Sherry-Roasted Strawberries with Vanilla Date Pistachio Muesli

by Maja Lukic


It's a rare thing for me to eat a substantial breakfast. I'm a coffee & smoothie devotee -- it's the one constant in my day, sort of like the one perfume I've been wearing for years without thinking.

But a few weeks ago, I crashed and became sick -- for culprits, look to stress, spring germs, erratic sleep, inconsistent weather, too many projects. On the first morning that I woke up feeling better, I was starving. I wanted to eat something relatively healthy but nourishing, settling. I wanted it to have fruit, too--vitamins, hydration. And if beautiful edible flowers were somehow involved in the situation, I wasn't about to object.  

Then I remembered that I used to eat a ton of muesli in college. Muesli is basically a high-energy combination of oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit soaked in a liquid, which might be anything from water or fruit juice to cream or milk. The basic formula allows for infinite variations and unbounded creativity. Any ingredient in your cupboard will work, as will any liquids you have in the fridge. And in the summer, it's a wonderful, no-cook option. 

If you've seen recipes for "overnight oats," it's basically the same concept except that there's something about the term "overnight oats" that grosses me out. 

As delicious as the muesli is on its own, it's incomplete without the sherry vinegar-roasted strawberries. A traditional muesli recipe would also include a fresh grated apple, added before serving.  I replaced the apple with roasted strawberries for color and a brighter flavor. I could eat the strawberries alone -- they're complex, tangy, sweet but not cloying. Ever since I worked on this romesco recipe, I've been obsessed with sherry vinegar--an infatuation that has led me into far too many specialty shops in search for the perfect sherry flavor. It's less sweet than balsamic but just as, if not more, complex. And it syncs beautifully with fruit. 

This recipe requires a few minutes of preparation the night before and about a half an hour of hands-off roasting in the morning, which makes it the easiest recipe I've ever posted, I think. It's perfect for a spring brunch or a special weekend breakfast. And it's the sort of recipe that encourages rest and relaxation. With that goal in mind, I wish you a relaxing and healthy week. 

Vanilla Date Pistachio Muesli

Serves 1

1/2 cup rolled oats (gluten-free)

2 tbsp hemp seeds

2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes

2 tbsp pistachios, roughly chopped

1-2 dates, Medjool pitted and chopped 

3/4 cup almond milk (or other milk)

1/2 vanilla bean

sea salt

toppings: Sherry Roasted Strawberries (recipe below), pistachios, edible flowers (entirely optional), milk or yoghurt, maple syrup or honey

In a small bowl, combine the oats, hemp seeds, coconut flakes, pistachios, dates (either one or two, to taste). To use half a vanilla bean, cut a bean in half crosswise. Reserve one half for future use. Split the remaining half lengthwise with a sharp paring knife and scrape the seeds into the oat mixture. Add a pinch of sea salt and almond milk. Stir.

Cover and leave in the fridge overnight. In the morning, add more almond milk or some yoghurt if the muesli looks too dry. Top with roasted strawberries, more pistachios, edible flowers (if using), and maple syrup or honey, to taste. Serve.  

Sherry Roasted Strawberries

Serves 4

Adapted from Joy The Baker

1 lb. strawberries, hulled

2 tbsp maple syrup

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tsp coconut oil

sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. 

Hull and slice the strawberries in half or quarters, if the strawberries are large. Whisk together the maple syrup, sherry vinegar, coconut oil, and a pinch of sea salt. Toss the mixture with the strawberries until the strawberries are evenly coated. Spread the strawberries out on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer.

Roast for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the strawberries are cooked and a syrup forms. Keep an eye on the berries and remove from the oven before the syrup begins to burn. Transfer the strawberries and syrup to a dish and allow to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes before serving. 

Note: Use the strawberries immediately for best texture but they can be stored in the fridge overnight; reheat before serving. 


Chilled Pea and Sorrel Soup

by Maja Lukic


How pretty are those violet radish micro greens? Sometimes I feel spoiled living so close to a fantastic farmers market. I'm on a mission to purchase at least one new item every week and find a creative way to use it. On a recent trip to the market, as I was picking out the radish micro greens pictured throughout, a display of baby sorrel caught my attention. 

Sorrel is a beautiful perennial herb. It has a pronounced tart and oxalic flavor and, according to Deborah Madison, sorrel belongs in the same family as rhubarb and buckwheat, which is pretty amazing. It's a lovely green plant with delicately-shaped, pointed leaves. 

With the focus on spring's glossier vegetables like asparagus or cult favorites like ramps, I think poor sorrel gets overlooked. To be fair, it's not as accessible as other greens. Grocery stores sell small bunches of sorrel in plastic containers but for a larger quantity, you have to visit a farmers market. And sorrel can be fairly expensive. Even so, I think it's underutilized. When I stepped up to pay for my bag of greens at the market, the girl behind the cash register squinted at the sorrel and said: "Are you making a soup? I'm always asking people about what they do with sorrel." What do people do with sorrel? That weekend, I was planning on making this soup but I've since discovered some other applications. 

There are interesting recipes out there for yoghurt or cream-based sorrel sauces but I was determined to find/create vegan recipes. And, basically, sorrel, with its incredible tangy flavor, applies in any dish where you might otherwise add a burst of lemon juice -- think of seafood, grains, potatoes, lentils, sauces, vinaigrettes, pastas, pestos, or soups. Of course, I love lemons and tart flavors so much that I often add lemon juice to sorrel dishes anyway. 

It's beautiful, crunchy, bright green, and astringent in its raw form. In its cooked form, that vibrant shade quickly bleeds into a drab army green as soon as the leaves and the plant generally assumes a slimy texture. I was shocked the first time I prepared this soup! But its beautiful tart flavor remains strong even when cooked and once you blend the soup, the dish looks fine. Because it's still early in the season, I found baby sorrel and the stems were not an issue. But as the season progresses and the sorrel matures, you will want to remove the thick stems of the leaves before you use it. If you'd like to learn more, Food52 has a great little article on sorrel. 

This is intended to be served as a chilled soup but I've heated it gently on cooler evenings and it's nice like that, too. The sorrel lightens the sweet, starchy peas, and for added interest, I like to top it off with a citrusy, creamy coconut cream and some purple radish micro greens, which have a mild spicy flavor. If you can't find radish micro greens, use sliced radishes or some spicy arugula for a similar bite. In the end, the soup has a delicate balance of cooling and spicy, sweet and tangy, and crunchy and creamy elements. 

The lemon-coconut cream is entirely optional but I love how it looks in the soup and once swirled in, it lends the soup a lovely creamy quality -- much like actual sour cream. Fair warning, though: although I really like it in this soup, it does have a subtle sweetness and a trace of coconut flavor. If you don't love the coconut, omit the cream and substitute a plain dairy product or enjoy the soup on its own. 

Chilled Pea and Sorrel Soup with Lemon-Coconut Cream (v/gf)

Serves 6

Soup

1 tbsp avocado oil

3-4 shallots, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup white wine (I like a nice Albariño )

2 lbs. peas (fresh or frozen)

2 cups baby sorrel 

2 cups water

1 tsp sea salt

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Lemon-Coconut Cream

1 can full-fat coconut milk, chilled in the fridge overnight

1 lemon

sea salt

garnish: purple radish micro greens (or sliced radishes), olive oil

Wash the sorrel and if the plant is mature or the stems look tough and stringy, remove the stems.

Heat the avocado oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Sauté the shallots until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and white wine and cook for a few more minutes until the wine reduces by half. 

Add the peas, sorrel, and about 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and cook until the sorrel wilts and the peas are just cooked through (for fresh peas) or warmed through (for frozen peas). Do not overcook. Take the soup off the heat and allow it to cool. If it looks too watery, remove some of the excess liquid. Blend the soup with 2 tablespoons of olive oil until creamy. Return to the soup pot, season with a teaspoon of sea salt, and set aside. At this point, you can chill the soup for a few hours to serve later or you can serve right away at room temperature. 

To prepare the coconut cream, turn the can upside down and open it. The coconut fat will be at the bottom of the can and the liquid will be at the top. Carefully pour out the liquid but reserve it. Scoop the coconut fat out into a separate bowl and add the zest and juice of a lemon. Stir until creamy, adding a few tablespoons of the reserved coconut liquid if the cream seems too stiff. Add sea salt to taste. 

To serve the soup, ladle into bowls and swirl a tablespoon of coconut cream into each bowl. Top with a small handful of radish micro greens and a few more drops of olive oil, if desired. 

The soup can be stored in the fridge for up to three days. Serve chilled or gently heated. 

Note: You can either use fresh or frozen peas but frozen peas are sweeter, in my opinion. To preserve the bright color, don't overcook the peas -- take the soup off the heat as soon as the peas are cooked (for fresh peas) or defrosted (for frozen peas). Be sure to use chilled coconut milk. Note that when the coconut cream is chilled again, it will solidify and adopt a texture similar to firm cream cheese. 


Ramps on Toast with Poached Egg & Ajvar

by Maja Lukic


This is a sit-down, knife-and-fork kind of sandwich. You could try to eat it with your hands but I think it's too messy. I've always loved open-faced sandwiches and tartines. There's something about the generous ratio of filling to bread in an open-faced sandwich that I prefer. And you get to see everything, which, if you're at all visual like me, is important in a dish.  

It's a perfect light and filling dinner but not a breakfast item. Ramps are far too pungent for the early morning hours. For days, the garlicky scent of charred ramps lingered in the air in my apartment.

Ramps-24.jpg

Ramps (allium tricoccum), also sometimes called wild leeks, grow wild on the East Coast, in certain parts of the Midwest, and in Quebec. They're available for a brief period in the spring. As soon as winter recedes, Twitter and Instagram feeds on the East Coast explode with photos of ramps as chefs, magazine editors, and food bloggers race to the markets to grab bunches of the wild alliums. At the farmers market a few weeks ago, the chef in front of me was informed that he could buy no more than 25 bunches for his restaurant. 

I can't account for the fascination with these wild delicacies or their extravagant popularity but I can confirm that they're delicious. They have a pungent garlicky odor and an assertive flavor -- use sparingly. The one thing that everyone helpfully neglects to mention while Tweeting photos of these wild plants is that ramps can be extremely difficult to clean. Ever clean a bunch of leeks? Consider that a mere prelude to what you might encounter when cleaning ramps. 

They're slim, delicate, and slippery, which makes them hard to handle. When you buy them at the market, their roots are covered with mud, and bits of soil are lodged in the inner crevices beneath the slippery red skin of the stem below the bulb. I typically chop off the root, and rinse the rest, sometimes slipping off the filmy red skin of the bulb to clean the interior folds. Another safeguard is to rinse again after slicing (this is also a great way to clean dirty leeks, coincidentally). Set aside about thirty minutes and take your time to clean them throughly. 

And so, ramps have the distinction of being both difficult to source and impossible to clean. Are ramps worth the effort? Fortunately--or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it--yes. Absolutely. 

Once prepped, try to use them sooner rather than later. Ramps work well in any dish that would benefit from an infusion of alliums -- all egg dishes and soups, for example. You can even use them raw. But this poached egg toast is how I will be eating them now and for the rest of ramp season -- crispy bread, a runny egg yolk, creamy sweet ajvar, garlicky charred ramps, and a flake or two of Maldon. 

Finally, a brief note on ajvar, which is a Serbian (or Croatian/Bosnian/Macedonia/Bulgarian/etc.) roasted red pepper and eggplant spread. It has a softer texture than harissa or salsa, a sweetness from the peppers and eggplant, and an unparalleled smoky quality. I'm obsessed with ajvar and put it on everything. I won't even give away my favorite brand because I'm worried they'll sell out. I use a store-bought version here but I've been dying to work out my own recipe, which will end up being my summer project. (Having consumed it for about 28 years, I am very particular about my ajvar so it will be a challenge). But even without the ajvar, the combination of garlicky ramps, thick, runny yolk, and good bread is spectacular. Give it a shot while ramps are still available. 

Ramps on Toast with Poached Egg and Ajvar (gf)

Adapted from Bon Appétit

Serves 4 

2 tbsp avocado oil

2 bunches of ramps

4 pieces gluten-free bread (I like Canyon Bakehouse)

1/2 cup ajvar (or other condiment, see Note)

4 eggs

1 tbsp white vinegar

extra virgin olive oil, flaky sea salt, black pepper

Clean the ramps well: remove the roots and rinse the leaves and the stem beneath the slippery red skin. Cut the dark green leaves from the red stems/bulbs and slice crosswise into 1-inch slices. Cut the white bulbs and stems into 1/4-inch slices. 

Heat the avocado oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced bulbs and stems, season with salt and pepper, and cook on medium to medium-low for a few minutes until the bulbs soften. Add the sliced green leaves and cook for a few more minutes until the leaves wilt. 

In the meantime, bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add in 1 tbsp white vinegar. Stir the water to create a light whirlpool. Crack an egg into a small bowl and then gently slide it into the simmering water. Poach until whites are set (the yolks will be runny) for about 3 minutes. Repeat with remaining eggs. (To poach multiple eggs at the same time, follow BA's guidance and wait until the egg white turns opaque in the water before adding the next egg. Basically, space them about 30 seconds apart.). 

Grill or toast the bread. Spread each slice with a tablespoon or so of ajvar (or other condiment). Top each slice with ramps and a poached egg. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt (like Maldon) and black pepper. Serve immediately. 

Note: If you can't find ajvar, substitute harissa, salsa, tapenade, or any other vegetable condiment of choice. Or, prepare it the Bon Appétit way with creamy goat cheese.