About Vegan for the Holidays Blog

I'm the author of Vegan for the Holidays Cookbook and The Nut Gourmet Cookbook and write food articles for vegan publications. Love to develop new vegan recipes and love how the vegan lifestyle keeps me in great shape physically and mentally. Would love to connect with other like minded bloggers.

VEGAN GREEN POSOLE FOR CHRISTMAS EVE!!!

Posole

The Scoop on Posole–WHAT IS IT?

Posole, a traditional Mexican soup, is such an integral part of Mexican cuisine, some consider it the country’s national dish. If you’re in Mexico on a Thursday, you might enter a restaurant and see nearly everyone dipping their spoons into bowls of posole.

Where posole really shines in Mexican households is on Christmas Eve. For several nights before Christmas Eve, Las Posadas is a fun family tradition in Mexican households. With traditional songs and a bit of play-acting, family members retell the story of Mary and Joseph on their journey to find shelter before Jesus is born. Those playing Mary and Joseph knock on the door and sing their request for shelter and are told several times there is no room. On Christmas Eve, they are welcomed in, resulting in a happy celebration and a hearty meal of posole and all the typical accompaniments added to the soup.

Because posole is such a delicious soup made with ingredients available year ’round , it’s an ideal make-ahead hot meal any time, but becomes extra celebratory at Christmas time. The real fun with posole is the variety of add-ins typically spooned into the soup, creating interesting textures for the soup adventure.

 Where did the name posole come from?

Taken from the Aztec Nahuatl language, “posole” means foam. Apparently the Aztecs thought the voluptuous posole, or hominy kernels, resembled foam and named the soup potzolli. The soup dates back to the pre-Columbian era. In the true Mexican tradition, posole is actually made with pork and, sometimes, chicken, but this version is strictly vegan. Typical Mexican seasonings include garlic, onions, cumin, oregano, and red or green chiles, depending on regional preferences.

Posole corn, prepared from field corn, was made by the ancient Aztecs in limestone caves. Today’s process of soaking the corn in powdered lime and water results in the familiar puffed, chewy kernels known as hominy. The actual posole corn, which might be white, yellow, or blue, is sweeter and tastier than hominy but is not readily available in chain groceries.

Is posole a cure for a hangover?

If you think posole has curing powers, you head for a big bowl of it. In some regions of Mexico people think  it’s the hot chiles that have given posole its reputation for curing hangovers. Because of this notability, posole is often served on Saturday and Sunday mornings to aid recovery from the past night’s revelry.

Posole waves the colors of the Mexican flag

There are many variations of posole. The soup can be red, green, or white, like the colors of the Mexican flag. Red posole gets its bright color from roasted red chiles. The green posole is made from tomatillos and thickened with ground pumpkin seeds, while the white posole contains hominy in a clear broth with chiles served on the side.

Posole, a festive meal in a bowl, makes a hearty main-dish soup served on special occasions throughout Mexico and is frequently served on Christmas Eve to recognize life’s blessings. When served on New Year’s Day, posole is thought to bring good luck. One of the main ingredients that give this dish distinctive character is hominy, a specially treated white or yellow corn with a pleasantly light flavor and chewy texture. The soup is more festive when accompanied by a banquet of add-ins served on the side, along with corn or flour tortillas.

Add-ins to enhance the soup

The long list of Add-ins I’ve included in the recipe represents all the regional preferences throughout Mexico. Rarely do people serve all of these at the same meal. Choose your favorites and enjoy a delicious bowl of green posole. It makes Christmas Eve dinner a  hearty, jubilant meal.

Holy Moly Posole/Add-ins

 HOLY MOLY GREEN POSOLE

 Yield: 5 to 6 servings

1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds

1 1/4 pounds fresh tomatillos, husks removed

3 cups vegetable broth or water

1 (14-ouncew) can diced tomatoes

2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1/2 to 2 jalapeno chiles, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 large zucchini, chopped, or 4 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths

1 red bell pepper, or 1 carrot, chopped

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 (1 pound, 13-ounce) can hominy, undrained, or 1 (15-ounce) can corn kernels, undrained

1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

Lemon juice

1 1/2 cups Tofu Sour Cream (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a 17 1/2 x 12 1/2 inch rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes or until toasted. Alternatively, toast the pumpkin seeds in a skillet over high heat, stirring constantly for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Immediately transfer them to a plate to cool. Put the seeds in a blender or food processor. Process until ground to a fine meal.

Wash the tomatillos under running water. (They will retain their somewhat sticky surface.) Slice them into quarters and put them in an 8-to 10-quart stockpot.

Add the vegetable broth, the canned and fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, coriander, garlic powder, oregano, and chili powder. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium, uncover, and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the zucchini and bell pepper and cook 5 to 8 minutes. Add the black beans, pinto beans, hominy with liquid, salt, and the reserved ground pumpkin seeds and cook another 5 minutes to thicken the posole.

Before serving, add the lemon juice and adjust the seasonings. Ladle the posole into large soup bowls, and place a dollop of Tofu Sour Cream into each serving. Serve the add-ins of your choice on the side.

Red Posole/Jackfruit

Add-ins: Sliced radishes, chopped onions, shredded lettuce, shredded green cabbage, diced avocados, sliced green or black olives, crushed baked tortilla chips, steamed or mashed chopped chayote squash, hot sauce, shredded vegan Jack, Cheddar, or nacho cheese, lime wedges, dried oregano, chopped cilantro.

Tofu Sour Cream

1 (12.4-ounce box extra-firm silken tofu, drained

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Use immediately or refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours to thicken. Stored in a tightly covered container and refrigerated the Tofu Sour Cream will keep for 1 week.

 

FIGGY LOVE IN EVERY BITE!

Fig CrackersFIGGY WAFERS

Hunting for a stand-out holiday appetizer? I think I’ve got just the one!

Welcome your holiday guests with something warming to sip and a surprise taste adventure to invigorate the appetites –a platter of Figgy Wafers. Beautiful little flavor-infused morsels, these delicious crackers stand out because of a generous measure of aromatic cardamom to complement the sweetness of the figs.

While these irresistible little wafers make wonderful tidbits without accompaniments, pair them with a thin slice of vegan cheese and send your happy little flavor receptors into vegan nirvana. Even better, top the crackers with a slice of banana and then put the cheese on top.

Fig CrackersPlan ahead for the holidays by making one or more batches of the recipe, rolling them into logs, and freezing them. Then, when you’re planning to serve them, it takes only a few minutes to slice and bake them.

 FIGGY WAFERS

 

Yield: about 40 slices

10 dried figs, either black or golden

1/4 cup rum or brandyFig Crackers

1/2 cup whole almonds

1 cup Old Fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup dairy-free margarine

  1. Have ready a large bowl and a pair of kitchen scissors. Using the scissors, snip off and discard the tough stems from the figs and snip the figs into small dice into the bowl. Pour the rum over the figs and set aside to soak for several hours or overnight.
  2. Combine the almonds, rolled oats, flour, ground cardamom, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are finely ground.
  3. Add the margarine and pulse until the mixture becomes crumbly. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the figs and use a fork to blend the mixture into a dough.
  4. Form the dough into a long log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 3 or 4 hours, or until solidly frozen. The log will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  5. When ready to bake the wafers, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
  6. Unwrap the frozen log and use a firm, thin-bladed knife to cut it into 1/8-inch slices. Put them on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Carefully, lift the wafers with a metal spatula and transfer them to a platter to cool completely.

Fig CrackersA Note About Cardamom

Because cardamom is not as familiar a spice as cinnamon, it frequently gets overlooked. But give it an opportunity to show its mojo and you’ll be hooked.

cardamom-greenYou can buy this spice already ground into a powder in the spice section of most markets. You can also find it in Asian and Indian markets where it’s available in whole pods or already ground. While the ground cardamom is certainly more convenient, it quickly loses its pungency and its flavor fades.Cardamom brown

For its flavor delightful strength I much prefer to buy the whole pods and crush the small seeds with a pestle. Really fresh pods are green, but if they’ve been around awhile, they turn beige. It’s a bit painstaking because first I pound each pod to open it. The, one-by-one by hand I open each pod and empty the seeds into the mortar. You can also put the seeds into a spice grinder for a quicker grinding process.

POMEGRANATE SALAD WINS THE HOLIDAY RIBBON!

Pomegranate Apple Salad5 copyPOMEGRANATE-APPLE SALAD WITH GINGER AND MINT

Taking full advantage of the fruits of the season, this sweet and tangy tart salad makes an eye-appealing side dish, adding diversity in flavor and texture. And, it’s so easy to assemble. You’ll quickly notice that with each bite of this zesty and flavorful fruit mélange, the plump, juice-filled pomegranate seeds release their rich, ambrosial juices, and deliver bracing sweetness with a pleasing crunch.

I’ve made this salad many times over the years and discovered it’s easy to vary its good looks by sometimes cutting the fruits into small dice, while on other days I make the salad much chunkier.whole-and-sliced-pomegranates

Unfortunately, this is not a salad you can make a day or two ahead because it rather dramatically loses its bright looks as well as fresh flavors. You CAN remove the seeds from the pomegranate a day or two ahead and refrigerate them.  If you make sure to have everything at hand, it’s a fairly quick assembly.

 POMEGRANATE-APPLE SALAD WITH GINGER AND MINT

 Yield: 6 servings

1 large pomegranate

2 sweet, crisp apples, unpeeled, choppedPomegranate Apple Salad5 copy

8 ounces edamame, cooked and shelled

1 navel orange, peeled and chopped

3 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 to 3 heaping teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves

  1. Carefully following the handy directions below, remove the pomegranate seeds, drain them well and put them in a large bowl.
  1. Add the apples, edamame, orange, maple syrup, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, balsamic vinegar, ginger, and salt and toss well to distribute the ingredients evenly.
  1. Add half the mint leaves and mix well. Garnish the top of the salad with the remaining mint leaves. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Serve the salad within 2 hours to preserve the bright colors.

Two Techniques for Retrieving Pomegranate Seeds

Pomegranate-seeds1Removing the pomegranate seeds from a fresh pomegranate is easy. Here’s one handy technique:

  1. Put on an apron. Pomegranate juice will most likely splatter a bit, so protect your clothing. Have a deep bowl handy. Wash the pomegranate and cut it in half crosswise. Put the cut sides up and make a couple of cris-cross cuts into each half.
  2. Take one half, turn it upside-down over the bowl, and use your fingers and thumbs to break up the sections. Some of the seeds will begin to fall out. Tap on the top to release more seeds.
  3. Continue to use your fingers and thumbs to loosen the seeds from the pith by pushing on them until all the seeds are in the bowl. Use them immediately or put them into a covered container and refrigerate them. They’ll keep well for up to a week.

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Here’s another method that involves releasing the pomegranate seeds in water:

Ripe pomegranate on the branch. The foliage on the background.

Ripe pomegranate on the branch. The foliage on the background.

  1. Place a colander into a very large, deep bowl and fill the bowl with enough water to submerge a large pomegranate. A salad spinner is the perfect bowl and colander set-up.
  2. Put the pomegranate on a cutting board and cut the top off. Carefully, cut the pomegranate vertically into six sections.
  3. Working with one section at a time, lower it into the water with the seeds facing downward. Use your fingers to release the seeds into the water.
  4. Most of the seeds will sink to the bottom, while the pith floats to the top for easy removal with a skimmer. Repeat the process with the other pomegranate sections. Then, simply lift the colander and shake off the excess water.

For convenience, remove the pomegranate seeds a day ahead, put them in a container, and refrigerate them until ready to use. To prevent the naturally bright colors of the pomegranate seeds and edamame from becoming muddy looking, assemble the salad an hour or two before serving, and the salad will look bright and cheery and very inviting.

THE PERFECT ICE-BREAKER–A HOT BUBBLING APPETIZER!

Tomatoes overGARLIC TOMATOES AND SNOW MOUNTAIN

Who doesn’t welcome a warming, savory appetizer that invites the guests to “play in the pool” together! The perfect icebreaker and conversation starter for a holiday gathering, this dish urges everyone to dip chunks of sourdough bread into the steaming hot dish together. As the first dipper, you may need to demonstrate how to scoop some of the Garlic Tomato Sauce along with the Snow Mountain onto the bread. For squeamish dippers, providing spoons or spreading knives might make them more comfortable and is definitely less messy.

And don’t forget to provide plenty of napkins–this well-seasoned appetizer is outrageously delicious and lots of fun with everyone plunging into the bowl for the next bite–but it can also be a bit drippy.

This tangy and very winning appetizer is ideal for those extra-special times when you want to present a starter that stands apart. This is not one of those dishes everyone has in their repertoire–but you might be the first one to introduce it to your friends and family.

Party hosts love this recipe because it’s a delicious, make-head dish and can be prepared in three convenient stages: making the Garlic Tomatoes, preparing the Snow Mountain, and heating the dish just before serving).

All this starter needs is a basket of dipping breads like chunks of sourdough, soft or toasted whole-grain pita wedges, quartered toasted whole-grain bread, baked corn chips, or toasted cocktail breads. I think sourdough bread makes one of the tastiest bases for this sumptuous appetizer, but other choices are equally as good.

Here’s the process in a nutshell: Chop tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Cook them with herbs. Transfer them to a deep dish pie plate and set aside. Make the snow mountain. Spoon it into the pie plate. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Heat in the oven until bubbling and serve.

Tomato Ingredients

Tomatoes cooking

Herbs for seasoning

Tofu

Refrig appetizer

Tomatoes finishedIn addition to making a delightful appetizer, you might consider turning Garlic Tomatoes and Snow Mountain into a light lunch or dinner by providing a hearty salad before serving the bubbling starter. This is one of those dishes that’s really handy to have ready-made in your refrigerator when you’re busy shopping for holiday gifts, attending festive events, or rushing to the airport for out of town guests.

A NOTE ABOUT SEASONING DISHES IN GENERAL: I noticed that when I add salt at the end of cooking, the dish requires much less of the salt to bring up the flavor. This is especially true of tomato dishes that already contribute a rich, umami flavor–even without salt.

GARLIC TOMATOES AND SNOW MOUNTAIN

Yield: 10 to 12 servings as a starter or 5 to 6 as a light lunch or dinner

Garlic Tomatoes

2 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes, chopped

2 large onions, choppedTomato Ingredients

7 to 8 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt

Snow Mountain

1 pound firm or extra firm tofu

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juiceTofu

1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar

2 large garlic cloves

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon dill weed

1/2 teaspoon onion powderTomatoes over

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Garnish

Paprika

1 sprig fresh herbs (basil, mint, cilantro

  1. Have ready a 9- or 10-inch, deep-dish, heat-proof pie plate or an 8-inch square baking dish.
  2. TO MAKE THE GARLIC TOMATOES, combine the tomatoes and onions in a large, deep skillet and cook over high heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, thyme, oregano, and basil. Stirring frequently, cook about 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes and onions are broken down, the liquid evaporated, and the sauce is thickened and chunky.
  4. Add the salt and mix well. Adjust the seasonings, if needed. Transfer the garlic tomatoes to the pie plate, and set aside.
  5. TO MAKE THE SNOW MOUNTAIN, drain and rinse the tofu, break it into pieces, and put it in a food processor. Add the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt, coriander, dill weed, onion powder, and pepper and process until smooth and creamy.
  6. Spoon the tofu mountain into the center of the garlic tomatoes, forming a tall mound. Garnish with a sprinkle of parsley and place the herb sprig at the top of Snow Mountain. At this point you can refrigerate the appetizer until shortly before serving.
  7. PREPARE THE APPETIZER FOR SERVING: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. If you’re serving the dish shortly after preparing it, put the pie plate on a large, rimmed baking sheet for easy handling. Tuck the appetizer into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbling.
  8. Remove from the oven, sprinkle very lightly with paprika, and add the fresh herb sprig. Bring the bubbling appetizer to the table and set it on a trivet–and don’t forget the dipping breads!

Important:

If you’ve prepared the dish in advance and have chilled it, bring it out of the fridge about 2 or 3 hours before serving. Then pop it into the preheated oven.

If you’re taking it right from the fridge and want to heat it, put it on a baking sheet and pop it in a cold oven. Set the temperature to 400 degrees F. and warm for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until it is bubbling. Refrigerated, the leftovers keep well for up to 5 days.

Tomatoes finished

WARM, SWEET, AND SPICY PUNCH FOR HAPPY HOLIDAY TOASTING

Latin-Twist-cover-300Authors' photo

 

As a food blogger, my aim is to share those tasty bites and sips I think you will find as delightful as I do. I recently had the pleasure of meeting two exceptional authors and food bloggers at a presentation at Melissa’s Produce in Los Angeles (Melissas.com). Vianney Rodriguez and Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack teamed up to create a true thirst-quencher, Latin Twist, a gorgeous book filled with 97 traditional cocktail recipes from 18 Latin countries plus Spain.

At Melissa’s I was sampling five delicious “mocktails,” that is, the cocktails without alcohol. After tasting Ponche Navideno, I was enthralled with the flavors imparted by the exceptional combination of fruits, some familiar and some exotic. Not only did this festive beverage taste great, but it also emitted irresistibly sweet, spicy, and fruity aromas throughout the room. This was a recipe I knew I must share.

Don’t let the 20 servings discourage you from making this wonderfully satisfying punch. If you’re not serving a large group, you’ll have plenty for a cozy gathering of celebrants to enjoy seconds and thirds. You’ll need a large stockpot, about an 8- to 10-quart size.

PONCHE NAVIDENO

Ponche Navideno(Mexican Christmas Fruit Punch)

 Ponche Navideño is a hot punch served with or without alcohol during the holiday season and most generally during Las Posadas. On those chilly nights this fragrant infusion warms you from the inside out. The intoxicating aroma and perfumed air in your home will certainly entice your guests to give the drink a try. After that, they’re hooked. Brandy or tequila can be added, making it Ponche con Piquete (punch with a sting).

Makes 20 servingsCinnamon sticks

16 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks

8 whole cloves

5 long tamarind pods, husk removed, and seededTamarind pods

1/2 pound tejocotes or crab apples, left whole

6 large guavas, peeled and cut into large bite-size chunks

2 red apples (of your choice), peeled, cored, and cut into small bite-size chunks

1 pear (of your choice), peeled, cored, and cut into small bite-size chunks

2 (4-inch) sugarcane sticks, peeled and cut into small chunks

1 cup pitted prunespiloncillo

1/2 cup dark raisins

1 orange, sliced

8 ounces piloncillo, chopped, or 1 cup dark brown sugar

1 ounce brandy or tequila per cup (optional)

Directions:

Ponche NavidenoPlace the water, cinnamon sticks, cloves, tamarind pods, and tejocotes or crab apples in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. After it starts to boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the tejocotes are soft.

Remove the tejocotes or crab apples from the pot with a slotted spoon, peel, remove hard ends, cut in half, and deseed. Return them to the pot.

Add the guavas, apples, pear, sugarcane, prunes, raisins, orange slices, and piloncillo. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring gently. Discard cinnamon sticks and cloves.

To serve, ladle into coffee cups or mugs, making sure each cup gets some chunks of fruit. If desired, add 1 ounce of brandy or tequila to each cup.

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The two charming authors generously shared another warm, fruit-filled punch recipe from from Latin Twist that’s typically enjoyed at Christmas. Ponche de Frutas is similar to Ponche Navideno but has a few additional exotic flavors such as coconut, plantain, and a hint of ginger. Both can be sipped and thoroughly enjoyed with or without alcohol.

PONCHE DE FRUTAS

Makes 15 servings

16 cups waterhandful allspice berries

3 cinnamon sticks

4 whole allspice

1-inch piece fresh ginger

5 whole cloves

2 (8-ounce) bags dried fruit mix

1 pineapple, husked, cored, and diced

1/2 medium papaya, diced

4 red apples, diced

1 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup prunesplantains

1/2 cup raisins

3 plantains, diced

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark rum (optional)

In a large pot, bring the water to a boil with the cinnamon sticks, allspice, ginger, and cloves.

Add dried fruit mix, pineapple, papaya, apples, and coconut. Follow with prunes, raisins, plantains, and sugar. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring gently. When the fruit is cooked and sugar dissolved, remove from the heat and pour in the rum (if using).

Serve hot with some of the diced fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A PANFORTE TO DAZZLE CHOCOLATE LOVERS!

Chocolate Panforte

Panforte

CHOCOLATE PANFORTE

For those unfamiliar with this very special holiday treat, panforte is a divinely rich confection packed with dried fruits, nuts, and spices, baked in a 7-or 8-inch slab, and coated with confectioner’s sugar. The traditional Italian recipe contains glazed fruits, but I much prefer the sweet, tangy flavor dried fruits contribute to the recipe. When chocolate and lots of spice is added to the mixture, each bite becomes pure nirvana, delivering a delicious melt-in-the-mouth medley of fruit, nut, spice, and chocolate flavors all at once. In other words, all those heavenly flavors and textures you could possibly desire in a holiday candy.

This recipe is ideal for plan-ahead kitchen wizards who love to make their cookies and confections well-ahead of the holiday and freeze or refrigerate them. Then, when they need them, they can easily reach into the fridge or freezer and the muss and fuss is well behind.

Chocolate PanforteDuring the autumn season, I make several batches of panforte, wrap them in double layers of plastic wrap, and tuck them into the fridge. Knowing I’ll be entertaining and going to several parties during the holiday season, my early prep serves me quite well.

A homemade panforte also makes an fabulous gift that can be safely shipped to friends and family across the country without spoilage. Once they taste, the lucky recipients will send you messages filled with OMGs!

Panforte

Entertaining at home during the holidays, I like to serve the panforte as an extra treat. Several hours before dessert time, I remove the panforte from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for best flavor. Then, I unwrap a slab and put it on a colorful plate garnished with real or plastic holly. If the panforte is the only dessert, I’ll cut it into thin wedges like a pie. When serving it along with other desserts, I cut it into bite-size pieces, about 1-inch square. Because it’s quite rich, a little goes a long way.

Panforte makes an impressive homemade gift. Before gifting, tie a holiday ribbon over the plastic wrap, make a large bow, and present the panforte with a happy holiday wish. I like to add a touch of holly to the wrapping–it does such a great job of conveying the holiday message and makes an attractive addition to the presentation.

Here’s the process: Line the pie pans with parchment. Roast the nuts. Cut the fruits, Combine the fruits. Add spices and nuts. Make syrup and add to mixture. Spoon and press into parchment-lined pans. Bake. Cool. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Ready to wrap.

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

 

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

Chocolate PanforteCHOCOLATE PANFORTE

Yield: four 8-inch round slabs

Panforte

2 cups pecansChocolate Panforte

1 3/4 cups walnuts

1 1/4 cups almonds

1 cup dried dried apricots, diced (i used Melissa’s)

1 cup flour (oat, all purpose, or whole wheat pastry flour)

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries (I used Melissa’s from melissas.com)

Zest of 1 lemon or orange

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmegChocolate Panforte

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Chocolate Syrup

1 cup organic sugar

1 cup agave nectar

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into several pieces

1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and have ready 2 large rimmed baking sheets and four 8-inch pie pans or cake pans lined with enough parchment to drape generously over the sides. Place 2 pans on each baking sheet. Set aside.

TO MAKE THE PANFORTE, spread the pecans, walnuts, and almonds on one of the baking sheets and toast them in the oven for 9 minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to a large platter to cool and turn off the oven.

In an extra large bowl, combine the apricots, flour, sugar, raisins, dates, cranberries, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and pepper.

When the nuts are cool, add them to the bowl and mix well to distribute the ingredients evenly. Set aside.

TO MAKE THE SYRUP, combine the sugar and agave nectar in a 2 to 3-quart saucepan and mix well. Put the chocolate in a bowl and place it near the stove-top. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan and place the pan over medium-high heat. Boil until the temperature reaches 225 degrees F., approximately 5 minutes. This can happen very quickly. Do not stir during the boiling.

Turn off the heat as soon as the mixture reaches 225 degrees F. and stir in the chocolate. Continue stirring until the chocolate is completely melted.

Pour the chocolate syrup into the fruit-nut mixture and use a heavy-duty wooden spoon to stir and coat the ingredients completely. The mixture quickly becomes quite stiff and you’ll need to apply muscle power to combine the syrup and fruit-nut mixture.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Use a metal spoon to distribute the mixture equally among the prepared pans, a heaping spoonful at a time, packing it down before adding another. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely for several hours before removing the panforte slabs from the pans.

Then, carefully, remove the parchment from each slab and dust each heavily with the powdered sugar on both sides, using your hands to coat them completely.

TO SERVE THE PANFORTE, use a sharp, heavy-duty knife to cut the panforte into very thin wedges or into 1-inch pieces. If not serving right away, double-wrap each panforte in plastic wrap. The panforte will keep for a month or two at room temperature or for 1 year in the refrigerator.

Panforte

HOW TO BLANCH ALMONDS AND HAZELNUTS

Blanched Almonds & HazelnutsWhile it’s always best to eat the whole nuts and enjoy the benefits of their high fiber and high levels of antioxidants, some recipes call for blanched nuts, that is, nuts with their skins removed. Some call these naked nuts.

I’ll have to admit that sometimes, their bright white appearance adds to the eye appeal of the final dish.

So, here are the easy methods for blanching. Surprisingly, the process is quite different for almonds than it is for hazelnuts. Yet, both are easy, but can be a bit time consuming if you have a large quantity.

BLANCHING ALMONDS

almond3Cooking: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the almonds and boil for 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer the nuts to a double-thick towel. Fold the towel and enclose the nuts completely. Let them sweat for 1 or 2 minutes.

Alternatively, put the nuts in a deep bowl, and pour boiling water over them to cover. Allow them to stand for 3 to 5 minutes. Then, sweat them in a towel for 1 or 2 minutes.

Peeling: Now, it’s a one-nut-at-a-time peeling project. Hold the wider end of the almond Blanched Almondsbetween your thumb and index finger and pinch. The skins should come off easily, with the nut sliding out from the pointed end. Try not to pinch too hard! Too much pressure may send those naked little almonds flying across the room. After a few of these, you’ll begin to judge just how much pressure to apply to the pinch. It’s a patient process–pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy a few sips between nut pinching.

BLANCHING HAZELNUTS

hazelnutThe old-fashioned method of blanching hazelnuts (removing the skins) was to use a small, firm paring knife and peel the skins off with a pulling motion. But thankfully, some clever chefs have given us a much easier method.

Cooking: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet for 10 to 12 minutes. Pour the nuts onto a thick, double layer terrycloth towel and seal them up tightly to sweat for about 5 minutes.

Peeling: Then, keeping the towel closed, rub the nuts like the dickens, rubbing firmly for a Blanched hazelnutsfull minute or two. You can also use a rolling motion while pressing firmly down on the nuts.

It takes a vigorous rubbing. Open the towel and you will see that many, but not all the skins have been rubbed off. Don’t worry about the skins that cling to the nuts–they provide excellent fiber and some antioxidants as well. Some find the speckled nuts quite attractive.

If you want the nuts perfectly clean, put them back in the oven for about 10 minutes and repeat the rubbing to remove the remaining skins.