Ethiopian Berbere

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If you haven’t yet tried Ethiopian food, you must! Packed with rich and flavorful spices, you’re sure to love it.

BerbereI’m starting a series of posts with a primer on a few building blocks to many Ethiopian dishes. Think of them as vignettes on making an Ethiopian meal.

First, an integral ingredient used in Ethiopian cuisine is berbere (behr-ba-rry), a ground Ethiopian spice blend that means hot in Amharic. This piquant orange blend of peppers and spices is generously used in spicy pots of wat (stew), meats, vegetables and other dishes. Aromatic, vibrant in color, full of flavor, and packed with fiery heat, berbere is not for the faint of heart (or taste buds).

Flaming hot, delicious, and versatile in its uses, berbere can be used in marinades, seasonings for soups and stews, and vegetable dishes. To make Ethiopian food, berbere is a key ingredient. If you like spicy foods (and I’m talking REALLY spicy), berbere is a wonderful all-purpose seasoning you’re going to absolutely LOVE!

Berbere

Every Ethiopian cook has their own blend of berbere, some versions include lesser known spices that grow wild in Ethiopiabut key ingredients that make it the spicy flavorful seasoning that it is are usually the same. I bought my blend from a local Ethiopian market. They get their berbere from Qmem that sells a blend made of sun-dried chile peppers, red onion, garlic, cardamom, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, fenugreek, black pepper, black cumin, cumin and other spices. The blend of spices remind me of My Masala Dabba. A dabba would be a great way to store berbere.

Because authentic berbere can be hard to find, I’d recommend purchasing it from a local Ethiopian market or order directly from Qmem (I have no affiliation with them). You could also try to make berbere at home, but grinding so many peppers and spices might leave you gagging, coughing and in tears! But maybe that’s your kind of thing….

Berbere (Ethiopian Spice Blend)

Stay tuned, more on Ethiopian cuisine to come!

Berbere with injera

Cabbage Chowder

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Last month, when I posted my Rustic Parsnip Soup, I mentioned a cabbage soup that I also made and would be sharing with you soon. Here it is, but first, I wanted to let you know how pleased I was last week to find out that my parsnip soup had made it to Buzzfeed’s list of Cozy & Delicious Soups to Make this Winter. Creamy, earthy, indian-spiced and topped with a delicious walnut and pear combo that give it a bit of sophistication and crunch, my rustic parsnip soup is just the type of soup that will make you want to stay in, cook and remain warm and cozy on any winter’s day.

Cabbage Chowder

This cabbage chowder, is another cozy and delicious soup for winter. It’s vegan and so simple (few ingredients and spices) and easy to make. I first tried a version of it at a friend’s house last year. Since then I’ve adapted it to make it my own and have served it several times for both family and friends. To entertain my culinary curiosity, every time I try slight variations.

Cabbage Chowder

Cabbage Chowder

I’ve tried topping it with avocados, other times I’ve added white beans or a grain like farro or brown rice. You can also keep it simple and just serve it with rustic bread. Feel free to experiment and make it your own.

Cabbage Chowder

Cabbage Chowder
Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, rushed
4 cups cabbage, chopped
4 cups potatoes, diced
2 cups carrots, diced
3 thyme sprigs
4-8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (or water)
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 cups white beans (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
avocados, for serving

In a large soup pot, heat oil and sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic and stir until fragrant. Add cabbage, potatoes and carrots and toss. Add thyme sprigs and enough broth (or water) to cover all vegetables. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about an hour. and 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, add milk, taste and adjust seasoning once more.

Ladle in bowls, serve with avocados, bread or a grain like farro, barley or brown rice.

Frijoles Negros Cubanos (Cuban Black Beans)

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Once upon a time there was a family of mice. There was Mamá Ratón, Papá Ratón, and Brother and Sister Ratón. Mamá was smart and had a beautiful voice. She often sang as she walked. Papá liked to think he was strong. He had big muscles (so he thought) and often flexed them to show off.

One day, they went on a picnic. Papá carried the huge picnic basket filled with platanos, frijoles negros, arroz (rice), and lemonade.

After a delicious meal, Brother and Sister said, Mamá, Papá! Vamos a jugar. We want to go play. And off they went. They had so much fun playing hide and seek, fútbol, and rolling on the grass. While playing they came across a fence. Psst! HermanaI hear a big cat lives behind this fence!, said BrotherI’m not afraid of any cat, said Sister. Me neither, said Brother. I have big muscles (so he thought) like Papá. Let’s go see if the cat is there, he said.

They both looked through the fence and the cat was indeed there, taking a nap in the sun. Feeling safe on the other side of the fence, and thinking the fence was much higher than it actually was, Brother and Sister began to tease and laugh at the cat. Hola Gato! Wake up! Hola Gato flaco! Hey skinny cat! We’re not afraid of you! they shouted while laughing so hard they had to hold their sides while rolling in the grass. You’re no match for these! Hee, hee, hee! Brother shouted to the cat as he flexed his muscles. The cat woke up, annoyed, but didn’t say a word. It didn’t even move a whisker. Sister giggled and they continued to tease the cat. They laughed hard, so hard that they didn’t even notice when the cat jumped on top of the fence.

Fully irritated, the cat peered down at them with it’s bright green eyes. Now in the large and dark shadow of the cat, Brother and Sister looked up. Gulp. Uhhh, uhhh, adiós Gato! and within nano seconds, the chase was on.

Mamá!!! Papá!!!, yelled Brother and Sister. They raced back to their parents with the cat in pursuit. El Gato! El Gato! The cat is going to eat us! Papá stood tall, flexed his muscles, and said, Yo no tengo miedo del gato!  I’m not afraid of the cat! Then, Papá saw the cat. Gulp. Mamá! he cried, and with Brother and Sister, he jumped behind Mamá.

Mamá’s heart pounded. Only she stood between the big cat and her familia. She didn’t know what to do, but with the courage a mother feels when her family is threatened, she stood up tall on her hind legs, looked straight into the green eyes of the great big cat, and from somewhere deep within her she said…

Black Beans

WOOF!!! WOOF, WOOF!!! WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOF!!!! Woof! Woof!

The cat stopped and thought, This is weird. A barking mouse?! No vale la pena. It’s not worth it, the cat decided, and turned around. He was gone in a flash.

Wow!
said Brother.
Awesome! said Sister
I knew I married the right woman! said Papá.

When they all got back home, safe and sound, Mamá said, You see kids? Es muy importante hablar otro idioma! It pays to speak another language!

Cuban Black Beans

I came across this charming story, The Barking Mouse, by Antonio Sacre while visiting a bookstore in Miami, Florida last week. When traveling, my husband and I often visit local bookstores to see if we can find any interesting and/or bilingual books for our son.

Sacre first heard of this story, the barking mouse, from his Cuban grandmother who encouraged him to speak Spanish. I’ve slightly shortened and altered Sacre’s story here, but the gist is the same. You can also find other versions of this story in several different countries. The story not only shows how language is one key to surviving difficult places, but also shows the joy and value of being bilingual…and, the strength of a mother!

When I returned from Miami, I was inspired to make Frijoles Negros Cubanos, Cuban Black Beans. Cuban immigration has greatly characterized modern Miami, creating what is known as Cuban Miami.

I had the great pleasure of visiting Cuba several years ago. There, you’d rarely see a meal served without arroz con frijoles negros. In Miami, the tradition continues.

Cuban Black Beans

Frijoles Negros Cubanos (Cuban Black Beans)
Serves about 10

1 pound dried black beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 4 large pieces
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
2 bay leaves
6-8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
olive oil, to drizzle before serving
lime wedges, to serve
fresh cilantro, to serve
avocado slices, to serve (optional)

Sofrito
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, diced
½ green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
salt
freshly ground black pepper

rice, to serve (I used brown rice)

Cover dry beans with water and let stand covered overnight. Rinse, drain and discard water.

In a large pot, sauté onions for about a minute. Add garlic and cook for about another minute. Add the large pieces of green pepper, then add oregano, cumin and bay leaves and give it all a stir. Add cleaned black beans and 6 cups of broth (or water). Bring the beans to a boil, reduce heat to low, add salt, cover, and cook until the beans are tender (but not mushy), about 1-2 hours, adding more broth if necessary. Keep in mind that frijoles negros cubanos should be soft and a little mushy, never soupy. When the beans are cooked, they break open and make a rich black/dark brown broth.

Meanwhile, make the sofrito. In a small saucepan, sauté onions in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute or so. Add bell peppers and cook until softened. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

When the beans are tender, remove the large pieces of bell pepper and the bay leaves and discard. Add salt. To thicken the beans, remove about 1 cup of beans and mash them to make a thick paste. Return the mashed beans back into the pot. The beans should be tender and the broth a bit thick. Drizzle with olive oil. Taste and adjust salt. Optional: at this time you could add the sofrito to the pot, stir and then serve. Or, ladle beans over brown rice and garnish with the sofrito, as I do.

Either way is acceptable and delicious. Garnish with cilantro, and avocados. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Before adding the avocados, I like to toss them in a dressing of olive oil, fresh lime juice, salt and pepper. I love to dress avocados like this before adding them to dishes.

Notes: Cuban cuisine has been influenced by Spanish, French, African, Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures. It is not supposed to be spicy. Most of Cuban cuisine relies on a few basic spices, such as garlic, cumin, oregano, and bay (laurel) leaves. Many dishes, as this one here, use a sofrito as their basis. It’s what gives the food its flavor. I happen to like my food spicy. So when I make Cuban black beans, I often add some pepper to my plate, not the pot, turning my serving into a Cuban “inspired” dish.

When making the sofrito, the green pepper should be softened and cooked. Although the green peppers in the sofrito photographed above may look raw, they are not. Typically, Cuban black beans (and Cuban cuisine in general) does not include raw bell peppers.

When it comes to black beans, many Cuban cooks have a special ingredient or two to add into the pot. Some add vinegar, some add Spanish wine, others a little tomato sauce, etc. The recipe changes from cook to region, but the basics (what you see in the recipe above) remain the same.

Yellow rice or saffron rice is not to be paired on your plate with these kind of black beans. Yellow rice is another recipe. Buen provecho!

A Global Twist on a Southern Tradition: Black-Eyed Peas and Greens

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Peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold
— An old Southern saying

Black-Eyed Peas and Greens

In the Southern United States, eating black-eyed peas, greens, and cornbread on New Year’s Day is said to bring prosperity—luck and wealth—in the new year. There are several legends as to the origin of this custom, but the tradition in the South dates back to the end of the Civil War when Union soldiers left behind Southern crops, black-eyed peas and greens, they considered food for animals. Staples in the households of many southerners at the time, these simple ingredients helped many families prevent starvation during difficult years. Stories have differed from home to home, but the celebration of these humble ingredients have not changed too much.

Black-Eyed Peas and GreensEach ingredient is said to hold significance and meaning. Black-eyed peas represent coins, greens represent dollar bills, and cornbread represents gold. The most common choices for greens are collard, turnip or mustard greens, but any greens will do.

Black-Eyed Peas and GreensAs there’s no official way to prepare black-eyed peas and greens, I put a global spin on my version here with Indian flavors. For greens, I used rich, green kale as my “dollar bills” of choice.

Black-Eyed Peas and Greens

As I wanted to make Liberation Soup on New Year’s Day, I saved black-eyed peas for later. After all, it’s never too late to make your own luck for the year, is it? Also, black-eyed peas and greens stew with cornbread is comforting any day in winter.

Black-Eyed Peas and Greens

Black-Eyed Peas and Greens Stew with Cornbread
Serves 6-8

¾ cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight (or a 14-ounce can is fine)
1½ tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1-2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon chili pepper, or to taste (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
1 cup yellow split peas, rinsed and drained
1 14-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes, diced
6-8 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 bunch (2 cups) kale, rinsed and chopped small
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
cilantro, for garnish (optional)
olive oil or coconut oil, for garnish (optional)
freshly ground pepper

1 pan of moist cornbread (optional, for those wanting a vegan meal, skip this cornbread)

Drain soaked beans, then add enough cold water to cover by an inch in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, then simmer covered until tender (about an hour and a half). Add salt about 45 minutes into simmering. Drain beans when done. Note: if time does not allow, you can use 1 can of black-eyed peas instead.

Meanwhile, heat coconut oil in a large soup pot. Add mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add onion and sauté until onions are translucent. Then add garlic, ginger and cook until fragrant. Add carrots, coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili pepper and salt. Stir until well combined. Add tomatoes, lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas and 6 cups broth. Bring to a boil and simmer until peas are tender, about 35 minutes. The texture should thicken up a bit. You can adjust the consistency to your liking by adding more broth or simmer longer for a thicker consistency. Taste and adjust salt. Add kale and cook just until bright green, 2-5 minutes. Remove from heat and add coconut milk. Adjust seasoning again. Serve with moist cornbread.

Optional: After stew is done, spoon into ramekins (or mini cocottes, as photographed above). Sprinkle with cornbread crumbs. Drizzle with oil and broil until the crumbs turn golden brown, about 5 minutes. Watch carefully. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, cilantro, flaky sea salt, and freshly ground pepper.

Notes: To serve, you can don’t have to use ramekins and broil. Simply ladle into bowls and serve stew as is when is done cooking. It will look like this.
Black-Eyed PeasBlack-Eyed Peas and Greens Stew

Mung Bean Soup

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I love one-pot cooking. I’ve embraced it as my go-to technique for those times when I just have no time.

When I cook, I’m anything but neat. My husband says when the kitchen looks as if a typhoon has passed through, he knows I’m happy, working on some culinary adventure and something delicious is likely to soon emerge.

Green Mung Beans

Admittedly, I often try to do too much at one time. Although I try to clean as I go, sometimes it’s just not practical nor enough. So most of the clean-up happens when I’m done cooking. I then put everything away to its proper place and clean the counters and floor, leaving the overwhelming task of washing the sink full with pots and pans until the end. Sometimes, that’s also when my husband lends a hand and tackles the beast for me.

Mung Bean Soup

But there are some days when I’m tired and don’t want to deal with the colossal mess. There are times when I want to cook, but am not interested in pulling out several pots and pans to make one meal, or when I certainly am not in the mood to spend all day in the kitchen.

Mung Bean SoupIt’s during those days when I turn to the one-pot cooking technique, great when I have a lot of other activities, besides cooking, competing for my time.

This hearty Mung Bean Soup is a great example of something to whip up during those times. It’s not only easy to make, but also tasty and nourishing, especially during cold winter months.

Mung Bean SoupMung Bean Soup with Kale

2 cups whole green mung beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
1-2 tablespoons coconut oil, ghee, or olive oil
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
2 bay leaves
chile pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
black pepper
6-8 cups, low-sodium vegetable broth or water
2 cups kale, chopped well
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (optional)
fresh cilantro, chopped (for garnish)

In a large soup pot, heat the oil or ghee over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add onion and sauté until onions are translucent. Then add garlic, ginger and all the spices. Stir well. Add beans and 6 cups of vegetable broth or water. Bring to a boil then allow to simmer until beans are tender, about 40 minutes, adding more broth/water if necessary. When beans are cooked, taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Add kale and cook for an additional 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add coconut milk, if using. Ladle into bowls and serve as is or with brown rice, farro or bread.

Notes: In the photos above, the first picture features the soup without coconut milk, the others are a creamier version with the coconut milk. Both are delicious.

For those who like spicy foods, adding a chile pepper or a dash of pepper sauce might be a desired option.

Mung Bean Soup

Liberation Soup (Soup Joumou)

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Each year Haitian households celebrate their country’s independence on January 1st, the anniversary of Haiti’s Liberation from France, with a traditional soup called soup joumou.

During France’s rule of Haiti, the soup was considered a delicacy and forbidden to the slaves. Since Independence in 1804, Haitians have enjoyed this comforting soup as a historical tribute to Haitian Independence Day, and to celebrate the world’s first and only successful slave resolution that resulted in an independent nation.

Soup JoumouAs a child I remember my mother, a Haitian woman, making this soup every New Year’s Day. She would invite friends over to celebrate the holiday and anniversary with a bowl of soup and bread, or she often took a large bowl of soup joumou over to friend’s homes to share.

This savory soup is really an energetic combination of a lot of things, mostly vegetables. A variety of versions of this soup can be found throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Ingredients tend to vary from cook to cook, but soup joumou is traditionally a mix of squash, potatoes, carrots and meat. Mine is a vegetarian version. I hope you like it. Best wishes for a Happy New Year!

Soup Joumou

Soup Joumou
Serves 6-8

Squash Puree
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled and chopped into chunks
2 cups vegetable broth
salt

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped fine
4-5 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 leek, sliced in half and cut into 1-inch pieces
1-2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced in 1-inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces
2 stalks of celery, cut in 1-inch pieces
1-2 malanga, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (optional)
1 turnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 scallions, sliced plus more for garnish
1/3 cup parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish
½ head of green cabbage, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
6-8 cups vegetable broth
1 habanero chile pepper, seeded (optional)
4 sprigs of thyme
4 ounces vermicelli or capellini noodles, broken in halves or thirds
dash of ground cloves
salt
freshly ground pepper
juice of 1 lime, plus wedges to serve

Make the squash puree: in a saucepan over medium heat, heat oil and sauté onions and garlic. Add butternut squash, broth and salt. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer until squash is tender. About 10 minutes. Working in batches, purée squash in blender until smooth. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat oil under medium heat. Add shallots, then garlic and simmer until fragrant. Add leeks, potatoes, carrots, celery, malanga, turnip, scallions, parsley. Add salt and toss. Add cabbage, 6-7 cups vegetable broth, habanero pepper (if using), and thyme. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until vegetables are softened, about 20 minutes. Add squash purée. Then noodles. Add more broth if necessary. Cook, stirring occasionally until soup thickens slightly, approximately 10 minutes. Remove and discard thyme sprigs and pepper. Season with salt, pepper and lime juice. Ladle in bowls, garnish with parsley and scallions. Serve with lime wedges and bread.

Notes: I’ve listed malanga as an optional ingredient as it may be a challenge for some of you to find. Malanga, is a starchy root vegetable that is similar in texture and appearance to taro and cassava, but has more of a woodsy taste. After it is peeled, it can be boiled and eaten like a potato. When added to soups, it helps thicken the broth. It’s usually found in Latin American grocery stores and in some supermarkets.

Habanero peppers are quite hot so add just a little or none at all if you have difficulties with spicy heat. Because there are people in my household that don’t eat spicy food, I leave out the chile pepper when I make this soup. Instead, I add a splash of habanero hot sauce in the individual bowls of those, like me, who like a dose of spicy. My hot sauce of preference is Marie Sharp’s Habanero Pepper Sauce (I have no affiliation) from Belize. I fell in love with it when I visited Belize years ago. The ingredients in the sauce include habanero peppers, carrots and lime juice so the sauce goes very well with this soup.

Raw Pumpkin Tart

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Pumpkins are often the star of all the hard-shelled squashes. From pumpkin spiced lattes to pumpkin soup to pumpkin bread, recipes for pumpkin abound. And with good reason, pumpkins are not only delicious, but also nutrient dense. Did you know they could be eaten raw?

Interestingly, raw pumpkin has a hearty, rich flavor that makes it a good stand-alone snack, side dish or even a dessert (if “dressed” well). When I was recently introduced to this recipe for a “well-dressed” raw pumpkin tart, I knew I had to try it and share with you.

This tart is filled with great flavors and texture that come from fresh orange juice, spices, chia seeds, hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans, and topped with a generous dollop of coconut whipped cream. It’s dreamy.

Raw Pumpkin Tart

Over the course of the past couple of months, I’ve made this a few times. Each time I’ve made slight variations (using different nuts and/or molds) so you can experiment a bit to suit your preferences. To try it you’ll need to use a small pie pumpkin, they’re sweeter, or a butternut squash (as the original recipe) would work well.

Raw Pumpkin Tart

Raw Pumpkin Tart

Raw Pumpkin Tart
Adapted from La Gourmandise Selon Angie

Crust
1 cup/140 grams/about 5 ounces hazelnuts
2/3 cup/80 grams/about 3 ounces walnuts (or almonds or pecans)
8-10 Medjool dates, pitted
2 tablespoons maple syrup (or agave nectar)
1 heaping teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/8 teaspoon lemon extract

Pumpkin Filling
160 grams (about 6 ounces) raw pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
4 ounces (½ cup) fresh orange juice
4 tablespoons maple syrup (or agave nectar)
2 tablespoons chia seeds
zest of ½ orange

Topping
1-2 cans full fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
2-3 tablespoons powdered confectioners sugar
pinch of pumpkin pie spice

chopped nuts, for garnish (optional)
orange zest, for garni(optional)

Place all ingredients for the crust in a food processor and pulse until it clumps together in somewhat of a thick paste, similar to wet sand.

Place the crust mixture in an 8-inch (or two 4-inch) tart pan(s) with a removable bottom. A spring form pan will also work. Moisten fingers with a little coconut oil (optional) to press the crust into the bottom of the pan. Try to spread the crust evenly throughout and slightly up the side of the pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Clean food processor, or use a high-speed mixer (like a Vita Mix,) and place all ingredients for the pumpkin filling inside and pulse until the mixture becomes a thick purée. Allow mixture to gel at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the coconut whipped cream. Without shaking or turning the can upside down, open the can carefully. You will notice a top layer of cream that has separated; this is coconut cream. Use a spoon to scoop out the coconut cream (not the milk/clear liquid below) and place inside a bowl. Using a handheld or stand mixer, whip the coconut cream, sugar and pumpkin pie spice until it becomes thick and creamy.

To assemble
Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator. Spread the pumpkin filling into the crust. Spread evenly using a small spatula. Garnish with nuts, if using, coconut whipped cream and sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice and orange zest.

Raw Pumpkin Tart

Exotic Mushroom and Walnut Pâté

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Oftentimes, a pâté is thought of as an expensive gourmet dish made of duck liver (or something similar), but it can be so much more, and not limited to just poultry. A delicious pâté can not only be vegetarian, but also vegan and simpler to prepare than what you might expect.

Exotic Mushroom and Walnut PâtéOne thing I like about pâtés is that they can be quite fancy, or they can be very simple, yet still get rave reviews. You might recall last year I shared a fabulous recipe for another Exotic Mushroom Pâté, a real tour de force but also a little time consuming to make. This mushroom pâté, however, is an equally impressive starter, is just as delicious and is a much easier to make. Try this as an appetizer at your next party and you’ll be so proud of the results.

Exotic Mushroom and Walnut PâtéKnowing I’d have many occasions this holiday season to host and be hosted by friends and family, I was happy to make this smooth, delicious and versatile mushroom pâté. It can be made using a variety of exotic mushrooms so feel free to experiment using a combination of your favorites. I served this pâté with gougères (I omitted the cheese this time). You can also serve with bread or crackers.

Exotic Mushroom and Walnut Pâté

Exotic Mushroom and Walnut Pâté
Adapted from All Recipes

1 cup walnuts
½ cup minced shallots
¼ cup olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ pound shiitake or maitake mushrooms, chopped
¼ pound crimini or portobello mushrooms, chopped
¼ pound chanterelle or oyster mushrooms, chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white or black pepper, freshly ground

Topping
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup exotic mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, etc.) stems discarded and caps quartered (optional)
½ cup walnuts, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ tablespoon walnut oil
½ small Bosc or d’Anjou pear, diced
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spread walnuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Toast for 10 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly browned.

In a large sauté pan, cook shallots in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Then add garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add mushrooms, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Process toasted walnuts and the rest of the olive oil in a blender or food processor until mixture forms a thick paste. Spoon in the cooked mushroom mixture, and process to desired texture. Process less if you like your pâté to be a bit chunky.

Pack mixture into well-oiled ramekins or bowl. I used a terrine (7¾” x 3¾” x 3¼”). If using a rectangular mold (or terrine), I recommend lining your terrine with parchment paper and allow the paper to hang over the sides. This will help you be able to unfold the pâté with greater ease. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight.

To make the topping, heat olive oil under low heat, add mushrooms and walnuts and cook, stirring, until mushrooms are tender and liquid they give off has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the garlic and lemon juice. Transfer to a bowl, and and toss with the walnut oil. Allow to cool to room temperature, then stir in the pear, parsley, salt, and pepper and toss to combine.

To unmold pâté, run a thin knife between paper and edges of loaf pan. Invert a serving plate over loaf pan and invert pâté onto plate (peel off paper). Mound topping on pâté, and serve with gougères, toasts and/or crackers.

Notes:  I’ve made this pâté using several different types of mushrooms. Use whatever combination of mushrooms you can afford, enjoy and are available to you.

The nutty, savory and sweet, and unique topping is a variation of the topping from my Rustic Parsnip Soup. The first time I made this pâté  (photographed above), I didn’t include mushrooms in the topping. Since then, I’ve included them each time I’ve made it again. I love the added texture.

Patricia’s Atelier Chocolat

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I love holiday traditions and beautiful customs, especially when they involve handmade holiday gifts made with care and love. 

My friend Patricia has a lovely way of celebrating friendship during the holidays. It not only involves good company, but also involves sinfully good desserts, children and chocolate mendiants! Around Christmastime, Patricia invites an intimate group of friends (and their little ones) to her home for an amazing Atelier Chocolat (Chocolate Workshop), a dégustation of desserts and a little chocolate workshop for the littlest of hands.

A wife and mother of three young boys, Patricia is energetic, creative, and a lovely person in so many ways. She’s also French, très chic, and an excellent cook. So when she invited me to her atelier, I knew it would be nothing short of absolutely fabulous, and that it was! As soon as my little one and I walked into her home for the atelier, I noticed the irresistibly sweet and comforting smell of rich chocolate that filled the air. Spread across her table were beautiful serving plates filled with neatly aligned treasures—chocolate truffles, orangettes, white and dark nougats, biscuits made of dried fruits, ganache covered fruit squares, and more…all homemade, vegan and gluten free!!! I don’t have photos of all of them, but I can tell you they were absolutely divine!

While the children played, we sipped warm chai, talked, laughed and sampled Patricia’s amazing masterpieces. Nibbling away, we oo-ed and ahh-ed and were in awe of her culinary ingenuity. Without hesitation, we all asked for recipes.

Soon after, the Atelier Chocolat continued when the kids (aged 2-12) started to make chocolate mendiants, a classic French Christmas treat.

The history of mendiants (“beggar” in French) is quite interesting. Related to mendicants, religious orders that relied on charity for income, chocolate mendiants were traditionally bejeweled with four fruits and nuts meant to symbolize the colors of the robes of the four major mendicant orders of the Roman Catholic Church: almonds (Carmelites), hazelnuts (Augustins), dried figs (Franciscans), and raisins (Dominicans). Today, however, a variety of dried fruits and nuts can be used to adorn mendiants. They’re not only a fun holiday treat to make with kids, but also a great opportunity to let your imagination run wild and exercise some creativity.

After Patricia spread small liquid disks of melted chocolate in front of each child, it was nice to see how each of them chose to make arrangements on their little chocolate canvases, all ready to be topped with a variety of shapes, textures, colors and flavors. Sitting on my lap, my little one was eager to participate in the atelier. As I watched his little fingers carefully decorate each of his chocolate mendiants, his gift to take home to papa, I knew making this classic holiday treat would be a tradition I’d repeat for years to come.

The rituals and traditions we choose to practice everyday and year not only say a lot about our identities, but can also be an expression of thoughtful sentiments we wish to convey to friends and family. I left Patricia’s Atelier Chocolat not only with a box filled with her delicious and decadent homemade gifts, but was also filled by a lovely expression from the heart of her love and friendship.

Patricia’s Atelier was a reminder that making and giving homemade gifts always means a lot and adds an extra special touch to the practice of gift giving during the holiday season.

Chocolate Mendiants
Makes about 25-30 mendiants

1 pound semi-sweet or bittersweet  chocolate, chopped
A variety of nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, etc.)
A variety of dried fruits (raisins, apricots, figs, cranberries, etc.)

Line several baking sheets with parchment paper or use silicone baking mats.

In a heat-proof bowl, melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water on low heat.

Drop small spoonfuls of melted chocolate onto the baking sheets. Gently spread chocolate to create small disks. Gently place a few of the toppings on each chocolate disk.

Place baking sheets in refrigerator or a cool place to let mendiants set, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Gently lift mendiants off the parchment paper and place on a serving plate or store in an air tight container.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Buckwheat Tart

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Chocolate Hazelnut Buckwheat Tart

Happy Holidays Friends!

Last week I mentioned that I had entered my Sweet Potato Cake (I added new/updated photos to the post) and Chocolate-Hazelnut Buckwheat Tart in a local baking contest. The next day I was so happy and excited to find out that my cake won first place and my chocolate tart won 3rd place! So today I’m glad to finally share another wining recipe with you. This simple and impressive tart is raw, vegan, gluten free and deliciously addictive! It’s so good!

A friend introduced me to a version of this tart several weeks ago. I was having lunch at her house and for a light dessert she brought out small pieces of her chocolate tart. Delicious! I had never made or eaten a raw tart of this sort before so I was intrigued, and excited to try it myself. The crumbly crust is made from toasted buckwheat (kasha), ground nuts (hazelnuts and almonds), almond butter, and a hint of cocoa butter to help keep it all together. Eating it is really a heavenly experience. There’s a nice contrast between the quickly melting soft, dark chocolate and the crunchy crust and nut topping. You must try it! But I warn you though, the tart is addictive. You may find it a challenge to stop eating after just one slice! For inspiration, I’m nibbling on a piece right now as I sip my tea.

Chocolate Hazelnut Buckwheat Tart

Chocolate-Hazelnut Buckwheat Tart
Inspired by Naturelise

Serves about 8-16

40 grams/(about 1.45 ounces) praline*
70 grams/2.45 ounces (about 1/3 cup) buckwheat, toasted (kasha)
50 grams/1.75 ounces (about 1/2 cup) hazelnuts, ground
2 tablespoons nut butter (I used almond butter)
30 grams (about 1 ounce) food grade cocoa butter
125 grams 60%-70% dark chocolate
125 grams raw coconut butter
about 3 ounces toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped, for garnish (optional)

*Praline
90 grams (about 1/3 cup) agave
50 grams (about 1/3 cup) raw almonds, whole
50 grams (about 1/3 cups) raw hazelnuts, whole

To make the praline: In a skillet over medium heat, combine agave and nuts. Heat until the nuts are well coated and the agave is frothy, about five minutes. Remove from heat and spread mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper. Allow to cool and harden completely.

When cool, pulse mixture a few times in a food processor until ground. Be careful not to pulse so long that it becomes a paste. This praline recipe will yield more than you need for the tart. You can store the excess in an air container, the the refrigerator.

In a bowl, combine praline, ground hazelnuts, buckwheat, and almond butter. Set aside. Slowly melt cocoa butter. Pour into bowl with buckwheat mixture. Stir until combined.

Transfer buckwheat mixture into an 8″ tart mold with a removable bottom. Using your hands and fingers, press the mixture evenly into the tart pan. Tip: Lightly oil your hands with a little coconut oil before handling the mixture as it will help the crumbly mixture not stick as much to your hands. Refrigerate at least an hour for crust to take shape/structure.

In a saucepan over low heat, combine the dark chocolate and coconut butter. Stir until melted and combined.

Pour melted chocolate over refrigerated and firm crust. Refrigerate for 1.5 to 2 hours. If using chopped hazelnuts for topping, remove tart from refrigerator about 20-30 minutes (chocolate should be soft enough for the hazelnuts to sink in slightly. The chocolate should be a little more firm, but not yet solid) after you put it in, scatter nuts and continue to refrigerate until chocolate is solid/completely firm.

Notes: The hazelnut topping is optional. I’ve made this tart with and without it. To make the crust you have the choice of grinding your nuts and buckwheat finely, or you can chop the nuts in small chunks and use whole buckwheat kernels. I’ve made the crust both ways, it’s really a matter of preference.

I think the tart is best when the chocolate is a bit soft so I’d recommend removing it from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before you plan to serve it. It melts relatively quickly so it’s not something you should leave out for hours (or even an hour) before you plan to eat it.

This tart can be made in molds of different shapes and sizes. I chose an 8″ tart pan with a removable bottom as it is easy to remove the tart from such a pan. If you don’t have a tart pan with a removable bottom, use a hot, wet cloth on your mold to remove your tart from the pan with greater ease.

Finally, the tart slices in the photos here are cut quite large. I did this just for the sake of the blog photos. To serve, I actually cut them in slivers of 1/2 or 1/3 of each slice in the photos.

Chocolate Hazelnut Buckwheat TartP.S. Recently, I also tried a raw pumpkin tart. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you as soon as possible!

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