Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Chai with Rooibos

Chai is a classic drink in Indian culture. It is basically a blend of black tea with various spices cooked with water and milk. The secret of a good chai is all in the spice blend. There are plenty of ready to use chai spice blends available in grocery shops, to which all you need to do is add boiling water. 

My own version is made from scratch, boiling all the spices and condiments together to obtain a very aromatic drink that offers extra depth and warmth. The amounts used of each spice might depend not only on our personal preference but also on the quality of the ingredients. For instance, if the ginger is very fresh and depending on which ground is comes from it might have much more essential oils that make it very strong. In that case, I would use sometimes 1/3 of the amount of ginger that I would use if I buy ginger in another season or from another shop when it is less strong. Feel free to play to be guided by your inner senses and decide which proportions of spices best fit your taste buds. 


250 ml coconut /rice milk 
250 ml water
2 cinnamon sticks
4 juniper seeds
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated or cut into small pieces
1 star anise
4 cloves
4 cardamom pods, crushed open
4 tbsp mascobado sugar, stevia or your favourite sweetener
2 tsp. loose rooibos tea

optional variations: dried orange peel, orange or rose water, saffron, allspice, lavender flowers, chilli pepper

Sometimes I add wild plants to my chai, depending on what I feel the need for. For instance, nettles, burdock, calendula, dandelion roots, yarrow...  

Pour all ingredients (except the rooibos) into a double layered saucepan. Place over medium heat.  Allow to heat until it comes to a boil. Stir the chai to avoid it to overflow. Lower the fire and let it simmer with a lid for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Allow to steep for 15 minutes. Bring to a boil once again, turn off the heat, add the rooibos and stir well. Allow to steep for a few more minutes. Strain carefully into a cup, and serve. Add more sweetener if needed.

If the spices are fresh, I use the same cinnamon stick, star anise, cardamom, ginger and cloves again to make 2 more batches of the chai (within 48 hours, no longer than that), as they usually preserve a lot of taste still. So don’t throw them away immediately after the first batch is done, unless you notice they already gave all the taste to the first chai. 

Risotto with young nettle and wild mushrooms

This is an easy to make risotto. You can use any greens available at each season, such as wild nettles, dandelions, spinach, goosefoot, purslane, amaranth… The long list of spices is explained by my personal choice of not using vegetable stock. Instead I prefer to use my own herbs and spices to give it a more “refined” taste that does not overrule the more subtle aromas and flavours. If you do not have most of the herbs mentioned here, feel free to use vegetable stock or other spices that you have at home like in a regular risotto.  


2 cups risotto rice (e.g. Carnoli or Arborio)
2 cups freshly picked young nettles (or the greens of your choice)
1 cup cooked sweet chestnuts (you can replace them by fresh or frozen peas if it is no chestnut season)
2 carrots, finely grated
200g wild mushrooms, roughly chopped 
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 (organic) lemon juice and zest (grated with a microplane)
2 bay leaves
8 small dried curry leaves
3 celery dried leaves 
2 teaspoons of herbes de Provence (rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and savory), finely ground 
sea salt to taste (I used 1,5 tbsp)
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (preferably grated in a microplane)
2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh sage (optional)
1/3 tbsp sambal or any chilli pepper oil of your preference
80 ml oat cream (or home made cashew cream)
4 tbsp nutritional yeast (brand Vitam or another brand with a cheesy and not bitter taste)

Cook the rice with the bay leaves, celery and curry leaves, as instructed in the package (each rice may require a different cooking time). When the rice is half cooked, add the chestnuts and leave them cooking on the top of the rice, just getting extra steamed. 

Rinse thoroughly the nettles and blanch them by throwing boiling water over them and leaving it 3-5 minutes. Drain them and press well to remove the excess of water. The liquid you can drink as nettle infusion. Cut the nettles roughly.

Zest the lemon and set aside. Cut the lemon in half, juice it, and set aside as well. 

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot and set over high heat. Cut the mushrooms add them to the olive oil. Turn over to medium heat, and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. 

When the rice is well cooked add the carrots, ginger, lemon juice and zest, sea salt, sambal or pepper oil, herbes de provence, mushrooms, nettles, oat cream and nutritional yeast and stir well to combine all ingredients. Adjust the taste with salt or extra pepper to your taste.

The salad in the picture consists of wild young greens: winter purslane, chickweed, cleavers, camomile leaves and purple dead nettle. Dressing: figs, apple, herbal oil, sea salt and balsamic vinegar. Roughly chopped walnuts sprinkled on top.

Pumpkin spiced winter beverage

I love having this drink in cold days. It replaces pretty well the egg-nogs I used to have as a child and it works also as an exotic alternative to regular hot chocolate. It is pretty easy to make and you can use pumpkin from a jar if you want. You can also use sweet potatoes, which work wonders. I make a version of this with cooked sweet chestnut, during the chestnut harvest season. This drink can perfectly replace a dessert or a snack, as it is very filling. 


100g cooked Hokaido pumpkin (or sweet potato, baked in the oven)
200 ml almond milk (or a mixture oat milk + coconut milk)
1 t.s. cinnamon (or 1 cinnamon stick while cooking the pumpkin)
sweetener to taste (sucanat / mascobado, agave syrup or stevia)
1/2 t.s. cardamom powder
1/4 t.s. mace powder (or nutmeg)
1/4 t.s. allspice powder
1/2 t.s. freshly grated ginger
1/2 t.s.. orange zest (optional)
1 tbsp orange water
Other nice additions are saffron and1/4 t.s. red chilli flakes

Rinse the pumpkin well under water with the help of a vegetable brush. Remove the hard pieces in the skin but you do not have to peel the pumpkin if you use an organic orange hokaido pumpkin for this recipe. Cut the pumpkin in small blocks and bring it to cook with very little water, over low heat in a covered saucepan. It is important to cook the pumpkin with just enough to cover the bottom of the pan - I add more or less 2,5cm water level - so that the sweet taste is preserved as much as possible. If using a sweet potato you can peel them and cook them in the same way as the pumpkin, or you can bake them in the oven, with skin and all (or in pieces, spread on a tray). It gets an even better result: sweeter and the flavour gets stronger, it does not get diluted in the water.

Remove the pumpkin pieces from the cooking water (or mix it all together with the water that is left, in case it hasn’t much left) out and mix it well with the almond milk, sweetener and all the spices. Warm it up briefly under medium-low fire and serve immediately.

Feel free to play with the spices of your preference adding a little bit more or less than the suggested amounts here. There is no problem if you don't have all these spices at home. It works fine sometimes only with cinnamon, cardamom and mace powder for instance. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Crunchy & healthy snacks with wild leaves

Here is a very easy and delicious recipe that will convince everyone - even the kids! - to eat more wild greens. It is also a great way to shift to healthier snacks and it might help curb other undesirable food cravings - usually for junk.

You might need a food dehydrator for this recipe. It can be an electrical one or a solar one. There are many tutorials and videos on youtube on how to build a solar dehydrator using recycled materials. Some of those ideas work even in places where there is often not enough sun to get things dry, such as where I live. Some regular ovens can work on low temperatures, so if you have one of those that might also work out. 

What you need for this recipe:

Wild leafy greens; freshly picked: dandelion, ground ivy, valerian, mint, etc.


Tahine (sesame paste)
Sea salt
Coconut aminos, miso or tamari (all optional)
Water (or apple juice if you want to give it a sweet contrast) 
Herbs of your choice. I use rosemary, oregano, savory, thyme or other available aromatics
A pinch of chili
Lime zest + lime juice (optional but it gives a great taste contrast with the tahine and other herbs)

Rinse the wild greens and dry them in a salad spinner. Mix the ingredients for the coating well until smooth. Dip each leaf in the liquid, making sure they are entirely covered with a thin layer of it and place them in the dehydrator trays. You may also work with teflex baking sheets over the trays, to protect the trays from getting too messy. Do not place leaves over one another. 

Dehydrate under 40°C to 45°C until crunchy (it may take from 2 to 5 hours, depending on how thick the coating is and how moist the air is outside. If you want an extra crunchy layer you can make sure the dip coating is thicker - but that will take much longer to get it dry. A thin layer will be also crunchy, but very fragile. 

When ready, take them out of the trays immediately and store them in a very good air tight container until the moment to be served. Sometimes after a few minutes after they are out of the dehydrator they start getting soft again. If they get soft again because you did not take them out of the dehydrator quick enough, just run the dehydrator half and hour extra and they will get back their crunchiness. 

Instead of tahine you can also use other nut or seed pastes (cashew, almonds, hazelnuts...). I sometimes add some hemp seeds to the coating dip, without mixing it. That gives a very nice texture to the snacks. 

Chocolate mousse with chia seeds

Why not combine the pleasures of high quality Belgian chocolate with this superfood known as chia seeds? Pretty easy to make and it keeps well for longer than a week in the fridge. That is if you don’t eat the entire batch in the first day. 


2 tbsp chia seeds, soaked in a full glass of water (240ml)
200g dark chocolate - organic & fair trade
250 ml almond milk / oat milk or coconut milk
2 tbsp mascobado sugar / sucanat / stevia or any other sweetener of your choice (optional)

Additional ingredients that could bring this recipe to an entirely new level (add one or more of these if you want to play with your taste buds):

2 tbsp orange compote or
1 ts orange zest, finely grated with a microplane
1/2  ts cardamom powder + 1 ts cinnamon powder or
1/2 ts mace powder
4 drops mint essential oil
3 tbsp coarsely chopped (roasted) hazelnuts

Let the chia at least 2 hours soak in the water. During the first 3 minutes stir them occasionally to avoid any lumps. It will end up as a thick gel.

Melt the chocolate in bain-marie and add the milk of your preference with the mascobado sugar / sucanat (if desired). If you decide to add other special flavours such as cardamon, mace or orange compote this is the right moment to add them.

Now add the chia gel to the chocolate and mix well with an immersion hand blender. Pour it into glasses or dessert bowls and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Sometimes it may be faster to reach the right texture. The next day this dessert is at its best.

You might feel the need to adjust the ratio chocolate / milk / chia seeds depending on the type of chocolate or depending on the type of milk you use, or the desired texture. The more liquid additives, the creamier it gets, but less stable too.

Chocolate mousse

I have made various versions of chocolate mousse before and every time I feel I was one step closer to getting the ideal texture. I was very happy about my former version using coconut milk and chia seeds (see recipe in another blog post). That was until I came across this amazing idea some brilliant folks on facebook shared about using chickpea brine to replace egg whites (https://www.facebook.com/groups/372343816286624). Now this is by far the best chocolate mousse I have ever had! It’s got the perfect texture and smoothness. Thank you facebook friends for sharing this brilliant idea with the world!

In fact you can make chocolate mousse using only dark chocolate and aqua faba. It works well enough. I decided to add psyllium husks and plant milk to get a creamier and stable consistency that stays well for several days in the fridge. Using only the chickpea brine could end up as a soft mousse that separates into 2 layers the next day. Another great option to stabilise the consistency is to use 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum to the aqua faba when it already formed fluffy stiff peaks and tripled its volume.

Depending on the quality of dark chocolate you use, of the plant milk you add or how concentrated your aqua faba is, you might wish to adapt the amounts to make it creamier or more consistent.

I wanted it looking like the "real thing", soft enough to melt on the tongue but not dripping out of the spoon. Here you go. Have fun!

it became even fluffier and it had a nicer consistency next day

200g dark chocolate (I used Belgian chocolate De Schutter)
1 tablespoon psyllium husk or 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
100ml coconut milk (or other plant-based milk)
120ml aqua faba (brine from cooked chickpeas or white beans, black beans) 
1 or 2 tablespoons mascobado sugar, palm sugar, stevia or other sweetener of your choice if needed. Depending on how sweet your dark chocolate is you might not even need to add any extra sugar. It’s all up to you.


Melt the chocolate in bain-marie (a.k.a. double boiler). Add the psyllium to the plant milk and stir it well. Whisk it gently to get it dissolved and leave it for a few minutes or until the chocolate is melted. 

Open the chickpea jar and strain its liquid into a large bowl or the bowl of your electric whipping mixer. The chickpeas you can use to make hummus or anything else you want, but they do NOT take part in this recipe. If using the cooking water of your home made cooked chickpeas or beans, just make sure they are concentrated enough, but also not over-concentrated.

Whip the aqua faba in high speed, preferably using an electric handheld mixer with a round whip attachment at the end, until it is white, fluffy and stiff. It should at least double the volume but it usually triples it. Add the mascobado sugar slowly, while the electric whipping goes on. 

If you do not use psyllium husks and prefer to use xanthan gum, now it's the time to add it. Reduce the speed of the device and add carefully 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum to it. Keep whipping at a slower speed, until it gets well incorporated. 

More chocolate and less psyllium and you'll get a slightly stiffer mousse 

When the chocolate is melted, add the psyllium slurry and stir it thoroughly until smooth. Make sure the chocolate + milk mixture is at least room temperature, not warmer than that - otherwise leave it cool down a bit. If you add the melted chocolate to the fluff while it is still warm, it will ruin the fluffiness of the recipe. ;-)

As last step, add the aqua faba fluffy white mousse to the melted chocolate and fold it in gently a little bit at a time. Keep adding more fluff and folding it until all the chocolate and the white mousse are well incorporated. 

Pour into little dessert pots (or into a large glass tray if you make a huge batch) and place it in the fridge for at least 2 hours, but it is even better if you make it overnight. 

this version has 100ml water + 100ml coconut milk + 120 ml AF, so it got creamier, but it does not drip from the spoon

Depending on the brand of chickpea you buy, the brine will be thinner or thicker. The more concentrated it is, the better. No, that's not really true. I found out later that there is a level of concentration that keeps the aqua faba from expanding further. So if using a thick liquid you notice that your device is taking longer to get the liquid to become white and fluffy, you might want to add some extra water. 

After you've done it a few times, you'll get the hang of it and know whether you need to add water or to cook it further to get it more concentrated - that is usually only the case when you use home made brine and the beans were cooked in too much water, or not long enough to create the "magic effect" on the brineIn case you need to cook the liquid further on to concentrate it a bit more, wait until it cools down again before whisking it to white fluffiness consistency. It will not work out if you whip a warm aqua faba.

Psyllium husk or xanthan gum add a nice creamy texture and helps to keep the mousse in shape for several days without separating. If you cannot find psyllium, it also works fine without it. In that case, make sure to use 200g chocolate for each 200ml aqua faba.