Molokhia, or jute leaf stew (Jordan)

Posted in Middle East, Stews and soups on January 28th, 2016 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Jordan is a small country in the Middle East, known for its hospitality in e.g. receiving refugees from nearby countries (Iraq and Syria). It is a fairly rich country with a very high life expectancy and is considered the safest arab/Middle Eastern country, and even one of the safest in the world. Muslims form the majority, but Christians are a visible minority and the attitude towards e.g. alcohol is liberal. Jordan is a popular tourist destination, including high levels of medical tourism. Many are also attracted by the wealth of archeological sites and museums. Jordan is a major producer of e.g. phosphate and olives.

Jordanian cuisine is similar to other Middle Eastern cuisines, including well-known dishes like hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, baklava and halva. Za’atar is a popular spice which can refer to either a mix of herbs, sumac and sesame seed or Syrian oregano alone. Yoghurt (including yoghurt cheese labneh and dried yoghurt cheese jameed), bulgur wheat, freekeh (toasted green wheat), rice, beans, chickpeas, lentils, pine nuts, olive oil, parsley, garlic, onion, tomato and lemon are common ingredients. Casseroles, salads, sauces, stuffed vegetables, soups and flatbreads form typical dishes. All kinds of pickled vegetables are very popular, from cauliflower to eggplant. Tea is often flavored with mint or sage. Both Arabic and Turkish coffee are enjoyed, the former is milder and seasoned with cardamom.

Molokhia, which may be written in a dozen different ways, may refer to the finished dish or just the main ingredient jute leaves (mallow leaves). They’re said to be a bitter green vegetable, but I didn’t find them to be bitter, mostly like spinach but slightly more flavourful, and super slimy. It is said to resemble okra in its sliminess, but I think it’s on a whole different level. It doesn’t taste slimy, but if you pour the soup it’s like a goop, if you touch it it leaves a slimy film on your hands. It may even stretch a bit like natto. But it’s tasty. I don’t really understand the raves you see about molokhia online, how Middle Eastern people swear they could eat only this dish for weeks. It’s good, but nothing that special, IMO. Probably very healthy.

Molokhia is eaten in Levant and especially Egypt. I tried to find a particularly Jordan recipe and I hope this is one, I consulted several blogs but based my recipe on this one. You sholuld be able to find it in Turkish, Middle Eastern or African groceries, perhaps some Asian stores too.



1 package (0.9 lbs/400 g) frozen chopped molokhia
3-4 crushed garlic cloves
2 cups/4.8 dl vegan “chicken” broth
1 tbsp olive oil
tiny sprinkle black pepper

White rice and/or toasted pita bread

Bring the broth to boil and add the frozen molokhia, preferably unthawed. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile cook some rice or toast pita bread in the oven. On a separate pan heat the oil and fry the garlic until golden brown. Add the pepper. Deglace the garlic pan with the molokhia stew (=add some of the stew to the pan and scoop it back into the main stew.

Serve hot, with rice or toasted pita bread. Makes 3-4 portions. Reheats well.

Torta pisticcina, or gluten-free chestnut flour tart (Corsica)

Posted in Baked goods, Desserts and sweets, Europe on December 29th, 2015 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Corsica is a fairly large, mountainous island on the Mediterranean. It belongs to France as a “territorial collectivity”, which means it has some autonomy. Historically it was more closely connected to Italy (which is closer to it than France) and the culture still retains elements from this connection. Corsica is probably most famous for Napoleon, who was born there. Some people on the island speak Corsican, a language related to medieval Tuscan, but French is the main language. Corsica is a fairly popular tourist destination, considered “unspoiled” compared to most Mediterranean islands.

Corsican cuisine has derived more influence from Italy than France. Chestnuts are of massive importance and are made into bread, cakes, pancakes, porridges, polenta, fritters and even beer. Local charcuterie, cheeses, olive oil and wines are also valued. Like on all islands, seafood is very popular. Soups, pastas and stuffed vegetables are typical main dishes. Several types of beans and chickpeas are used for various dishes. Mangold (chard) is a very popular vegetable. Most desserts are based on the local cheese brocciu – and/or chestnut flour.

Originating from Saveur, I was supposed to post this recipe before Christmas, as it seemed appropriate for the holidays, but alas, other things got in the way, like my 1,500+ hour work backlog. This tart was originally egg-free and gluten-free, so it was easy to remove the dairy to make it vegan. I left out the whole almonds from my version, as I don’t like whole almonds that much. It’s not immediately obvious from the photo, but the result is supposed to be very thin.

It divided opinions: I thought it was pretty good but not special, my picky husband didn’t like it and my picky sister liked it (I brought the remains to Finland). My dad also ate it, but he eats pretty much anything. I do think it’s better after a day or two. You can find chestnut flour in many health food stores. I was lucky to find a bag for half off, as it’s often somewhat pricy. You can also use it to make pasta, pancakes and chocolate cakes. Chestnut flour is also allowed on the paleo diet, even though things like sugar aren’t (many allow coconut sugar, though). Most people with tree nut allergies can eat chestnuts – but you may have to skip the almonds, of course.

Torta pisticcina

Torta pisticcina

0.4 lbs/175 g vegan margarine
1 cup/2.4 dl sugar
1⁄2 cup/1.2 dl plant-based milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
zest of 1⁄2 orange
2 cups/4.8 dl chestnut flour
1⁄2 cup/1.2 dl whole blanched almonds
1⁄4 cup/0.6 dl sliced almonds

Heat oven to 375F/190C. Grease a 10″/25 cm cake pan and set aside. Whisk margarine, sugar, milk, vanilla, salt, and orange zest in a bowl. Add flour and whole almonds and stir until smooth. Pour batter into pan; sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake until browned and set, about 25 minutes.

Fruity “meat” curry (Cameroon)

Posted in Africa, Protein main dishes on November 22nd, 2015 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Cameroon is a country in Central Africa, with some coastline too. It houses well over 200 different linguistic groups. A former colony of Germany, after World War II it was divided between France and Britain, uniting again in 1972. The country got its name from Portuguese, though, from Camarões meaning shrimp. Corruption and human rights violations remain major problems and life expectancy is one of the lowest in the world. Breast ironing is a particular problem facing young girls. School attendance, however, is relatively high, and the economy is steadily growing. Traditional music, dance and football are important parts of the culture. The Cameroonian football team is very successfull internationally. There are also many traditional artforms, such as woodcarving, sculpture, basket weaving, embroidery, leather working and different forms of jewelry.

Staple starches in Cameroon include rice, potato, plantain, corn, millet, cassava, yam and cocoyam (taro?). Fufu, a starchy porridge popular in many African countries, is somewhat confusingly known as “couscous” in Cameroon. French bread and pasta, leftover of the colonial times, are eaten, but not staples due to higher prices. Fish is eaten more than meat. Insects and various species of bush meat (wild animals) are eaten. Popular vegetables include e.g. eggplant, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, okra and bitterleaf. Sweet potatoes and plantains are often made into chips. Foods are typically seasoned with peanuts and hot peppers and fried in palm oil. Restaurants still widely serve French food. Popular drinks include tea, coffee (especially instant) and millet beer.

There are several recipes of Cameroon curry online, with some big differences. The similarities seem to be the use of curry powder, very little of any other spices, pineapple and usually sweet potato, sometimes raisins. The meat can be lamb, pork, fish or seafood. The common thread is also the use of raw garnishes, usually chopped peanut and fruit, but sometimes other things, which make the dish different from most other curries in the world. Some recipes used tomatoes, others didn’t, some had coconut milk and one had peanut butter, which is quite traditional in many African countries, but in general it’s hard to find African dishes without peanut butter, so I left out that one. The recipes I looked for inspiration were mostly from Good Food and to some extent Africa Imports and CDKitchen. (There was also a somewhat different one without garnishes.)

The result was quite tasty, as you could expect. In my version I got a surprise “twist” as I used a yellow-fleshed sweet potato (orange would have looked better in the pictures, but I couldn’t get it), so the sweet potato and pineapple chunks look almost identical, you can’t tell them apart until you bite into them. I normally never attempt to serve Vegventures dishes to my husband, but this time I did and he was very happy. I held off the raisins though, as he doesn’t like them. He admitted that even the garnish, which he was suspicious about, really fit in.

Cameroon curry

Cameroon curry

1 tbsp oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp Indian-style curry powder
(1/4 cup raisins)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
0.9 lbs/400 g mock meat (I used mock lamb from Chinatown)
14 fl oz/200 ml coconut cream or coconut milk
1/2 large or 1 small sweet potato (7 oz/200 g), peeled and cut into chunks
1/4 small ripe sweet pineapple, trimmed, cored and cut into chunks
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2 tbsp shredded coconut

for garnish any number of these (those marked with an asterisk are the most commonly listed ones)

banana, peeled and chopped*
mango, peeled and diced *
roasted peanuts, chopped*
coconut flakes*
chopped cucumber
cilantro (fresh coriander) leaves
jalapeno rings

Fry the onion in the oil for a few minutes. Add the garlic and curry powder and fry for one more minute. Add all the other ingredients and simmer until done. Serve hot with rice.

Nhorm troyong chek, or banana flower salad (Cambodia)

Posted in Asia, Salads on October 19th, 2015 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Cambodia is a Buddhist nation located in Southeast Asia, a former colony of France. Most of the people are of Khmer origin and speak Khmer. Cambodia is a poor country but the economy is rapidly growing. Textiles form the majority of Cambodian exports. Cambodia is probably best known for the beautiful temple of Angkor Wat, a popular tourist destination which very unusually even appears on the Cambodian flag, or perhaps the Cambodian civil war (1970-1975), followed by the deadly Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot. Cambodia used to be one of the most landmined countries in the world, which has lead to a significant amputee population. The country still has major human rights issues and corruption levels are very high. Deforestation is also a big problem. Dance is an important part of the culture. Volleyball and football are the most popular sports.

Cambodian cuisine is quite similar to Vietnamese, with also some Thai and Chinese influences. Chili, however, is not used much. Instead Kampot pepper (a variety of black pepper) is used to add heat. Foods tend to be fragrant, with spices like shallots, ginger, galangal, cardamom, tamarind, cilantro, lemongrass, lime leaf, as well as other dry spices and more exotic herbs. Some dishes are garnished with fresh ingredients similar to Vietnamese dishes. Prahok is a fermented fish paste used as a very popular seasoning. Preserved lemons are used in some dishes. Rice is an integral part of the cuisine is eaten in different ways: normally cooked, sticky rice, rice noodles, savory porridges and rice cakes. Fish is eaten much more than other types of meat, eggs are also popular. Like in Vietnam, the main influence left by the French is baguettes, still very popular. Fruits are also very highly valued in Cambodia, including many varieties unknown in the West.

I found a large can of banana blossoms for quite cheap (1.50 e) at a normal supermarket, so I couldn’t resist it. Internet informed me that banana blossoms are somewhat similar to artichokes. (They don’t taste anything like bananas.) So I decided on this salad. Unfortunately I didn’t find the blossoms very special, mostly tasting of canning brine with a grayish pale pink color. Fresh ones would no doubt be better, but are hard to find and require a fair deal of preparation. Other than that the salad was quite good, even my picky sister liked it. The dressing, however, mostly tasted of shallot. The coriander root was quite expensive and you can probably leave it out, I used it but it didn’t seem to add much. I only had orange bell pepper and orange tomatoes, which I must admit didn’t make for the fanciest presentation.

Nhorm troyong chek

Nhorm troyong chek

1 large can banana blossoms
1/2 carrot, peeled and grated
1/4 cucumber, julienned
1/2 tomato, seeded and julienned
1/4 green bell pepper, finely sliced lengthwise
1/4 red bell pepper, finely sliced lengthwise
1/2 shallot, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/4 cup/0.6 dl fresh mint
1/4 cup/0.6 dl fresh basil
1 cup/2.4 dl mock chicken
2 tbsp ground peanuts


1 finely chopped shallot
2 cloves garlic, chopped
(1 sprig coriander root, washed and chopped)
1 red chili, chopped, seeds removed
1 tbsp or more vegetarian chicken flavor bouillon
1 kaffir lime leaf
1 tbsp chopped galangal
1 tsp soy sauce or liquid aminos
1 tsp sugar
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp oil


2 green onions, finely diced ( use only the green part)
a sprig of basil
half a lime

Put all dressing ingredients into a food processor and process into a fine sauce. Add more water if it’s too thick.

Squeeze the water our of the banana flower and mix with the other vegetables. In a large salad bowl toss all the vegetables, mint and basil together with the “chicken”. Add 1/4 cup of dressing and toss. Add more if needed.

Sprinkle with peanuts and green onions and serve immediately. Makes about 4 portions.

Chiles en nogada, or stuffed peppers with walnut sauce (Mexico)

Posted in Other main dishes, South and Central America on September 12th, 2015 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Mexico is one of the largest and most populous countries in the world, located south from the United States. It has a long history, especially known for housing the Aztec and Maya culture, but also many others. Of the 120 million inhabitants 10-15% identify as indigenous. Both the name Mexico and the names of numerous foodstuffs originating from there, from chocolate to jicama, originate from the Nahuatl language, still spoken by over a million people. In the early 1500s Mexico became a colony of Spain with deleterious results, as violence and illnesses brought by the Spanish (mostly smallpox) decimated the Native Americans and destroyed large parts of the local culture. Mexico is a megadiverse country with over 200,000 different species and the largest number of species of reptiles (707) of any nation. It is a popular tourist destination, some coming for the Meso-American ruins, others attracted by the beaches on the long coastlines.

Mexican restaurants are popular in many parts of the world, but many of them serve westernized “texmex” food instead of real Mexican food, e.g. guacamole with very little avocado. Mexican food isn’t just hot, greasy and beany, it can be nuanced and aromatic. Tortillas are used a lot, of course, and prepared and eaten in a dozen ways relatively unknown outside of Mexico, but also many dishes without them. Corn is also eaten in many other forms, even several drinks. Many types of chili peppers are used, unripe, ripe, fresh, dried, smoked etc, and often a food calls for a specific type of chili. Almost all dishes include a sauce, or are eaten with a salsa, usually made with tomatoes or the related tomatillo, which results in a green salsa. Mole sauces may contain dozens of ingredients, including various spices, cocoa, almonds, other nuts and honey.

Many kinds of meat, seafood and dairy products are eaten. A wide variety of fruits is enjoyed by themselves, as juice drinks, desserts and in some regions also in salsas. Huitlacoche is a peculiar delicacy of fungus-infested corn, turned black. (I have seen canned huitlacoche sold here, but it was so expensive I didn’t buy it.) Besides chili, many herbs and spices are used in Mexican cooking, but cumin and cinnamon are particularly important. Achiote (annatto) gives food a red color and some flavour too, epazote is pungent and culantro is similar to cilantro. Mexican oregano has a much stronger taste than normal oregano.

Chiles en nogada (chili and walnuts) is a regional dish from Puebla representing the Mexican flag with red, white and green (my sauce is pink since I didn’t peel the walnuts, for some reason pureeing walnut gives a pink result). When I first heard of it a few years ago, I knew I had to make it for Vegventures, as it is so different from what most people view as Mexican food. There is chili, yes, but no beans, corn or rice. Apples, walnuts and pomegranates may not be viewed as particularly “Mexican”. This dish is generally eaten this time of the year, before Mexico’s independence day (16th September), in some areas more in tune with the pomegranate season, from October to January.

I based my recipe mostly on this vegan chiles en nogada, but also looked at several other ones, including omni recipes and Ricki Heller’s vegan recipe. My main recipe had different seasonings from every other recipe, so I trusted the others. It is very tasty, though my husband found it too sweet. The walnut flavour in the sauce is quite mild, so even if you don’t like walnuts you should like this.

I could only think of one store in Amsterdam that could have poblano peppers and they did. They’re large and not very spicy, though apparently some peppers can be spicier than others. If you can’t find poblanos, you can probably use normal green peppers (the large type that tastes like bell pepper) and perhaps brush them with a little chili oil inside before stuffing. This dish should be easy to make even paleo by using something else instead of TVP, like chopped nuts. Several places list two peppers as the serving size, but I think one per person makes a fine meal with something on the side, like a salad and perhaps bread. It’s quite filling.

Note that you should soak the walnuts overnight! You’re also supposed to rub the skins off, but people have commented that it can take hours, and besides dying the sauce it has very little effect on the flavour.

Chiles en nogada


4 large poblano peppers


1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
oil for frying
1 large apple (or a combination of apple, pear and peach)
3/4 cup/1.8 dl reconstituted TVP (I used fava bean TVP)
1/4 cup/0.6 dl sliced almonds
2 tbsp raisins
1 tomato
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
a pinch cloves
1 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp (golden) raisins
salt and pepper


3/4 cup/1.8 dl nondairy sour cream (you can also use pureed tofu or pureed cashews + cider vinegar, like I did)
1/2 cup/1.2 dl raw walnuts soaked overnight
(1 tbsp sherry or sherry vinegar)
1 tsp sugar or agave syrup
a pinch nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 pomegranate, seeds separated

Char the peppers in open fire, barbeque or in the flame of a gas stove, like I did. Note that they need to be quite charred in order to peel easily and to be actually cooked and soft. I thought mine were done when they were floppy, but they could have been better cooked. Place them in a container with a lid to let the steam help membrane-like skin peel off. Peel them. Alternatively just roast the peppers in the oven for some 20 minutes (and no need to peel).

Make a slit in each pepper and remove the veins, seedpod and seeds, but don’t break off the base. This is somewhat difficult but doable.

Make the picadillo. Fry the onion in oil until translucent. Add the garlic and fry for one more minute. Add all the other picadillo ingredients and a splash of water and let simmer for a bit.

Stuff the peppers with the picadillo and top with the sauce and pomegranate seeds. The dish may be served warmed or at room temperature. Note that the sauce, at least if made with cashews, tends to act a bit weird when reheated and easily starts to solidify, as cashew sauces have a tendency to do.

Cabbage, celery and pineapple salad (The Gambia)

Posted in Salads on August 28th, 2015 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

The Gambia is a tiny country in West Africa, the smallest country in mainland Africa, and geographically quite peculiar. It is essentially just the delta area of the Gambia river, less than 50 km wide at its widest, and completely surrounded on the land side by the much larger Senegal. E.g. in the African map in Wikipedia you can hardly see Gambia. Still, the country is fairly well known by name, perhaps thanks to its football team. The Gambia is a former colony of Britain and only left the British Commonwealth in 2013. English is the official language, but most people are Muslims. Coconuts, cashews, Brazil nuts and peanut oil are major exports.

The Gambian cuisine is similar to other West African cuisines, the colonialists barely having left their mark. Fish is eaten a lot, obviously, considering the location of the country, and also oysters caught from the river Gambia. The staple starches are rice and cassava, but wheat and millet are also eaten. Other common ingredients include peanuts, eggplant, tomato, carrot, pumpkin, okra, cabbage, beans and black-eyed peas. Food is often spicy and may also be seasoned with herbs, Maggi cubes and lemon or lime. These foods are often combined into stews with many ingredients, sometimes cooked for hours. Baobab juice is a popular drink. You can get dried baobab from many health food stores and superfood shelves, I find it quite tasty. Wonjo juice is made from hibiscus flowers. Tapalapa is a bread described similar to baguettes but denser, sometimes served with jam, but usually with plenty of savory toppings.

This recipe, found in e.g. some cookbooks, is listed in many places as a “West African salad”, without listing a specific country. However, I found a very similar salad, with onions instead of tomatoes and green pepper described (without an actual recipe) as Gambian, and tomatoes are used a lot in Gambia, so I think this is a Gambian salad, or at least close enough. You could make it paleo by using coconut or almond yoghurt/milk – the aforementioned Gambian dish also contained coconut milk.

Cabbage, celery and pineapple salad

Gambian salad

0.3 lbs/150 g cabbage, shredded
2 oz/60 g celery, thinly sliced in the diagonal
1 oz/30 g green bell pepper, sliced in thin strips,
1 oz/30 g tomato, cut into thin wedges
2.5 oz/70 g pineapple, cubed
1/4 tsp salt (or none, see notes)

1/2 tsp mixed herbs (parsley, thyme, basil)
0.4 cup/1 dl soy yoghurt
1 tbsp soy milk

Mix all the vegetables together in a bowl. Add the soy milk and herbs and mix. Add as much soy yoghurt as is needed to hold the salad together. Let the flavours mingle in the fridge for a few hours before serving. Makes 3-4 portions.

Älplermagronen, or potato pasta casserole with applesauce (Switzerland)

Posted in Casseroles, Europe on July 31st, 2015 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Switzerland is a small landlocked country in Central Europe, known internationally for many things: the Alp mountains (and related things, such as skiing and alphorns), Swiss banks, Swiss chocolates, Swiss cheese and Swiss watches. Many also know that the Red Cross (and the Geneva Convention) originates from Switzerland – its logo is actually the Swiss flag (which peculiarly is rectangular) with the colors reversed. Switzerland is the wealthiest country in the world on several indices. Switzerland has tended to be neutral and independent in political issues: it was not involved in either of the world wars, is not a member of the EU and only became a full member of UN in 2002. Switzerland is divided into four regions with different cultures and languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh (not to be confused with Romanian). It is also divided into cantons, with a lot of regional legistlation.

Casseroles aren’t exactly summer fare, but I had a bag of Wilmersburger vegan cheese to use and couldn’t think of any other Vegventures recipe to use it in. Wilmersburger is great stuff: tastes real enough to suit most omnivores, melts, soy-free for those who need that, keeps very well, not very pricey. The only dowside is that it barely has any protein, which for someone like me, who has to eat fairly low-carb and high-protein, is a real problem. Well, this dish doesn’t have anything to do with low carbs, anyway. Jeezini and Violife are two other European vegan cheeses that are very similar. I don’t know about the U.S. – I recently had Daiya for the first time and despite all the praise, I found it vile. Anyway, use whatever you like. I looked at several recipes but based my vegan Älplermagronen mostly on this and this (PDF).

There are different cuisines in Switzerland, divided largely by the language borders. French-speaking people tend to eat French-influenced food, Italian-speaking people Italian-influenced and German speakers German-influenced. Most of the cuisine is heavy on potatoes and cheese. There are many famous Swiss cheeses, such as Gruyere and Emmenthal. Rösti is also an internationally-known dish similar to hash browns, made with grated potato which is fried – often with some cheese. Rösti was originally a breakfast dish, but has been replaced by muesli, another Swiss invention enjoying international popularity, and now is mostly eaten as a side dish. Cheese is also melted into fondue and the related raclette. Sweet and savory tarts and savory quiches and many kinds of breads are very popular.

Älplermagronen (from the German parts of Switzerland) is a baked pasta dish with potatoes and cheese, topped with browned onions and served with applesauce. The recipes vary: some have much more pasta than potatoes, some have even more potatoes than pasta. Some instruct to bake the onions with the casserole, some to serve them separately. In some you warm the applesauce, in others you make it and then cool. Well, this is what happens with all traditional dishes. I went for baking the onions and using cold applesauce, because it just seemed more appealing to me. You should be able to make gluten-free älplermagronen if you use non-mushy gluten-free pasta.



1.1 lbs/500 g firm-cooking potatoes, cubed
9 oz/250 g uncooked pasta, e.g. penne
0.8 cup/2 dl soy, rice, coconut, almond or cashew cream
1/4 tsp nutmeg
a little black pepper
7 oz/200 g vegan cheese (e.g. Wilmersburger)
2 onions, cut in rings
oil for frying
applesauce, homemade or storebought

Heat the oven to 375F/ C. Put a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and potatoes and cook until both are done (if the pasta is very quick-cooking, add the potatoes first for a few minutes). Stir a few times to make sure the pasta doesn’t stick together. Drain.

Line an ovenproof baking dish with baking paper (not necessary but makes cleanup a lot easier). Spread 1/3 of the potato-pasta mixture at the bottom. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat twice for three layers. Pour in the cream. Bake for 15 minutes. Serve with the applesauce. Makes 6-8 portions.

Lemony “chicken” and okra soup (Sierra Leone)

Posted in Africa, Stews and soups on June 29th, 2015 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa, unfortunately perhaps best known for the recent Ebola epidemic, which has basically ended in Liberia and Guinea, but still affects Sierra Leone. It has also broken havoc on the country’s infrastructure, which was already devastated by the Sierra Leone civil war (1992-2001). Diamonds and minerals form the majority of Sierra Leone’s exports, but 2/3 of the people are subsistence farmers. The country used to be a colony of the United Kingdom and English is still the major language, though Islam is the most common religion. Officially Sierra Leone is a secular country and is thought to be one of the most religiously tolerant countries in the world. Polygamy is widespread with over 1/3 of women in polygamous marriages. Football is very popular.

Rice is the staple starch in Sierra Leone, eaten at almost every meal. Groundnut stew has been called the national dish. Traditionally men and women eat separately and everyone eats with their hands from a communal dish. Various greens are popular, including cassava leaves, potato leaves and krain krain (molokhia/jute leaves). Palm oil is used for frying. Cassava root is made into bread and eaten in soups. Plantains, okra and tomatoes are used in many dishes. Sierra Leoneans also enjoy fufu (mash that can be made with different starches) and jollof rice, like in many other African countries. Several different spices are used, as well as Maggi cubes. Poyo is palm wine. Ginger beer is a popular non-alcoholic drink. Desserts often feature sesame seed or coconut.

This dish wasn’t anything special, but a nice soup nonetheless. I like okra, but even for me I think there was a little too much of it, I prefer it in a stew or curry instead of soup. I don’t know what a “can of tomato paste” means in the U.S. or other countries, but here it refers to very small cans. Obviously if they are bigger, the end result would be very different. That’s why I don’t like those “one can” measurements. You can make this gluten-free (e.g. with Chinese chicken-style tofu) and/ or low carb

Lemony “chicken” and okra soup

Sierra Leonean soup

1/2 lbs/225 g seitan or mock chicken
1/2 large onion, chopped
juice from 1 large lemon
1/4 cup/0.6 dl uncooked long-grain rice
2 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cups/7.2 dl vegan “chicken” broth or water
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 can tomato paste (see notes)
1 cup/2.4 dl sliced small okra, fresh or frozen
oil for frying

If using seitan or seitan-based mock chicken, squeeze it in your hands to remove any extra liquid, letting it absorb more flavours. Saute the onion in a little oil. Add the seitan and all the other ingredients. Cook until the rice is tender. Serve over additional rice. Makes 3-4 portions.

Soursop drink (Jamaica)

Posted in Desserts and sweets, Drinks on May 26th, 2015 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Jamaica is an island country on the Caribbean sea, a former colony of Spain and the UK and still a part of the British Commonwealth. It is perhaps best known for reggae, rastafarianism and Bob Marley, plus Jamaican rum. Several other music genres also originated in Jamaica, such as dub, dancehall and ska. Many kinds of sports are very popular in Jamaica, as well. Almost half of Jamaicans live outside of Jamaica due to large emigration. Only a small minority of Jamaicans are rastafaris. Jamaica has been called “the most homophobic country on Earth” due to violence against LGBTI people.

Jamaican food tends to be quite spicy and especially distinct is the spice blend called jerk spice. Another essential part is ackee fruit, related to lychee. Raw ackee and inedible parts of the fruit are toxic, however, and have caused many deaths. The flavour has been compared to cheese or eggs(!). Many other fruit are also enjoyed. Salted fish and rice and beans are also very popular. In general, rice, beans and plantains are used in many dishes, like elsewhere on the Caribbean. Jamaican patty is a savory pastry similar to empanadas. Common spices include allspice, thyme, annatto, black pepper, garlic, ginger and Scotch bonnet pepper, a fiery chili. For sweet drinks vanilla and nutmeg are common seasonings. Rastafaris are usually completely or mostly vegetarian and follow “Ital” lifestyle, which means eating pure natural foods, though its definition varies. Some don’t even eat salt.

Guanabana and the related cherimoya (annona) are among my favorite fruits. Cherimoya is sweeter and creamier, while guanabana is more tart, but not exactly sour as the other name soursop suggests. It is also known as graviola. The taste has been compared to pineapple, guava, strawberry and mango and I also think it has some similarity to orange. So even though I’ve recently made much more drinks for Vegventures, I had to make this drink. And it was heavenly! You can use whatever sweetener (not too strongly flavoured), I suffer from severe hypoglycemia so I used my trusty combination of erythritol and stevia.

Fresh soursop may be hard to find, but frozen stuff, which I used, is usually easy to source in Asian stores, the one I’ve brought in Finland and here is sold in a white plastic jar the size and shape of a soft drink can. Note that it’s not pureed smooth, you’ll probably want to blend it and strain out the fibers. If you can’t even find the frozen fruit, diluted and sweetened guanabana/soursop nectar should be fairly easy to find wherever exotic juices like mango and lychee are sold. E.g. the Maaza brand is very common and Asian stores have the juice in cans. In that case don’t add any water. However, I find the frozen stuff made for a much better juice.

Soursop drink


1 ripe soursop fruit (or 1 can frozen) + 5 cups water
or 1.5 liters commercial guanabana/soursop juice
1 tsp grated nutmeg
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp vanilla extract
sugar/sweetener to taste (skip if using prediluted commercial juice)

Blend the fruit and water together. Strain if needed. Add all the other ingredients. Serve cold.

Salata me marouli avokato kai manitaria, or mushroom avocado salad (Cyprus)

Posted in Europe, Salads on April 29th, 2015 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Cyprus is an island nation located on the Eastern Mediterranean sea. Its statehood has been and still remains slightly messy. It used to be a part of United Kingdom and still very small parts of it (which contain Cypriot exclaves) belong to the UK. The rest is independent and a member of the EU, but Turkey maintains that a part of Cyprus belongs to them – while other countries consider it an illegal occupation. Almost 80% of Cypriot are Greeks by ethnicity and almost 20% are Turkish. Cyprus has a rich history and is a very popular tourist destination, partly because of the very high number of sunlight hours it receives. The downside of that is the chronic water shortage it suffers from. Medications and medical appliances and instruments form important part of the economy of Cyprus.

Cypriot cuisine is quite similar to Greek cuisine, though it has of course got influences from Turkish and other cuisines. The most famous Cypriot food product is the salty halloumi cheese made from sheep and goat milk. Lokum candy (aka Turkish delight) is also well-known. Seafood is plentiful, like on most island nations. Many different vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts are also consumed, of vegetables especially zucchini, okra, taro, green beans, eggplant, artichokes, potatoes, beets, cauliflower, green peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, spinach, grape leaves, wild greens and avocados. Bulgur wheat is the staple starch. Cumin, coriander and mint are the most important spices and herbs, mint is especially used with meat. Parsley, thyme and oregano are also very popular, and olive oil and lemon also add flavour. Meat and sometimes vegetables are often served grilled in skewers.

This salad recipe features raw mushrooms, but they are quickly “pickled” (ceviched?) in lemon juice, so they don’t taste so raw. The recipe was somewhat challenging, as the units are strange – “glasses” (probably closer to dl instead of cup), numbers without units (presumably grams), some types of ingredients weren’t clear and there seem to be both OCR mistakes and typos, as well. But since it’s a salad the ratios of all ingredients aren’t so important. However, the ratio of mushrooms and lemon was very clear in the recipe, but the resulting mushrooms tasted way too tart to me. So I would not use all of the lemon juice on the mushrooms (it wasn’t clear whether you are supposed to add it all at that stage. Or maybe I sliced them too thin? Also the amount of salad in the recipe seems excessive. I don’t really like celery so I used a bit less, but it wasn’t bad here, seems to go well with the lemon.

Salata me marouli avokato kai manitaria

Cyprus salad

11-12 mushrooms (0.75 lbs/350 g)
6 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 large lettuce, torn in large pieces
2 large avocados
1 cup/2.4 dl celery, finely sliced
1/3 cup/0.8 dl parsley, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 1/2-1 3/4 teaspoons salt or as desired
1/4 cup/0.6 dl olive oil

Slice the mushrooms 20-25 minutes before serving. Place in a rather large bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Stir in the olive oil, salt, garlic and parsley. Add the celery, toss and leave aside. Wash, drain and tear the lettuce and place in a very large salad bowl.

Just before serving, peel and stone the avocados. Cut them into quarters and then from the narrow side into thick slices. Add immediately to the mushrooms and toss gently. Put this mixture into the bowl with the lettuce, toss gently again and serve immediately.