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 medium or 1/2 large shallot, finely chopped

1-2 tsp Dijon mustard

3-5 tbsp olive oil

1/4 tsp sea salt

To prepare the vinaigrette:

Put the chopped shallot, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes and then whisk in the mustard and olive oil.

After about three tablespoons of oil, start tasting the vinaigrette and adjust to suit your tastes. You will probably find that 4-5 tablespoons is sufficient. I tend to use less oil because I like brighter vinaigrettes. I would not add more oil than that, however, because, as I mentioned above, the kohlrabi is fairly subtle (reminiscent of broccoli stems or raw cauliflower) and needs a citrusy dressing.

Same with the Dijon mustard: I prefer more mustard so I usually add 2 tsp but do a taste test. If 1 tsp is already offensive to your nostrils, friend, do not go further!

To make the salad:

If the kohlrabies are young and tender, you do not have to peel them according to Madison. If, like the kohlrabies I had, they are older and less than tender, you should slice off the skins. Cut the kohlrabies into fine julienne (or as fine as you can). The easiest way to do this is to slice them thinly first and then stack the slices like a deck of cards, cutting them into matchsticks. If you have a mandoline and, unlike me, are not afraid to use it, do that.

Toss the kohlrabi with the tomatoes, parsley leaves, and vinaigrette. You probably will not need all of the vinaigrette but you will use at least half. The avocado is optional but it adds a nice creamy element and makes for a more substantial salad. Taste for salt, then serve.