Take a Leek

For anyone into “clean eating,” I must imagine that leeks are obvious nonstarters. There are few foods more likely to be covered in filth, no matter where or when you buy them. Fresh from the farmers market, packaged in plastic; even those that claim to be pre-washed conceal a mouthful of silt woven between those leafy layers. No one could call this clean by any stretch of the imagination.

Thankfully, unlike the toxic mindset of diet culture, this is a problem that’s easily remedied. Wash away all those nasties in one fell swoop, and your labor will be handsomely rewarded. Related to garlic, chives, shallots, and onions, you get hints of all the four in one, with a subtle sweetness that lends itself to pretty much any dish you might add an allium to. Unlike their more pungent brethren, leeks are mild enough to be enjoyed on their own, simply grilled or roasted.

Why isn’t there more love for leeks? I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the dirt. It’s because of the way they’re grown, like asparagus, with dirt pushed up around them to keep their stalks whiter and more tender, that large amounts of sand gets trapped inside. Think of them as diamonds in the rough, that just need a bit of polishing. If you can take the time to peel an onion, try to muster a bit more patience and reap the benefits of luscious leeks.

Baked until they practically melt in your mouth in a savory sauce laden with cheese, this creamy leek gratin is the unassuming side dish that complements every meal. It’s so creamy and luscious, it’s almost like if mac and cheese and creamed onions had a love child. There’s even a bread crumb topping to finish each bite with a satisfying crunch.

Don’t write off leeks for their dark, dirty roots. They’d happily clean up their acts if given the chance.

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Frying Off the Shelves

Hang on to your stockings and buckle in for a wild ride. There’s hardly time to breathe between holidays this year, coming in rapid succession one after the other. Before we can even fully digest the big Thanksgiving feast, it’s time to dive head-first into Hanukkah, looming just three days away.

Don’t panic. We can do this. I have the secret that will solve your Black Friday shopping crisis, furtive menu planning, and straining elastic waist pants all at once.

Get an air fryer.

Still the hot gift that everyone wants this season, you have no shortage of promising choices with competitive prices right now. It’s easy to understand the craze; it’s healthier than deep frying, easier to make small batches for smaller celebrations, and both quicker and crispier than conventional baking.

Once you’ve checked those presents off your list, don’t forget to save one for yourself. You’ll need it for making the best latkes ever.

Made with some smart shortcuts, prepared shredded hash browns and dried onion flakes allow almost instant gratification. These Hanukkah staples are no longer a celebration of oil, but a miracle of light; lighter choices, that is. Still, no concessions are made for flavor or texture, which remain as satisfyingly savory and crunchy as ever.

If that’s not fancy enough for you, go all out with luscious cashew creme and lentil caviar to seal the deal. No one will believe that such a luxurious take on the classic potato pancake could be so healthy. The good news is that they don’t have to; everyone will eat them up, no questions asked.

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Cookies for All Occasions

If there’s one thing I got really good at during the pandemic, it’s baking cookies.

  • Stuck at home with some spare time? Bake cookies.
  • Celebrating another holiday alone? Bake cookies.
  • Can’t sleep at night? Bake cookies.

In times of joy and sadness, there is always a case to make for baking cookies. All it takes is a solid formula and the flavor options are limitless. When grocery shortages kept me on my toes, there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t put in a cookie. From oddball mix-ins to uncommon flours, nothing escaped my mixing bowl. Even ketchup and BBQ sauce became fodder for more sweet treats in my hands.

Infinitely scalable to feed an army or just one, I’m elated to increase the output again, as restrictions loosen and we approach a more “normal” festive season once again. Winterizing my trusty cookie formula with warm spices, tart and tangy cranberry sauce, and chewy bites of dried currants, you’d never know this approach was once born out of desperation and deficits.

Soft and toothsome, these morsels bake up with the ideal texture using common, inexpensive pantry ingredients. Approximately my 10,000th iteration of the basic blueprint, they’re definitely tried-and-true, worthy of a place in your kitchen, and stomach, too. There’s no wrong way to adapt them to your tastes; consider different nuts or dried fruits, like hazelnuts, walnuts, raisins, or dried cranberries, just for starters. Cut the recipe in half for a smaller crowd, or toss “extras” in the freezer to keep beautifully until cravings strike.

I’m grateful to leave most quirky habits from the pandemic behind, but this one is staying with me. Keep on baking, my friends, but make sure you share now!

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All Aboard the Gravy Train

If I’ve learned anything over the course of 30+ Thanksgivings, it’s that you can never have too much gravy. While battles could be fought over canned or fresh cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts or green beans, everyone agrees that the standard serving size for gravy is about a pint per person. No matter what’s on the menu, it’s always much more palatable when swimming in a pool of this savory sauce.

In my early years as a newly minted vegan, I distinctly remember my first tentative meals with the extended family. It was a classic situation where misunderstandings meant there was chicken stock in the rice, butter in the roasted vegetables, and of course not a scrap of plant-based protein to be seen. Prepared to fend for myself, I did come armed with the one thing I knew would enhance any meal: gravy.

Though simple, made from sauteed onions and blended chickpeas, it was a golden elixir that brightened everything on the plate. My only mistake was offering to share because as soon as it hit the table, the pitcher was dry as a bone. Even my picky, omnivorous family who would never dream of forsaking the traditional spread drank down every drop. After that, I learned to at least double, if not triple, my gravy contribution.

My cooking has evolved considerably since then, resulting in a much more complex gravy that’s even easier to whip up. Adding in volumes of umami flavor with a little pinch, Sugimoto shiitake mushroom powder is the ace up my sleeve. Like whole dried shiitake mushroom caps, this miraculous seasoning gains even greater depth when allowed to soak overnight, which makes it an ideal candidate for including in my greatest make-ahead gravy.

Becoming more flavorful the longer it sits, this gravy is your new best friend for Thanksgiving. Prepare it well in advance of the main meal so you don’t need to worry about such a critical component when the day of the big feast arrives. It can scale up almost infinitely, as leftovers keep like a dream. Since there is genuinely no such thing as too much gravy, you won’t regret making this investment in culinary currency.

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