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.


Mango Coconut Cluster Granola

by Maja Lukic


Anyone else popping antibiotics or analgesics? Figured. I'm in a snowy city; the sky is colorless. I'm dry-coughing my way to the end of an infection, rasping like an inveterate cigar smoker (or the spawn of Tom Waits). I would like to be able to complain about winter but I have no real cause. Here is a more honest picture: noon passed by me still lounging in bed, with coffee and fresh fruit, and booking my spring vacation. After this? I don't know. I could spend the day watching movies and reading poems about snow. Yeah, life is brutal. I love wallowing. 

This has been a different winter for me, psychologically at least. I think I've made some sort of tentative peace with cold weather. I even seek out cold walks around the city. I fell into a subtle rhythm of yoga, art, writing--rinse, repeat. The cold is present, but it feels irrelevant. All this time spent indoors writing, reading, and working quietly on projects has shifted my perspective on food preparation, too. I'm working on creating leaner and easier healthy recipes. Simpler meals. Less overwrought complexity and multi-step endeavors. (Which isn't to say that I am now above preparing something like Ottolenghi's 5-hour simmered chickpeas--delicious and entirely worth every minute). Basically, I feel more balanced and relaxed on the whole this winter. 

In the spirit of promoting optimal balance, if you've made some sort of vague resolution to clean up your game this month, here is a cheerful and clean breakfast idea: mango coconut cluster granola with coconut yogurt and fresh mangoes. Mangoes are one of my absolute favorite fruits and the combination of dried and fresh mangoes is bright and sweet, playing off slightly different taste notes. An egg white stirred into the granola mixture before baking--a brilliant idea from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen--creates large, crunchy clusters. 

Pro tip: prepare huge batches of granola and then stockpile it in the freezer forever. No need to defrost--the fruit will harden somewhat but will obtain room temperature within minutes. As always, feel free to substitute other types of fruit or dairy yogurt for the coconut version.

Mango Coconut Cluster Granola (gf)

Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

Makes approx. 4.5 cups

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup raw cashews, chopped

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut

1/3 cup sliced almonds

1/2 tbsp flax seeds (optional)

3 tbsp maple syrup

2 tbsp organic virgin unrefined coconut oil

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp sea salt

1 egg white

2 cups chopped dried fruit: organic apricots, dried mangoes

To serve: fresh sliced mango, yogurt

Preheat the oven to 325 F. 

Combine the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Heat the coconut oil and maple syrup in a microwave or on the stovetop until the oil has just melted. Whisk in the spices and sea salt. Toss with the oats and nuts until the mixture is evenly coated.

Whisk an egg white in a small bowl until frothy. Stir into the granola mixture. Spread the granola on a large baking sheet in an even layer. 

Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. Halfway through the baking time, carefully turn sections of the granola over with a spatula, but do not break it up too much. When the granola is golden brown, remove from the oven and carefully stir in the sliced dried fruit. Allow the granola to cool completely. It will harden as it cools.

Serve with yogurt and fresh fruit. Store in the cupboard in an airtight container or in the freezer in an airtight freezer bag.  

Note: I bake the granola at a low temperature of about 300/325 F because my oven chars everything. With a weaker oven, you may increase the temperature to 350 F. For larger clumps, do not stir the granola mix too much after adding the egg white and during/after baking. Conversely, for a flakier granola, stir well to break up the clusters.