Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Belgian Mussels


I'm back! After more than a week of silence, I finally managed to get my act together and tell you about that single dish that's been on my mind since March. Every year, I, and several million other Belgians along with me, anxiously await the arrival of the mussels season. The official start for me and my family is the mussel fair in one of the neighboring villages, which I usually visit several times in a row with friends and family. It's very much a communal happening, maybe even somewhat of a ritual, to go there and wait for a substantial amount of time, just to get a taste of that first succulent mussel. And it was definitely worth the wait this year. Absolutely delicious... A signature Belgian dish, which again demonstrates the relative simplicity of Belgian recipes and the painstaking attention for the quality of the ingredients used. The version explained here is the "Flemish-style recipe", but mind you, there are many variants to this standard recipe: mussels with curry, mussels provençals, with white wine, with beer (one of my favorites is mussels cooked with Duvel, a blond, specialty beer). Regarding the mussels, Belgian always use the Dutch Zeelandic mussels (Zeeuwse mosselen), of which Belgium is the largest importer. I'm not sure these are available elsewhere, so you could try to use other ones, but bear in mind that the quality of the mussels is an absolute determinant of the final dish's taste. If you would like further information on Zeelandic mussels, please visit this site (Dutch).

What do you need?

1 kilo of "Zeeuwse" (Zeelandic) mussels

1 large onion

1 large stalk of green celery (more if they're thinner)

1 bundle of parsley

1 laurel leave

lots of pepper and a little bit of salt


1. Wash and clean the mussels.

2. Slice the onion in rings into slices between 0.5 - 1 cm thick.

3. Slice the celery into slices about 8mm thick.

4. Coarsely chop the parsley

5. Take a pot large enough to hold one person's portion and make sure to put a little bit of water in it (enough to cover the bottom). (you could also add a light beer or white wine)

6. Put some mussels in the pot, enough to cover the bottom with one layer. Next, a layer of onion, celery and parsley. Cover that layer with another layer of mussels and keep on going until the entire cooking pot is filled up. Don't forget to put the laurel leave in one of the middle layers.
7. Finally, add salt (but be very careful; there's already enough salt water in the mussels and pepper to your own liking (I personally like a somewhat stronger peppery taste).

8. Put the mussels on a high fire and cover the pot with a lid. Cook the mussels until the water rises to the edge of the pot. Remove the lid, and add half a teaspoon of natural vinegar. Cover it back up and shake the mussels so as to spread the vinegar throughout the pot.

9. Put the pot back on the fire and cook the mussels until the water rises to the edge for the second time. Now check whether the mussels are thoroughly cooked (the shells should have opened). Normally they should be ready after the water has risen twice, but check them just to be sure as there may be some stubborn ones in the bunch.

Serve them in the casserole with either fries or buttered white bread on the side. Belgians eat the mussels with a special mussel dip sauce, made with mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, chives and sometimes light yoghurt

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sensual smooth sun-drenched strawberry smoothies

The sun is shining...the weather is sweet....Make you wanna move, those dancing feet...

Ah yes, the height of summer. As I'm writing this, I'm gazing into my parents' neverending backyard and listening to the birds' chatter become more and more silent as the sun rises higher and higher. Sitting atop of the garden on the house's patio, I feel fantastically lucky to be able to enjoy all these pleasures of the good life. Now, the good life in my book always includes lots of dinner with friends and good food. However, sometimes you need to refrain from eating very rich delicacies and just get back to basics. Especially when it's just too damn hot outside to get into elaborate cooking. Moreover, it being the bathing suit season, you want to keep it rather healthy. That's why I've recently started making my own fruit smoothies. I know there's lot of store-bought alternatives such as Odwalla in the US or Innocent and Chiquita in Europe. But althought those are quite good, they simply don't stack up against freshly picked/bought produce which is then blended together to make liquid perfection.

My two personal favorites are two orange juice based smoothies and can be made in 5 minutes.


1 strong blender (one that can handle the crusing of ice cubes)
Ice cubes (I tend to use 7-10 cubes, the more you use, the more watered down the smoothie will become in the end)
1 banana
150 -200 gr of fresh, ripe strawberries or 150 gr of raspberries
250ml of orange juice


1. Clean your strawberries, rinse them and remove the grean leaves and stems. Peel the banana and break it into large pieces.
2. If you're feeling very active and energetic, squeeze some oranges for the OJ.
3. Put about 7 to 10 ice cubes in your blender. Add the strawberries, banana pieces and the orange juice.
4. Blend away! Blend until you've got a dark pink/light red liquid.
5. If it's especially hot, you could put some extra whole ice cubes in a tall glass and then pour in the smoothie.
6. I sometimes like to add a couple of leaves of mint to each glass; it really brings out the strawberries' flavor, give the smoothie an extra hint of freshness and it just looks nice. If you leave a leaf floating on top while you drink the smoothie, you'll get a really funky sensation: you taste the strawberry and you smell the mint. Groovy! ("break" the mint leaves a little before adding them, this will improve the release of the minty odors).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mom's Versatile Lentil stew

Another low-cost lunch or dinner alternative is my mom's basic daal recipe. From the first time I tried daal at an Indian restaurant, I immediately felt as if I could have this dish everyday. Problem is that many people (including myself) are sometimes put off by the sheer number of spices that have to be gathered, and added to the dish. And now that I've started a slow-carb, high-protein diet (after reading Tim Ferriss' post on how he lost 20 pounds in 30 days), I was in need of a simple and fast recipe, that allowed to both enjoy my food and stick with my diet. Luckily, my mom saved the day, and gave me her delicious daal recipe. Mind you it's less a real daal dish than just an inventive ( and mighty tasty) lentil recipe. Thanks Mom!


1 Onion
1 tsp butter
1 tbsp sunflower seed oil (or any other kind of vegetable oil, except olive oil)
1 clove of garlic
200 gr of lentils
1l chicken broth
1 bayleaf

1. Finely chop the onion and garlic.

2. Heat up the oil and melt the butter and once hot, add the chopped onion and garlic. Stir until glazy.

3. Rinse the lentils in water, leave them in the water and microwave them for 2 min at the highest setting (mine is 900w).

4.Strain the water from the lentils and add the lentils to the onion and garlic. Add the bayleaf and a twig of thyme. Add peper and salt to taste.

5. Add the chicken stock so that the lentils are covered. Don't add all of the stock at once. When some of the chicken stock has evaporated, add some more. Leave the lentils to simmer for about 30 minutes and check. If necessary, let them simmer for another 15 minutes and a a little more stock. When they're done (i.e. they're a little softer than al dente pasta, but I guess this depends on how you like them), make sure there's a little but of broth left at the bottom of the pot.

This dish goes great with grilled chicken, grilled turkey or porkchop. I really like the combo of grilled chicken, lentils and fresh bell pepper.

Let me know what you think and as always, bon appetit!!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Food 'n Finances: Taboulé

As a first in this series of low cost, delicious alternatives to your lunch sandwich, Pass the Saffron features Taboule! Taboule (pronounced tah-boo-lay) is a Middle Eastern or even Meditteranean wheat salad.  It's very easy to prepare, served cold and healthy!  It's best to make it one day before eating it, so all the flavors can mix.  
Take it with you to work in a tupperware dish and have it with some wheat crackers, nacho chips or just eat it as is!



2/3 Cup of couscous
1 Cup of water

olive oil
2 bunches of fresh parsley
(ripe) tomatoe
1 small onion
1 clove of garlic
1 tablespoon of lemon juice

The quantities aren't fixed exactly, you can play around with them.  I, for example, like to give it a stronger parsley taste, so I tend to put more of that in.


1.  Boil the water, add salt and a little bit of olive oil.  Once it's boiling, add the couscous, and remove the pot from the fire.  Put the lid on and let the couscous absorb the water for about 5 minutes.

2.  Finely chop the parsley, garlic, tomato and onion.  The couscous should be soft enough by now, so go ahead give it a stir.   Add the finely chopped veggies to the couscous and stir them in.

3.  Add the lemon juice and taste.  If necessary add pepper/salt, olive oil or more lemon juice to your liking.

4.  Let the taboule chill for at least an hour, preferably for a night.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lazy man's chinese chicken with green peppers

Because I was still feeling stuffed from yesterday's Thanksgiving dinner, I couldn't bring myself to making a much-needed pit stop at the grocery store.  And when I say much needed, I mean it.  As far as main ingredients go, I was limited to beef or chicken, tomatoes or green peppers and pasta or rice.  I was in a Chinese mood so I decided to try my hand at creating a ubiquitous Chinese dish: chicken with green peppers and onion!  I didn't have a recipe, only an educated guess of what the ingredients could be.  Moreover, I had to work with what I had!

So this is what I came up with:


For two people, you 'll need:

Two large chicken breasts
1 large onion
2 medium-sized green bell peppers
4 hot peppers
5 cloves of garlic
Soy sauce
1/2 cup of chicken stock (bouillon)
1 teaspoon of cornstarch 
vegetable oil (arachid oil or sunflower seed oil, never olive oil!)


1. Cut the chicken and green peppers into bitesize pieces.  Cut the onions into 1/8ths. Slice the garlic into large pieces.  Slice the spicy peppers into long pieces.

2.  Pour enough oil into a wok to cover the bottom and heat it up.  Once the oil is hot, add the sliced garlic and the slices of spicy pepper.

3. When the garlic begins to turn brown, add the chicken. Stir rapidly, to cook the pieces on all sides.

4. Add the onions and green peppers to the chicken and stir.  Drizzle soy sauce over the chicken and vegetables. Keep on stirring.  Be careful not to pour too much soy sauce over the chicken, you can always add more later.

5. Add the chicken stock or bouillon, and swiftly stir all the contents of the wok through the sauce at the bottom of the wok.

6.  Mix the teaspoon of cornstarch with some water.  Add the cornstarch mix spoonful by spoonful to the sauce in the wok, up to the point where the sauce has reached the thickness you desire.  Make sure to stir  the starch in well with the sauce.

7.  Add more soy sauce to your taste.  Stir.

That's it!  Easy-peasy chinesey!  Enjoy!