Vegetarian lunch bowl

Vegetarian lunch bowl

Vegetarian dishes have lately become popular even in the meat- loving France. Unfortunately, many ready- made dishes in supermarkets contain a lot of salt and sometimes not so healthy fats.

The following tasty and very healthy vegetarian recipe is quick to make and contains healthy olive oil and vegetarian protein from white beans. Vegetarian recipes with beans or lentils and rice, bulgur or pasta have always been a part of traditional Mediterranean diet. For a modern twist this recipe combines beans with red quinoa.

There is no need to add any salt because black olives themselves contain enough salt to make the dish tasty. The recipe is gluten and dairy free.

2 servings

100 ml red quinoa
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp. tomato puree
½ tsp. Piment d’Espelette or other mild chilli powder
8 black olives, sliced
1 tsp. dried Provençal herbs
A tin of cooked white beans
A generous amount of chopped fresh herbs

Cook the red quinoa in a small casserole in 250 ml water until the water has evaporated in about 20 minutes. Cover and set aside.

Meanwhile warm the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and sauté the shallots and garlic for about 10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, chilli, and Provençal herbs. Rinse the beans under running water and add to the pan. Add the quinoa, mix and continue cooking until everything is thoroughly heated.

Divide the mixture in the bowls and decorate with fresh herbs. Serve a green side salad for a balanced meal.

Carros: Sommet du Broc

Sommet du Broc

On a late February day with clear skies we again found ourselves at the parking of Carros Village.

This time we had decided to do an extension from the New loop trail above Carros Village to Sommet du Broc (895 m).

From signpost #32 which marked the highest point of the loop trail (about 700 m), we forked right and climbed along a wide but rocky trail. We came to a plateau and crossroads with a signpost showing the direction to Sommet du Broc. The summit was not very evident, but by the help of the map we were able to pinpoint it almost under a big power line. There was a cairn on the top. We were inside the Prealpes de Cote d’Azur Regional Park. The scenery here was mostly rocky, barren shrub land. The land is used by lamb farmers. On the day of our hike, we observed a lone eagle, no other animals nor hikers.

This is a great hike to test your fitness level before planning longer and more strenuous adventures, as it’s a continuous ascent of about 500 m from the starting point.

Obviously this trail can be quite hot in summer.

Duration : 3h30

Climb : 530 m

Map: IGN 3642 ET Vallée de l’Estéron Vallée du Loup

Mediterranean red mullet

Mediterranean red mullet

The following recipe has typical Mediterranean ingredients: olive oil, red mullet, fennel, black olives, cherry tomatoes, garlic, and saffron. If you cannot find red mullet in your area, you could replace it with bream or some other firm- fleshed white fish.

I prefer to bake red mullet fillets in oven. They only need to be brushed with olive oil before baking, there is no need to add any salt because black olives contain enough salt. As the red mullet fillets in our supermarket in Nice are quite small, they only need to be baked for about 7- 8 minutes in 200° C.

2 servings

About 250- 300 g red mullet fillets
1 fennel
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
5- 7 new potatoes
About 10 cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp. pitted black olives
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 tsp. saffron powder
Lemon wedges

Wash the potatoes and cut them into thick slices. Microwave with some water for about 5- 6 minutes until soft. Spread the slices on kitchen paper to dry.

Wash the fennel and cut into thick wedges. Microwave with a little water for about 5 minutes until soft, then let dry on kitchen paper.

Warm 3 tbsp. olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the minced shallot and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, fennel, cherry tomatoes, and black olives. Sprinkle the saffron over the vegetables and mix gently. Grind over some black pepper, cover, and reduce the heat. Let simmer.

Meanwhile bake the red mullet fillets. Spread the fillets on an oven tray covered with baking paper. Brush them with olive oil and bake for 7- 8 minutes.

Divide the vegetables on the plates and place the fish on top. Decorate with dill and serve with lemon wedges.

Risoul: Summit of Razis 2575 m

Summit of Razis 2575 m

Risoul (1850 m) in the Southern French Alps is a ski resort connecting with the neighbouring resort of Vars. To reach it by car, however, you have to drive down from Vars to Guillestre to take the good road up to Risoul.

In summer, in spite of numerous ski lifts and runs, Risoul offers some great hikes. We chose to do part of the loop trail called Le Grand Panorama. This was in mid-June and the resort was completely closed and deserted. We only met a couple of other hikers on the trails.

Above the Risoul Tourist Office, at the front de neige with several ski lifts, we started along a dirt track by Les Melezes ski lift. After 200 m or so we came to a signpost showing the direction of our planned itinerary to Sommet de Razis along Le Grand Panorama trail (yellow marks). We forked left, heading east, along a wider dirt track in a magnificent forest. At the next sign, we turned right, now heading south, starting to climb more steeply. We crossed some ski runs, while most of the time zigzagging in the woods along Crête de Mélézet. Leaving the ski area, the trail continued even more steeply along Crête de Razis, eventually above the tree line. Some easy scrambling was needed in places.

Approaching the summit, the trail levelled off. There were some patches of snow here and there. We first walked past a wooden cross, and saw the highest point marked with a cairn and a sign not far away. It took us about 2,5 hours from the village.

We continued along the marked trail passing Risoul’s highest ski lifts, before descending towards Col de Valbelle. Because the alpine meadows were still quite wet, and there was lingering snow in some spots, we opted to descend mostly along small dirt roads winding down to the village. The views were superb also during the descent.

Hiking time: 4h 30

Climb: 736 m

Length: 13,7 km

Map: IGN 3537 ET Guillestre Vars Risoul

Cipières to Gréolières for lunch

Restaurant in Gréolières

Cipières (750 m) and Gréolières (830 m) are two villages in Moyen Pays facing each other over the River Loup. Gréolières is nowadays a popular lunch stop among cyclists and hikers and has good restaurants.  Cipières is these days a rather quiet village where mostly locals reside.

We planned to hike from Cipières to Gréolières along the GR4 trail, and to have lunch in Gréolières before turning back.

On this particular Saturday, however, Cipières was unusually busy. There was a funeral or wedding at the church in addition to a trail happening so the village was packed with cars. We finally found a spot at the entrance of the village, some 700 m from the village square.

We walked through the old village and started descending along the GR4 trail towards Gréolières, which in the beginning was visible on the other side of the verdant Loup River Valley. Most of the trail ran in the woods, protecting us from the direct June sunshine. We reached the River Loup in about 45 min. from the start and crossed it along an old stone bridge (pont en dos d’âne). The bridge at 570m was the lowest point of the hike. The following ascent to Gréolières crossed the paved D703 road a few times. The white and red GR markings were numerous along the trail.

We came directly to the square with a few restaurants, already serving lunch. We chose La Vieille Auberge with a tempting Mediterranean menu. Their three-course formule midi was 25€ with several choices. The restaurant has good reviews and we were not disappointed.

We took the same trail back to our starting point.

Duration: 2h30 (active hiking time)

Distance: 8,3 km
GR4 between Cipières and Gréolières

Climb: 448 m (own log)

Map: “Vallée de l’Estéron" 3642ET

Mediterranean sweet and sour duck

Duck breast, magret de canard, is popular in the South of France. Less known are aiguillettes de canard, which are thin strips of duck without fat. These should be quickly fried on both sides so that they remain tender and pink inside, rosée.
If you cannot find aiguillettes de canard in your area, you can prepare them by thinly slicing a duck breast and removing the fat.

Aiguillettes de canard go very well with different fruit and berries, with vegetables, and honey. The following recipe is my twist from a recipe on a package of aiguillettes de canard. Feel free to try different fruit and berries in the recipe.

2 servings

About 300 g aiguillettes de canard or 1 duck breast thinly sliced and the fat removed
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
150 ml chicken fond
1 tbsp. lavender honey or other runny honey
½ organic lemon
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Parsley to decorate

In a frying pan, warm the olive oil and butter over medium- high heat and quickly fry the aiguillettes on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the chopped bell pepper and shallot to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and add the minced garlic. Sauté the vegetables for about 10- 15 minutes until they are soft.

Meanwhile cook the chicken fond until it thickens and reduces a little, you only need 150 ml for the sauce. Microwave some new potatoes and green beans. Grate the zest of ½ lemon. Peel the lemon half and cut it into very small pieces removing the stones and membranes.

When the vegetables are soft, add 150 ml of chicken fond and 1 tbsp. lavender honey into the pan and mix. Grind over some black pepper. Add the aiguillettes back to the pan together with the lemon zest and pieces and reheat for about 1 minute.

Serve the aiguillettes with new potatoes and green beans and decorate with parsley.

Flank steak with shallots

Flank steak with shallots

Bavette à l’ échalote, flank or skirt steak with shallots, is a classic French bistro recipe. La bavette is cut into thin slices, which usually are very tender.

The traditional sauce is made from butter, oil, shallots and red wine or red wine vinegar. The steak is served in the sauce with fries or sautéed potatoes and sometimes a green salad on the side.

I followed the suggestion in the cookery booklet from our supermarket in Nice and made the sauce from good Italian balsamic vinegar, which gave a rich, intense taste. I served the steak with sweet potato fries and steamed broccoli for more colour and antioxidants. And the main course was followed by salad and some cheese in the classic French way.

If you cannot find bavette in your country, you can make this dish with any thin and tender beef steak.

2 servings

2 bavettes or other thin steaks
2 sweet potatoes
About 6 florets of broccoli
8 medium shallots
2 medium sweet potatoes
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
50 ml good Italian balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of salt (optional)

For the sweet potato fries:

Start preparing the fries. Preheat the oven to 200° C. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into even about 1 cm x 1 cm strips. Pour 1 tbsp. olive oil in a plastic bag, add the sweet potatoes and shake.
Place the strips into one layer on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until slightly crisp.

For the shallot sauce:

Peel the shallots and cut into halves. In a frying pan, warm 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat and sauté the shallots for about 10 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and continue cooking for 10 more minutes until the sauce has reduced somewhat. Grind over black pepper.

For the steaks:

Heat 1 tbsp. butter and 1 tbsp. oil in a grill pan over high heat. Fry the steaks on both sides to your liking, then transfer to the pan with shallot sauce. Grind over some black pepper.

For the broccoli:

Wash the broccoli florets. Microwave with a little water for a few minutes until soft.

Divide the steaks and sauce on the plates. Serve the fries and broccoli on the side.

La Turbie to Monaco

On the GR51B trail to Monaco

In spring, during the Monte Carlo Open Tennis tournament and Monaco Grand Prix, it is difficult to reach the Principality of Monaco by car, and to find a parking.

So why not park in La Turbie? The hiking trail down to Monaco is superb offering great views. We have done the hike a few times. The itinerary recommended by the randoxygène guide (called Trophée d’Auguste, starting from Monaco) makes a loop. It is a good option, partly following an ancient Roman trail, but runs more along paved streets. We decided to use the same trail both ways, staying more in the nature.

Leaving La Turbie (470 m), we walked through the old village along its narrow streets and came to the familiar signpost showing the way to Monaco, Cap d’Ail, and CNET on the top of Tête de Chien. We followed the trail (GR51B) that descended to a crossroads where we forked left down to Monaco.

We now descended more steeply following signposts down to Beausoleil and Monaco. We eventually reached a small yellow tower (a transformer) on a narrow but paved street. Here the new white and red GR signs advised to fork right (west) to Jardin Exotique. We vaguely remembered forking left towards the Monaco railway station at this point along Chemin de la Turbie Supérieur. This time, however, we decided to follow the newly painted GR signs. We soon reached Moyenne Corniche, crossed it, and found ourselves passing several not very nice construction sites, following temporary signs for pedestrians.

We eventually reached La Condamine neighbourhood near the harbour and took the stairs to the Rock and the old town of Monaco. We passed the Palace and headed to the U Cavanagio restaurant for lunch. It was just as enjoyable as before!

After lunch we decided to take the old trail from the railway station back to La Turbie. The trail still followed the same route as before: After passing through the railway station it ascended along the Avenue d’Alsace, then Chemin de La Turbie (stairs). No signs were visible until we reached the stairs, where we saw an old red and white GR sign.

We passed the yellow transformer tower again, and after that it was uneventful ascent back to La Turbie.

In short, we recommend taking the old, not very well marked trail down to the railway station thus avoiding the construction sites. It is a more tranquil route at the moment. The transformer tower by the road is the critical point (image)!

Incidentally, the French randoxygène guide (at least the on-line version) still describes the itinerary to and from the Monaco railway station whereas the map on the same page shows the new version to Jardin Exotique.

Duration: 3h30

Elevation gain: 580 m (includes detours en route plus the climb to the old town of Monaco)

Distance: About 11 km (includes detours and strolling in Monaco)

The upper image shows our itineray, the lower is our recommendation.
Our La Turbie to Monaco trail

Map: 3742 OT “Nice-Menton” Côte d’Azur

La Turbie to Monaco recommended trail

Roasted mackerel fillets with spring vegetables

Roasted mackerel fillets with spring vegetables

I got inspiration for this recipe from an article in the French magazine ELLE about a young British chef who recently had opened a restaurant in Marseille. He told that he sometimes gets inspiration for his dishes while buying fresh fish from fishermen in the Vieux- Port.

For my recipe, I have used fresh fish and spring vegetables from our supermarket in Nice.

2 servings

For the lentil purée:

50 ml green lentils
1 spring onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tbsp. olive oil
A bunch of parsley, minced

For the vegetables:

6 green asparagus
1 tbsp. olive oil
50 ml vegetable stock
100 ml fresh peas
Freshly ground black pepper
Zest and a few drops of juice from organic lemon

For the fish:

4 mackerels, filleted
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. piment d'Espelette or other mild chilli powder
Butter for the oven tray

Place the lentils in 250 ml water in a small casserole. Add the spring onion and garlic and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Check now and again if you need to add a little water, it should be almost evaporated when the lentils are done. Set aside covered. Then purée with olive oil and parsley with hand- held mixer.

Wash and peel the asparagus. Cut into about 5 cm long pieces discarding the tough bottom part. Place in a large frying pan with olive oil and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the peas and vegetable stock, cover and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the zest and a few drops of lemon juice and grind over some black pepper.

Meanwhile roast the mackerel fillets. Butter an ovenproof dish and place the mackerels in it skin- side up. Sprinkle the fillets with piment d'Espelette and olive oil and roast in 210° C for about 12 minutes depending on the size of the fish.

When the fish is done divide it on the plates. Place the lentil purée on the side, add the vegetables from the frying pan and decorate with some basil leaves.

Loop trail above Grasse

Chêne de l'Empereur parking near Grasse

The road north from Grasse is the famous Route Napoleon (RD 6085). The road was built in the 1930s to commemorate the emperor’s itinerary in March 1815 after his escape from Elba.

Today’s hike starts from the parking (about 550 m elev.) called Chêne de l’Empereur, the emperor’s oak, by the RD 6085. It is a hike along good paths offering panoramic views from its highest point down to Grasse, Pre du Lac, and the coast. The hike is described in the French Randoxygène guide. In autumn, the Marbrière forest is popular among hunters, and hikers are advised to stay on the trails.

From the parking we crossed the rather busy RD 6085 road and found the first signpost showing   Tour de la Marbrière in front of the tennis courts. It is recommended to do the hike clockwise. The first part is also a part of the GR4 trail. The trail ascended gently in the woods, eventually merging with a wider forest track. We crossed the River Riocoucourge along a stone bridge and soon came to an intersection with a signpost. We forked right (east) leaving the GR4 and followed another dirt track (yellow markings).

 We soon reached a plateau (895 m) and headed southeast leaving the dirt track. We continued a bit along a good path, then enjoyed our picnic in sunny albeit hazy April weather. We then descended rapidly to a wide forest track that also happened to be the GR51 trail. We followed it back to our starting point.

The French guide describes the hike as moyen, moderate, but the trail is quite easy, and the navigation did not pose any problems. The guide book’s duration is 3h 30 but we made it in 2h 30 at a moderate pace.  It should be noted that there’s a network of trails in the mountains above Grasse making longer and custom-made tours possible.

Duration: 2 h 30

Elevation gain: 340 m (Own GPS data)

Distance: About 6 km

Map: TOP 25 No 3643 ET “Cannes-Grasse”