Apricot Truffles Recipe

There was a time when I mainly jogged in the morning, thinking it was a great way to start my day.  There’s crisp new air, chilly dew… you can almost hear the neighborhood cracking its joints with a sleepy stretch and every sound has a tiny echo for a lack of competition.

But then I discovered dusk.  Maybe there’s something about working from home that makes it feel so good to close my computer and literally run out the door.  I remember I’m a person again.  My music, my heartbeat and the thump of my legs that have been itching to get out of a seated position… they all bring me back to myself.

Unlike morning runs with its thin young atmosphere, at dusk the air is fatter…  older and a little wiser.  It carries the humidity of the day and all the smells, too.  Sometimes I can tell you my route just from the smells.  Two blocks down is the white house.  The woman who lives there wears Eternity for Women, and I think she must spray on more just before she leaves work… there’s always a trail of it on sidewalk from her Rav4 to the walkway.  Another block down someone seems to be cooking pot roast nearly every night of the week.   Three more blocks, and they’re doing the customary laundry with extra dryer sheets at the green house with the bunting.

Then, too, there’s something about the way the sun goes down turns the remaining light into an amplifier, making any colors around you turn electric.  Flowers, leaves on the ground, stones.  Everything takes on a little more color and texture.  It’s like a little motionless parade before night comes.  And it’s just for you!

If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a brilliant sunset…

Apricot Truffles

Hands-On Time:  10 minutes
Total Time:  10 minutes
Makes approximately 12 truffles

Gluten-free, all natural, vegan, easy, minimal mess, practically raw

Special equipment: food processor or griddle

Ingredients

1 ½ cups / 255g dried apricots
½ cup / 40g slivered raw almonds
¼ cup / 20g flaked dry coconut*
¼ teaspoon almond extract
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder*

Directions

Combine all ingredients, except cocoa powder, in your food processor.  Pulse until very fine.  Form mixture into bite-sized balls, about 3 cm in diameter.  Roll apricot balls in cocoa powder to coat.

Refrigerate truffles for 10 minutes before serving.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  They’ll keep for several days.

*Notes on variations/substitutions

Flaked dry coconut – I like to use flaked vs. shredded coconut because the larger pieces seem to retain more flavor due to less surface area exposed to air… and because I like to snack on them like potato chips!  You can substitute shredded coconut, though.  Just use a little under ¼ cup to match volume.

Dutch-processed cocoa powder – Please note that if using natural unsweetened cocoa in place of  Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa, the result will be a tad bitter in taste.  The alkali used in Dutch-processing reduces the acidic/bitter taste of powdered cocoa. More info can be found in this article from the one-and-only David Lebovitz.  Want to leave out the cocoa all together?  Shredded coconut or carob powder make good substitutes here.  Or just leave them unadorned!

Soy-Free Shan Tofu

I feel like a lucky explorer today, and I’ll tell you why.  It’s because I was flipping thru a new Asian Tofu cookbook (a gift from Sis & The Guitar Man) and found a certain recipe, had a light-bulb-moment and made way to the kitchen, a whisk and a good dose of inspiration in hand.

A couple days and several recipes later, I was feeling downright smug.  “This stuff is so simple, so versatile, so delicious!”, I thought, and did a quick little jig before J could see me (I try to spread out the instances he catches me dancing or singing to myself in the kitchen, it maintains the illusion his wife has some tiny sliver of poise).

Before I get ahead of myself, I should explain what this recipe is for, right?  Well, it’s not the Shmoo… its tofu.  No, don’t leave yet!  Let me finish, I promise its not what you’re thinking.  No complex ingredient lists (coagulants?  NO!), no special presses…. and no soy.  What’s that?  You read that right.  This is Shan tofu.  A chickpea version from Burma that has somehow escaped my notice until now.

This is puzzling considering how beautifully simple this is.  In fact, there’s just THREE ingredients: salt, chickpea flour, and water.  And unlike soy tofu, this chickpea tofu involves only two specialized skills:

a)  the ability to whisk something
b)  the ability to boil water

…and all that “effort” takes you a whopping 10 minutes and then its off the chill in the fridge (though you could use it the minute it is room temperature for some things).

Flavor and texture-wise, it is not the same animal as soy tofu.  The texture is similar to a chilled polenta.  Sauteed, they get a nice crispy exterior and baked (or fried) they puff up but retain a creamy, almost custard-y center.

Chickpeas have a nice, natural nuttiness, but its awfully nice that you can also add your own spices and flavors right to the mixture.  So far I have used them as everything from a dessert, to snacks, to noodle dishes and salad toppers, and I’m still finding new ways to use it (the book mentions shaving them to make “noodles”!).  A few things I’ve tried mixing into the batter are:

2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2 teaspoons ground coriander and 1 teaspoon Ancho chili powder for spicy tofu to toss into salads

Add 1 tablespoon of curry powder for tofu you add to Asian noodle dishes or cut to make baked “fries”

Replace ½ cup of the initial 2 cups with maple syrup, add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of nutmeg.  Let mixture chill for several hours up to overnight, then cut into squares, toss with a neutral oil (like coconut oil) and bake for 25 – 30 minutes at 400 F until puffy and golden.  Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup or some raw sugar and cinnamon, and you have something like a vegan doughnut.

Shan Tofu – Chickpea Tofu

Hands-On Time:  10 minutes
Total Time:  2 – 24 hours
Serves 6

Gluten-free, all natural, vegan, easy, soy-free

Ingredients

2 cups / 150g chickpea flour (also called garbanzo flour, or Besan)*
6 cups / 1.4 liters water
1 ½ teaspoons table salt
Neutral oil for greasing pan(s)

Directions

Lightly oil pans or wide bowls for tofu to chill in later.  I use a 15 x 10 baking dish most often, but two 8×8 cake pans or 8-inch pie pans would work as well, for example.  Ceramic or glass vessels work best, but a 17-inch rimmed baking sheet lined with oiled parchment can work as well (just lift out the chilled tofu to cut it to avoid damaging the metal surface).

Whisk together chickpea flour and salt in a medium bowl and add 2 cups / 470ml water.  Whisk to incorporate.

Place your remaining 4 cups / 950ml water in a large, shallow pan or pot and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to medium-high, give your chickpea mixture a final whisking, and then pour in a steady stream into your boiling water, whisking continuously.

Lower heat to medium-low and cook mixture for 5 minutes, stirring continually and scraping sides to avoid burning.  After 5 minutes, the mixture will be smooth, thick and have a nice sheen.  If there are a few lumps, don’t worry, just try to get it as smooth as you can.

Immediately pour mixture into prepared pans, and allow to set and cool to room temperature. Once cool, transfer to the refrigerator and allow to chill for 1 hour, up to 24 hours.  The longer it chills, the firmer the texture.  At 1 hour, it will be firm enough to cut and use as cubes of tofu in salads and for snacking.  At 3 – 4 hours, it can be used for more “sturdy” applications like stir-fries and as baked “fries”.

Store in its pan, covered securely in plastic wrap for 3 – 4 days in the refrigerator, and slice portions as needed.

Cherry Rosemary Quinoa Granola

Growing up, ‘granola’ was a bad word in my book.  It brought back memories of a health food store in Oak Park, IL that I would rather have forgotten. It was a typical mid-1980’s health food store, with that universal musty carob powder and B vitamins smell.

My mother would drag me inside to peruse the rows of bulk dry goods, the canisters with wan-looking yogurt-covered pretzels pressed their waxy faces against the insides of their jars in a way that reminded me of abandoned puppies. And there was a frozen yogurt machine in the corner that dispensed pure disappointment in the form of a soul-crushingly tart and icy ‘alternative soft serve’.

To the eyes of an adult, there clearly was some kind of appeal here, but much like the Iran-Contra affair, this was something my six-year-old self was unable to fathom.

It was here that I first tried granola.  My mother, knowing lunch was another hour away, pressed me to grab a sample while she shopped.  Taking a grudging mouthful, I noted that the texture oddly managed to simultaneously be dry anddamp.  It was nearly tasteless but for a hit of sweetness and impossible to chew properly, making its way down my throat nearly unblemished by teeth.   I was filled with a deep foreboding that I would be able to identify each component all too easily when I saw them again later that evening.

Fast forward to a few years ago, when I started to see locally made granolas in bakeries and recipes popping up on some of my favorite food blogs such as Playful Cooking.  Suddenly the possibility of granola with adjectives like “fresh” and “flavorful” seemed within reach.  Making your own granola is the perfect opportunity to experiment a little with traditional flavors, too.  I added rosemary & cherries to mine, in a nod to one of my favorite cookies in Chicago from the bakery Flourish, which is now tragically closed.

Rosemary adds a little floral note that tastes amazing with Mineola orange supremes and tart Greek yogurt.  For snacking, try adding a binding agent (options listed in the recipe) so you can have the chunky bits to grab onto as you munch.  Quinoa is another fresh addition.  Toasting quinoa is a common thing in South America, and J and I found it in snacks everywhere in Peru.  It adds a pop-y crunch and extra nutrition… not to mention a neat, pixelated look.

I have a feeling the 80’s version of granola would have found rosemary and quinoa as foreign and confusing as a Rubix cube, but thankfully we’ve come a long way since then.  Which I think is just totally tubular.

Cherry Rosemary Quinoa Granola

Hands-On Time:  10 minutes
Total Time:  40 – 50 minutes
Serves 10

Gluten-free, all natural, vegetarian or vegan, easy

Ingredients
¾ cup / 140g raw quinoa
2 ½ cups / 200g rolled oats (if gluten-sensitive, be sure to use certified gluten-free oats)
1 cup / 170g raw chopped almonds
½ cup / 60g raw pecan halves
⅛ cup whole flax seeds
¼ cup / 50g natural brown sugar (I use organic coconut palm sugar)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup / 85g honey or agave nectar
2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil, melted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup / 160g dried cherries
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced (optional)

Optional binding agent (see note above)
2 large egg whites*

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 F / 150 C

Line a 16 x 12 x 1 inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat.

In a large bowl, combine quinoa, oats, almonds, pecan halves, flax seeds, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together honey, butter or coconut oil, and vanilla extract.

If using egg whites, fold them in now.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until combined. In an even layer, spread the granola onto your prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until granola is golden brown, stirring and tossing once about halfway thru baking.

Remove from oven and stir in the dried cherries and rosemary. Let granola cool completely.

Serve over plain yogurt with orange supremes, as a cereal, or as a snack (binding agent suggested for snacking use)

Store in a dry place in an airtight container for up to one month.

*Egg whites – To make a vegan binding agent, make a slurry of 2 tablespoons ground chia seeds (or flax seeds) combined with 2 tablespoons boiling water, and stir.