Tag Archives: mint

Vegan Dinner + Asparagus with Couscous

5 Oct

Just back from New York – what an amazing trip! Had lunch at Per Se on Saturday, and will review it soon. Friday was great fun too. I had my very curly hair cut at Ouidad – she is the Goddess of Curly Hair, and an incredible inspiration. And because this was New York, and I was having a wonderful time, I stopped in at Dean and Deluca on my way home and browsed.

Dinner!Oh that place is just a total culinary paradise. I wandered around for an hour, just inhaling the aromas, and browsing everything. If I had more room in my suitcase, I would have bought the store! It was as if I was in a curated foodie dream … the olive oils, the truffles, the ice creams, the cheeses… and the fruits and vegetables! Of course it was terrifically expensive, but so beautiful. I found such fresh fruits and vegetables – everything perfect, and at its peak. When I got home, I decided to study what I had bought and treat it with great simplicity and respect.

My hostess, and dear friend T, is a vegan. I wanted to make her dinner, and it was a cold and stormy night, so I was inspired by the end of summer wealth of fruit and vegetables available at Dean and Deluca. I wanted to make a meal full of strong sensuous flavours that would not overwhelm us, and yet would nourish the senses. It was such a pleasure to cook with this produce, at its height of freshenss. It was easy to make something bright and beautiful. We had:

  • Eggplant (aubergine) dip made from roasted eggplant, tomatoes and virgin olive oil
  • Beautiful fresh bread
  • Fresh figs (I was going to poach them in white wine, but I tasted them, and they were so perfect, I decided to leave them in their glory)
  • Roasted baby heirloom tomatoes and garlic, with fresh basil. Very easy and very quick – 200C (400F) oven – pop in a tray of sliced tomatoes, garlic and basil, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Roast until the entire house is scented and everything is soft and slightly burnt, and luscious.
  • Hand rolled couscous with asparagus, mint, basil and meyer lemon
  • Reisling poached pear sorbet by Jeni’s Ice Creams (I had a Salty Caramel for non-vegan me which was mind blowing) – you can order for delivery!

For the asparagus with couscous, which will serve four, or two, with leftovers for the weekend, you will need:

  • 1 bunch fresh organic asparagus (about 1 – 2 cups)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup couscous (I used this amazing hand rolled couscous but garden variety is just fine!)
  • 1 bunch fresh organic mint (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 bunch fresh organic basil (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 Meyer lemon

Prepare the asparagus first. For each stalk, snap the bottom off with your hands. The asparagus will snap naturally, and you will be left with shortened stalks, but the best part. Discard the bottom bits.

Chop the asparagus into 2 inch or so sections. Boil about 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan on high heat. Add a bit of salt. Dunk the asparagus into the boiling water. Watch carefully. The asparagus will turn bright green. You want to remove it from the water almost as soon as it cooks – taste and see but I usually only leave it in for a minute or two. This ensures its very fresh, slightly crisp and yet cooked. The asparagus we had was sweet and very pure tasting without any adornment.

Use a sieve if you have it and take the asparagus out of its hot water bath and immediately dunk it in ice water or put it in a bowl and run cold water over – this will stop the cooking process. If you can, save the water the asparagus was cooked in for the couscous. Once the asparagus has been well cooled, set aside in a little bowl.

Using the same saucepan (and the same water if youre lucky), prepare the couscous. You will usually need about 1 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of couscous, but follow directions on the package. I usually add a dollop of extra virgin olive oil to the boiling water for flavour and a sprinkle of salt. Once the water is boiling, add the couscous, stir, and take off heat. Cover, and let stand, steaming quietly to itself, for about 5 – 10 minutes. Once the couscous has absorbed all the water, take the lid off, and fluff. It will then be ready to serve.

While the couscous is absorbing all its water, chop the mint and basil fine and set aside. Grate the skin of the lemon, and set aside. Squeeze at least 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and set aside.

I thought I would spice this up with some Moroccan spices, dark and dusky, but the flavours were so clean and beautiful, I left them out completely!

Couscous!Once the couscous is ready, stir in the mint, basil, lemon zest and lemon juice. Taste for salt, and if you want, add a teaspoon of olive oil for depth of flavour. Let stand for a few minutes to come to room temperature, and then stir in the asparagus. Serve at room temperature.

This is the perfect last hurrah of summer!

Please forgive the iPod photos! I forgot my camera!

Grasshopper Pie

11 Jul

Grasshopper Pie with chocolate Cool green mint mousse, over a chocolate biscuit base. A cloud of whipped cream hides nuggets of chocolate – a surprise texture in the midst of all that smooth silkiness. Grasshopper pie is quite retro, but since I was serving a rather retro dinner (tacos with all the fixins) I thought this was apt. Tacos are also very healthy – no cream, no butter, lots of fresh veg. So something as decadent as this is a fun trade off. And watching the World Cup finals, it was imperative that we have something very satisfying and comforting and delicious. This one comes up trumps on all counts.

Its also very easy to make. I do the biscuit base, the mousse and sprinkle the chocolate nuggets the night before. I decide if I am really gonna go whole hog so to speak the day of serving. Agar agar is cooked with milk and eggs to form a custard. Creme de menthe is added, and whipped cream “lightens” (dont you wish) the whole thing. Pour it onto the biscuits, sprinkle nuggets of chocolate over, and refrigerate. Perfection.

By the way, this recipe calls for a double boiler. But I dont have one, and couldnt be bothered with one if I did. I boil water in a saucepan, and set a heatproof bowl over. Enough lah.

You can serve this three ways. For a very elegant, pure green pie, stop with pouring the mint mousse into the pie plate. It is very grown up and sexy. For a slightly rowdier pie, textural and delicious, stop with sprinkling the chocolate pieces (or shaving some chocolate if you want something slightly more sophisticated) over the mint mousse. Which, as you can see from the photo, is what I have decided to do. And finally for over the top lushness, top the whole thing with whipped cream. I might still yet be tempted 😉

For one 10 inch pie, you will need:

  • 12 Mint Milano cookies, crushed
  • 10 chocolate wafer biscuits, crushed
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tsp agar agar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup creme de menthe
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup chocolate bits
  • additional whipped cream (about 1 cup) to cover

Place all your cookies in a zip loc plastic bag, and crush. I usually bang them about with the bottom of my olive oil bottle. Tip all the biscuits into a pie plate, and make a little well in the centre. Melt 4 tbsp butter, and pour over the cookies. Using your fingers, mix well, and pat to form a crust. Refrigerate until needed.

In a large, heatproof (metal) bowl, pour milk and sprinkle over agar agar. Leave for 5 minutes to let the agar agar soften.

Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water, and bring to the boil. The agar agar should have incorporated into the milk by then. Whisk to combine, and place the large bowl over the top of the saucepan. Lower heat. Cook the milk and agar agar, whisking often, for about 5 – 10 minutes, or until the agar agar has been completely combined into the milk. It will thicken, and as its cooking, you will be able to taste and see the grainy agar agar. Keep at it, and keep whisking, and the agar agar will melt into the milk. Youre ready for the next step when it is silky smooth.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk 4 egg yolks together with 4 tbsp caster sugar until light and lemon coloured.

When the milk mixture has thickened, and there is no more grittiness from the agar agar, take the bowl off the heat, with a cloth or oven mitt, and drip the egg yolk mixture into the hot milk, whisking constantly. The mixture will incorporate, and immediately whisk in the creme de menthe. Put the bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan again, and keep whisking until the mixture is the consistency of a thick custard. This should take about 5 – 10 minutes. Be patient, and keep beating often!

Meanwhile, beat 1 cup cream in a stand mixer (so you have time to also focus on the mint custard) until it holds stiff peaks. As soon as the custard is thick like a pudding, place the hot bowl over a bowl filled with ice. Please remember to use a cloth or oven mitt to transfer! This will cool down the mixture significantly. Remember to continue whisking all the while. As soon as the mixture is lukewarm, whisk half the whipped cream to combine. Fold the remaining cream into the mixture until combined, but do it gentlegentle. You want to keep some of the air in there!

Pour this mixture into the prepared pie plate, and sprinkle with chocolate. I usually use dark chocolate, but you could use anything you like.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 1 day.

Up to 8 hours before serving, whip an additional cup of cream and a whisper of agar agar (to help it hold) and mound over the top. You could flavour this cream if you like – a scant teaspoon of caster sugar and some vanilla, or some dark cocoa powder, or even a little bit of coffee. You could do without this though if you just cant deal with so much richness. The pie is divine as is!

Share with those you love.

Fresh Mint Ice Cream

8 Jul

Oh the joys of mint ice cream. I cant tell you what a wonderful contrast the sharp, icy mint and the smooth creamy ice cream tastes like – you will just have to try it yourself! An ice cream maker is quite important for this recipe, but you could, I suppose, freeze the custard, and check on it at hourly intervals, stirring to make sure no crystals form. I use a mixture of fresh mint and mint extract, and I combine spearmint, peppermint and applemint in my fresh mixture, though if you only have access to one type, by all means use only that. I also use a mixture of 2 to 1 in terms of cream and milk, but you can adjust this according to your tastes. The egg whites can be refrigerated in a clean bottle and used within a week for something delicious like meringues or something boringly healthy like an egg white omlette.

This recipe makes 2 pints, and you could certainly halve it if you are not feeding a large number of people! Make it a few days ahead of time so the ice cream has time to ripen and deepen in the freezer.

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups packed mint (a mixture of spearmint, peppermint and applemint), stalks removed and washed clean of grit
  • 1 + 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp peppermint or mint extract (if needed, and I usually do)

In a blender, combine the cream and the mint and 1 cup of sugar, until the mint is just flecks of green in the cream. Pour this mixture into a large saucepan and add the 2 cups of milk. Heat on a very very low fire until simmering (don’t boil), and then take off the heat and allow the mixture to steep for at least 15 minutes, and up to a couple hours.

When youre ready to start again, beat the remaining sugar with the egg yolks, until a bright yellow golden colour.

Once the mint cream has steeped, test for heat. If its cold, heat it up so that when you dip a finger in it, it feels like very hot bathwater. Take about a half cup of the mint cream and beat it into the egg sugar mixture. Incorporate this back into the mint cream, which should be set over a very low fire. Cook, stirring slowly, for about 6 – 8 minutes or until a custard forms. You can tell this is working if you dip a spoon into the cream and run a finger across the back, you see a clear clean line.

Be brave when making custard. People fear that they will end up with a sweet scrambled egg mess! I wont lie, sometimes that happens, but you will get the hang of it quite quickly. Low heat and constant stirring are the keys to success. You will see the mixture turn from a watery liquid, to a thickish custard – this is where you want to stop, and take it off the heat and test it. If you do get a few scrambles, don’t worry – the sieving process will make sure those curdy bits at the bottom don’t get into the final mixture! Also, you can beat (gently with a fork) in half a cup of cold cream once you have sieved the mixture: this sometimes helps a lot.

Put a large sieve or cheesecloth over a clean large bowl, and pour the custard through the sieve, pressing down, and then discarding the solids. Taste for sugar (remember that when you freeze ice cream, your taste buds don’t taste the sweetness as well), and for mint. If needed, add a teaspoon or two of mint or peppermint extract. If you think it needs to be sweeter, beat about half a cup of custard in a smaller bowl with a couple heaping tablespoons of sugar, and combine back.

Put the custard in the fridge and let it cool completely for 6 hours, or overnight. Taste again.

Once the custard has cooled, follow the instructions on your ice cream maker, and churn. This should make 2 lots of ice cream in the usual 1 pint ice cream maker.

Spoon into a clean waiting container, and freeze overnight, or a few days, to let the flavors ripen and deepen.

PS — help yourself to a scoop of the freshly churned ice cream — cook’s treat!