These past few weeks I’ve been very creative in the kitchen and I have two men to thank for that. The first one is world famous and a master of multicultural food blends, whereas the other is one of Belgium’s up-and-coming chefs with a Michelin star under his belt. I’m talking about Yotam Ottolenghi and Michaël Vrijmoed. I’m sure all foodies out there will have heard from the former (no matter which country you live in), so I will start with the latter, for I’m guessing you will probably have never heard of him (unless you’re either Belgian –like me- or a total wacko foodie – like me.)
Vrijmoed is a young Belgian chef (who also does TV cooking shows once and a while), who opened his own first restaurant “Vrijmoed” a couple of years ago, which was awarded a Michelin star last year. I had been yearning to go there for quite some time, because his restaurant also offers an entire vegetarian menu, which is incredibly rare among gastronomic restaurants. My wish finally came true last weekend when my family was looking for a special restaurant to celebrate my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary at.
Needless to say, I was in seventh heaven. Vrijmoed truly is a genius when it comes to pairing vegetables, spices and textures. I even daresay that the five course “pure vegetables” menu was the best food I have EVER tasted in my ENTIRE life. And coming from me, that means a lot! Not just because I’ve eaten my way through plenty of delicious meals in my life and therefore tend to shy away from making pompous statements like that, but also because I used to think that Michelin Star restaurants were the prime example of style over substance. Lots of money, but tiny portions.
Well, I take that all back. Vrijmoed was worth every damn penny! And after a five-course meal with plenty of booze you definitely don’t feel the need to go to the chippy afterwards.
So if you ever find yourself in Ghent and are looking for a really really really nice place to eat –and you’ve got some money you want to spend- this is the place to be!
Inspired by all the bold flavour pairings, I conjured up this marvelous salad:
Marinated Beetroot with Yellow Plum, Feta, Peppery Cress and COFFEE AND COCOA CARAMELIZED NUTS
There is a reason why I went all “CAPs Lock” crazy on the nuts. The sweetness of the caramel works brilliantly with the bitterness of the coffee and cocoa and trust me when I say that these nuts are a true sensation in combination with the earthy sweetness of the beetroot, the sour-sweet plum, the tangy sharp cheese and the peppery cress.
For the nuts:
- Handful of nuts, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp honey
- ½ tsp instant espresso coffee powder
- ½ tsp cocoa powder
For the beetroot:
- 2 small to medium beetroots, peeled cut into slices
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ¼ tsp sumac
- Lime juice
- 1 tsp honey
- Salt and pepper
For the salad:
- 2 yellow plums, stone removed and cut into chunks
- 50gr feta cheese
- Blanch the beetroot slices for a couple of minutes. Drain and put the slices into a large bowl with some salt and pepper, sumac, olive oil, honey and a good squeeze of lime juice. Set aside for half an hour and let it marinade.
- Make the caramelized nuts. Roast the nuts in a small pan. Add the honey, cocoa and coffee and let is fry for a minutes. Add a splash of water to make sure the nuts don’t burn. Let the nuts get all sticky and crunchy.
- Dress the beetroot on a plate together with the plum, cress and feta cheese. Finally sprinkle over the delish nuts and serve.
Now let’s move on to Ottolenghi. He’s the master of Middle Eastern cuisine who taught me all about za’atar, tahini and hummus and who has been teaching the world, book by book and recipe by recipe, that vegetarian food is the future. His new cookbook “Plenty More” is the epitome of yumminess and demonstrates that cooking without meat and fish is anything but boring. This book has become my culinary Bible. It has given me so much inspiration these past few weeks that I’m in a constant state of utter foodie brain activity.
The following recipe is based on one of his recipes:
Caramelized Figs with Pink Grapefruit, Feta, Pink Pepper and Rocket Salad
- 3 figs, halved
- 1 pink grapefruits, peeled and cut into slices
- Rocket leaves
- 80gr feta cheese, crumbled
- ½ tsp pink pepper corns
- ¼ tsp star anise
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- Heat the sugar in a large pan and let it caramelize. Add the figs, cut-side down, and let them fry for a couple of minutes on a medium heat. Add a splash of water to make sure the caramel doesn’t burn. Add the pink pepper and star anise. When the figs are starting to get tender, turn off the heat and add the slices of grapefruit. Be careful not to overcook the figs, they should be soft, not mushy and the grapefruit should still hold its shape and be lukewarm.
- Put the rocket leaves on a plate. Add the figs and grapefruit and sprinkle on the feta cheese and some extra pink pepper corns.