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.


Harissa Roasted Root Vegetables with Fried Capers

by Maja Lukic


For years, I associated root vegetables with soups, stocks, stews--things that are simmered and boiled on the stove top for hours until the roots impart both a strong, savory scent and an indelible, complex flavor. Root vegetables are certainly delicious this way--my mom always uses parsnips in her homemade bone broths. But a roasted root is a different creature entirely. In my opinion, roasted, caramelized root vegetables are the ultimate in winter fare--incredibly frugal and satisfying but healthy as well. 

Instead of a standard roast with olive oil/sea salt, (which is a perfectly acceptable and delicious way to go about handling roots), this recipe energizes that basic formula with a sweet and tangy harissa glaze.

I've been a fan of Mina harissa for some time. Harissa, as you probably know, is a Moroccan roasted-red pepper condiment that has become widely available in recent years, owing in large part, I think, to the Ottolenghi mania. The Mina harissa has a beautiful and unique flavor profile. It's tangier than some of the other harissas on the market. (I own about nine different kinds of vinegar at home so I was an instant fan for that reason alone). The texture is also more homogenous (blended?) and looser than, for example, the dense harissa pastes you might purchase in tubes, which tend to be thick and concentrated like tomato paste. (As a bonus, the thinner, saucy texture allows for painterly designs in dishes like soup, for example. What? I play with my food.). When Mina approached me to create a few recipes with their harissa, I was excited to experiment. This is the first of, hopefully, two or three examples of delicious harissa applications. 

For use in recipes, my personal preference is for the mildest version--I have virtually no tolerance for heat and like being able to control the spice--but if you need an extra kick of some sort, try Mina's spicy red or green harissa. I have sampled both and they're fantastic. 

The recipe is pretty straightforward. The root vegetables get a start in the oven while I prepare the glaze and then I continue to roast them until the vegetables are sweet and caramelized. I like to bring the whole thing to a close by highlighting the acerbic side of this harissa. A burst of fresh lemon juice and some fried capers tone down the sweetness of the caramelized, dense roots. At the same time, I understand that capers are not to everyone's taste. If you're not a fan, leave them off. But you should know that fried capers are simply the best--the little wrinkled, crackled flavor explosions add both a briny element to the plate and some interesting crispy texture. That's my argument, but I leave the ultimate decision to you. And if you suspect that a runny egg yolk would work well here, too, you're absolutely correct. More often than not, I like to top this with a poached or soft-boiled egg. 

If I'm not back here before the holidays, I wish you all a warm and safe holiday season and happy 2015! 

Harissa-Roasted Root Vegetables with Fried Capers (v/GF)

Serves 3-4

8 cups of chopped root vegetables (any combination of carrots, parsnips, turnips, celeriac, and sweet potatoes)

3 tbsp avocado oil, divided (or other cooking oil)

1/4 cup Mina mild harissa (see note)

2 tsp maple syrup

juice of 1 lime

2 tbsp capers

fresh lemon juice, parsley, sea salt, cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. 

First, prep the vegetables: peel the parsnips and turnips, and scrub the carrots and sweet potatoes (but only if organic; otherwise, peel). Cut the vegetables on the diagonal into 3/4" slices. The vegetables should be roughly around the same size for even roasting.

Toss the vegetables with 2 tablespoons of avocado oil, some sea salt, and pepper. Spread the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet and place into the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or until just soft and cooked through.

While the vegetables are roasting, whisk together the harissa, maple syrup, and lime juice. Toss the vegetables with the harissa mixture, making sure the vegetables are coated evenly. Slide back into the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes or until brown and caramelized. Transfer to a serving dish. 

Drain, rinse, and dry the capers. Heat a tablespoon of avocado oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the capers to the pan and fry for about 30 seconds or until brown and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel to drain excess oil. 

Top the roasted vegetables with the fried capers, chopped parsley, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Serve immediately. 

Notes: For a spicier dish, use the spicy variety of harissa or add some cayenne or crushed pepper flakes to the vegetables prior to roasting. 

Disclosure: From time to time, I may recommend products on my blog. All opinions expressed are my own. I will not promote a product I do not like and/or use in my household.