Wednesday, November 25, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Alan Roettinger...

 

I feel pretty blessed to be someone who gets sent vegan cookbooks on the regular. I have to say, as someone who remembers when bookstore shelves in the vegetarian cooking section were pretty sparse aside from the Moosewood machine, we are living at a time when an abundance of excellent titles seem to be released every week, each one more enticing than the previous. From comforting casserole recipes to Indian ones, tacos galore to artisan chocolate, there is a cookbook for every taste bud, craving and skill level. Chef and cookbook author Alan Roettinger is someone who has helped to raise the bar for what vegan food means with his accessible but exquisite recipes that elevate plant-based cuisine to its rightful status: luscious and flavorful, complex but not complicated, Alan shows us that vegan food is anything but bland, especially when we focus on the stars of the show, which are the plants themselves. With his new cookbook, The Almond Milk Cookbook: Over 100 Delicious Recipes, Alan explores the seemingly simple concept of preparing foods with almond milk and comes up with some fascinating results. I appreciate Alan’s engagement with the world (I'm lucky enough to be a Facebook friend so I know we share some political views) as well as his unabashed ability to enjoy the simple but rich pleasures of life

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

I grew up in Mexico, and the contrast between what my unadventurous American parents ate and what the Mexicans ate in itself was enough to start me down this path. I should qualify that; my father was very adventurous and fun-loving, but when it came to that exotic food, he wouldn’t even try it. He was, to his dying day, a pretty bland eater. When I was around ten or twelve, my older sister took me to a Danish delicatessen in Mexico City, called Konditori, and introduced me to something called cappuccino. It was not generally known in America yet, but a few continental cafés in Mexico served it. Just the sound of a cappuccino being made excited me. Then, the pastries! I had never had such fine confections. I was instantly hooked, on all of it—the elegance of the food, the miraculous coffee drink, that first hint of European eating style, and (for life) on caffeine. My sister was really cool.

Later, the day after I graduated from high school, a wonderful thing happened. On their way to divorce court, my parents drove me to the airport, where I boarded a plane and flew to Europe. The very first meal I had there, in a little restaurant in Luxembourg, pretty much sealed it for me. I was destined to not only eat marvelous food, but to participate in the creation of it.

I’d say that a love for food was definitely nurtured in me, not so much by a mentor as by events and random people. Mexico City was a major melting pot of cultures back then, and because my father was in the foreign service (C.I.A.), my parents knew people from all over the world. I remember going to the home of some Russians where I tasted a real chocolate charlotte for the first time. The deep, dark, rich flavor and amazing cloudlike texture stayed with me for twenty years, until I figured out how to make it myself. The passion was in me from birth, and all I really needed was exposure to truly fine food to catapult me on my way.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

My parents ate pretty standard American food—fried chicken, breaded with that corn flake stuff, mashed potatoes, spaghetti with meat sauce (I can’t bring myself to call it “Bolognese”), pork chops, meatloaf, boiled-to-death vegetables with butter and salt. My mother had taught the maids how to make it, and they did a great job of reproducing the gringo food, day in, day out.

We had our big meal at lunchtime, when I got home from school. Then we’d all get up from the table, and I would go into the kitchen and watch the maids make their food, which was a universe away from what the gringos ate. Serious flavor. Spicy, delicious, exciting food. And the process was thrilling to watch—pounding fresh ingredients to a pulp in a volcanic stone mortar, flames leaping around pans as they slid it in, incredible smells! It was pure alchemy.

I think Thanksgiving stands out among my favorite family meals as a kid, probably because it was only once a year. Looking back, now that I know how to cook, it was pathetic food, starting with the pale, greasy pan gravy. Over the years, I’ve taken the essence of what we ate, found the roots—both the elegant and the rustic—and created a style of presenting those foods that is much truer to the foods themselves than anything I had as a child. Brussels sprouts are a quick example. As a child, I hated them, and could only choke down the minimum requirement insisted on by my mother. They were mushy to the point of being slimy and the flavor strongly evoked the smell of dirty socks. As I later realized, what made them so odious was simply that they had been systematically overcooked. Done properly with a little love and imagination, they’re quite good. So yes, I have carried most of that food over to the present, but not in their original, sadly unimaginative forms. What kind of chef would I be if I didn’t leave a dish better than I found it?

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

I haven’t had it yet! Sorry—bad dodge (even if I do believe it’s absolutely true). The problem with this is, it’s like making Sophie’s choice, but with dozens to choose from. Maybe I’ll just pick one I had at a restaurant and one I made, and see what happens.

A few years ago, my publisher took me and a couple of other authors to dinner at an Ethiopian Restaurant in Toronto called Rendezvous. We had been to several Ethiopian restaurants in various cities before, as they reliably offer very good vegan food. This one was unforgettable. The waiter brought out the largest platter I’d ever seen, with what must have been fifteen or more different dishes, neatly piled around the bed of injera. It was spectacularly exquisite food, and as we were leaving, I went to pay my respects to the cooks. To my utter amazement, there was just one woman at the stove, and no one else but a young girl in the back washing dishes. I started to tell the cook how much I loved her food, but it was clear she didn’t understand English. So I put both hands to my mouth and blew her a big kiss. She answered with a radiant smile. Cooks have a way of communicating.

Now one of my own favorites. When I entertain guests, I like to create a degustation, a series of small tastes with different flavors, textures and temperatures. This gives me a chance to be inventive (which I like), surprise and delight my guests (which we all like), and serially bring the conversation to a sudden standstill, as overwhelmed palates find themselves far too busy absorbing layers of flavor to participate in making words (a phenomenon every cook knows and loves).

I started with a simple canapé: crostini toasted with garlic olive oil, covered with an oval strip of roasted red pepper, topped with a small quenelle of pistachio cream and garnished with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.

As a formal starter, I served an asparagus-fava bean soup, sweetened slightly by sweating about two cups of finely diced shallots for half an hour before adding the cut asparagus and vegetable broth, and cooking just five minutes, to preserve flavor and color. Then I puréed the mixture with a cup of chopped Italian parsley and two cups of peeled fava beans. I served it in small bowls, garnished with a large asparagus tip, cut in half lengthwise, one piece cut side up and the other across it, cut side down, forming an X, with a fresh fava bean on each side, surrounded by a flourish of Spanish Hojiblanca EVOO.

For the second course, I experimented with some cute little orange pumpkin shaped pasta I found called “zucchette” (pumpkinettes). I hadn’t used them before, but the shopkeeper assured me they would keep their shape when cooked, so I took the plunge. I made a “pumpkin” sauce with a hubbard squash harvested from my wife’s garden, a rich-tasting delight with a deep rusty orange color. Very simple, it was just sautéed onion and garlic, the squash, vegetable broth, a few sprigs of fresh sage and bay leaves. When I puréed it, I added some soaked cashews to give it a little creaminess. I presented the dish garnished with quarter-inch lengths of chive (thankfully, my wife keeps us well-supplied with all the fresh herbs we need, even in the winter). I kept this one especially small—just a few spoonfuls—because I didn’t want the pasta to satiate anyone (I was the only one at the table with Italian blood).

Next, I went back to asparagus, which no one seemed to mind. I made a simple version of “grilled asparagus with romesco sauce,” by blanching four-inch spears in vegetable broth with just enough EVOO to leave them silky, and barely tender. I arranged them side by side on small square salad plates, piped the romesco across them generously in a tight zig zag pattern, and garnished them with shichimi togarashi (a Japanese “seven flavor chile” mixture of sesame seeds, orange peel, poppy seeds, hot paprika, red chile, Szechuan pepper, ground ginger and nori flakes). The gently assertive heat from the sauce and spice mixture helped perk appetites after the pasta course.

There were nonvegans present, so to assuage the protein deficiency paranoia (which I knew would be there, even if no one mentioned it), I served beluga lentils with sautéed escarole. This is a very simple dish, but thoroughly gratifying. The combination of lentils and greens is a popular one throughout the Middle East and many Mediterranean cuisines, and for good reason (it’s freaking delicious). I live at around 7400 feet, so I always start lentils and beans separately, in a pressure cooker. While they were cooking, I stewed finely diced onion, celery and carrot in a small amount of EVOO for about 40 minutes. Then I added the lentils, a little smoked paprika, Aleppo pepper, salt and a bay leaf, and cooked it all until the lentils were tender and the juices had formed a rich sauce. Separately, I simmered 12 cloves of garlic, sliced about a quarter-inch thick, in a few tablespoons of EVOO until they turned a light tan color, then poured them, oil and all, into a small bowl to cool (they continue cooking for a few minutes as they cool). I reheated a couple of tablespoons of the garlic-infused oil in a large pot and added a large head of escarole, washed and very coarsely chopped. Escarole cooks fairly quickly, so I pulled it off the heat when it was still slightly chewy and added it to the lentils. After that, I let it rest until serving time, so all I needed to do was reheat it. I served the lentils and escarole in low bowls, garnished with the lightly caramelized sliced garlic and oil, and made sure everyone knew that the origin of both the black lentils and Aleppo pepper was northern Syria, and this was my tribute to our suffering brethren over there.

Second to last, as a palate cleanser, I served a simple salad of frisée lettuce and watercress, dressed in a vinaigrette made with fresh lime juice, brown rice vinegar, freshly ground black, white, pink and green peppercorns, and vanilla bean-infused walnut oil. I garnished this with cacao nibs and a few roasted cashews, as a subtle liaison between dinner and dessert.

For the final course, I served three small (but decent size) quenelles of Abate Fetel pear sorbet, radiating out from the center of the plate, with a cardamom-spiked dark chocolate sauce, pooled between them, and tall oven-dried pear chips planted in each quenelle. The sorbet is very simple. I just poached five Abate Fetel pears, cut into chunks with the skin on, in a light organic cane sugar syrup with a split vanilla bean, until very tender. Then I removed the vanilla bean and puréed the pears with some of the syrup and stirred in a spoonful of fresh Meyer lemon juice. I chilled it for a few hours and then froze it in an ice cream maker. I reheated some of the remaining poaching syrup and whisked in an ounce and a half of chopped dark chocolate and a quarter-cup of fine Dutch process cocoa. When it was smooth, I poured it into a bowl, stirred in a little freshly crushed cardamom seed, and set it in the refrigerator until serving time. To make the pear chips, I cut three pears in half lengthwise and then used a mandoline to cut thin cross-sections, about 2 mm thick. I brushed them with the remaining vanilla-pear syrup and set them on baking pans, lined with parchment, lightly greased with coconut oil. I baked them at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes, until they were lightly browned. As they cooled, they became firm and crisp, with slightly frilly edges. There were plenty left over after assembling the dessert, so the next day I brushed these on both sides with melted and tempered chocolate for a crunchy (heavenly) treat. [Ed. note: That was all, Alan? Slacker!]

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

What a great question! The answer may be disappointing. There is one person I always look forward to cooking for, with both excitement and trepidation. As I mentioned in the acknowledgements page in Extraordinary Vegan, “He is a man who truly understands what perfection is and why it’s so important to reach for it. Trying to hit that spot, to gratify his discerning palate, is what launched my entire career. For this, and for the kindness and respect he has always shown me, I owe a debt I can never repay.” There is a love and great respect, which is ample reason to want to prepare a meal for him, but then there also is that very high standard, which challenges me to the core, pulling out the very best I have in me. There has been nothing in my life to match that feeling.

I’m sorry to tell you, however, that I have no idea what I would make, because one thing that never works with him is to come with preconceived ideas. It has to come from a pure inspiration (the purer and more inspired the better). I can say, though, that I will do my best to go beyond myself. Who is this person? Again, sorry, but the operative word in “private chef” is not “chef,” but “private.” C’est la vie.

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

I think there are two possible mistakes in some vegan cooking. The first is when people try to cook without understanding the fundamentals. In this, vegans are no different from nonvegans. It’s important to learn how to do something if you want it to come out right. You can always bend or even break the rules, but if you want to be successful, first you have to know what they are. It may seem arbitrary or rigid, but people have been cooking for as long as human beings have existed (indeed, it’s what originally made us different from all other animals), and they’ve passed down some serious learning.

The other is that many vegans try to bring the very food they’ve come to reject into their new paradigm. When I decided to stop eating animal products, I turned my back on them, said goodbye, and never tried to imitate them. I know this is unorthodox in the vegan world, but that’s the way I am. I knew there was never going to be a plant-based foie gras, gorgonzola, tallegio, venison Wellington, osso buco, salmon with sorrel cream sauce, or any of the hundreds of my other favorite delights from the animal exploitation world. And I knew that none of the imitations would ever fool my palate, so why insult my standards with them? Better to simply close the chapter, and the door, and move on.

My cuisine has always been vegetable-driven, because I understood from an early age that all the nuance and brilliance of flavor comes from the plant kingdom. People get all moony over “grass-fed” meat for a reason (and it’s not compassion for the animal). So my advice to vegan cooks is to make a clean break. Forget and forsake the meat and dairy paradigm once and for all. Think like an herbivore—someone who has never even had a thought about eating anything but plants. Humans are omnivorous, but that only means we can eat all kinds of food; it doesn’t mean we must or that we should. The plant kingdom has infinitely more variety, subtlety and deliciousness to offer than the animal kingdom—not to mention fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Why remain addicted to the animal kingdom, which represents more a culture of death and decay than anything genuinely delightful? Get me started.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

Well, it’s fall heading into winter, so top of the list would be pomegranates, fuyu persimmons, satsuma tangerines, Buddha hand citron, pears, apples, chestnuts, and (if I’m lucky) the sexiest fruit on the planet, figs! Also, the last of the artichokes, fennel (always better in winter), Jerusalem artichokes and kohlrabi. Then there are the year-round spices, of which my current favorites are Spanish smoked hot paprika, Aleppo pepper, cardamom and saffron. Oh—and chocolate (duh!), always. That said, I’m always open to finding totally new ingredients—the kind I’ve never even heard of before, which even after over 30 years of cooking almost every day, is a relatively frequent experience. Diversity is one of nature’s most divine attributes.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

Ooh, that’s hard to narrow down (and I do dislike narrow). I keep discovering new ones. But number one is easy; Mexican will always be like coming home for me. What a lot of people outside Mexico don’t know is that even though it has a lot of animal products associated with it, the real Mesoamerican diet is primarily plant-based. One of my favorite comfort foods is calabacita con jitomate (zucchini stewed with tomato and cinnamon) Okay, so the cinnamon is an import from Asia, post-conquest, but then so is cilantro. Again, all the variety and subtlety of flavor comes from the plant foods. Second, in dearness to my heart, would be Indian. It is one of the most varied, complex and sophisticated cuisines I know, with very ancient roots and techniques, joining health and sublime pleasure together seamlessly. Sadly, it’s literally impossible to get the taste exactly right without using ghee, but I’ve gotten close enough for vegan with coconut oil. As far as number three, I’m truly stumped. I love French, Italian, Moroccan, Japanese and all Middle Eastern cuisines almost equally. But then, I love food, period.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

In order of appearance: (1) The people at Book Publishing Company, who impressed me very much when we worked together on my first book, Omega 3 Cuisine (vegetarian, not vegan). (2) My second book, Speed Vegan, which was a project I was given, from which I never quite escaped (it’s what inspired me to go vegan). (3) Jonathan Safran Foer’s beautifully written book, Eating Animals, which I read while I was working on Speed Vegan. (4) Summerfest. My first exposure to a no-holds-barred vegan extravaganza. (5) The heartfelt enthusiasm and sweetness I encountered in most vegans I met, many of whom were eager to help me promote my books and succeed. They reminded me of the late sixties and seventies, when revolution was in the air and there was a palpable sense that we were on the cusp of a new age of enlightenment (we were, and we are). (6) Being in an all-vegan audience at the premiere of “Vegucated," at a theater in Toronto. Like a giant happy family. Great fun, massive energy boost. (7) People, too many to list, but some who made an indelible impression (for different reasons): Gene Baur, Victoria Moran, Brenda Davis, Jo Stepaniak, Caryn Hartglass, Donna Benjamin, Robert Cheeke, Lisa Shapiro (blessings and peace be upon her sweet, ever-giving soul), and, well, you, Marla! There are others, and if any of them are reading this, no slight intended or implied. You know who you are!

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

Peace. The possibility (and the necessity) of experiencing peace. Of all the things I’m sure about, I’m absolutely certain that the future of our species—indeed the planet and every species on it—depends on our ability to transform from self-centered, ignorant beings to self-actualized conscious beings. Peace is possible.

We all have the inherent capability to turn our focus within and find the source of peace at the core of our being. Our longing for it is expressed in everything we do, however contrary or unrelated to peace our activities may be. Another, perhaps more appealing word for it is bliss—the state of completion where peace, love, happiness, consciousness, contentment, joy, fulfillment are all happening at the same time. Every creature seeks this, consciously or unconsciously, and the only way for all of us to live together in harmony is for each of us to attain it. It is entirely doable. I’ve spent the last 43 years practicing the art of peace, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I will openly admit that I’m still not very good at it, but even on my worst days, it remains possible for me. If I can do it, anyone can (seriously).

I hope everyone who reads this will agree, or at the very least become curious about the possibility of finding the peace within themselves. Life is short. I used to say this back when I was in my early twenties (what did I know about it, right?), but when I hit 60, it became all too real for me. I’m turning 63 in a week, and that means that, best case scenario (I live to be 100), I’ve only got 13,505 days left. And the older I get, the faster days fly by. I didn’t come here to write books. I came here to get something, and I got it. Now I have to make sure I still have it when I leave, so the whole thing will not have been a waste of time. Self-knowledge is the prize, guys. Seek it, find it, feel it, keep it close. If you get frustrated in your search, don’t give up; ask for help, and know that help will come. Nothing is dearer to my heart.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, veganism is…"

To me, veganism is one very natural step in human evolution, as crucial in our development as picking our knuckles up and straightening our spine. But I have to say, I’m uncomfortable with anything that ends with “ism.” To me, it’s more about becoming conscious and taking responsibility for it. No ism to follow, no rules to keep me on the straight and narrow. It’s just a matter of staying with the constantly opening and elevating of my awareness and following the desire of my own heart. Being vegan is not a goal or even an activity for me. It’s the natural outcome of being aware. I can feel it in my body, because my health and vitality are improved (and as I age, this becomes increasingly important, believe me). I can see it in the eyes of all creatures; that “golden rule” is not just for humans. I can see it in the environment; filth and degradation are not nature’s way, and if we don’t get with the program, nature will turn on us like the plague our species is fast becoming.

The more I practice the inner experience I mentioned in my answer to question #9, the more I’m compelled to seek kindness and compassion, to try to convert my baser instincts of competition and accumulation to my higher ones of cooperation and giving. It’s not an “ism” to me. It’s a necessity. I’m not there yet, but I’m well on my way.

Alan was generous enough to share some of the recipes he mentioned for his epic answer to #3. Here you go! (Thanks, Alan!)

Romesco Sauce (from Extraordinary Vegan)
Makes 5 cups

A staple of the cuisine of Catalonia, in Northeastern Spain, romesco sauce is a profoundly gratifying condiment. It is traditionally served with grilled foods, where indeed it excels, and it goes very well with boiled or baked potatoes. It also makes a compelling dip, an assertive sandwich spread, and an irresistible thing to lick off one’s fingers. The quantity may seem excessive, and you should feel free to cut it in half. However, I’ve learned that with exquisite dishes that require a little work, you might as well make a lot while you’re at it. You won’t be sorry, believe me.

6 red peppers
2 cups hazelnuts, roasted and skins removed
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup flax oil
24 cloves roasted garlic
3 tablespoons Spanish smoked hot paprika
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon hot red chile powder
1 teaspoon salt (plus more as needed)

Preheat the broiler on high. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Quarter the peppers lengthwise and remove the stems and membranes. Don’t worry about any seeds that may adhere—they will actually add flavor. Trim the pointed tips so they will lie flat, cut side down. Put the peppers on the prepared baking sheet and broil until the skins are evenly blackened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Immediately put the peppers in a small bowl and cover tightly with a pot lid, a plate, or aluminum foil. Repeat with the remaining peppers. Let steam in the bowl until barely warm, about 15 minutes. Uncover and pour cold water into the bowl to loosen the skins. Remove and discard the skins.

Put the peppers in a blender. Add the hazelnuts, vinegar, olive oil, flax oil, garlic, paprika, tomato paste, chile powder, and salt. Process until smooth, stopping from time to time, to scrape down the sides.

Stored in jars in the refrigerator, the romesco sauce will keep for two weeks. It will be long gone by then, of course.

Pistachio Cream (from The Almond Milk Cookbook)
Makes about 1½ cups

Mildly sweet, this is like the spirit of pistachios, in cloud form. It can swing from sweet to savory, too, so keep that in mind. I made a Middle Eastern sort of hors d’oeuvre with roasted red pepper, pistachio cream and pomegranate seeds once that was scary-good.

1 cup raw shelled pistachios
½ cup almond milk
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon pistachio extract (optional)

Put the pistachios in a ceramic bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit 2 hours, and then drain. Slip off the skins and discard.

Put the pistachios, almond milk, powdered sugar and optional pistachio extract in a blender and process until smooth. Use at once, or scrape into a small clean jar, cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 1 week.


Abate Fetel Pear Sorbet with Chocolate Sauce and Pear Chips
Makes 6 servings

8 Abate Fetel pears (yes, you can make it with Bartlett or d’Anjou)
3 cups water
1 cup organic evaporated cane juice sugar
1 vanilla bean, preferably Tahitian
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
pinch of unrefined sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
1 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa
2 or 3 green cardamom pods
Set aside 3 of the best-looking pears with the thickest necks. Quarter the remaining 5 lengthwise and cut out the cores, including the tough strip leading up to the stem end. Cut them into 1 to 1 1/2-inch chunks and put them in a medium saucepan. Add the water and cane sugar. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the saucepan. Add the two halves of the bean and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat to maintain a rambunctious simmer, and cook until the pears are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove the vanilla bean. Drain the pears in a sieve set over a bowl to collect the syrup. Put the pears in a blender and add 1 1/4 cups of the syrup. Process until smooth. Pour the puree into a medium bowl and stir in the lemon juice and salt. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.
While the puree is cooling, prepare the pear chips. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  Very lightly grease a sheet of parchment paper with the coconut oil and set it on a baking sheet.
Cut the remaining 3 pears in half lengthwise. Using a mandoline, slice the cut sides of the pears into thin cross-sections, no more than 2 mm (3/32 inch) thick. You will need at least 18 good-looking slices for 6 servings, but it's wise to make a few extras, if you can. Feel free to eat the parts that don't make handsome slices. Lay the slices out on the prepared parchment and brush them very lightly with a little of the remaining syrup. Bake until they have turned a rich golden color and are curling slightly at the edges, about 10 to 12 minutes. Decrease the heat to the lowest setting and bake until very dry, another 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer the chips to a dry baking sheet and allow them to cool completely. If they are not crisp at this point, you may return them to the oven at the lowest setting and dry them further. Let them cool again to see if they have dried sufficiently (they will be slightly soft when warm).

To make the chocolate sauce, put 3/4 cup of the remaining syrup in a small saucepan and add the chocolate and cocoa. Set the saucepan over medium-low heat and stir gently with a whisk until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat. Crack open the cardamom pods and remove the seeds. Crush the seeds in a mortar, leaving some coarse pieces, and stir into the sauce. If you don't have a mortar, you can crush the seeds on a cutting board with the back of a wooden spoon. Let the sauce cool completely. Do not refrigerate, or it will become too thick.
When the pear puree is cold, pour into an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions. Transfer to a container and set in the freezer to firm up for about 30 minutes. You may prepare the sorbet in advance up to this point, but bear in mind that you will need to remove it from the freezer about 15 minutes before serving, in order to shape it into quenelles (oval shapes).

At least 15 minutes before serving, put the dessert plates in the freezer. Using two large spoons, scoop out about 1/3 cup of the sorbet and form oval shapes by pushing it back and forth between them. If you haven't done this before, there will be a bit of a learning curve, but you'll manage. Working as quickly as you can, set 3 quenelles on each plate, with tips touching in the center and radiating out. Pour a little of the sauce between the quenelles and let it spread. Stick a pear chip into each quenelle, with the stem end pointing straight up. Serve at once! Invite your guests to use their hands to pick up the pear chips and use them along with their spoons to eat the dessert.

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