Sunday, June 19, 2016

Watermelon treats

Wraps of watermelon with coconut-lime filling

Watermelon season! If you are a fruit enthusiast like me, you probably also indulge yourself into buying those real sized watermelons in summer time. If you buy them regularly, you’ll end up learning how to pick up sweet and ripe ones and avoid the not so sweet ones. If you are not that lucky with a sweet watermelon, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to use them where they don’t need to be that sweet. 

watermelon juice goes well with ginger, mint, lemon balm or rosemary

After cutting open a watermelon, you better keep it refrigerated. I have a special spot in my fridge for them, but even then it would not fit a full watermelon. So when I cut it open, I make sure to use a lot of it at once, until the rest fits nicely in the fridge. I make myself a full bowl with it, I place some extra pieces in a tuperware for later in the day and/or I juice some of it for use in that same day.

When juicing the watermelon, I love adding fresh herbs, such as lemon balm or mint to it. Or lemongrass if you have it! Fresh ginger root also goes great with watermelon juice. 
I add the resulting pulp from the juicing back to the juicer again and again until there is very little left. The pulp left is added to my dogs’ food. Nothing gets wasted here and they just love it! 

Drying watermelon.

If you have too much watermelon, you might want to dry some of it for later use. Dried watermelon is an incredibly yummy and accidentally healthful sweet treat that might as well be the solution to our cravings for sweets.

Ready to go in the dehydrator. I prefer to remove the seeds after drying

Drying is also a great solution for watermelons that are not sweet enough, or for the less sweet parts of it near the white skin, which are often discarded by many people. 

By drying it, its natural sugars get concentrated so you end up with chewy and much sweeter treats. Needless to say, sweet watermelons become much sweeter after drying so it can perfectly replace various desserts, or can take part in interesting (and healthful) dessert recipes.

After several hours in the dehydrator

Cut the watermelon into slices of 1-2 cm, spread them over a dehydrator tray and dry them in at a low temperature (45°C). How long it will take depends on various factors such as how juicy your watermelon is, temperature settings of your dehydrator, air moist, thickness of the slices, etc. Count at least 8 hours but it could take as much as 12. 

half dried watermelon are incredibly delicious but they should be eaten within 3 days if kept in the fridge

dried watermelon in jar - ready to eat
If you don’t have a low temperature dehydrator, you can dry them in a regular oven, at the lowest temperature allowed in it. Place the slices on a silicone thin baking sheet (not regular silicone baking mats). If you bake the watermelon slices under temperatures higher than 90°C make sure to keep a close eye on how quickly it bakes, as it should not burn. When ready, keep your dried watermelon in air - tight containers, preferably in the fridge, to eat as a snack (delicious!), or to use in salads, sushis or other culinary creations.

sushi with marinated dried watermelon


Culinarily speaking (thus not culturally and beyond) sushi is just a rice roll that fits pretty well with anything you want to put on it. Ideally you would choose a particular kind of rice that is special for sushi: sushi rice. It has a sweeter taste, it gets sticky and the grains keep a pretty round shape after cooking. But sushi also works with other regular rice such as basmati, arborio or dessert rice. Do not try it with parboiled rice - it really won’t work.  

Sushi rice is traditionally seasoned with mirin and rice wine vinegar. The end result is basically a light sweet and sour bland rice which works as a neutral ground that goes together with any other (marinated) colourful additions - e.g. sweet potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, asparagus, avocado, mangoes, strawberries, tofu, seitan, you name it - and wasabi. 

If you want to learn how to master a perfect classic sushi rice, here is a link that can teach you that:

There are 1001 recipes for making sushi. I find most of them quite bland. So my own version of it will usually include some extra flavourings to make sure the rice is exciting enough in itself. I might, for instance, add kaffir lime leaves and/or lemon zest, or even lemongrass to the cooking water with the rice. I sometimes also add a hint of cardamom, ginger or horseradish to it. The most important to me is that the contrast between sweetness and sourness in the rice gets more prominent. Lastly, a pinch of salt helps to bring up the other flavours to their best.

If you want to vary even more, feel free to use other grains or ingredients to your own versions of sushi. Some ideas that work pretty well are: quinoa, millet, rice noodles, raw blended cauliflower, various nuts (ground and combined with other vega and spices)… 

You can fill your sushi with various combinations of ingredients, herbs and spices that you have at home. Commonly used ingredients in traditional sushi recipes are: cucumber (cut into strips) (green) asparagus, watercress, carrot (cut into strips), shitake, cremini or oyster mushrooms, pickled ginger slices (oh, these are really great!), zucchini (cut into strips), avocado, mango, peach, strawberry, bell peppers ... some hard vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato or asparagus are better used after some quick blanching - pay attention not to overcook it. If using plain tofu, press the tofu well for at least one hour before marinating and using it in the sushi. Smoked tofu works very well and it is usually in the ideal consistency for immediate use - no need to press it. You can also use seitan or other plant based special product that you find in your local shops. 

If you don’t have rice vinegar or mirin  at hand you can also use sugar with (balsamic) vinegar. I love using balsamic vinegar or other herbal infused vinegar - such as tarragon - in my sushis. 

For making the rolls, I recommend that you use a sushi mat, which is a bamboo mat that you use to roll the sushi. If you make inverted sushi, where the nori sheet is on the inside and the rice in on the outside, you should use a food plastic film to avoid the rice to stick directly to the sushi mat.

For the wasabi, you can buy the Japanese kind, either in paste form or in powder form, that you need to add a little water to it. You can also use the American/European-type horseradish (the red or white kind), or you can make your own. I use the Japanese kind and my homemade

If you wish to bring your sushi to a total new level, try using using dried shitake mushrooms or dried summer fruits. 

One of my favourite special additions is watermelon. It can be cut into slices of 1-2 cm and dried in a dehydrator at a low temperature. How long it will take depends on various factors such as how juicy your watermelon is, settings of your dehydrator, air moist, thickness of the slices, etc. If you don’t have a low temperature dehydrator, you can dry them in a regular oven, at the lowest temperature allowed in it. Place the slices on a silicone thin baking sheet (not regular silicone baking mats). If you bake it in temperatures higher than 90°C you should keep a close eye on how quickly it bakes, as it should not burn. When ready, keep your dried watermelon in air-tight containers to eat as a snack (delicious!) or to be used in salads, sushis or other culinary creations.

dried watermelon slices

Here is a quick marinade that goes well with dried watermelon, tofu or mushrooms to be used in sushi:

1 tbsp tamari/shoyu
1 tbsp rice vinegar (or balsamic vinegar, or lime juice or yuzu juice)
1/2 tsp seaweed flakes 
and if you enjoy smoked foods in your sushi, you could add a few drops of "liquid smoke" to it

half-dried watermelon is even easier to use directly on sushis and don't require marinating (unless you want to)

Here is one basic recipe, to help you unleash your creativity and create your favourite sushi.


250g uncooked Japanese round grain rice (or round whole grain rice)
300 ml of water (the amount depends on the type of rice, on your cooking device and cooking pot used, so you might need more in some cases)
5-7 tablespoons rice vinegar (or balsamic vinegar, coconut vinegar, or lemon juice)
80 ml mirin or 4 - 6 tbsp agave syrup or 3 tbsp sugar or any other sweetener (stevia, maple syrup)
1 tsp. salt
zest of one organic lemon (optional) - 
4 nori sheets
wasabi or horseradish paste

Optional: cook the rice cook with kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves or lemon grass. Or add a little grated ginger to the cooking water (preferably grated with a Microplane or similar fine grater)

If you don’t have or simply prefer not to use nori sheets, there are plenty of other ways to roll up your sushi rice. Examples: wild leaves (like linden), romaine lettuce, thin slices of courgette/zucchini or carrots, rice paper, sesame seeds (black, yellow or wasabi-coated sesame), nigella seeds, poppy seeds, etc. 


Rinse the rice several times and drain. Cook the rice with the water until all the water is absorbed (12 to 15 minutes). Cover the cooking pot and allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes to cool a bit. Add the mirin (or sugar or sweetener of your choice) and rice vinegar gently through the rice. Place a nori sheet on the top of a bamboo mat, rough side up (some people prefer the opposite). Spread the sushi rice evenly over 2 thirds of the nori sheet of nori. Spread a thin line of wasabi paste over the rice. Add your vegetables on top. 

Roll the sushi by using the bamboo mat. Pressure gently while rolling it. Dip your fingertips in a bowl of water and use them to moisten the ends of the nori sheet, to help it stick to the sushi neatly. 
sushi with couscous, asparagus and pickled ginger on top

If this is your first time making sushi, make sure to cook extra rice so that you can practice a bit until you get the hang of rolling it if you want them looking tight enough. The secret is to spread the rice layer in equal amounts over the surface of the nori and keep pressing it while rolling, so that there is not much air in the rolls - making it difficult to cut nice slices. 

Leave the sushi rolls in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. Cut them into slices with a very sharp, wet knife. 

Garnish with a pinch of wasabi and/or pickled ginger.

If you - like me - also like a little sauce to go with it, here are a few ideas:
1) ripe avocado, wasabi, lime juice (or yuzu), lime zest and sea salt.
2) good quality shoyu, lemon juice, agave syrup and finely grated ginger (preferably grated using a Microplane or other similar fine grater) .
3) lemon zest, umeboshi purée maple syrup 

If you opt for serving sushi with a sauce, make sure to pour these sauces or creamy “extras” in very small pots, so that people know that they should not totally dip each sushi in it - unless you make sure they are mild enough, not too sour, salty or wasabish.  

Bon appétit !

Friday, June 17, 2016

Linden wraps with tomatish-quinoa and herbs de Provence

I love using linden leaves to wrap grain dishes. In my former blog post I shared tips on how to harvest and prepare them. 

Here is another idea for using a simple and delicious quinoa with dried watermelon (or any other garnish that you have at hand) wrapped in this heart-shaped leaves.


2 cups cooked quinoa 
1 tbsp finely ground herbs de Provence (bay leaves, thyme, sage, marjoram, oregano, rosemary)
1/2 tbsp sea salt
Fresh basil (optional)
1/3 ts szechwan pepper (ground)
zest of 1/3 lemon
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp tomato passata
Linden leaves (fresh or in brine) - see 

Add all ingredients together and use either your hands or a kitchen processor to make sure to get a nice sticky texture that is easier to use in the little wraps. If the quinoa is on the side of almost over cooked, it will naturally get thicker and gluey when you bring all ingredients together. If not, you can blend it all quickly on the food processor, or you can add one tbsp of ground flax seed to it - or psyllium husks, or anything that helps it get a little bit sticky. 

Place one linden leaf on a plate or cutting board, add a little spoon of the quinoa and any extra vegetable such as asparagus, marinated tofu, pistachios, cranberries or anything extra to add contrast, sweetness and/or texture to the wraps. In the picture above I used dried watermelon and it was totally yummie.

Wrap each leaf in the way you’d wrap vine leaves. Keep them refrigerated until serving time. 

Wraps of linden leaves stuffed with elderflower-rice

Linden (or lime) trees are known for their medicinal properties and aromatic blossoms. Their leaves are versatile greens that add a special touch to various culinary creations. My favourite way to use them is in wraps, in much the same way as vine leaves are used in dolmades. Ideally you pick them up in early spring when the leaves are young and tender. I like to get a bunch of them and prepare them in brine for later use during the rest of spring and summer. 

If you are late for the early harvest and only find older leaves, you will notice that they get a bit more fiberish. Still it is possible to cook them in salty water (for 10 minutes or less, depending how hard the leaves are). Add them to a sterilised glass jar, add a brine made from water, sea salt and apple cider vinegar - like with vine leaves - and close it with the lid. Leave them in the brine for at least a week in the fridge before using them. I like to add much less salt and vinegar as the usual amounts we find in commercial vine leaves. If you don’t want to use a jar, you can also freeze the boiled leaves.

You can wrap basically any grain dish with linden leaves, as they have a neutral flavour. My favourites grains for that are rice and quinoa (Check my next blog post for another idea of a quinoa recipe to be used with linden leaves). Add your favourite spices, fresh herbs and vegs to them and they are good to go. 

Here is an idea of rice scented with elder blossoms.


2 cups rice (preferably sushi rice or arborio)
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup elderflower blossoms (without the stems)
Zest of one (organic) lemon, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 cup elderflower cordial
1/4 cup apple vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt


Bring the rice with the water, elderflower blossoms, allspice, cardamom and the lemon zest to a boil. 

Reduce heat to medium and cook it until the water totally evaporates. Add the rest of the ingredients, cover with a lid and leave it in low fire for 3 more minutes. 

Remove from fire keep it covered until it almost cools down completely. 

Add a little portion of the rice to the center of a linden leaf and wrap it as you would with vine leaves. If it is not season of linden, you can use this recipe also wrapped in wine leaves. You can also use it in nori sheets, as sushis. Add raw or steamed vegetables of your choice. 

Serve with mustard-dill sauce or mint-yoghurt sauce. 

Mustard-dill sauce: 

1/2 cup Go-On Alpro soy
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 - 2 tbsp coconut sugar of sucanat
1 tbsp dried dill

Add all ingredients to a little sauce bowl and whisk it until everything is well blended. It keeps well in the fridge for at least 3 days, in a air tight container or jar.

Mint-yoghurt sauce:

1 cup soy yoghurt
2 tbsp coconut milk
1/2 tbsp sea salt (or to taste)
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1/3 tsp lime zest

Bring all ingredients together in a sauce bowl. Stir it well enough until it becomes a smooth cream.