Rhubarb pie

Rhubarb is in season! It’s not that common in the supermarket, but fortunately my parents have it in the garden every year and they brought me some of this pink-and-green gold. This rhubarb pie recipe is pure nostalgia for me – I could smell the pies from my childhood as I was peeling away at the stalks. There’s nothing quite like the sour-sweet smell of this fresh fruit! Rhubarb can be quite different in taste (from sweet to sour) and color (from green to very pink). The kind we have is quite sour, so I used a lot of sugar – use according to the kind you have. You could also substitute with another firm fruit like apples or pears.

This recipe is originally from a cute little cookbook by two ladies called Liesbeth and Bie. I had to recreate it from memory, since I don’t have the cookbook and couldn’t find the recipe online. Usually improvising ratios is a ‘no go zone’ for desserts, but I relied on the usual quiche ratios and just added in sugar and flour from memory. You can do a ‘lazy version’ and replace the homemade crust by a storebought one. Enjoy this wonderful pie!

Rhubarb pie

Ingredients

For the crust:

155 grams all-purpose flour
90 grams cold butter, in cubes
60 grams fine sugar
2 egg yolks (save the egg whites)

For the filling:

500 grams of rhubarb, peeled and diced
250 ml cream
3 eggs
3 or 4 heaped tablespoons of sugar
1 heaped tablespoon of flour
1 teaspoon of cinnamon (or more if you really love cinnamon)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

powdered sugar, for dusting

1 pie tin of about 25 cm diameter
dry beans, or rice, or lentils for blind baking weight

Start with the crust. Sieve the flour, then add in the butter cubes. Rub with your fingers until you have a crumbly mixture and mix in the sugar. Add the egg yolks and, using a fork or knife, bring to a more or less consistent dough. Because this gets pretty crumbly, I use a shortcut to avoid the traditional mess when trying to make a ball: spread out a sheet of plastic wrapping foil. Fold your batter into a ball as good as it gets, then transfer to foil. Add the rest of the crumbly stuff and form into a ball using the plastic foil to press it all together. Let it sit in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Put the ball between two sheets of baking paper, beat into a disklike shape and roll out until it’s a bit larger than your tin. Grease the tin, dust with flour and transfer the crust to the tin. Put a baking sheet on top with beans or rice as weights, put in the oven for 10 minutes (this is called blind baking, it makes your crust crunchier). Remove the baking weight and brush egg white over the crust (this prevents your fluid batter from seeping into the crust later). Bake for 10 more minutes.

Meanwhile, dice the rhubarb and prepare the filling by mixing all the ingredients except the rhubarb in a bowl. Spread the rhubarb out over the baked crust, sprinkle with some more sugar and then add the liquid cream mixture. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until firm. Let it cool down a bit before serving and dust with powdered sugar. Also great with some vanilla ice cream!

Chili sin carne

What’s not to love about chili? It’s great comfort food that satisfies immediately and you can improvise on the recipe in all sorts of ways. I’ve made meatless chili without any kind of meat replacement (let’s not forget red beans are pretty protein-loaded by themselves) and that’s great. Recently, I found they had seitan at the local supermarket and decided to give it a try. I’ve never really been “into” meat replacements, I seem to manage just fine without burgers or quorn most of the time. I am, however, very thankful for their existence, especially when it comes to dinners with extended family or bring-your-own-meat sumemr BBQs.

So when I was preparing meatless chili the other day, I figured I’d give the seitan a try. You could substitute with quorn ‘minced meat’ or any kind of substitute you like, or just leave it out. The seitan wasn’t bad, but I can’t say I loved it. The same kind of rubbery texture that is sometimes the problem with tofu. I might have to bake it a little harder in a separate skillet first. If there are any good suggestions on how to handle the seitan, I’d love to hear them!

I’m sorry there are no photos – but I think you all know what chili looks like, and there are not many elegant ways to present it.

Ingredients for 4 servings

2 red bell peppers, chopped
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
500 grams of seitan or ground quorn, in small cubes or ground in a kitchen robot
2 tablespoons of tomato concentrate
1-2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
something spicy used according to taste: a chopped red chili pepper, or tabasco, or harissa…
500 ml of tomato passata + a little bit of vegetable stock
a can of red beans, rinsed
salt and pepper to taste

Serve with: a wild rice mixture or regular white rice.

How to:

Heat some olive oil in a heavy-bottom casserole (I prefer my cast-iron one). Stir-fry the chopped onion, peppers and garlic until they start to soften. Then add the seitan and stir for another few minutes. Add the tomato concentrate and spices, mix well and wait another few minutes. Now add the passata, I use some water + stock to clean the bottle and add it to the chili. Let it come to a boil and simmer for a bit, until the peppers are soft. Add pepper, salt and other spices to taste. In the end, add the beans and just let them heat with the chili for a bit. You’re done! Serve with rice or bread and tabasco for lovers of spiciness.

Wok met noedels, aardpeer, knolselder en tofu voor Thuisafgehaald

Voor een keertje een bericht in het Nederlands! Een tijdje geleden schreef ik me in om mee te doen met Thuisafgehaald, een leuk initiatief om van je restjes af te geraken en tegelijk buurtbewoners een plezier te doen. Het werkt zo: je schrijft je in op de site van thuisafgehaald.be en duidt aan of je maaltijden wilt afhalen en/of aanbieden. Als je wat teveel gekookt hebt, kan je dat online zetten. Je plakt er een prijs op gebaseerd op de ingrediënten en geeft aan wanneer je beschikbaar bent voor de afhalers. Iemand die bij je in de buurt woont kan dan reageren en zelf een lekkere maaltijd komen afhalen. Zo leer je ook nog buurtbewoners kennen. Fijn!

Deze week besteedt FM Brussel aandacht aan Thuisafgehaald en daarvoor kwamen ze het concept uittesten. Ik gaf wat uitleg over het concept en de journaliste kon naar huis met twee porties Aziatische wok. Hierbij het recept, een variant van de koolrabi met champignons en tofu.

 

Wok met noedels, aardpeer, knolselder en tofu

Wok met noedels, aardpeer, knolselder en tofu

Ingrediënten voor 6 personen

500 gram stevige tofu
1 knolselder, in dobbelsteentjes
500 gram aardpeer, in dobbelsteentjes
1 ui, gesnipperd
5 cm verse gember, fijngehakt
sesamolie
500 gram Japanse noedels
sesamzaad

voor de marinade:

5 eetlepels sojasaus
4 eetlepels ketjap manis
2 eetlepels honing
3 eetlepels zoetzure saus
3 eetlepels sesamolie
1 eetlepel gemberpoeder
3 cm verse gember, fijngehakt
beetje harissa/sambal/chilipeper

Bereiding:

Meng alle ingrediënten voor de marinade. Snijd de tofu in blokjes en meng met de marinade in een potje met deksel. Zet minstens een uur in de koelkast en schep regelmatig de marinade over de tofu. Kook intussen de noedels volgens de verpakking, giet af en meng met een beetje olie, probeer te voorkomen dat het een grote plakkende massa wordt. Doe de tofu in een zeef of vergiet en vang de marinade op. Meng er eventueel wat extra sojasaus of een ander deel van de marinade door, naar smaak.

Zet een wok op hoog vuur (of een wokbrander als je dat hebt) en laat een royale scheut sesamolie goed heet worden. Roerbak de tofu tot hij knapperig is. Leg de tofu in een kom met wat keukenpapier om uit te lekken.

Doe opnieuw een scheut sesamolie in de wok en fruit de ui en gember tot de ui glazig wordt. Voeg de knolselder en aardpeer toe en blijf goed roerbakken. Draai het vuur wat lager en laat de groenten even stomen met deksel op de wok, zo worden de groenten sneller gaar. Blijf regelmatig roeren en neem tijdig het deksel weer weg zodat het niet zompig wordt. Als je groenten gaar zijn, voeg je de noedels toe. Zet het vuur op hoog en roerbak de noedels. Voeg na enkele minuten de rest van de marinade toe en meng goed. Breng op smaak met peper en zout en eventueel wat gedroogde pepers Meng tenslotte de tofu in de wok. Strooi bij het serveren sesam over je bord. Smakelijk!

Spicy pumpkin risotto

Lent has started. Some people give up alcohol for 40 days, some give up candy (that would be me), some try to live a little more sober, some do nothing (which is fine too). In Belgium, the ‘Dagen Zonder Vlees’ (Days Without Meat) initiative was launched for the third time. Meat eaters try to reduce their meat and fish consumption and register this on a website (www.dagenzondervlees.be). The website then counts the amount of CO2 that was saved. Many meat-loving carnivores who participate (including my beloved) end up realizing they don’t need to eat meat every day. As a vegetarian I can only applaud this initiative.

To encourage all those brave temporary vegetarians out there, I’ll try to have some extra attention for recipes without meat or fish during this period. I had some leftover veggies from a weekend dish: half of a small round butternut-ish pumpkin and Jerusalem artichoke (called topinambour or aardpeer in Dutch, but what a fantastic word in English!). They were turned into a hearty veggie risotto. Enjoy!

Spicy pumpkin risotto

Spicy pumpkin risotto

Ingredients for 4-6 servings

50 grams of butter or margarine
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 chopped chili peppers or a teaspoon of dried chili flakes (depends on your taste for hot)
500 grams of tasty, firm pumpkin or squash (for example butternut), in dice-sized pieces
4 Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut in dice-size pieces (optional)
500 grams of risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)
1,5 liter of hot vegetable stock
3 tablespoons of chopped fresh sage
50 grams of Parmezan cheese
75 grams of sour cream
pepper and salt

How to:

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Fruit the onion and add the chili pepper. Fruit for 2 more minutes, then add the pumpkin and Jerusalem artichokes and stir-fry for a few minutes. Add the rice and stir well, so it’s covered with the butter. Add the vegetable stock in small portions  and stir every now and then to prevent from sticking to the pan (to make it a more traditional risotto, you could add some white wine before the stock – I didn’t do this and it was fine, actually). When the rice is ready, turn off the fire and add the sage, Parmezan, sour cream and pepper and salt. Mix with the rice, put a lid on the skillet and let it rest for 5 minutes. Enjoy!

Pomegranate, Brussels endive and feta salad

This is one of my favorite winter salads. It has the qualities of a good salad: a good mix of textures (crunchy endive, smooth feta), colors (red – green- white) and flavors (sour-sweet pomegranate, bitter endive, fresh mint and salty feta) and it combines some of the best staples of winter: Brussels endive and pomegranate. Brussels endives, sometimes called chicory, were invented accidentally in Brussels in the basement of a place that now harbors a music and arts centre, the Botanique. One of their club spaces is still called the ‘Endive Club’ since the vegetable was ‘discovered’ there, as the story goes. The vegetable is bitter and therefore not everyone likes it, but I’m convinced the other star of this recipe, the pomegranate, balances the bitterness out very well.

There are many reasons to love this exotic red fruit: it’s really healthy, it preserves well for several weeks (also out of the fridge), but above all, most people love its tart taste. It also combines well in all sorts of dishes: Martha Stewart has a great tangerine-pomegranate-cranberry-champagne cocktail recipe, it goes well in salads, in hearty dishes, in desserts… I believe you have every reason to try this salad before the pomegranates go out of season again. There’s just one catch: extracting the seeds can be a tricky (read: messy) business. I recommend using a big bowl to avoid ending up with a wall that looks like you were slaughtering something, not standing near white walls that can’t be easily cleaned and wearing an apron (and perhaps a red shirt). Don’t be frightened by this advice: it’s also great fun! So let’s get to the recipe.

Pomegranate endive feta salad

Pomegranate, Brussels endive and feta salad

 

Ingredients for 4 servings

3 stalks of Brussels endive (also called chicory)
note: you can also add radicchio (a reddish-purple Italian type of lettuce) or the red version of Brussels endive to the mix, mostly to complete the color palette
1 large or 2 small pomegranates
one red onion, finely chopped
one tablespoon of raspberry vinegar (or regular red vinegar)
a handful of mint leaves
150 grams of good feta cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper

How to:

Remove the seeds from the pomegranate. Start by making an incision all around the fruit and then ‘breaking’ it apart with your hands, so you don’t have to cut through the seeds. With your fingers, remove the seeds and throw away the white bitter stuff between the seeds. (Some recipes say beat the pomegranate with a wooden spoon to remove the seeds, but frankly, this has never worked for me.) Mix the pomegranate seeds with the chopped onion and the raspberry vinegar and let the flavors soak for about 15 minutes.

Break the endive leaves and radicchio leaves apart and arrange on a large plate or in a salad bowl. Add the pomegranate mixture, add the mint leaves and the feta and top with some mint leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you’re using a salad bowl rather than a plate, you can alternate layers (endive-pomegrante-endive-pomegranate). Enjoy!

Bruxelles alla Turca: restaurant review and lentil soup with mint butter

Having spent three wonderful summers excavating in Turkey, I’ve come to love the Turkish cuisine. I’m not the only one – everyone that has ever participated in the Sagalassos project has fond memories of pide (a Turkish type of pizza), güveç (dishes baked in clay pots) or sütlaç (delicious burnt rice pudding). I’m still in awe of the magic Turkish cooks can perform with a simple ingredient like yoghurt, and I’ve tested quite a few Turkish recipes myself (see below).

So when a friend proposed to go out for dinner to a Turkish restaurant, I eagerly said yes. We went to the Brussels Mecca of Turkish food: the strip of Chausséee de Haecht between Rogierlaan and Botanique, where every other place serves pide or pasta (Turkish for all types of sweet pastries). Finding a parking spot was not easy (we finally discovered ‘parking Express’, shady at first sight but perfectly fine and not expensive), I definitely recommend going there by bus (stops: Robiano or Middaglijn/Méridien) or metro (Kruidtuin/Botanique). We picked out a restaurant using the well-known ‘locals’ technique: it can’t be bad if a lot of locals are eating here. This restaurant happened to be Hünkar Sofrasi (Chaussée de Haecht 89). We were not disappointed.

The waiter spoke Dutch (always a pleasant surprise in Brussels) while we put to practice our culinary Turkish (probably the only Turkish words we can still remember). The three of us ordered one plate of mixed mezze and çoban salata (shepherd’s salad) as a starter. True to Turkish tradition, we were stuffed by the end of this course. The mixed mezze consisted of various yoghurt- and vegetable-based salads, cheese börek, and calamares. Yum.

We then proceeded to the main course: copious amounts of mixed meat-cheese lahmacün (round thin Turkish pizza), mixed meat-cheese pide (boat-shaped Turkish pizza) and spinach-cheese pide. All were absolutely delicious. The waiter, probably foreseeing our imminent indigestions, gladly offered to wrap up the leftovers, providing us with food for at least another night’s dinner. The feast was concluded with Turkish tea on the house (sadly, none of us had room left for sütlaç). We paid 15 euros per person, very reasonable considering the quality and quantity of our dinner.

Our Turkish feast

Our Turkish feast

As my last two posts were also culinary reviews, I figured I owe you a recipe. In keeping with the Turkish theme, I’m offering my new favorite Turkish lentil soup from Turquoise by Greg Malouf. This hearty, perfect winter soup reminded me instantly of the thick soup served at Turkish peasant weddings, but its spicy and eloquent touch makes it just as perfect to be served at Christmas dinner. I might just consider selling my rights as firstborn for this soup (might!).

Lentil soup with mint dressing

Ingredients for about 6-8 people:

one big onion, finely chopped
two big winter carrots, finely chopped
2 tbsp of olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp of ground cumin powder
2 tsp of spicy paprika powder (chili powder – not as spicy as cayenne)
2 tsp of mild paprika powder
1 small can of tomato concentrate
200 grams of red lentils (those tiny round orange ones – at the Turkish supermarket, or organic supermarket, or well-sorted supermarket)
2 liters of vegetable stock – or two liters of water with 4 stock cubes (the original recipe mentions chicken stock, which is fine too, but I like to keep it vegetarian)
5 tbsp of fine bulgur (Turkish supermarket)
2 tomatoes, seeds removed, chopped
sea salt, fresh black pepper
lemon parts, for serving

For the mint dressing (optional, but gives a very nice touch):

50 grams of butter
1 tsp of dried mint
1 tsp of paprika powder

How to:

Heat the oil in a large soup casserole on a low fire. Add the chopped onion, carrot and garlic and stir lightly. After a few minutes, add the cumin and two paprikas. Stir regularly until the vegetables start to become soft. Be careful not to let the spices burn (this happens to me sometimes in a casserole with a thin bottom) – it’s better to add the rest of the ingredients a little early if you see it’s starting to burn. Add in the tomato puree and mix well. Let it heat for one minute. Add the lentils and vegetable stock, bring to a boil. Let the soup boil softly with the lid on, stirring regularly for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are starting to fall apart, making the soup a bit ‘creamy’ or starchy. Then add the bulgur and the tomatoes. Season to taste with pepper and salt and let it simmer for another 10 minutes.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in the mint and paprika powder. Serve the soup in a hot bowl with a piece of lemon and add a few drops of the mint butter. Enjoy!

What to eat when you’re eating in Italy (2)

During my first post about Italy I promised to write about the rest of the trip, and although this message is way overdue, better late than never I guess… (good New Year’s resolution: blogging more regularly!) Hopefully this post about sunny Italy can bring some light in these wet wintry days.

We left off in Orvieto, with its mighty cathedral and remarkable underground dovecotes. From there we went on to Napels: one of the noisiest, most disorganized and wildest cities on the entire European continent. I’d been there before to visit a friend studying abroad, but my boyfriend was quite bewildered at the sight of the vespas chasing each other through the Neapolitan streets. He pointedly remarked that even the Neapolitans, who seem to like living their life ‘dangerously’, put on helmets while driving their scooters – just goes to show. Once we’d settled in at our hotel and gotten our host’s talk of “don’t wear jewelry and shiny watches in the street” we decided to be adventurous and leave with just the map, no touristic guides (yeah, this is as adventurous as it gets…). We strayed around the city for a bit, walking in and out of shirt and suits shops (tailoring is a Neapolitan specialty – if you’re ever looking for a fancy custom-made suit, go there!) and taking in the rough beauty of the city. Unfortunately, the route we’d chosen didn’t really take us past any restaurants. We ended up having a spritz cocktail on a terrace at Piazza Bellini and then continued our search for dinner. We ended up at a restaurant called Leon d’oro, where we were forbidden to sit outside on the terrace for no obvious reason but decided to give it a try, anyway. Luckily, the politeness of the waiters was reversly correlated to the quality of the food. Delicious antipasti, pasta puttanesca, pesce spada, pizza and even dessert on the house came our way, accompanied by a good bottle of whine (what else?). Oh man, everything those waiters (literally) chucked onto our table was absolutely wonderful. And the bill was quite all right as well. Great!

The next day in Naples we explored Ercolano (Herculaneum), Pompeii’s less-known but equally grand sister. We ended at the archeological museum, which has, despite its tragic lack of funding, some great must-sees like the mosaic depicting Alexander the Great at Issos, the erotic cabinet or the Pompeii frescoes. Then we decided to take on a local classic and went for pizza at Sorbillo (after another spritz at Piazza Bellini). You have to stand in line outside for a while, but the pizza is cheap and very good. We amused ourselves by trying to calculate the number of pizzas the place bakes in one day, it must be a few hundred!

An ancient street at Ercolano

Frescoes at Ercolano

We then took off to Salerno, a modest (and frankly, slightly boring) coastal town about 40 minutes by train from Naples. We stayed at a hotel opposite the train station that breathed classical Southern Italian style, with personnel that takes your luggage into your room for you, soft carpet on the floor and extremely helpful receptionists. In Salerno, we had a simple but great lunch at a place called ‘Pizza Margharita’ (how original!). You can tell a good Italian restaurant when you see old ladies all dressed up, eating pasta with their granddaughters and entire families celebrating something with plates and plates of seafood and pasta… We then took the local train to Paestum, where we visited the museum with its impressive Etruscan remains and of course the glorious site of Paestum, the best preserved colony of Magna Graecia (the Greek colonization of Southern Italy). We concluded this absolutely wonderful day with a meal at Spunzillo by the seaside (if you ever go there, better make reservations – we arrived right before all hell seemed to break loose, customer-wise). We tried Salerno’s specialties; fresh seafood: I had risotto pescatoro and cassuola di mare (sea casserole).

The impressive temples at Paestum

The next day we set out to our most Southern destination: Taranto. Hotel Arcangelo, where we stayed, was excellent with a funny overly friendly receptionist and a lovely breakfast – they even upgraded our room. The poverty in this little fisherman’s town, once a glorious Spartan colony, was also very striking – as soon as we got there we were asked for money by a random passerby on the street (who wasn’t even actively begging but just happened to notice us and give it a try). We spent our first day visiting the stunning archaeological museum – an absolute must see – and sipping spritz on a sunny seaside terrace in a fancy chocolate/ice cream bar. The next day we went to the beach, where we were laughed at for being really white by bronzed Italians and experienced the social consequences of a car accident in Italy firsthand from the bus. The food was like the town: simple but glorious. We had dinner at Trattoria da Ugo, a fisherman’s restaurant that serves whatever the sea has offered that very day. So that night, we had mussels and squid, prepared with only a little parsley and lemon juice – fantastic. Just about everything at the trattoria cost 3 euros: the antipasto, the main course, the liter of wine… we paid 28 euros (and still had the impression they’d charged us too much) and left the place completely stuffed.

Narrow streets and faded glory at Taranto

From Taranto we took the high speed train to Ravenna – all the way up at the shore side, a scenic view. The hotel, called Astoria, was not exactly the best we had all trip due to a noisy and malfunctioning air conditioning throughout quite a humid night. We explored the town a little upon arriving there and then sought out a good restaurant. We picked out La Gardela and were not disappointed. We tasted some excellent regional specialties like Squacquerone cheese, a very rich and creamy variation of mozzarella and I had risotto with bitter radicchio and sangiovese wine (oh great heavens!). Even though we were accustomed to Italian goodness by now, we enjoyed every bite of our dinner and had a bottle of local Prosecco to celebrate life in general and our very recent engagement in particular. The next day, we visited Ravenna’s great touristic sights: all the monuments from the glorious Byzantine era, like the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Basilica di San Vitale, the Basilica di Sant’Apollinaire Nuovo… Ravenna struck us as a quaint, cozy little town, quite like Salamanca in Spain or Leuven in Belgium, completely different from the laid-back southern style at Taranto. There were also some great shopping opportunities. In the early evening, we took the train to Faenza, where we met up with a friend who’s studied abroad in Italy, fell in love with the country and is half Italian by now, still going there for excavations and his archaeological research. We had aperitif (spritz, what else?) at Faenza and then he took us through the mountains to the quiet town of Brisighella, where he’d once been to a good restaurant. The restaurant was an absolute culmination of our Italian adventure, with an abundance of local specialties. Actually, even the word abundance is a complete understatement – the Italian family next to us had ordered two full meals for every three persons (smart, I must say so) and at one point we had fears of not being able to drive back just because we were too full… A merry evening indeed. I had the full vegetarian menu which was equally abundant but a little less heavy and showed once again how delicious cooking with vegetables can be – and the seemingly effortless Italian mastery of the vegetarian kitchen.

Stunning and well-preserved art work in Ravenna's monuments

Mosaics in Ravenna's UNESCO World Heritage

The next day, we stuck around in Ravenna a little longer, taking the time to shop, collect souvenirs for our neighbors who’d helped care for our plants and friends who’d borrowed us their touristic guidebooks and sip cappuccinoes while it started raining outside (it sort of felt like the circle was complete, after we’d started our vacation with rain and had several sunny days in the South). We then took the train for the last stop in Milan, which felt very cosmopolitan and big compared to cozy little Ravenna. We had dinner at a rather touristic pizza place after fruitlessly trying to get into a really good-looking restaurant (next time in Milan, we’ll have to make reservations…). We left early the next morning at the Milan train station and arrived in Brussels without any troubles that evening, after a train ride that took us past the breathtaking Italian lakes.

Bye bye, Italy!

 

Home sweet home

Brussels Tea

Yesterday we had this season’s first snow in Brussels: the time for cocooning has officially started. Christmas markets are popping up around the continent and restaurants start mailing their New Year’s menus. For me, this is the time for gulping down liters of tea. I drink tea all year round, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t give you the same warm fuzzy feeling in summer. When it does get hot outside, I make iced tea a fresh green tea, sweetened with a bit of honey.

Drinking a lot of tea means having a decent cupboard stock of tea to me. Some people are content with some black Lipton tea all day long, but I like to diversify a bit more – you can’t drink liters of the same stuff all day every day, now can you? Since my moving to Brussels, I’ve set out to discover the best tea stores in Brussels. So far, I have three favorites that sell a variety of delicious brands. Here’s my top three, in random order.

A selection of my tea collection

Perhaps the most known brand that has recently popped up in the world of tea is Le Palais des Thés. Founded in Paris in 1986, they now have stores ranging from the USA to Norway and, fortunately, Belgium. Apart from the stores, their tea is also served in fashionable lunch places like Exki. The Brussels store is at Oud Korenhuis/Place de Vieille Halle aux Blés number 45. Next to a wide choice of tea they also sell some accessories like paper tea bags, tins etc… Le Palais des Thés has specialists traveling around the world to find teas and buy directly from the planters. According to their website, this personal relationship with their suppliers enables them to demand compliance to a code of ethics, including no child labor, decent wages and respect for the environment. However, I couldn’t find out if they participate in any official labels or trademarks such as Fair Trade (which doesn’t necessarily mean their ethics code isn’t true, of course).

My favorites from Le Palais des Thés are:

-Thé des Lords: a wonderful Earl Grey tea with bergamot and safflower aromas. Great breakfast tea.
-Montagne Bleue: a black tea with lavender, blueberries and rhubarb. Has a very sweet smell and a nice balanced flavor.
-Thé du Hammam: Wonderful green tea with rose petals, green dates and orange flower water. A very popular blend for a warm cup during the day, it also makes a great iced tea. In summer, Exki sells it chilled with fresh mint leaves, lemon wedges and sweetened with honey which is absolutely delicious (and totally doable at home).
-Thé des Fakirs: another green tea with spices such as cardamom nad clove, which also makes a splendid iced tea. For me this one is on equal par with Thé du Hammam.

La Maison du Thé, located at Plattesteen 11 (near Anspach) is a gem among traditional Brussels shop interiors. The shop window is as exotic and quaint as the dark but charming interior. The owner blends his own teas. I hapazardly entered the shop one day and – as these things go – was so charmed by the interior that I bought some tea at random. The blend I bought was Darjeeling Earl Grey (their most popular mix apparently). I tried it for breakfast the next day and… this is possibly the best breakfast tea I’ve ever had. It’s subtle, wonderful mixture of darjeeling and earl grey and perfect for waking up gently. Since then I’ve also bought Earl Grey Fleurs d’Orangier (orange blossom), which is a touch sweeter but also delicately blended. I can warmly recommend this wonderful House of Tea!

My top three is concluded by L’Heure Bleue, a cute little shop on the Avenue des Arts (close to metro station Kunst-Wet/Arts-Loi). They sell tea, jewellery and scarves. They carry a few fancy tea brands including Løv and Theodor. I got a beautiful tin (they really are beautiful) of rooibos with cinnamon and orange zest organic Løv tea as a gift. It’s perfect evening or afternoon tea and has a very nice sweet touch. When I went there myself I discovered they have Theodor tea. A small anecdote is in place here. I didn’t know Theodor until a few months ago, when I went to a fair called Tea World in Tour and Taxis with another tea-crazed friend. There we were offered iced Theodor tea mixed with Hennessy cognac – apparently this used to be a popular type of cocktail. The barista was funny and charming, so we stuck around for a few more free tea cocktails… needless to say we were hooked on this new concept! Unfortunately, my wallet doesn’t permit me splurging on bottles of Hennessy cognac (Christmas gift, anyone?) but the Theodor tea is delicious by itself. I got a package of October Revelation, a Russian blend of black tea with bergamot and agrum. The smell is so delicate and yet full, reminding me of childhood sweets. The taste is casual yet refined. It’s become the tea I serve when I have guests over – it’s ‘normal’ enough for those who prefer regular black tea, but special enough for true tea fanatics to appreciate its aromas. L’Heure Bleue also sells other brands and blends (some of their own) which I have yet to try. Anyhow, it’s a nice little shop which also has very pretty jewellery – definitely worth a visit.

So, these are my favorite tea addresses in Brussels. One more tea deserves a special mention: the Turkish tea you can buy by the kilo in Turkish supermarkets all around Schaarbeek and Sint-Joost-ten-Node (or in any Turkish supermarket in Brussels). I have fond memories of our team’s tea breaks during excavations in Sagalassos, Turkey. Properly preparing Turkish tea right is a true art: to do it right, you need a special double tea pot. In one of the pots, you brew water with tea (no pads or bags, just the tea in the water), the other pot contains boiling water.  Small Turkish tea glasses are set up and filled up with 1/3 of tea (or more, if you like it very strong) and then topped with water. You are then asked how much sugar you want (this can go anywhere from zero to six or more cubes). This tea has a very distinct taste and, even though it’s boiling hot, is very refreshing when you’re sweating away at 35 degrees Celsius. I recommend trying it in any of the numerous Turkish tea and pastry salons at the Chaussée de Haecht.  If you have any other suggestions for tea brands or tea shops in Brussels, please share!

 

Layered spice cake (Kue lapis)

This is a pretty special cake recipe – the cake is grilled in tiny layers, instead of baked! The minute I saw this in the book ‘Warm Bread and Honey Cake’ by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra – a really cool baking book  with very traditionally Dutch and very exotic recipes that has also been translated into Dutch (Zelfgebakken) – I wanted to try this. So here it is! It’s not difficult, but it takes dedication and patience, as you basically have to stay very close to the oven for more than 40 minutes. In my experience, this amount of batter forms very very thin layers, so you can always go for  6 layers (2 times three) if you want more ‘visible’ colored layers, although the baking times will be a little different. The cake is quite heavy (cut small slices) but very yummy and spicy. Let me know if you give it a try!

Ingredients for a 20 cm tin:

250 grams of butter, at room temperature
200  grams of fine sugar
5 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon of vanilla-extract
125 grams of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of ground clove (kruidnagel)
1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
50 grams of melted butter, for greasing

Beat the butter, with a machine mixer (handheld or standing) if you have one. Add 100 grams of sugar and keep beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks in small doses and the vanilla extract and mix everything well. Sieve the flour with the salt and set apart.

In a clean, grease-free bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Add the remaining sugar while beating, slowly but surely. Keep beating until you have good and sturdy egg white ‘blobs’ that don’t sag. Add a tablespoon of the egg whites to the butter mixture and spoon it through. Now slowly spoon the egg whites and flour through the butter, making large round movements with a spatula. Don’t mix for too long to preserve the fluffiness. Now, separate the dough in two bowls into two equal parts. Carefully mix the spices with one of the two bowls. Heat your oven’s grill. Grease the baking tin with some of the melted butter and add 1/4 of one of the bowls to the tin. Flatten the mixture with a palette knife and make sure no extra batter is sticking to the sides, as this will burn under the grill and distort your pretty layered pattern.

Put the tin under the hot grill until the top starts to ‘bulge’ and the batter is baked. The first layer will take about 5 minutes, depending on your oven and the distance from the grill. Take the tin out of the oven, using a brush, coat with a layer of melted butter and add another layer, from the other bowl (alternating light and dark batter). Repeat this process – the grilling will now take about 3 minutes for each layer. The layers have to rise, be golden brown and baked. You will have eight layers in total. Always spread the batter evenly and clean spilled batter, as this will burn. When all layers are grilled, carefully cut away from the sides of the tin and let the cake cool on a baking grid.

Improvised avocado spread

It’s a shame not to use ripe avocado’s when they’re lying around in the kitchen, waiting to go bad. So after some rather improvised guacamole last night (it’s really not the same without fresh tomatoes and cilantro) I opened the fridge and tried to find something good to spread on my lunch rolls. That’s when I came up with this spread, made from a very ripe avocado and some fridge leftovers.

Ingredients (for about 3 rolls-both sides worth of spread):

1 very ripe avocado
2 heaped tablespoons of fresh goat cheese (the kind from the plastic pyramids is fine, it’s what I happened to have in store)
2 heaped teaspoons of basil paste/pesto (my secret fridge stash that I made from this year’s basil harvest)
salt and pepper
rolls and some extra lettuce/tomatoes

Mix and crush the ingredients for the spread together, season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread them on some delicious rolls and add some lettuce or tomato to the plate for extra vegetables. Enjoy!