Truffled Vichyssoise with Video Demo!

Let me tell you something, it is HOT in Tel Aviv right now.  Not that I ever had any doubts that summers in Israel were anything less than scorching, but after spending a year in the climate controlled comfort of suburban New Jersey, weeks on end of 90+ degree weather (fahrenheit, or about 32C for the rest of the world) with upwards of 70% humidity can be a bit of a shock to the system.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love the summer, days spent on the beach, cool drinks, warm nights, and everything that comes along with it, but it also means regularly trying to find ways to beat the heat without the benefit of 24/7 air conditioning.  This mostly involves well-placed fans, icy cold drinks, and meals that taste good cold.

Last week, I decided to try out a box of vegetables delivered fresh from an organic farm in the area.  I’ve always loved the idea of CSAs and vegetable co-op boxes, as it forces me to get creative, and eat a greater variety of vegetables than I normally would choose of my own volition.  Our box, which was delivered directly to my kitchen, included such goodies as arugula, parsley, onions, scallions, leeks, a winter squash, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes.  Upon seeing the bounty of alliums and roots, I knew I absolutely had to make vichyssoise, otherwise known as cold potato leek soup.  There weren’t quite as many leeks as I would have liked for the soup, so I supplemented with some regular onions, which I slowly caramelized with a ton of minced garlic in order to deepen the flavors of the soup.  I then added white wine, cubed potatoes, and lastly the leeks, which I cooked just long enough to soften, in order that they keep their bright, fresh flavor.  To round it all out, I pureed the veggies, then added a few pinches of truffle salt, a bit of truffle oil, and a can of light coconut milk.  The deep, heady aroma of the truffles counterbalances the bright punch of the leeks and white wine, while the coconut milk softens all the flavors, and brings them together in a smooth, velvety soup.  To help cool it down more quickly, I dropped several ice cubes into the cold soup, rather than thinning with water, but we were so hungry for dinner that night, that we ate it while it was closer to room temperature than chilled.  Of course, after chilling in the fridge overnight, it was even more heavenly, and the perfect meal for a hot summer’s day.

Making vichyssoise tonight! This week I ordered a box of organic vegetables from a farm in the area, and it included a ton of potatoes and leeks, so naturally I couldn't resist turning them into soup! Of course, it's so hot here, that it worked out even better to make a soup that's meant to be eaten cold. In order to add more flavor, I caramelized some onion and garlic as the base, then added the leeks at the very end so they just softened up. That way the soup retains the bright, fresh flavor of the produce! #vegan #whatveganseat #vegansofig #veganfoodshare #veganlife #veganlifestyle #plantpower #paleofriendly #kosher #pareve #soup #summer #fresh #local #healthy #eatclean #dairyfree #french #israel #telaviv #personalchef

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Truffled Vichyssoise

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 7-8 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 cups white potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 c white wine
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • salt
  • 4 small leeks, cleaned and sliced (not including the dark green part)
  • 2 tsps black truffle salt
  • 1 tbsp white truffle oil
  • 1 16 oz can light coconut milk
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced

In a large pot over medium-low heat, add the olive oil, onions and a pinch of salt.  Sweat the onions for about 10 minutes, until they’ve released their juices and are translucent.  Add the chopped garlic, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. The onions should be a deep caramel color, but take care not to burn them.  Add the potatoes to the pot, then deglaze with the white wine, scraping up any bits of onion that may have attached themselves to the pan.  Add water to cover the potatoes, and another generous pinch of salt.  Bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.  Add the sliced leeks to the pot, and stir.  Cook about 10 minutes, until they’ve softened but are still a bright green.  Remove from heat.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth and velvety.  Stir in the truffle salt, truffle oil, and coconut milk.  Adjust the seasoning and let cool.  If it’s too thick, you can add some water until it reaches your desires consistency, or add several ice cubes, which will help it cool down faster.  Serve chilled.  Garnish with sliced scallions if desired.

Tous végétal en Provence: Vegan Travels Through the South of France

IMG_2838My arrival into the heart of Provence was accompanied by ravenous hunger.  Though the memory of my earlier socca lingered, vegan goodies proved to be scarce during the long journey to the farm.  As luck would have it, there was a railroad strike in progress–of which I was thankfully informed by the front desk staff at the hostel in Nice–and with each leg of my journey, I found myself scrambling to find the information assistants, show them my tickets, while explaining (tout en français, I might add), where I was going.  After two trains and a bus, I arrived in the small Provençal town of Tarrascon, where I was picked up by the farmer.  We drove through a picturesque countryside that was straight out of a Disney movie, before turning off of the fast-moving main road directly into the driveway of the farm.  The house was a stone cottage, renovated on the inside, with an exceptionally large garage.  At the time of my arrival, the volunteers–including myself– numbered four, two Korean girls who spoke no French (and farmers who spoke no English), and Jannette, another American girl.  As dinner neared completion, I set my large amount of luggage in the garage, which was the only place we had extra space, before washing up and readying myself for the meal.  The first course was a delightfully refreshing salad accompanied by fresh melon–the perfect start to a summer supper.  Our second course could only be described as a bit of a let down, given that the main component was a whole boiled eggplant.  We were each provided with our own eggplant and given a mixture of fresh chopped parsley and minced garlic with which to top it.  The final component was a drizzle of local, organic extra-virgin olive oil.  I was too hungry to refuse, and wanted to make a good first impression besides, so i mashed the eggplant as best I could, and heaped it with garlic.  The farmers warned us (and the Korean girls, who also heaped on the garlic) that it was very strong, but I’ll take raw garlic over plain eggplant any day.  We finished the meal with a bit of soy based pudding, and settled in for the evening.IMG_2915

The next morning, the Korean girls departed, leaving just Jannette and I to fall into the morning routine.  We would be up and dressed by about 7:30/8 o’clock in the morning, and take a small breakfast of tea, bread and jam.  Some mornings we were also given fresh fruit, but never did we have more protein than what was already in the whole grain bread.  Oh, the things we would have done for even a bit of peanut butter (yes, yes, how American of us). Each morning, we started our work by picking figs off the sprawling tree in the front yard.  We would search through the large leaves to find the ones that were ripe enough to be “torn” from the tree.  We pulled on the supple branches in order to bring higher hanging fruit within our grasp.  Often times, we would climb the regal limbs of the tree, balancing with a finger or a knee, while we pulled another branch further in, in order to grasp another perfectly ripe fig.  All the while, we had plastic baskets strapped onto our bodies, which, when full, we would gently empty into the crates sitting on the low stone ledge by the patio.  Everyday, we managed to fill at least a crate and a half of beautifully plump figs,  sometimes more.  It was truly a marvel of nature’s bounty.  After about an hour and a half of fig picking, we would move on to field work.  Two of the days we spent pulling weeds on the edges of some of the greenhouses, some days we picked potatoes, and others, we picked green beans.  For the potatoes, the farmer would plow the field with the tractor, uprooting the plants, leaving the potatoes mostly exposed.  We would then move up and down the rows with buckets, sifting through the dirt to get all of the potatoes that were big enough.  As the buckets filled, we would bring them over to a pile of crates, and dump them there, filling as many crates as possible until there was nothing left in the row.

Spending time bent beneath the searing Mediterranean sun, and lugging heavy buckets of potatoes was not easy, but surprisingly, it was equal to, if not better than picking green beans.  The chore of gathering green beans, while not particularly strenuous, was not exactly comfortable either.  One would think sitting would be preferred over kneeling, but sitting on a wooden plank that was softened only by a thin, foam gardening mat, while squeezed between two narrow rows of vegetation is hardly a lesson in luxury.  Once seated, with a basket at our feet, we would comb through each plant, ensuring that we collected only the fully grown string beans.  Each plant took several minutes to pick through before we could continue our crawl towards the end of the row.  While the farmers were well versed in green bean picking, and could manage a full row in perhaps two afternoons, us volunteers would move at half speed, completing only about a row and a half in a week.  The wooden board and inherent twisting of the spine required in order to collect the beans wore on the body significantly more than would be expected, and so it came to be that green beans were perhaps our least favorite of the tasks we were set to do.  At the end of each session of either green bean or potato collection, we would evenly distribute the crops among wooden crate, before they were taken out to be sold at various markets throughout the region.IMG_2800

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During our rare time off, we were taken to various nearby tourist sites, in order to better acquaint ourselves with the history and culture of the area. Our first free afternoon, we were dropped off at Les Baux de Provence, a medieval village situated in the midst a rock formation referred to as l’enfern (the inferno, because they look like flames).  Underneath the peak on which the ruins of the chateau is perched, is an old quarry that has been repurposed into a multi-media art exhibit.  Called the carrière des lumières–the quarry of lights–we were utterly baffled as to what exactly it was, until we entered the exhibit space later in the day.  We decided to head into the old town first, and make our way up its winding stone roads to the chateau set high above us.  As we walked, we ducked into the many shops littered throughout the streets–my favorite being those selling speciality foods of the region–as well as shops that sold traditional souvenirs and quirky kitchenwares.  We stopped by the mayors seat, which also held an exhibit of photos in a downstairs room, showing residents of Morocco during the French occupation.  As we continued to ascend the slopes of the mountain, I was reminded of being in Tzfat’s old city, from the steep cobblestone streets to the stone buildings, which were also dated to the 15th and 16th centuries.  The ruins of the castle crowned the top of a cliff, offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside.  We bought our tickets, and began to explore, passing models of trebuchets and battering rams, old churches, and dozens of heady lavender plants, while drinking in the breathtaking scenery.  The highest points of the chateau were the two watch towers, which remained stable enough for visitors to climb, thought not without a warning for windy days.  The steps leading to the tower were ancient blocks of stone, some of which were so worn out from centuries of footsteps, that there were depressions so deep, it made climbing nearly impossible.  I couldn’t help but think that such conditions would never fly in the United States, given our proclivity for frivolous lawsuits, thus requiring either that the site was closed to the public or that authenticity was lost in favor of reconstruction.  The last of the most magnificent view points was on the ledge that formerly constituted part of the great hall.  It towered over the stone village and the rest of ruins, crowned by a large open archway, where I imagine a window once stood.  While we once again took in the landscape doted before us, with fields, towns, and even the tiniest shimmer of the Mediterranean at the farthest reaches of our sight, I remarked on what it must have been like to actually sit down to dinner to that view on a regular basis.

From there, we worked our way back down the slope, and over to the quarry.  Inside, the bare, stone walls were alive with light, as the colors of paintings done by artists from the Austrian secession movement danced around us.  The paintings shifted, immersing us first in a field of flowers, then surrounding us by grotesque figures, all while set to a somber classical score.  We were utterly transfixed.  The immersive nature of the project and the juxtaposition of light and dark, compounded with the soaring and eerie music, was more evocative than any of the pieces alone could have done.  My only mode of expression in such a setting could be movement.  Alas, a live dance recital could only be provided by me. As the last of our outing passed, consumed by the continuously swirling colors, we sadly wrenched ourselves away, if only to be on time for our ride back to the farm.

IMG_2792 IMG_2884 IMG_2886 IMG_2889 IMG_2908After several more grueling days under the sun, we were finally given a full day off, though a day of rest was not in our cards.  Early Saturday morning, we were shuttled off to the nearby town of Fontvielle to catch a bus to the ancient town of Arles.  Situated along the Rhône river, Arles houses the remains of a number of Roman structures, and holds distinction as one of the cities in which Vincent Van Gogh lived for a period of time.  Our visit coincided with a day long music festival in honor of the summer solstice that took place in various spots throughout the city.  There was also a considerable amount of space given to an outdoor market, part of which housed home goods, clothing, and decorative jewelry, and a larger part of which was given over to produce and prepared foods.  We made our way through the first part of the market, before heading over to the banks of the river for an early morning walk.  We took in the ruins of the Roman columns that had once supported a moving bridge.  From the river, we worked our way back through town, this time seeking out the ancient colosseum.  Given my tight budget, I decided to view the ruins from the outside only, while Jannette toured the inside.  Our early start coupled with all the walking worked up our appetites, so we went back over to the market, and slowly made our way through, carefully inspecting every stall.  In the end, I decided on a baguette, some olives, and a truly decadent artichoke and garlic spread as my lunch, while Jannette bought some magnificent looking strawberries.  We spread our picnic on a patch of grass in the shade, and took a much needed rest.

We were soon back to wandering about the town, stopping at the ruins of the amphitheater (the entirety of which I could see from outside), as well as the Van Gogh museum.  The endless cobblestone squares passed under our feet, each one recalling the last we saw, until another break was in order.  We stopped at one of the hole in the wall cafes, where there was barely room to stand, let alone sit indoors, but which provided several tables outdoors, sheltered from the sun by large umbrellas.  As we took stock of our travels, we decided that no further exploration was necessary, and though we still had several hours before we could return to the farm, our walking would remain at a minimum.  To help pass the time, we went back to the colosseum, where earlier we had met a young American ex-pat, who made his way by cutting coins into jewelry.  He had a large stock of precut pieces that included coins from all over the world, including the old francs, American money, and even a few Israeli agurot (like pennies, except 10 agurot is the smallest denomination available).  I was quite taken with the agurot until he showed me a piece not on display, an old Israeli shekel, adorned with the magnificent lion, and an embossed ישראל (Israel).  IMG_2955 IMG_2959 IMG_2974 IMG_2977 IMG_2981

This piece was not for sale, but it happened to be the only photo of the coins that I took.

This piece was not for sale, but it happened to be the only photo of the coins that I took.

To my misfortune, I had neither the money nor anything interesting to trade for it, though it was not for lack of trying.  We sat on the curb of the street, chatting with him while he wrapped up his sales for the day (though I think we also proved to be a considerable distraction to business), before setting off to engage in the age old French pastime of wine drinking.  The three of us found a small wine shop not far from the river bank, where we purchased a bottle of local rosé, and then split while sitting on the steps to the river walk.  There was a band performing at a nearby cafe that served as our live soundtrack, enhanced by the golden sunset dancing across the water. When we once again met up with the farmers, after dusk had fallen, we took a brief detour to participate in some French folk dances that had sprung up around one of the bands.  The last dance saw us mixed with a crowd of locals, in a large circle, alternating men and women.  The men and women then split into an outer and inner circle by gender, where we followed along with the movements, twirling together with a partner, only to be spun away to the next.  It was the kind of spirited, cultural affair one imagines could only happen in a movie, but it was magical just the same.

Essential French for the Traveling Vegan

When I first went to Europe at age 17, just after my high school graduation, I brought along a print out list of words in several different languages regarding the food I did and didn’t eat. Being that I had studied French for three years, and that I was on the trip with my French teacher, I wasn’t worried about describing my dietary needs while I was in France (every other country was a different story, especially Italy). That handy list has been lost to time, but for those of you who are worried about traveling and eating in France, I’ve put together a short list of phrases that might be helpful when dining out. Please let me know if any of you have any specific phrases you would like to know, and for those of you who are native French speakers, feel free to correct any grammar mistakes I may have missed.

A note on pronunciation: I tried my best to represent the phonetics of this in a way that’s accessible to everyone. If anyone would prefer me to add IPA, I will be more than happy to do so (because IPA is the best).  Don’t worry too much about having perfect pronunciation, most people you encounter will appreciate your making an effort.  Most importantly, enjoy your journeys!

Essential French for the Traveling Vegan

végétarien/ne*-vegetarian

végétalien/ne*- vegan

végétal- plant-based

lait- milk

oeuf/s (euhf/euh)-eggs

viand-meat

poulet-chicken

poisson-fish

boeuf-beef

fruites (froo-ee)-fruit

jambon-ham

miël-honey

beurre-butter

sans-without

rien-none

soja- soy

lait du soja- soy milk

fromage- cheese

legumes-vegetables

biologique-organic

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Je suis végétalien/ne*

Juh soo-ee vegetal-ee-ãh**/ehn

“I am vegan”

Je ne mange rien…( du lait, des oeufs, de viand, de poulet, de poisson, du fromage, de miël)

Juh nuh mahnj ree-ãh (doo ley, deyz euh, duh vee-ahnd, duh poo-ley, duh pwah-sãw, doo fro-mahj, duh mee-ehl)

“I do not eat any…(milk, eggs, meat, chicken, fish, cheese, honey)”

Avez-vous quelque chose végétal?

Ah-vey voo kel-kuh shoz veh-jeh-tal?

“Do you have anything plant-based”

Je voudrais un café avec lait du soja
juh voo-drey uh kafey ah-vek ley du soja

“I would like coffee with soy milk”

Pouvez-vous faire mon répas sans beurre?

Poo-vey voo fair mohn rey-pah sahn beuhr

“Can you please make my meal without butter”

*The second option (with the “ne”) is the feminine ending

**That’s a nasalized vowel, there are a few of them in here, but my keyboard wouldn’t allow me to put a tilda (~) over all of them.  Don’t worry too much about it, English speakers are not very good at nasalized vowels in isolation–meaning there is no nasal consonant ( “m” “n” or “ng”, that’s “ŋ” for the other linguists out there) overtly pronounced.

My last note on my experience with vegan food in France: I was generally on my own, so I steered clear of restaurants that didn’t specifically serve vegan or vegetarian food, and I can’t speak to the willingness of chefs to accommodate special dietary needs.  I did, however, discover (at least in Paris) that most regular cafes do not carry soy milk, you’d have to go to a speciality cafe or Starbucks.  That being said, wherever your travels within France (or the world in general) take you, happycow.net is a great resource for vegan and vegetarian restaurants that can be searched by location. Even though it might seem like France is the land of butter and foie gras, there are plenty of great veg places out there, and I definitely didn’t go hungry.

Le fabuleux destin d’une petite végan: Nice

As I glimpsed a sparkle from the brilliantly blue Mediterranean from the airplane window, my excitement began to bubble over.  This was it! I was really going to France!  While I hesitate to call myself a full-blown Francophile, given that my interests are mostly linguistic, I’ve always had a soft spot for “l’Hexagone”.  My decision to learn French was made nearly twenty years ago, when I became friends with a girl in my kindergarten class whose family was Quebeçois.  During playdates at her house, they never hesitated to speak French to one another, though they would always pardon themselves due to my monolingualism, and translated for me if necessary.  Naturally, I decided that when I got older, I too would learn French, so I could share in the foreign language fun.  If I’d only known how much easier it would have been to begin a second language at five than at fourteen, I would have insisted my parents find me French lessons immediately (and I would have had many more built in opportunities to practice, unlike with my music lessons).

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As planned, however, I began studying French when I began high school, and I was fairly determined to become a proficient speaker, though this goal was still very much a dream by the time I graduated–even as a member of the French Honor Society.  I continued my French studies in university, where my first French professor increased my proficiency by leaps and bounds, and inspired me to pursue French as my minor.  All told, when I graduated, I had taken as many French classes, as I had linguistics classes, but I still felt uncomfortable with everyday speaking and understanding–hence the desire to spend an extended period of time in France.

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Some sort of mist park

IMG_2743My arrival in Nice washed over me as waves of relief that I was once again in a country where I had some knowledge of the local language.  While I had no issues with being understood in Germany, I felt supremely uncomfortable that I couldn’t respond with anything in German, even if I’d tried.  From the moment I disembarked from the plane, all of my vocabulary came back to me, despite having some trouble recalling French while I was in Israel and studying Hebrew regularly.  I purchased a bus ticket, tout en français, and made my way to my hostel, all while pulling my 30+ kilos of luggage behind me.  In total, I had less than a day to spend in Nice, and I’d done next to no research on what to do there.  While the beach was definitely on my list, finding food became my first priority.  It turned out, there was one vegan restaurant in the city, and it was only several blocks from my hostel, but it didn’t open for dinner for another hour or so.  I took that as a sign that I should definitely do some wandering (and see if there were any snackums to be found along the way…I was famished after a day of traveling).  With no snackums to be found, I took in the brightly colored buildings of Place Masséna, as well as the grey pebbles of the Niçoise shoreline.

IMG_2741The vegan restaurant whose opening I was awaiting is called Le Speakeasy.  It is owned and operated by an American ex-pat for the last fifteen or so years.  It is the tiniest hole in the wall, with maybe three tables tops.  The menu was made up of rustic, daily specials, inspired by the local cuisine.  For my dinner, I settled on the daily vegetable torte, which was a homemade gluten free crust filled with tender potatoes and sweet leeks.  It came with a fresh side salad, plus unlimited black olives and fresh, whole grain bread.  I also figured that since I was in France, I may as well get a glass of wine to go alongside my meal.  By the time I left, I was deeply satisfied, and was ready to once again wander around Vieux Nice.  I found myself along a pedestrian route running parallel to the sea that was filled to the brim with all manner of restaurants (but mostly Italian ones).  As I ambled along, taking in the menus full of food items I wouldn’t touch, I glimpsed a sandwich board advertising “glace sans lait”…”Glace sans lait!”  I thought, “Why, that sounds almost like it might be vegan ice cream!”  Though I was fairly certain I would only find a selection of fruit sorbets, I went inside the shop anyway, and asked which of their products didn’t have milk.  The young man pointed me towards about 5 tubs full of what looked like some pretty legit gelato.  I confirmed again with him that they were milk free, before promptly tasting all of them.  My choice, of course, was not difficult, as they had a hazelnut option, and I am never one to pass up a good hazelnut gelato.  I slowly consumed my gelato as I made my way back to the hostel, and settled in for some good, old-fashioned internetting.

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Artichokes at the fruit and flower market

Artichokes at the fruit and flower market

My train to the farm wasn’t scheduled until 2pm the next afternoon, so I woke up on the early side in order to catch the free hostel breakfast, which I believe consisted of toast with confiture (ok fine, jam), and some cereal that I sincerely prayed was vegan.  While I intended to do a bit more exploring before leaving the city, I also had some errands to run, like buying shoes I could wear to work on a farm (and also probably go hiking in), and buying a phone card.  I somehow managed to accomplish both almost entirely in French, much to my personal pride, and I also got to make my first trip to LUSH in over eight months.  As a reward, I bought myself a serving of socca from the fruit and flour market in the old city.  Socca is Niçoise speciality consisting of a chickpea flour pancake.  It has a rich, savory flavor, enhanced by a touch of salt and pepper (and possibly a hint of rosemary), that is crisp on the outside, but becomes almost creamy as you reach the interior of the oversized chickpea crepe.  It is naturally vegan, and officially one of my new favorite foods.  I took my greasy paper full of socca and went down to the shore, for a last bit of seaside fun before moving my journey along.

Socca and pissaladiere stand in the fruit and flower market

Socca and pissaladière stand in the fruit and flower market

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A savory mess of chickpea deliciousness

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