Vegan surströmming, or fermented herring (Sweden)

Posted in Europe, Starters and appetizers on April 1st, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — 2 Comments

Sweden is one of the largest countries in Europe, located in Scandinavia, in Northern Europe. A whopping 65 % of the land area is covered by forests, which explains the low population density. There are also plenty of lakes and some mountains. A constitutional monarchy led by a king, it ranks very high in democracy, equality, human development and other such indices. It has mostly managed to avoid wars since the 19th century, remaining officially neutral in both world wars (though it helped several of its neighbouring countries in WWII). It is a part of EU, but not the Eurozone. Nowadays Sweden is perhaps best known for being the origin of IKEA (in fact owned by the Dutch), the band ABBA (and many other artists), the Pirate Bay/Pirate Party, as well as quite a few authors, including seven Nobel prize winners, children’s author Astrid Lindgren and bestseller king Stieg Larsson.

The Swedish cuisine has traditionally built on meat, seafood (especially herring and salmon), potatoes and various types of bread, with some dairy products thrown in. Rutabaga used to be a popular root vegetable which the Brits even call “Swede”. Spices aren’t used much, though fresh dill and chives are popular in summer dishes. Pea soup served with mustard and followed by pancake is a traditional Thursday meal (as in Finland). Swedish meatballs are probably the most famous Swedish dish, not that unusual as far as meatballs go, but traditionally served with (mashed) potatoes, gravy and lingonberry jam. (Wild) berries in general are important, often served as thick dessert soups like bilberry soup. There is also a tradition of various sweet buns, pastries, cakes and cookies, enjoyed with coffee. Swedes drink a lot of both milk and coffee. There are also several traditional candies, most of them flavored with peppermint or salty licorice.

Surströmming (literally “sour herring”) is a fermented (essentially rotten) herring product which smells very putrid. Like really, utterly horrible. Even as a kid in Finland I heard stories of surströmming cans exploding (from the fermentation gases building up) rendering the house permanently uninhabitable. Some airlines banned surströmming cans a few years ago. According to Wikipedia, German food critic and author Wolfgang Fassbender wrote that “the biggest challenge when eating surströmming is to vomit only after the first bite, as opposed to before.” And that’s not a hyperbole – see YouTube for proof (you were warned). Truly a dish worth veganizing, right? Sadly(?) this is just an April Fools joke. (However, the existence of surströmming nor the claims made about it in this passage are not jokes!) Stinky tofu and natto may be the closest vegan equivalents to surströmming, though much less nauseating.

Gravlax is salmon prepared by salt-curing (originally also mildly fermented), which results in a very salty, dense and fairly slimy product, which some people love and others hate. It is traditionally served on e.g. Christmas and also popular in Finland. Dehydrating watermelon became trendy a few years ago. You either marinate the melon in a salty brine/marinade and only dehydrate it a bit to get a juicy product, or dehydrate it all the way for “jerky” (not surprisingly with very low yields). Both are quite tasty, IMO, and good ways to use the watermelon you bought and disappointingly turned out not at all sweet. When I experimented with dehydrating watermelon I immediately thought the end-product resembled gravlax in texture and appearance, so I set out to develop a version. Of course you won’t get a perfect mock fish out of a fruit, but I found my results intriguing. (The surströmming is an April fools joke, but this recipe is not.) You can replace the seaweeds with other strongly sea-flavoured types.

Vegan gravlax

Vegan gravlax

1 pound/450 g red watermelon (preferably not very sweet)
1/4 cup/0.6 dl water
1 tbsp nori flakes or finely chopped nori sheets
1 tbsp dried dulse (a seaweed)
1 heaping tsp salt
2 tbsp dark (=very salty) soy sauce
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
(1 tsp chopped dill)

Heat the water until boiling and dissolve the seasonings in it. Let soak (and cool) for a while, then strain out the seaweeds. Cut the watermelon into chunks a little less than 1 inch thick. Remember it will shrink down a lot. If it has seeds, remove as many as you can without turning the flesh into a mush. Drain/pat the fruit down to remove excess liquid. Place in a ziplock bag with the marinade and refrigerate for a few hours, turning the bag over a few times to make sure all the melon is covered.

Place in the dehydrator (depending on the type you may want to place some parchment paper underneath) or in the oven on the lowest setting, e.g. 50C with the door open. Dehydrate for a few hours, turning once, until it has shrunk down quite a bit and feels dense and slimy, but not in any way dried out. Serve cold with bread. The bread in the picture is knäckebröd, a Swedish rye crispbread.

Jeow mak keua, or spicy eggplant dip (Laos)

Posted in Asia, Dips, sauces and condiments on March 13th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — 4 Comments

Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, much less known in the West than many of its neighbours like China, Thailand and Vietnam. Its population is only about six million, very little in the Asian scale. It used to be a colony of France and gained independence in 1953. Laos is now a single-party socialist republic and Buddhism is an important part of the society, though animism is also practiced. The infrastructure and human rights situation are quite poor, but the economy is growing thanks to rich mineral resources. Tourism is also rapidly growing. Because of the small population quite a lot of wild nature still remains, mostly forests and mountains. Muay Lao, a type of kickboxing, is the national sport.

Sticky rice, eaten by hand, is the most important part of Lao cuisine – and even a very important part of the culture and national identity as a whole. Most Lao families grow their own rice. Larb is the most famous Lao dish, a spicy mixture of meat (sometimes fish), herbs, greens and spices. Spicy papaya salad, as well as other salads, is also popular in Laos. Grilling is a common preparation method. Lemongrass, galangal and Lao fish sauce are important seasonings. Other common ingredients and spices include kaffir lime, shallot, Lao eggplant, tamarind, cilantro, Lao dill, mint, several types of basil, chili, garlic, ginger and various greens and flowers. Main dishes may be be bitter, but never sweet. French cuisine is still visible in the capital Vientiane, where French baguettes remain popular. Kaipen is a popular fried seaweed snack.

It’s very hard to find vegan Lao recipes or even recipes that can be veganized, as so many Lao recipes are based on things like raw meat or fermented fish. I found several recipes for this jeow mak keua (or jaew mak khua), but based mine mostly on this one. The biggest difference I found that some versions included both roasted shallot and fresh green onion, some only green onion. I love roasted shallot, so I obviously went for that version. Traditionally the dip is eaten with sticky rice, but many people might want to dip something else, like vegetables.

I found the dip quite nice. My husband doesn’t normally like eggplant and isn’t the biggest fan of excess cilantro, but surprisingly he enjoyed this dip with kropoek (Indonesian crackers that normally contain shrimp, but vegan version are also available – I prefer the normal vegan type, I find the emping type quite vile). Do note that the recipe makes surprisingly little, like half a cup or so, so for more than two people you might want to double the recipe.

Jeow mak keua

Jeow mak keua

1 small purple eggplant or a few Asian ones
1 red bird’s eye chili (or other chili), chopped
1/4 tsp salt
2-3 cloves garlic
1 small shallot
1/2 cup/1.2 dl cilantro, chopped
dash of soy sauce/Maggi
1 green onion, white part removed, chopped

Pierce the eggplant with a fork several times. Grill or roast the eggplant, shallot and garlic until mushy, naturally they will take different amounts of time, a purple eggplant up to 45 minutes in the oven (200C/390F). Scoop out the eggplant flesh and squeeze out the shallot and garlic. Mash or puree (I used an immersion blender), but let it remain a bit chunky. Add the other ingredients Serve at room temperature.

Le canard au tangor et à la vanille, or “duck” with clementine and vanilla (Réunion)

Posted in Africa, Protein main dishes on February 15th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — 2 Comments

Réunion is an island on the East coast of Africa, a bit farther away than Madagascar. It is an overseas department of France, so technically a part of France, the EU and the Eurozone. There are two volcanoes and three calderas. The world records for rain in 1 day (over 73 inches or almost 2 m!), and every period from 3 days to 15 days have been recorded on Réunion. The people and culture are quite multiethnic, mixing Europeans, Africans, Indians and Chinese.

Cari (curry) is a typical Réunionnais dish, flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, turmeric and thyme. It is often served with rougail, a fiery chutney-like condiment, and various greens as a side dish. The French cuisine is present in such ingredients as potatoes and artichokes. Both cheese and wine are produced on Réunion, as well. Rice and beans are very popular and lentils are eaten too. Jackfruit and mango are enjoyed both green in savoury dishes and ripe as a sweet fruit. Vanilla is also used in both sweet and savoury dishes.

I’m quite fond of the mock duck I’ve bought in blue jars in Chinatown even when I still lived in Finland. And what would be a better use for it than a sauce with clementines and plenty of vanilla. It was quite nice, not spectacular but also not weird in any way. I imagine I might serve it again for some guests when I wanted to serve something quite unusual (yet tame). I used vanilla powder (which I have a big stash of) instead of vanilla beans. The cute little fruit in the photo are mini mandarins, delicious and also make for great props.

Le canard au tangor et à la vanille

Le canard au tangor et à la vanille

1.1 lbs/500 g (or two jars) mock duck, or e.g. chicken-style tofu
1 clementine, quartered
juice of 2 clementines
2 vanilla beans, split lengthways
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
oil for frying

Fry the onion in oil until soft but not yet changed color. Add one vanilla bean and the clementine pieces. Simmer for two minutes. Add the tomatoes. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes begin to break down and release their juices.

Add the clementine juice, the remaining vanilla bean and 1 dl/0.4 cups water. Simmer for two minutes. If you’re using canned mock duck, squeeze as much liquid out of it as possible so that it will absorb as much flavour as possible. Add the “duck” into the pan and simmer for 10-15 minutes more. Serve hot with a green salad. Serves four.

Saffron tea (Kuwait)

Posted in Drinks, Middle East on January 20th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Kuwait is a very small Arab country located by the Persian Gulf. The earliest evidence of sailing has been found in Kuwait and for decades it was known as a center of boat construction. It used to be a major location for trade and has one of the biggest oil reserves in the world, though the Gulf War with its setting fire on hundreds of oil wells, as well as trade blockades, have damaged the prosperous economy. The country is tax-free, while the government owns the oil reserves. Kuwait is extremely hot in the summer, with average high temperatures over 45C (114F+) from June to August.

The Kuwaiti cuisine has been influenced by Arab and Persian cuisines and especially the Indian one. Foods are often flavoured with saffron, cinnamon and cardamom. Cumin, mustard seed, fennel seed and coriander seed are also common The national dish is biryani, a rich spiced rice dish known by anyone familiar with Indian food. Seafood is very popular, usually eaten with rice or khubz, a local flatbread. Main dishes may also be served with bulgur, spelt or noodles may also be served. Many dishes include eggs. Desserts tend to be rich, spiced cookies, cakes or dumplings, often with nuts. A proper Kuwaiti meal always includes dates and tea.

Saffron is one of the world’s most expensive spices by weight, but luckily minuscule quantities of it are used, so it is not unaffordable. This recipe makes for a very aromatic tea, though I find it hard to describe the taste. It makes you think of Indian chai, but is still quite different. Try it yourself!

Saffron tea

Kuwaiti saffron tea

1 1/2 cups/3.6 dl water
2 whole cardamom pods, broken
1 pinch saffron
2 teabags
1 tsp sugar

Combine the water, saffron and cardamom in a saucepan over medium heat. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Add teabags, and let tea steep for a minute. Strain into a cup and sweeten with sugar if desired. Serve hot.

Kutia wigilijna, or Christmas wheat pudding with poppy seed (Poland)

Posted in Desserts and sweets on December 18th, 2013 by Maija Haavisto — 1 Comment so far

Poland is a large country in Central Europe, located by the Baltic Sea. It has several mountainous areas and even one of the five deserts in Europe. About 1/3 of the country is covered by forest. Poland is an important agricultural producer of potatoes, rye, triticale and sugar beets. It has a very healthy economy, said to be unaffected by the recent recession. It is one of the most religious countries in Europe, being Roman Catholic. Football is the most important sport and poetry/literature and painting traditionally perhaps the most important types of art.

The Polish cuisine is known as quite heavy and meat-based, with sausages being particularly popular. Potatoes, mushrooms, beets and cabbage (including sauerkraut) are among the most important ingredients. Pickled cucumbers and buckwheat are also eaten a lot. Bread, rye or wheat, has been a crucial part of Polish cuisine. Nowadays the most well-known Polish dish world-wide is probably pierogi, a filled savoury or sweet dumpling. There are many kinds of soups, including several different kinds of beet soup. Soup may also be made out of e.g. tripe, sorrel, pickles or soured milk. Salads tend to be heavy and often feature potatoes, eggs, mayonnaise and/or sour cream. Most desserts are rich baked goods.

Kutia wigilijna is a traditional Polish Christmas dessert. Similar dishes are known in many neighbour countries. It is based on wheat berries (unprocessed wheat), but can also be made from kamut berries, barley or rice. Like many desserts of the region, especially Christmas ones, it is seasoned with ground poppy seed. Their flavour is quite similar to tahini, but more bitter, so the amount of sugar (and originally honey) isn’t excessive. (I was only able to find white poppy seed, for some reason.) The wheat berries seemed a bit weird in texture, so it might be more enjoyable made with rice, though the cooking time must be adjusted when using different grains. This recipe came from and I made it vegan.

Kutia wigilijna

Kutia wigilijna

1 cup/2.4 dl wheat berries or kamut berries
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup/2.4 dl poppy seeds
1/2 cup/1.2 dl confectioners’ sugar
4 tbsp agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
(1/4 tsp orange flower water, to replicate honey taste with the agave)
zest of 1 lemon
2/3 cup plumped raisins
(1/2 cup ground walnuts)
(1/2 cup coarsely ground blanched almonds)
(5 plumped figs, chopped)
(5 plumped dates, chopped
1/2 cup vegan cream (like soy cream or cashew cream)

Rinse wheat berries well. Place them in a large pot and cover with plenty of water. Stir let soak overnight. Drain the wheat, rinse, drain again and place back in the pot. Add 6 cups/1.5 l cold water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender (90 minutes to 3 hours, mine took less than 2 hours). Drain and set aside to cool.

Place poppy seeds in a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 15 minutes. Place the pan on the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Poppy seeds are ready when they can be pulverized between the fingers. Drain and grind in a blender.

In a large bowl, combine cooled wheat, ground poppy seeds, sugar, agave, vanilla, zest, raisins and other dried fruit and nuts (if using). Mix well and add vegan cream, incorporating thoroughly. Serve cold. Makes 4-5 portions.

Chimichurri, or parsley condiment (Nicaragua)

Posted in Dips, sauces and condiments, South and Central America on November 15th, 2013 by Maija Haavisto — 1 Comment so far

Nicaragua is an ethnically and culturally diverse country in Central America, a a former colony of Spain. It gained independence back in the 1800s, though it was occupied by the U.S. from 1912 to 1933, which was followed by several dictatorships. Nicaragua has three distinct geographical regions: the Pacific lowlands, the Amerrisque Mountains, and the Mosquito Coast. Coffee is the main export and tourism is heavily growing. Music, dancing, literature and folklore are important forms of culture and baseball is the favorite sport, followed by boxing. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Americas and population growth is very high, but life expectancy is still well over 70 years. Nicaragua is also one of five countries in the world where abortion is illegal with no exceptions.

Corn is the staple of Nicaraguan cuisine, eaten as several popular savoury dishes like nacatamal (similar to tamales), desserts and made into beverages as well, like pinolillo which is flavoured with cocoa. Beans and rice are also used a lot. Other common ingredients include e.g. coconut, yuca, avocados, bananas/plantains, mango, papaya and tamarind. Several vegetables and spices lesser known in the Western world are also used, like mimbro or tree sorrel, jocote (related to cashews), quequisque (a type of starchy corm) and culantro or Mexican coriander. There is a large variety of desserts, many containing fruit but also rich ones based on milk, honey or coconut. Most of the large variety of traditional drinks are made with fruit. Macuá is called the national drink of Nicaragua and usually contains rum, lime juice and guava juice.

Chimichurri is a pesto-like herb sauce used in several South American countries. It’s perhaps best known as an Argentinean condiment used for meat, but it’s also popular in e.g. Nicaragua. I’ve lost my notes as to where I got this chimichurri recipe or whether it was combined from several different ones. Sorry! Several Nicaraguan chimichurri recipes featured a small amount of dried oregano yet at least one source said it’s not used in Nicaragua. Instead of mock meat I decided to use cauliflower “steaks”. While not exactly meat-like, they are a very tasty way to prepare cauliflower and I find they work the best with herbs, like pesto.



3 cloves garlic
0.5 tsp salt
1/2 cup/1.2 dl flat leaf parsley, packed
2 tbsp white vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Blend all the ingredients together until it resembles coarse pesto. Use as a marinade/sauce for e.g. tofu, seitan or cauliflower steaks. It should make enough for four cauliflower steaks.

For cauliflower “steaks”, take a medium or large cauliflower and slice it stem-wise into two with a long-bladed sharp knife. Cut a relatively thin slice (maybe 1/3″ or 0.75 cm) from the cut side of both halves. Even the largest cauliflower usually only yields two steaks. You can of course use the remains for other dishes.

Trim off any excess cauliflower stem. Smother chimichurri on the steaks. Fry the steaks in oil on medium heat until tender, about 5-8 minutes (test whether they can be pierced with a fork). Serve hot with the remaining chimichurri (if there is any left).

Black-eyed bean fritters (Burkina Faso)

Posted in Africa, Other main dishes on October 16th, 2013 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa, perhaps best known for its funnily named capital of Ouagadougou (which at least in Finland commonly features in quizzes). It is a former colony of France. About 2/3 of the people are Muslims and 1/4 are Christian, though animist beliefs are also widely incorporated in religious practice. The country is known for its mud buildings – not just simple houses, but e.g. elaborate mosques. Ceramics, theatre and literature (originally based on oral tradition) and more recently cinema, are important forms of culture. Many kinds of sports are popular, but especially football. Despite gold being its main export, Burkina Faso ranks as the third least developed country in the world. HIV prevalence is low, but the life expectancy is still only 50/52.

The Burkinabé cuisine uses many starches, such as millet, sorghum, fonio, corn, yams and rice. As in many West African countries, a popular dish is fufu, a kind of cassava dough, often served with peanut soup. Sumbala is a local fermented condiment paste somewhat similar to miso. Fish, chicken, mutton, goat and yoghurt are eaten, as are carrots, turnips, eggplants, avocados, sweet potatoes, zucchini, beets, leeks, potatoes, okra, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumber, pumpkin, sorrel and spinach. Most desserts are based on banana, though many other fruits are also eaten a lot. A popular drink is bissap, made from roselle (a type of hibiscus) petals. There are also several kinds of drinks made from millet.

These Burkinabé black-eyed bean cakes were okay, but nothing very exciting. The lack of spices isn’t too bothersome, since they’re meant to be comfort food like anyway, it’s more about the texture, starchy and flour-like mash. Perhaps it was because I forgot to rub off the bean skins?

Black-eyed bean fritters

Black-eyed bean fritters

400 g/0.9 lbs dried black-eyed beans
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
substitute for 1 egg (if using a dry egg replacer like soy flour, don’t add any liquid)
salt and black pepper to taste
flour for coating
peanut or palm oil for frying

Soak the beans overnight. Drain and rub them between your fingers to remove the skins. Cook until soft, 45-60 minutes. Drain and let cool for a bit.

Blend all the ingredients together. Form into balls and flatten into discs. Dip them in flour and shallow fry in the oil on medium heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Serve hot, perhaps with tomato sauce (they’re quite bland by themselves).

Serves 5-6 people.

Borani kadu, or roasted butternut squash with spices and yoghurt (Afghanistan)

Posted in Asia, Starters and appetizers on September 25th, 2013 by Maija Haavisto — 2 Comments

Afghanistan is a large landlocked country in Central Asia, unfortunately one that nowadays most would first associate with war or terrorism. Many also know the Afghan hounds, which originated from Afghanistan. It is a dry, mountainous country which gets quite a few earthquakes. The area has been inhabited by humans for up to 50,000 years. Afghanistan is a tribal and nomadic society, almost completely Muslim. The country has large natural resources consisting of e.g. oil, gas and various minerals. Still it is one of the poorest countries in the world, where especially maternal mortality and infant mortality are very high. Despite low literacy rates, poetry has long been an important cultural tradition. Football, cricket and some other sports are popular. Buzkhashi is a traditional sport resembling polo.

The Afghan cuisine could be described as somewhere between Middle Eastern food and Indian food. It tends to be not spicy even though many spices are used, including cilantro, coriander, mint, sumac, saffron and cardamom. The country is known for its fruit, especially pomegranates and grapes (hence also raisins). Fruit and vegetables may be made into pickles. Other important ingredients include e.g. lamb, yogurt, potatoes, nuts, tomato, onion, turnip, eggplant and spinach. Rice dishes are also considered the core of Afghan cuisine, including the national dish qabili palao with meat, raisins and pistachios. Some rice dishes also include fruit. Bulgur wheat is eaten as well and there are several types of dumplings. Food is often served with naan or another bread.

In Finland butternut squash was something exotic, very hard to find and very expensive, so I first tried it only after moving to the Netherlands, where suddenly it was everywhere. It was somewhat of a disappointment, I prefer pumpkin. However, this recipe was quite nice and looks fancy too, the squash slices looking like crescent moons. Despite the fanciness there’s a certain comfort food feel to it, in a good way.

I hate peeling raw squash, I think it works the best here to first slice, then peel the half-moons, but it may depend on the knife you use. The original recipe tells you to make the slices about 1/4 inch thick, but considering I cut them slightly thinner, they took much longer to roast than in the original recipe and they look thicker when finished, I think that’s too thick.

I’m not sure if there is such a thing as commercial vegan Greek yogurt, but you could either strain normal soy yogurt or just do as I did: add a little oil, a little lemon juice (depending on the tartness of the yogurt) and a tiny sprinkle xanthan gum to make the flavor and texture resemble Greek yogurt more.

Borani kadu

Borani kadu

1 medium butternut squash
olive oil for roasting
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 cup/1,75 dl vegan plain Greek yogurt (see notes)
salt to taste
more olive oil
dried mint

Preheat oven to 410F/210C. Halve the butternut squash lengthwise, remove the seeds and the pulpy mass surrounding them, slice the squash into thin half-circle slices of about 1/8-1/6 inch, or 3-4 mm thick, and peel the slices. Toss with enough olive oil to coat and the turmeric, coriander and cumin. Roast for 20-30 minutes in the oven, until soft and starting to brown. Toss with salt and let cool.

Place vegan yogurt on a plate, top with the squash slices, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with dried mint. Serve as an appetizer, cold or in room temperature. Serves at least 6-8 people.

Salsa de albahac, or basil sauce (Bolivia)

Posted in Dips, sauces and condiments, South and Central America on August 31st, 2013 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Bolivia is a large landlocked country in South America, named after Símon Bolívar, an important figure in the independence of several Latin American countries. A former part of the Inca empire, it remains a very multinational country with 37(!) official languages. It is also one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with rainforest, valleys and savanna and enormous altitude variations. There are over 3,000 species of butterflies and over 4,000 types of potatoes are produced in Bolivia! Folk music, dance, football and table football are culturally important. Malnutrition and lack of sanitation remain major problems. Infant mortality and maternal death rate in Bolivia are among the highest in the world.

The cuisine of Bolivia is mostly a mixture of Spanish and indigenous cuisines. The staples of Bolivian cuisine are beans, corn and potatoes. Corn, sometimes purple corn, is also made into a drink called chicha. Rice is eaten regularly, as well. Quinoa is losing popularity, as much of it is now being exported abroad. Many meats are consumed, from iguana to llamas and guinea pigs, as well as more common types like pork and chicken. Meat is often served in skewers. Ají peppers (several related types of chili peppers, most of them hot and quite fruity) are an important spice. Lunch is the main meal in Bolivia, including several courses, dessert and coffee. Bolivians enjoy afternoon tea (té), often in tea salons which also serve baked goods. The tea may be either black tea or yerba maté.

This recipe for a basil sauce comes from Bolivia Bella. I found the original recipe way too acidic, so I halved the amount of vinegar and lemon juice. Otherwise it was quite tasty.

Salsa de albahac

Salsa de albahac

1 cup/2.4 dl plain non-dairy yoghurt (homemade is best, as usual)
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup/1.2 dl fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp green onion tails (or chives)
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Mix or blend all ingredients together (if blending, you don’t have to chop the basil or press the garlic, of course). Serve on a veggie burger or similar, I used pizza-flavoured tofu.

Nigvziani badrijani, or eggplant rolls with walnuts and cilantro (Georgia)

Posted in Asia, Europe, Starters and appetizers on July 25th, 2013 by Maija Haavisto — 2 Comments

Georgia (not to be confused with the U.S. state with the same name) is located in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, and a former part of the Soviet Union. It also considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia parts of the country. The character of the country is highly defined by the mountainous location. The deepest known cave, the Krubera cave, which is at least 2 km deep, is also located in Georgia. The climate is very diverse. There is a long tradition of wine making and tourism is increasing, attracted by e.g. ski resorts, thousands of mineral springs and thousands of historical monuments. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Georgia is that the Georgian language has three separate alphabets.

The most distinctive part of Georgian cuisine is supra, a feast featuring tons of different dishes and plenty of wine, which can last for hours. Georgian food has become quite popular in Russia thanks to immigration. Important ingredients include fish, chicken, meat, dairy products, rice, breads, beans, potatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, spinach and other greens. Walnuts are used in almost every dish. Pastries, soups and salads are popular. There is a decent amount of vegetarian and even vegan dishes. Plenty of fresh herbs are used, especially parsley, dill and cilantro. Chili is used too, as well as the local spice blue fenugreek. Food may also be flavored with tart fruits, such as plums and pomegranate. There is a wide variety of desserts and sweets, usually featuring nuts and/or honey.

Easy to veganize, low-carb (which is how I am mostly forced to eat nowadays), with only a few ingredients and healthy ones at that (save for all that oil…)? I had my doubts, but nigvziani badrijani was something I had to try. When I tried the filling by itself, it tasted too much of walnuts and cilantro, as I had expected, since it was, after all, pretty much just walnuts and cilantro. But when the eggplants were filled with it, everything fell into place. The cilantro, the walnut and the greasy eggplant flavour just mingled together to create a really nice dish, and a nice surprise too.

Nigvziani badrijani

Nigvziani badrijani

2 eggplants
olive oil for frying
1 1/2 cups/3.6 dl ground walnuts
1 cup/2.5 dl finely chopped cilantro (coriander leaves)
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
a few tablespoons of vegan mayonnaise
salt to taste

Slice the eggplants lengthwise thinly; about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thin. Fry thes slices in some olive oil until slightly browned and set aside to cool. They will soak up a lot of oil. If you soak them in water before frying they will end up slightly less greasy, but then they will splutter more (and you will still need a lot of oil). Take care that the eggplant is tender, it’s one of those vegetables you never want al dente. Place on a kitchen towel to drain out excess oil, flip and drain the other side too (or pat with a kitchen towel).

Mix the walnuts, cilantro, garlic and enough vegan mayo to bind it together. Take about a meatball-sized lump of the filling (depending on the size of the slice – my rolls are a bit too thick), place on one end of an eggplant and roll. Serve as a snack, appetizer or side dish, in room temperature or warmed up. Makes enough for 4-8 people. Because of the nuts they are more filling than they seem.