Blog - meatless monday
Rhubarb crumble is one of the very first desserts of spring using fresh ingredients. It is so delicious that I think everyone should eat this dessert at the beginning of April. Unfortunately for many, making a crumble is off limits. Gluten is often included in recipes to create the tasty browned flakes. Additionally, butter and eggs are also frequently used to bind everything together and help the browning and crisping of the crumble. But is it really necessary to include gluten and use eggs or dairy products in this recipe?
I set out to create a crumble which has no gluten and is otherwise completely free of eggs and dairy products. The end result is quite satisfying…and I don’t think I will ever attempt to make another crumble with dairy or gluten.
As a variation, add sliced strawberries to this recipe…preferably waiting until the local strawberries appear. I also think I will try apricots, blackberries and apples as the season changes.
I really enjoy the flavors of spring…especially when the young greens emerge from the soil. My favorites are the wild garlic greens of Switzerland called bärlauch, young dandelion greens, wild sorrel or young blood sorrel. All of these greens have tremendous nutritional value, especially in the amount of antioxidants, which are very good to ward off any winter crud lingering in your blood stream.
I always use this type of mixture to create a nice spring salad, but lately I have decided to quickly sauté the greens in a bit of water and coat with oil after they are wilted. This method really enhances their flavor characteristics while minimizing the amount of fat you are consuming.
As for the beans… Well actually you can use any type of starch. I have used roasted potatoes as well as creamy polenta to mix with the wilted greens. I think beans are very nice if you are looking for something completely different. I prefer using fresh beans when they are available. Otherwise, just cook your beans in a pressure cooker as follows.
To cook your beans very easily, begin by soaking the dried beans in cold water with a dash of baking soda for about one hour. The beans will get a bit wrinkly after this treatment, but don’t worry, they will still cook just fine. Place your beans in a pressure cooker and cover with about 4-cm of water. Add a bay leaf to the water, then close the pressure cooker very well. Place the pressure cooker on a burner with high heat. When the pressure hits 2 bars, reduce your temperature to low and maintain pressure for 65 minutes (I find this time works best for most beans). Release the pressure by running cold water over the top of the pressure cooker. Check the consistency of the beans. If you are happy, season them well with salt and remove them from the pressure cooker to cool. If they are underdone, return the pressure cooker to the stove, cover well and bring the pressure back up to 2 bars like before. Maintain this pressure for 10 minutes and then release the pressure again. The beans should now be just about right!
I always seem to get an urge to make something with carrots whenever the first hint of spring emerges from the cold winter soil. This year, carrot soup filled my mind. But, I wanted to make a carrot soup which really represented the taste of carrots stuck firmly in my memory – a distant recollection of pulling carrots out of the ground in the garden I planted.
The idea of caramelizing the carrots seemed like a good place to start, but I didn’t want the roasted notes to overpower the flavor of the carrots. Plus, roasting the carrots in the oven adds to the overall sweetness – something I wanted to avoid. So I settled on a different technique of caramelizing the carrots, which I found in the wonderful book, “The Modernist Cuisine” (also great stuff on the web). After reading the recipe, I was convinced that using the pressure cooker would achieve something different – caramelized carrots without drying them out. But, I wasn’t too thrilled with their recipe because I felt it was more complicated than necessary. I wanted simplicity…and elegance.
I decided to add the ginger to the recipe, which I felt would balance the overall sweetness of the carrots…and after tasting the results, I was pleased with the slight tickling in the throat from the ginger…but the soup still lacked acidity. My response was simple. I felt inspired from a favorite Moroccan style salad of carrots and oranges, so I added the orange juice to just give the soup enough acidity to create a nice balance in the mouth.
I also replaced the butter with olive oil and added a splash of sherry wine (I used an Oloroso). And that was it…the total time in making the soup was about 45 minutes and the results…well, I think this is one of the best soups I have made…or even tasted.
I really enjoy shopping at the market just after winter and before the explosion of fresh ingredients arrive in the heat of spring. I think this period is quite interesting – especially in Switzerland where it is very simple to find products coming from the southern part of Italy. And when I shop…I get inspired to come up with something very fresh and very quick!
During my latest trip to the market, I was inspired by the selection of Italian artichokes, which were both large and small. They are especially good right now and perfect to prepare in so many ways. I elected to use the carciofini (the small ones, which are fully mature, just smaller because they grow on the bottom part of the plant), because they are really tender at the moment. It may seem like you are removing too much of the small artichoke, but in reality, the entire flower is edible. I just remove the outer 1-2 layers and any green bits that remain…as well as those nasty little stickers. I also ran across some delightfully large artichokes with very long stems still attached – a gold mine for those in the know! I really enjoy eating the artichoke marrow which is easily revealed by trimming away the outer part of the stem. The flavor is very similar to the heart and a part of the artichoke which is usually discarded…at least outside of Italy (Italians are always clever in finding the tastiest bits of food).
If you are a fan of Moroccan cuisine like I am, then you have no doubt come across the iconic version of bisteeya, which is traditionally made with chicken or pigeon. The dish is customarily served as a first course offering. It is always eaten with your hands…which is already appealing to me. It is also always consumed hot – just hot enough to slightly irritate your fingertips. Paula Wolfert, in her classic book Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco, described the eating experience like this: “To enjoy [bisteeya] Moroccan style, plunge into the burning pastry with the thumb and first two fingers of your right hand and tear out a piece as large or as small as you want. You will burn your fingers, of course, but you will have a lot of fun and the pain will be justified by the taste!”
Now that’s a piece of descriptive food writing which makes you want to jump in and try a bisteeya!
I’m not one to generally use recipes I see out of cookbooks. I prefer instead to scan through my books looking for inspiration and flavor matching ideas instead of recipes. But, when I was thumbing through Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, I knew right away I needed to try making his Celeriac and lentils with hazelnut and mint recipe. The combination sounds simply irresistible!
But alas, I gave into my instincts as a cook and decided to make some changes…changes which I believe are better-suited for Switzerland in February.
The first change was replacing the celeriac with salsify…which seemed like such a natural decision for me. Celeriac may be popular in North America or the UK, but I think in mainland Europe it is a bit…well…pedestrian. Salsify on the other hand, is relatively underappreciated. It’s flavor is somewhat akin to asparagus and it is incredibly healthy. Next, I decided to switch from Puy lentils to brown lentils because I think the nuttiness of brown lentils matches better with the hazelnuts in the recipe. Finally, I decided to go for tarragon to dress up the final version of the dish instead of mint. I don’t have anything against mint, but I really don’t think it is appropriate in mid-February.
I’m happy with the outcome, which can be served either hot or cold…and cold is how I will be enjoying this dish as part of my Meatless Monday.
Find out what’s in season at markets throughout Switzerland – and get inspired to cook fresh!