Lots of lucky Swiss cows spend their summers in the mountains.
“Inalpes” festivals happen in the springtime when cows ascend toward their alpine pastures (the fall equivalent celebrating their return is “Désalpes”). Imagine a parade of flower-decorated bovines with immense clanging bells around their necks.
On Mother’s Day, we checked out one such festival that occurs about once every 10 years in the town of Estavannens, not far from Gruyères in the Fribourg region. The weather was cold and wet, but we packed our lunches and piled in our Mobility car to experience this traditional Swiss event.
Since 1956, the small mountain village of Estavannens has held a Poya celebration seven times. In the local dialect, the term “Poya” apparently refers to herds rising to their pastures. This 5-day event with food, music and more culminates in the cow procession on Sunday—a clanging parade of cows and other livestock with their human handlers dressed in traditional costumes.
Making Saffron Bread
At the Poya festival, the huge food tent served up typical festival fare—french fries, chicken nuggets, Swiss sausages, and pizza, for example. So when we got home, I decided to try making an allergy-friendly recipe from the Fribourg region. After consulting my Swiss cookbook, I chose a yellow-tinged saffron bread or “Cuchaule.”
After two failed attempts with saffron threads—the yellow color didn’t flow throughout the bread (I should have known better)—I finally tracked down small packets of powdered saffron, and it worked great.
Also, while I used flax meal in the bread, I decided to try an egg wash for the first time in over a year—now that our son has passed his “baked egg” food challenge. An egg wash gets crazy-baked to the point of turning brown, and the bread bakes for 25 minutes at 200°C/400°F, so I felt comfortable serving this to him (FYI: Allergy UK has a helpful table with “egg foods,” but always consult your allergist first to make sure).
The Swiss serve Cuchaule with Bénichon mustard, a sweet and savory condiment made with white wine, vin cuit and spices. While I have a recipe for it, I couldn’t spare the time this week to make homemade mustard. I checked around for a pre-made version at a few stores, but found out it’s a seasonal product sold in the fall. So, like the Swiss, I’ll hold off until fall to try my own Bénichon mustard.
In the meantime, we’ll enjoy our Cuchaule! Here’s the allergy-friendly recipe (egg/dairy/nut-free), modified from my Betty Bossi cookbook.
Cuchaule (Swiss Saffron Bread)
3-3 ½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons yeast
150 ml soy or rice milk
100 ml water
3 tablespoons vegetable-based margarine
1 pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water
Glaze: 1 egg yolk, beaten OR 1-2 tablespoons vegetable-based margarine, melted
Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl—3 cups of flour, salt, sugar and yeast. Set aside.
Separately, mix together the milk substitute, water, margarine and saffron. Gently heat in a small saucepan, stirring constantly, just until the margarine is melted.
Mix flax meal with water and set aside for a few minutes. Add to dry ingredients along with the warmed saffron mixture. Stir together to form dough. Knead for about 5-10 minutes, adding the remaining flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Place in a covered bowl. Let rise until doubled in size, about one hour.
Form the dough into a round loaf and brush with glaze. Make crisscross cuts along the top. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake for about 25 minutes at 200°C/400°F. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
I could really devote a weekly series to Swiss bread. So many different, regional options. Look forward to trying them all. What’s your favorite? And, as always, Bon week-end!
Another holiday weekend in Switzerland leads to another new discovery… This time, we foraged for edible plantes sauvages, or “wild plants,” during a recent walk in the hills above our small Swiss city.
Thankfully, we had a very thoughtful Swiss friend who served as our guide—especially because we didn’t want to make any toxic mistakes by picking the wrong stuff! We really enjoyed hunting for fresh, local food at an affordable price (free!). In all, we tried four plants and some new recipes, all of which we plan to make again.
Nettle (Ortie, Urtica Dioica)
I’ve grown up with stinging nettle and always thought of it as a plant to avoid. My youngest just got a rash the other day after running into a patch of nettle. Who knew you could eat it? And, why would you want to try? For generations, people have used nettle for medicinal purposes (e.g., treating eczema, urinary problems and muscle pain).
My friend suggested making soup with the tender nettle leaves, mixing them with some broth and potatoes. When she makes nettle soup, she also stirs in some cream. With this in mind, my husband found a quick recipe online that I used as a base for my own version.
First, I sautéed some onion, garlic and potatoes in butter and olive oil until they became tender. To protect my hands, I covered them with plastic bags while I washed and prepared the nettles. Then, I added the nettles, water and some vegetable bouillon powder. After letting it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, I pureed the soup with an immersion blender. Right before serving, instead of cream, I stirred in some room temperature coconut milk.
I had no idea what to expect, but we all loved the soup—except for my youngest, who used his spoon to splatter it on our floor. The flavor was actually quite mild and similar to spinach. I really wasn’t expecting to like it so much!
Ail des Ours (Bear’s Garlic, Allium Ursinum)
Ail des ours is a springtime plant that’s related to chives (a.k.a. ramsoms). Also used for medicinal purposes (e.g. indigestion and high blood pressure), ail des ours tastes like a mix between garlic, chives and onions.
After seeing a few recipes online, I decided to try it in pesto. I based my version on a recipe I made months ago using pumpkin seeds. Instead of the basil, I used ail des ours—although a mix of the two would have been even better. We ate this for lunch tossed with leftover spaghetti.
Aillère (Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata)
Back in the Massachusetts, where we used to live, aillère appears on a list of prohibited plants—it’s illegal to import, sell or trade it. Aillère is not native to the United States, and it’s considered a noxious weed. It was likely brought over by European settlers, as it was first recorded in 1868 in Long Island.
On my friend’s recommendation, I tried making a salad with aillère. I took the leaves and mixed them with doucette (a.k.a. mâche), beets, bacon and toasted pumpkin seeds. Then, I topped it off with Basel-style salmon and balsamic dressing. So delicious!
Gaillet (Sweet Woodruff, Galium)
The fourth plant we discovered was gaillet, and our friend recommended using it to make mai wine. We found myriad recipes for the stuff, many of which call for champagne, strawberries, lemons, etc. In the end, we just soaked the leaves in a local white wine for about four hours and had it with dinner. The gaillet added a light and woody scent, maybe even with a hint of vanilla. I would like to try this again with some fruity ingredients to sweeten it up a bit.
More foraging adventures are likely in our future… If you have tips or recipes to share, please let us know. In the meantime, I will hopefully share a new bread recipe later this week. Thanks for your continued interest and support!
Good news: I’ve discovered some allergy-friendly, Swiss chocolate! Bad news: I had to make it myself…
As I’ve mentioned many times before, I’ve been searching for allergy-friendly Swiss chocolate (dairy/egg/nut-free). Following my visit to Salon du Chocolat in Zurich this spring, I decided to follow-up with a couple dozen of Switzerland’s chocolate makers and vendors to see what if any of their chocolate is dairy, egg, and nut-free.
To date, 12 of the 30 companies I emailed on March 30 have responded to my inquiry. Of these responses, only one company could guarantee a chocolate product free of my son’s allergens: Cailler’s Chocolate Powder (ingredients: sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla extract). After reviewing their website, Cailler’s unsweetened cacao powder also looks to be allergy-friendly. Please note: In the interest of full disclosure, my emails were written in English, so language could have influenced a company’s nonresponse.
Overall, I received some very thoughtful emails from the chocolate companies, but my investigation continues… In the meantime, I decided to try making my own chocolate bars—something I never thought I would attempt, but it was actually really easy to do.
Making Homemade Chocolate
I found two recipes for homemade chocolate online using coconut oil—a product I’ve found easily at our neighborhood market and Coop (Migros likely has it too, I just haven’t checked yet). As in the past, I used Coop’s bio cacao powder, and voila! Homemade Swiss chocolate that’s safe for my son.
Here’s my quick review of these very, easy recipes. For both of them, I used maple syrup as the liquid sweetener.
Raw Chocolate Recipe #2, The Veggie Nook: I added raisins and ground hazelnuts to this recipe. The mixture was quite thick. So, when I scraped it onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, I had to press it into a bar-like shape. I put it in the freezer, and the final product was a little fudgey. It cut easily with a very sharp knife (i.e., didn’t crack). The chocolate is very dark and rich.
Three-Ingredient Chocolate Bars, Chocolate-Covered Katie: After the first recipe, I was surprised by how this mixture was very thin and smooth (like a thick hot chocolate). I poured it into a pie plate lined with parchment paper and placed it in our tiny freezer to cool. Next time, since the chocolate mixture is so thin, I’ll use something smaller and with a better shape. Maybe my madeleine pan?
In the end, I would make both recipes again because I like having chocolate on hand that’s safe for our whole family. Luckily, my husband just returned from a trip to the United States, so we have a stockpile of Enjoy Life chocolate bars, chips and cookies.
For those of us that can’t walk into a store and easily find allergy-friendly chocolate, and if you’re looking for chocolate that can ship to your Swiss address, here are a few Europe-based companies. I haven’t purchased products from any of them yet, so if you have recommendations or advice to share, I’ll use the information to update this list.
- Alles-Vegetarisch (Germany)
- Allergoora (France)
- Parallerg (France)
- Un Monde Vegan (France)
- Midzu (Italy)
- Plamil Foods (UK)
As a reminder, it’s Food Allergy Awareness Week in the United States (May 12-18). There are lots of great activities and resources connected with this event. Please help spread the word. Thanks, and bon week-end!
Since my son’s successful “baked egg” food challenge last month, we’ve started introducing overcooked eggs into his diet. Along with egg noodles, I’ve been serving him a few homemade baked goods that contain eggs. He’s primarily had Dutch Baby Pancakes, but I’ve also recently started making madeleines.
Madeleines, which you’ve likely eaten before, are small golden cakes that typically have a scalloped shell-like shape (although today, I found round ones at a local bakery). These petite cakes are originally from France, but we see them all over here in French-speaking Switzerland (i.e., “Suisse-Romande”). If you’re craving more information about the history of these delicious cakes, along with a recipe that influenced the one I’ve shown below, check out this 1983 NY Time article.
Trying the real thing or doing “research” – delicious, Suisse-Romande madeleines
The first time I baked madeleines with eggs, I used a recipe from Joy of Cooking that calls for 3 eggs and an egg yolk, with a baking time of 10 minutes at 230°C/450°F degrees. While our allergist recommended 30 minutes at 200°C/400°F for whenever we make something with eggs at home, I figured the smaller size of the cookie and the super-high baking temperature would meet this minimum baking standard.
Well, it turns out I was wrong. My son ate the cookies and broke out in almost unnoticeable, but still recognizable red hives around his mouth. Luckily, that was it! I feel absolutely sick this happened, and I’m so relieved (and we’re very lucky) his reaction wasn’t worse. I should have talked to our allergist first to be absolutely sure the recipe I found was OK.
Afterwards, I did check in with our allergist, and she sent me a new madeleine recipe, which calls for only one egg and a much longer baking time. I’ve made them several times now with a few slight revisions. Thankfully, the little guy hasn’t had any reactions, so we’ll be using this recipe again and again.
Why are Baked Eggs Okay?
What happens to a baked egg that makes it safe for my son? Why can’t we just make him scrambled eggs for breakfast like everyone else? I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot lately. Especially since my first attempt at madeleines caused my son to have a very mild allergic reaction. Here’s what I can tell you, based on my limited research:
- Eggs are one of the most common food allergens in infants and children.
- Eggs whites are the problem. The yellow yolk generally doesn’t contain the egg proteins people react to, but it’s impossible to separate the yolk from the egg white without any cross-contamination.
- The majority of egg-allergic kids can tolerate eating a “baked egg.” And, a 2012 study found that introducing baked egg helps children to accelerate their tolerance for regular, uncooked eggs.
- Heating an egg changes its proteins. So, it lessens the egg’s capacity to trigger an allergic reaction. The study mentioned above used homemade baked goods made with 2 eggs baked for 30 minutes at 190°C/375°F.
- Outgrowing an egg allergy can happen. According to FARE, most kids will eventually outgrow an egg allergy.
I don’t know all the science behind what happens to egg proteins, but this information gives us hope for my son and others living with an egg allergy. It hopefully won’t last forever!
If you would like a dairy-free madeleine recipe, here’s my adaptation of the French version from our allergist (also shown below):
Easy Dairy-Free Madeleines
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon peel (optional)
¼ cup vegetable-based margarine, melted and cooled
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
Whisk egg, sugar and lemon peel together. Slowly add the melted and cooled margarine until well-blended.
Sift flour and baking powder into this mixture. Then, fold in the dry ingredients just until blended.
Divide batter among a prepared madeleine mold (makes about 9 cakes). Bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes at 180°C/350°F.
Remove immediately from pan and place on a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.
If you can tolerate baked eggs and dairy, here’s the recipe (in French) for madeleines from our Swiss allergist:
50g de beurre
50g de sucre
1 petit œuf (50g)
50g de farine
1 pointe de couteau de poudre à lever
Battre en mousse le beurre ramolli et le sucre jusqu’à ce que le mélange blanchisse.
Ajouter l’œuf battu et bien mélanger.
Ajouter la farine tamisée et la poudre à lever.
Mettre dans un petit moule à madeleine, beurré et enfariné.
Faire cuire à four préchauffé pendant 30-40 minutes à 180°C.
I need to make some more dairy and almond-free recipes with baked eggs. I’ll likely try chocolate madeleines next, but still need to expand my repertoire. If you have any baked egg recipes to share, please send them my way. Thanks!
Spring in Switzerland also means the arrival of local green and white asparagus—and apparently violet too, which I have yet to find. Never having cooked white asparagus before, I bought a small bunch at my local farmer’s market this week. At about 16 CHF per kilogram (about 8 USD per pound), I handed over a small fortune for this springtime delicacy.
While I’ve seen white asparagus before in the United States, it’s just not that common, and I had never tried it. This time of year, in comparison, we’re finding white asparagus everywhere around our Swiss town. A nearby restaurant even advertises a special asparagus menu with items ranging from salads and soups to seafood, pasta and pizza.
Based on my limited research, here are some key things I’ve learned about white asparagus:
- White asparagus is the same as green, farmers just grow it covered in dirt and plastic. It has no sunlight, so photosynthesis doesn’t take place to add any color.
- You can’t really overcook it. That’s good news! Unlike green asparagus, white is typically steamed until soft.
- You need to peel it. Since it’s grown in the dirt, the outside gets a little tougher and stringier. And, peel the asparagus while it’s laying down because it’s fragile and can break easily.
During a recent night out with my husband sans children, I ordered cream of white asparagus soup with potato-tarragon beignets at our neighborhood brasserie. My first taste of exotic white asparagus! So much cream and butter! I would never serve this at home because of my son’s allergies, so it was a real treat.
Home-Cooked White Asparagus
Since yesterday was Ascension Day, everything was closed. As usual, I didn’t plan ahead and just had to cook the white asparagus with what I had on hand. Although I really needed to add some lemon juice, I just boiled the white asparagus in water with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt for about 15 minutes or so.
While the asparagus was boiling, I grated some old baguette to make bread crumbs and finely chopped some fresh thyme. I threw both these ingredients into a small pan with some vegetable-based margarine and a few pieces of torn up prosciutto. I toasted the bread crumb mixture on high heat for a couple minutes and tossed it over the boiled asparagus. And, voila! Dairy, egg and nut-free white asparagus. If it wasn’t so expensive, I would buy it more often!
For more information about white asparagus, here are some links I used for my informal research:
- Martha Stewart, http://www.marthastewart.com/919514/how-cook-white-asparagus-correctly
- World Radio Switzerland, http://worldradio.ch/wrs/programmes/food/food-scout-the-secret-to-growing-white-asparagus.shtml?24702
- Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/white-asparagus_n_1412329.html#s852932&title=WATCH_White_Asparagus
Due to the holiday weekend, we’ve planned some local sightseeing excursions. I hope to discover some new Swiss foods while we’re on our adventures. Bon week-end!
The rhubarb season has started in Switzerland—a sure sign of spring! Considered a vegetable, my experience with rhubarb has been limited to desserts. Although I know more savory options exist, I have yet to try them.
About 80 percent of commercial Swiss rhubarb comes from Vully, located across the lake from where we live. Apparently, there’s one grower, Alexandre Javet, who grows the majority of Swiss rhubarb and has been referred to as the “Rhubarb King.” According to Monsieur Javet, the rhubarb harvest happens twice in the spring, and the first harvest is typically less acidic and less stringy.
Almost everywhere I’ve lived, we’ve had rhubarb growing somewhere in a backyard or a garden. As a child, I remember picking it in the springtime and taking a bite of the fresh, sour stalks. In Minnesota, my grandmother would make rhubarb upside-down cake for dessert—I should really track down her recipe…
About 4 years ago, I discovered my own favorite rhubarb recipe for cake-like muffins. I typically make them at least once during the rhubarb season. However, last year I didn’t because we had just discovered my son’s milk allergy, and we were still holding off on introducing eggs.
One year later, I’m more comfortable making substitutions in order to avoid my son’s allergens. I made my rhubarb recipe over the weekend with rice milk, soy yogurt and flax meal—along with treacle sugar (similar to brown sugar) that my husband picked up on a recent trip to South Africa. It seems a little harder to find brown sugar here in Switzerland. The treacle sugar worked fine, but it has a slightly darker appearance.
Even though these take some time to assemble, I was happy with the results. I even tried de-stringing the rhubarb this time (nothing serious, just some loose and stringy pieces), which helped with the overall presentation. I hope you’ll enjoy them too!
For the topping:
¾ cup flour
⅔ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons vegetable-based margarine, softened
For the rhubarb:
About 1 ½ cups rhubarb, cut into ¼-inch pieces
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
For the batter:
1 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable-based margarine
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup soy yogurt
1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F.
Use muffin cups and/or generously grease a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable-based margarine (or a dairy-free, non-stick cooking spray).
Prepare streusel topping: Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a bowl: flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Using a pastry blender or a fork, blend in the margarine until the mixture forms small clumps.
Prepare the batter: Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and salt. Separately, beat together the margarine and sugar, except for the rice milk, in a large bowl. Then, add the yogurt, flax meal and vanilla and mix together until well-blended.
Next, add the flour mixture and milk alternately in two batches, and mix together until just combined (do not overbeat).
Mix the rhubarb and powdered sugar together in another small bowl.
Assemble the muffins: Divide the batter among the 12 muffin cups. Sprinkle the batter with the rhubarb, and spoon the streusel on top.
Bake for 22-25 minutes, until the muffins are golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
Cool muffins in the pan on a wire rack for about 5-10 minutes. Loosen the edges of the muffins with a small knife or metal spatula and carefully place on the wire rack to cool slightly.
If you have any other rhubarb recipes to share, please send them my way. I hope to have another spring vegetable recipe later this week… Thanks so much for your help and support!
“Processed meat” sounds really sterile and gross, doesn’t it? Generally, this term refers to meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. For those of you like us that still eat processed meats, I want to share my Top 5 list of dairy, egg and nut-free options (similar to my list of allergy-friendly Swiss snacks).
I’ve spent a lot of time reading labels on meat products in search of my son’s allergens. As such, I’m hoping this information might be useful to someone out there, either living in Switzerland with allergies or traveling here and looking for a quick and safe meal from the grocery store.
Please keep in mind though… A recent study in Europe links processed meat with “early death.” Yet, people have been eating this stuff for generations, right? How bad could it be? As always, my non-medical opinion is “everything in moderation.” Plus, my kids really like hot dogs…
So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here’s my short list of allergy-friendly, Swiss processed meats. I purchased all of the products shown below at Coop because I find its food labels easier to read in comparison to other stores.
1. Cervelas – Apparently, the Swiss consider Cervelas (or Cervelat in German-speaking Switzerland) to be their national sausage. Made with a mixture of pork and beef, I think these fat, little sausages taste a little like hot dogs. People eat it raw or cooked. One of my Swiss cookbooks has a recipe for raw cervelas and cheese salad—hunks of sausage and Appenzell cheese mixed with sliced onions and served on a bed of lettuce leaves. And, as an aside, cervelas almost disappeared in the last decade over fears of mad cow disease from the Brazilian cow intestines.
2. Viande séchée extra fine: More commonly known by its German name of Bündnerfleisch, these are thin slices of beef dried for about 10-15 weeks in the alpine air. I grew up eating dried beef in rural Minnesota, so this reminds me of it—minus the alpine air, of course. My mother served it for dinner in a white sauce served over toast, which you may know as “Chipped Beef on Toast” or by its other less flattering title, “Sh*t on a Shingle.” Today, I use Bündnerfleisch for making quick after-school sandwiches for my boys.
Please note: Some of these dried beef options (e.g., the Appenzell versions) contain lactose, but do not have a clearly marked allergy label like other Coop-brand products. I contacted Coop’s customer service department and received confirmation that it will be updating the labels for this product as soon as possible.
3. Saucisses de Vienne or Wienerli: As I mentioned, my boys like hot dogs. In the United States, however, a lot of them contain milk. My husband came across these at our local Coop in the last month or so. Now, we use them as a quick meal when we don’t have a lot of time to cook.
4. Bâton du Maréchal (a.k.a. Marschallstab): We buy several different kinds of the Coop-brand dry sausages, including this one—the Gruyères Bâton du Maréchal. Apparently this long, narrow sausage gets its name from the baton of a Marshal, a person of the highest military rank. We typically slice it up for breakfast.
5. Prosciutto and bacon: These two aren’t terribly groundbreaking suggestions, but it’s been a relief to easily find these products without my son’s allergens, both at Coop and at Migros.
I never thought I would ever have a reason to write a boring blog post about Swiss processed meats and their ingredients! Yet, you can routinely find me reading food labels on these products in the aisles of a grocery store, just to make sure they’re safe. Hopefully someone out there can benefit from my informal research on processed meats. Please remember though, labels can (and do) change, so always check and double-check ingredient lists and allergy warnings. It’s something my husband and I are both constantly reminding each other…
Please note: As always, this is not a sponsored post. I have not been compensated. These are my independent opinions.
If there’s an allergy-friendly, Swiss processed meat out there we haven’t tried yet (especially a traditional one), please leave a comment below or send an email to email@example.com. Bon week-end!