I recently confessed to one of my friends that my favorite way to cook is with lots of limitations. That’s why I’m always making foods that are vegan, gluten-free, and/or raw. Granted, the health-factor is a great bonus when you’re eating food all the time (and by the way, who isn’t? we eat to stay alive all day long!) but what really gets me going is the challenge of playing by the rules.
I don’t think I could have been more delighted. Gooseberries always seem just a little too pricey for me to swing on my own, but they are beautiful and strange to work with. Apricots happen to be one of my favorite fruits. Rhubarb and I have rubbed elbows on more than one occasion. Together, with a selection of sweet and floral herbs from the Elephant Belly garden, something magical and worthy of celebration was sure to happen.
This probably stems from my Catholic school career: for twelve years I wore white blouses, navy blue pullovers and hideous plaid skirts every single day. I couldn’t stand having my fashionable sense limited, and I pushed the limits of what was considered “uniform” to the extreme. I think the only time I ever served detention in grade school or high school was for uniform violations.
I think having more limitations pushes me to get more creative. This past weekend when I showed up to Rian’s birthday celebration at our friends’ vegan sanctuary outside of New York City, I was presented with three ingredients that they had chosen for me at the farmers’ market that morning: rhubarb, gooseberries, and apricots. I was to use all three together in a single dish.
The uniting piece of the puzzle came to me late that evening. I had been wondering just what would be the perfect birthday dessert for my friend Rian, and it turned out that Rian offered me exactly what I needed to make it happen. On the kitchen counter was a bag of quinoa, and I thought, “someone should soak that quinoa if we’re planning to eat it tomorrow”. I asked who brought the quinoa, and Rian raised his hand. Without saying another word, I slipped the quinoa into a bowl, covered it in water, and went off to bed.
Swedish Pancake CakeWith Marinated Apricot, Rose-Geranium Pinenut Cream, Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote, Gooseberry Conserve, and Pistachio-Date Spread
I know. It sounds like a lot. It LOOKS like a lot. Your first thought might be TOO MUCH, too sweet, too many flavors. But that’s where the magic comes in. Without adding much additional sweetener at all, and by keeping the various fillings simple, this pancake cake features all of the flavors individually and also blends them together harmoniously without over-stimulating the palate. The flavor profile of the cake was born from my love of North-African cuisine; dates, pistachios, rose, and apricots all fit the bill. To keep all the flavors united, I added raisins and cardamom and mint to the various fruits. The pancake itself is simple, made of cooked quinoa, bananas, a bit of flour, and almond milk. The whole thing can be prepared for a fabulously impressive brunch item or dessert, or you can choose just one filling and top your favorite pancakes, waffles, or pastry with the compote of your choice.
Rose Geranium Pinenut Cream
¼ cup almond, soy, hemp, or other nut-based milk
few sprigs of rose geranium leaves
1 cup raw pinenuts
1-2 tbsp agave
2 tbsp coconut oil, liquefied
Soak pinenuts in at least 2 cups of water overnight or for at least 2 hours.
In a butter-warmer or milk-pot, combine nut milk with a few leaves of rose geranium, gently torn and crushed with your fingers to release their fragrant oils. Make sure this sits on the smallest burner of your stove, over VERY low heat. Keep just below a simmer for about 10-15 min, until the milk tastes of rose. Remove from heat and let leaves steep for another 10-15 minutes.
Drain pinenuts and place in a high-speed blender or food processor. Remove leaves from milk and add milk to blender along with the agave. (Start with less agave, you can always add more.) Blend on high for 1-2 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth. You may need to add additional milk to get a texture that works for you. Turn off the blender, add the liquid coconut oil, and then blend again on low until the oil is mixed in. Place the pinenut cream in a bowl, cover with a lid and place in the freezer to chill. You want it to firm up but not freeze. If made in advance store in the refrigerator overnight. When you remove the cream from the freezer, stir it well to get a thick, creamy consistency throughout.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote with Cardamom
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled
about 10 stalks of rhubarb, washed and trimmed of any leaves
5 cardamom pods
small handful of turbinado sugar
Depending on the size of your strawberries, slice in half or in quarters. Dice rhubarb. Add both to a medium saucepan over medium heat. In a mortar and pestle, gently crush cardamom to break open pods. Add seeds and pods to saucepan with a sprinkle of sugar. Cook gently until mixture begins to bubble, then turn heat down to low and simmer for about 20 min, stirring occasionally. When the strawberries and rhubarb have lost their shape and the mixture becomes like a thick jam, it is finished. Remove from heat to cool.
1 pint gooseberries
¼ cup red or golden raisins
3 tbsp turbinado sugar
Wash berries well and slice in half. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine berries, raisins and sugar. Once mixture begins to boil, immediately turn heat down to low so that it just simmers. Stir occasionally. Keep heat low and as the fruit cooks, it will release juices and become more like a jam. The slower and longer it cooks, the softer and sweeter the fruit. Simmer at least 20 min on the stove. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
¼ cup shelled raw pistachios
5-6 medjool dates, pitted
In a bowl, cover pitted dates with boiling water and let soak for about 10-15 min to soften. Remove dates and reserve soaking water to use as a sweetener for iced tea. Toast pistachios in a dry skillet over high heat. When you start to smell the nuts, they are ready! Keep a watchful eye over the nuts because they will quickly start to burn once they’re reached their toasty state. Place pistachios on a cutting board and use a large chef’s knife to coarsely chop. Add nuts to bowl with dates, and using the back of a heavy spoon, mash together until you have a smooth paste. Set aside.
5-6 ripe apricots
1 large sprig fresh morrocan mint
extra virgin olive oil
about 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
Wash apricots well. Slice carefully into thin half moons. Mince mint into thin strips. In a medium bowl, toss mint and apricots with a drizzle of olive oil, a dash of sea salt, and sugar. The sugar will help macerate the apricots, extracting their natural juices so they have a “sauce” of their own. Place in the fridge to chill.
3 ripe bananas
1 cup vegan milk (soy, almond, etc)
2 tbsp almond butter
2 cups cooked quinoa, room temperature
pinch of sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
¾ cup gluten free flour or regular all-purpose flour
coconut oil (for frying pancakes)
In a blender, blend well bananas, milk, and almond butter. You should have a thick consistency. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add quinoa and thoroughly combine. Pour in liquid mixture, and whisk until there are no chunks of flour.
Heat a 10 or 12-inch cast-iron pan over medium heat. Add enough coconut oil to coat the bottom. Do not let the oil smoke. If it smokes, the pan is too hot, and your pancake will burn before it bakes. It’s better to have your heat a little too low and cook slowly than to ruin an entire pancake. That said, remember that the first pancake is always a test pancake. Make a tiny one first to check the temperature of the pan, the amount of oil you need to use, the stickiness of the batter. Adjust as necessary.
Once the pan/oil are hot, quickly pour in enough batter to coat the entire bottom of the pan. Use a spatula to spread the batter as necessary. Once small bubbles begin to form on the surface of the cake, you can check the underside for doneness. The entire cake should be uniformly dark brown. Flipping a pancake this large takes practice. Use a large spatula, and know that it will be between many layer of goodness, hiding any mishaps. Bake for about 3 minutes on the second side, until golden brown. Remove from pan onto a plate, set aside to cool.
Repeat for a total of 4 giant pancakes.
What rules do you like to play by? What rules do you like to break? Do you have a favorite birthday cake that you’d like to see a healthier version of? Leave your comments below!