Nasturtium tacos

In the world of edible flowers maybe nasturtium is the tastiest.

Its leaves have a stronger peppery taste than the flowers, and some flowers might carry sweetness too. The flowers are definitely a great addition to any salads, for pop of color and spice. The leaves look beautiful on any plated dish. When it comes to the leaves they can be used as basil, and added to pesto, sauce, oil. The result is a herby-peppery flavor that is so very distinctive. These flowers are very easy to grow, they will look beautiful in your garden, or in a deep pot on your balcony. I was told they do not like to be replanted and they can grow well only if there is deep enough space for them. If there is not enough soil for them, they will still grow, but their leaves are going to turn into smaller and smaller ones. Those are really good for presentation, but to use them in cooking, you would need lots of bigger ones.

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This flower inspired my cooking tremendously and when I found some huge leaves, I decided to use them as taco shells and fill those with all sorts of plant based goodness.

If you cannot find big leaves, you can use some salad leaves as taco shells. In any case I recommend these to have as an appetizer, or a quick bite.  I also classed this dish under raw and vegan but I actually toasted the seeds and coriander for the dukkah. To keep the dish fully raw you will need to make this condiment with untoasted, sprouted seeds.

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To have balanced flavors and textures I came up with a few layers. For a start, our taco shells will originally have quite some spiciness. I was thinking about adding a slightly sweet crema made with avocados, and since it is spring I blended that with peas and sugar snap pea juice. If you don’t have a juicer to make pea juice (you will need that to achieve soft, crema texture), you can either add little bit of water or just simply process avocado and pea in a food processor into a dip like texture.  Peas will bring lots of sweetness and flavor to the green crema. To keep the natural flavor I only added a little bit of garlic, salt, black pepper and a few drops of lemon juice.

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To make a substantial base salad I decided to go with carrots and cauliflower. I bought some very tender ones at the market, and both veggie is great with the cumin-smoked paprika flavors that I chose to add to it. After slicing them not too thin on mandolin, mixed them with the spices, avocado oil, salt, fresh chopped cilantro and some lemon juice. Make sure to keep tasting the salad and add enough cumin and smoked paprika to deliver a chorizo kind of flavor.

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For a crunchy component I made a quick dukkah with toasted pumpkin, sesame and coriander seeds. After toasting each seed separately, added them in food processor and pulsed a few times.

For the pickle (because there is no taco without something pickled!) I sliced fennel very thin on mandolin and for the pickling liquid I used agave, lime juice and champagne vinegar. Also added the fennel fronds to the pickles.

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Ingredients (4 tacos)

  • 4 big nasturtium leaves (or soft lettuce leaves)

for the avocado-pea crema:

  • 1 avocado
  • 1/4 cup of young, tender peas
  • juice of sugar snap pea (just enough to be able to blend crema)
  • 1/2 garlic clove, smashed
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 tsp of lemon juice

for the spicy carrot-cauliflower salad:

  • 1/2 C sliced carrots
  • 1/2 C sliced cauliflower
  • 1 Tbsp avocado or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tbsp chopped scallion
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp smoked paprika
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

for the dukkah (there will be lots of letover)

  • 1/4 C toasted pumpkin seed
  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seed
  • 2 tsp coriander seed (or more if you like to have strong coriander flavor)
  • salt, cayenne to taste

for the pickled fennel

  • 1 big fennel bulb (thinly sliced and salted)
  • 1 Tbsp fennel fronds, chopped
  • make the pickling liquid to your taste using
  • agave
  • lime juice
  • champagne vinegar
  • water

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To plate the tacos spoon some of the crema on the leaf, top with the carrot salad and nasturtium leaves and petals, sprinkle with generous amount of dukkah and serve with pickles on the side.

TIP:  In case you are missing the creaminess, you can also make a simple cashew sourcream which is made with soaked cashew, lemon juice, salt, apple cider vinegar and just enough water to be able to blend into a cream.

ENJOY!

 

 

Raw plant based beet brownie with chantilly and kumquat

Hi Everyone!

This is just a quick post of the recipe of my final project dessert at Matthew Kenney Culinary. I have just finished the course, and this dessert, which my husband found so amazingly good, is definitely worth a quick post here, because Valentine Day is coming… And some of you might want to make something, that is stunning, delicious, decadent, and leaves your body light after eating it….. you know, for the rest of the night 🙂

So here it is.

Beet brownie

Walnut / Chantilly / Kumquat

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This dessert has more components, you decide which parts you want to add . The beet brownie itself is rich, relatively sweet, chocolate-y.  The chantilly cream goes really well with it, the sauce adds some bright fruity flavor and the kumquat chips, which are my favorites deliver crunch, tartness, so a bit of a punch.

Beet brownie

  • 1 C walnuts (+1 Tbsp chopped to mix in)
  • 1 C soft medjool date
  • 3 Tbsp cacao powder
  • 1 tbsp cacao nibs
  • 3 Tbsp grated, dried beet. If you have no time to dry in the dehydrator, make sure you squeeze it very well with a paper towel
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Combine ingredients  (except for 1 Tbsp of the walnut, grated beet and the cocoa nibs) in a food processor until sticky and still has a bit of texture. Do not blend to smooth.  Blend in leftover cocoa nibs, grated beet and chopped walnuts.  Transfer dough into a tin, press it down and refrigerate.

For the ganache

  • 1/2 C dark agave
  • 3 Tbsp  melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup raw caco powder
  • pinch of salt

Mix agave well with coconut oil and slowly mix in cacao powder, constantly stirring until fully incorporated. Spread ganache evenly on top of chilled brownie and put back in the fridge, or freezer so it cools really well so you will be able to cut. It is a soft brownie so you need proper cooling.

 

Chantilly cream

½ C Soaked cashew
½ c coconut meat
¼ C Almond milk
¼ C agave
Squeeze Lemon juice
2 tsp Vanilla extract
½ Vanilla bean
pinch of salt
¼ C Coconut oil

Blend all the wet ingredients except for coconut oil until smooth. Gradually add coconut oil to emulsify. Keep it in fridge and either pipe, or simply scoop for plating.

Kumquat chips

Slice kumquats starting at both ends. Kumquat has the seeds in the middle of the fruit. If you slice them from both ends, you will be left with the middle part with the seeds which you can use for the puree.

Place kumquat slices on the mesh sheet and dehydrate overnight, until crispy.

Kumquat, blood orange puree

  • 1/4C chopped kumquat
  • 2-3 Tbps blood orange juice
  • 1 tsp coconut nectar
  • 1 T lemon juice

Blend kumquat with orange juice and coconut nectar until smooth.  Put in dehydrator for an hour. It will thicken, without actual cooking. Before serving push it through a mash strainer if you want a really smooth texture.

To plate put some kumquat puree on the plate, place small brownie cubes, alternated with Chantilly cream on the puree and decorate with lots of kumquat chips.

 

ENJOY!

 

Beet and sprouted lentil falafel

So finally I decided to broaden my horizons, and after learning to be a chef at Le Cordon Bleu, attending bootcamps on farm to table cooking at the Culinary Institute of America, I am back to school. This time at Matthew Kenney, learning to be a raw, plant based chef.

This might be a weird choice for some, knowing I am not vegan. But most importantly I am a chef, one that always wants to learn, loves and craves challenges and eventually strives to be diverse and current.

So here I am more than half way through Level I in Raw Cuisine. And I already faced a challenge, which I am actually quite excited about. Produce challenge means I can use whatever I have in my fridge, 3 spices, 1 cup nuts, and just a couple of extra raw pantry ingredients. I must tell you, in a way I was lucky. I got to the assignment just after making a vegetarian dinner party for friends, making beet gnudi with goat crema, beluga lentils and pickled beets. So I had lots of raw and  pickled beet left in my fridge. A few days ago I bought sprouted lentils at the market to make a pate, so I was really keen on using some of that too.

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First I wanted to make a ravioli, or lasagne. These are so basic and typical dishes in raw plant based cooking. There are many vegetables that are perfect vessels just as they are, to become raw ravioli or lasagne sheets. Just like beets, kohlrabi, daikon just to name a few. But then I started thinking… this is a challenge. Make it a bit more difficult for yourself.

So gave myself proper time to think. What can you make with sprouted lentils and beets? And than I thought, falafel. OK, but will it hold? And beet and lentil only? So decided to add some soaked cashews, not as much as I wanted to, because I was restricted…. And also put some flaxmeal in the mix, which is a binder in vegan baking. So I ended up with a raw beet, lentil flavor. I seriously needed spices, herbs. Along with salt and pepper, I added chopped parsley, chive, cayenne and cumin and some apple cider vinegar to balance the sweetness of the beets and harmonize the flavor. Finally the flavors were right, and texture did hold, after squeezing out the juice.

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For the sauce I had a definitely easier job. I did make horseradish cashew cream before. In this case though I added some pickled golden beet juice, fresh grated horseradish, pepper, salt, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice to the blender. As usual, the sauce was amazing. I really love horseradish, and it goes so well with a cashew cream. The sauce had depth, sweetness and spice.

Finally the only thing I needed for a complete dish was some green, crunch and maybe acidity. I diced to add some of the pickled golden beets to the dish and because I only had pea shots in the fridge I added those with a simple lemon vinaigrette and used beet powder for garnishing. The beet powder was homemade too. After juicing beets, I dehydrated the pulps and once it was completely dry and cooled, I ground  into powder.

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After tasting the dish, I was pretty happy about it. My husband, not that much…. He did love the sauce, but he didn’t like the raw sprouted flavor in the falafel. It is a very specific flavor, but those who eat a raw vegan diet, or occasionally eat raw food are definitely familiar with it. Next time I will add smashed garlic and finely chopped shallots to the falafel to make it a bit more close in flavor to traditional falafels.

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Spaghetti squash with mushroom cashew alfredo, brussels and hazelnuts

I was not really thinking about putting this dish on my blog. When I came up with the recipe, it was really all about the textures and look in my mind. And eventually it turned out to be a very flavorful dish. When my husband came home in the evening, tasted it, and I heard “hmmmmm it is very interesting and yummy”, I knew I had to share it with you. Bear in mind, he is not vegan. Not even vegetarian… Also the dish is very easy to make, so I thought to share.

This dish is all about the fall produce available at the moment at the market.It also has a very classic combination of mushrooms, hazelnuts, cream, brussels sprouts. So good togeher.  The “spaghetti” of the dish is simply roasted spaghetti squash. The cashew Alfredo sauce made richer with the umami flavor of sautéed mushrooms. Quickly blanched brussels leaves and toasted hazelnut to finish off the dish. I used those fall colors of the marigold petals, not only to make the dish look prettier, but the petals’ peppery flavor goes so well with the dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • fresh rosemary strings
  • salt, black pepper, olive oil for roasting the squash
  • 1/2 cup soaked cashew
  • almond milk (just as much to get a sauce consistency
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 minced garlic bulbs
  • salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, lemon juice to taste
  • 8 oz mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of a mix of chopped parsley and chive
  • brussels sprouts taken into leaves
  • 1 tablespoon toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 marigold flower
  • some micro greens

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Instructions:

  1. Cut one medium size spaghetti squash in half. Drizzle generously with olive oil, season with salt, ground black pepper and put one rosemary string and 3 garlic cloves in each halves. Put on a baking tray and bake at 420F for about 40 minutes.
  2. Check with a fork and if the spaghetti strands fall off easily, it is done. Carefully scrape out the spaghettis 🙂  with the fork, set aside to cool.
  3. In the meantime in a blender blend  1/2 cup of soaked cashews, nutritional yeast, minced garlic with enough almond milk to get the texture of sauce.
  4. Add the sautéed mushrooms and chopped herbs, blend together.
  5. Season with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Blend together.
  6. Blanch the brussels sprouts leaves in rapidly boiling, very salty water for 1 minute. Quickly drain and drop in ice water, to stop cooking and retain color.
  7. Plate spaghetti squash and drizzle with the sauce, top with brussels leaves, chopped hazelnut, marigold leaves and some micro herbs.

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ENJOY!!!

Plant based food photography at Matthew Kenney Cuisine – part 1

Many people asked me. Why are you taking a food photography course? Your pictures are so beautiful already! My answer is because I never really learnt this. Everything I do and looks good, comes naturally. Without anyone ever telling me what is good and how to do it. In order to believe and know that I actually do the right thing, as professionals do, I decided I have to learn this. So first I got lots of books from my husband. As I was reading through them, I realized I was doing the right thing, just never knew this is how professionals doing it.

And by now I got to a point where I felt the need of a structured, brief course that takes me through from the beginning to the end of food photography, using natural light. To make sure I covered everything, I know what happens and why and when a shot is great I will not be standing there and asking myself. OK, it looks amazing. But why? And how did I do it? And how can I recreate it next time? Without thinking about it and trying? This is why I am doing this online course now. The first part is about using natural light in food photography and it takes 2 weeks. The next course lasts 2 weeks again and that is an advanced course introducing studio lighting and other techniques to your photography.

DAY 1 was all about getting closer to your camera,

using manual mode, having the right settings for shooting, image size, image format, white balance etc. For those of us who already do photography this is a good summary and also help from professional photographers if you have any problems with settings on your camera. You will be taking random shots of any kind of still life to experiment with aperture and shutter speed, over and under expose images.

DAY 2  is about lens

Lens choice for food photography, focal length, capability of lenses. If you are a beginner in food photography, this will help you chose the right lens and makes you understand why that will be good for the task. This will make you experiment with your zoom and prime lens at the same focal length to see whether there is any difference or not. To me it turned out that my old Sigma zoom lens can take similar quality shots at 50mm like my Nikon 50mm lens I have for food photography. But it doesn’t mean that there was no point buying the prime lens 🙂

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Nikon 50mm
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Sigma 18-250mm

DAY 3 is about the exposure triangle.

You will be taught how ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture affect each other and how to compensate one with the other. You will get into details to see what different ISO settings mean to your image, how the size of aperture changes your photo and what different shutter speeds can be used for.

 

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shutter speed 1/40
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shutter speed 1/8
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shutter speed 1/20

 

DAY 4  Let’s get immersed in selective focus and depth of field

You will learn what depth of field means, how different depth of field settings change your image. Experiment with same settings, but different aperture. Which one suits your image more? Which one helps you tell something in your photo?

Also learn about selective focus. In any given shot focus has to be somewhere. But where? Today is about taking shots of the same setting but different focus points.

In my examples selective focus is shifting from foreground to background.

And since this is a plant based food photography course, the food that we shoot is always blant based. For certain assignment you will not only shoot any kind of food but will also make something, raw and vegan for the assignment. You will get a recipe guide for these so you can make everything taste really good and eat at the end of the well deserved working day! 🙂

We had the first food related assignment when we got to practicing depth of field.

Here we had to prepare these raw, vegan “cacao mint cremes” and take shots using different depth of field.

I warn you! These cremes are not easy to make. And not because of the complexity of the recipe, but the fact that they melt very easily and they have to be kept in fridge or even freezer if you want to make sure they look good in the shots.

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You can see the difference it depth of field. In order to see more details in the picture, outside your focal plane, you have to adjust the aperture. Which shot do you prefer? Which one suits the topic and image more? I think picture 1 is better here, because you get more details of the cremes, and at the same time a bit of blur, to achieve a nice feel to the shot.

And how to make these cookies?  Recipe adapted from Matthew Kenney Cuisine with some adjustments I made, so the overall taste is not that sweet. It is still sweet though!

I didn’t add the mint leaves either, that the recipe calls for, I left it in.

My instructions, based on the experience 🙂

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To make these cremes, first I blended the nuts, then added all the other ingredients from the list below, except for the coconut flour, and blended it to a creamy texture. Once I had a nice creamy mix, I removed it from the blender and mixed it with a spatula with the coconut flour in a bowl. We are using coconut oil so when the cookies are cool, they firm up. Place the mixture covered, in the fridge and wait until it firms up. Then remove from the fridge and shape it to a nice log. At this point I covered it in cling film and put it in the freezer. Once it was frozen, I took it out, waited just until my knife was able to cut it and quickly slices into medallions. That point I put them back in the fridge and prepared the chocolate maple glaze. Once the glaze was mixed properly into a smooth texture, I took out the medallions, dipped them in the glaze, placed them on a rack, sprinkled over the raw cacao nibs and immediately back in the FREEZER! 🙂 If the glaze starts to firm, warm it up a bit so that you can use it efficiently. Once it is frozen, ready to be photographed. For consumption, keep in fridge until you eat them. ENJOY!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1⁄2 cup macadamia nuts
  • 1/2 cup agave
  • 1⁄4 cup chopped mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • pinch salt
  • 1⁄2 cup coconut oil, melted

For the chocolate maple glaze mix until smooth:

  • 1 maple syrup or agave
  • 1 cup cacao powder
  • 2 tbs coconut oil, melted

To garnish: raw cacao nibs

 

And eventually we got to DAY5, last day of the first week.

Day 5 was all about practicing everything we learnt in the first 4 days and bringing all the knowledge into plated food and try and present them in the best possible way.

We got to prepare two very simple raw salads. One is a fruit carpaccio of our chosen fruits and the other one is a fresh, green salad with a simple vinaigrette. The beauty of the raw vegetables and fruits was the best possible subject to practice everything we learnt and start taking shots of plated food that defines our style as food photographers.

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For the fruit carpaccio I chose to use peach and strawberries.

They taste really good together and the colors are amazing in the photo. According to the recipe I made a simple syrup with wild flower honey, lemon juice and rose water. I drizzled it over and carefully around the fruits. Pistachio and dried rose petals decorated the dish. I also decided to add some lemon balm and later lemon verbena leaves to bring some green in the shot and add some interesting element especially for the close up.

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As for the green salad I chose greens that can keep their shape, in this instance mache rosettes and the firm leaves of a head of romain lettuce.

 

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These greens helped me to create a nice plate of food without just piling leaves on top of each other. After adding the salad leaves on the plate I felt that the images do not look good. And that is when I decided to use up all the negative space on the plate for the dressing. I finished off the salad with some garlic chive blossoms and marigold petals. These are both edible flowers and not only bring some color to the dish but also deliver flavor. The purple garlic chive blossom tastes like garlic and chive and the marigold petals have a peppery taste. Perfect with the simple herb infused – lemon vinaigrette.

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And now I am ready for Week 2 when we will be learning more about natural light, light shaping tools, composition and framing, height and angle of view. See you back in a week for the second part!

 

 

 

Zucchini “cannelloni” with kohlrabi filling and red pepper sauce

I made this raw vegan dish after hosting a dinner, having some leftover lemon basil pesto and myself feeling really “heavy” with all the cooking and also eating and drinking…. So the next day I really wanted to have a very light dinner and also making good use of my leftover. Raw vegan pasta reminiscent dishes use a certain vegetable that can be cut into the shape of the original pasta. In this case green summer squash, aka zucchini replaced canneloni. Or lay it down and call it ravioli. The filling was finely chopped kochlrabi marinated in the lemon basil pesto. Then rolled up and sat on a bed of pepper sauce.

This recipe yields for 2, it is your date night dinner 🙂

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Ingredients (yields 2 portions)

  • 2 smaller green and/or yellow summer squash (zucchini) (sliced on mandolin into 1-2mm thickness)
  • 1 medium size or 2 small kohlrabi (chopped into smal cubes)
  • salt, pepper, olive oil
  • to garnish and serve: finely chopped pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, micro greens, edible flowers, garlic blossoms

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For the lemon basil pesto

  • 1/2 cup chopped basil
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemoon
  • 1 red thai chili minced well (or chili flakes)
  • 1-2 tsp nutritional yeast

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For the red pepper sauce

  • 1 red california pepper
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 shallot
  • 1/3 cup of soaked cashew
  • olive oil, salt, black pepper

Instructions

  1. Start making the lemon basil pesto. Add all ingredients in a bowl and mix them well.
  2. Chop the kohlrabi, season with salt and pepper and mix into the pesto. This will be the filling in the canneloni.
  3. Blend all the ingredients of the pepper sauce in Vitamix or other high power blender.
  4. Slice zucchini on mandolin about 2 mm thickness. Season lightly with salt, black pepper and olive oil. Set them on a sheet for a few minutes to marinate. This will also help the zucchini soften up a bit, make it easier to digest.
  5. For plating spoon some pepper sauce in the bottom of a shallow bowl. Roll up zucchini, place on top of the sauce and fill with the kohrabi lemon basil pesto. If you can only lay them, like an original canelloni dish, that is fine too. Sprinkle with chopped or ground pine nut/ pumpkin seeds. I really liked it with the pumpkin seeds.
  6. Decorate your plate with micro greens, herbs and edible blossoms.

ENJOY!