Congee Is The Cure

Have you ever eaten something that was spicy enough to wake the dead? Though not for the weak of stomach, that might be just what the doctor ordered.

That was the literal inspiration for this recipe, glutinous rice porridge, AKA congee. Of course, the original dish is incredibly mild, sometimes seasoned only with a pinch of salt, if that. Meant to soothe an upset stomach, it’s classic sick day food that’s easy to digest and gently nurse the unwell back to health. Now I’m beginning to think that the opposite approach might be more effective.

Mo Dao Zu Shi (魔道祖师) is far from a food-focused donghua, but stick with me here. The protagonist, Wei Wuxian, is known to make his meals unbearably spicy, to the point that you’d think one’s spirit would depart their body after a single bite. This turns out to be an asset that ultimately cures those suffering from corpse poisoning.

There’s good sense to back this theory up. Hot peppers have genuine medicinal properties granted by that characteristic burn. Capsaicin is the compound responsible for its culinary prowess and health benefits.

What are the benefits of capsaicin?

  • For short term pain relief, biting into a blisteringly hot food releases endorphins, creating a mild “high” and dampening other discomforting sensations, like headaches, joint pain, and beyond.
  • Chili peppers are great for improving heart health! Studies have shown they can reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and increase blood flow.
  • Stress less with a calming dose of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1). Deficiencies in these vitamins can lead to added anxiety or trouble regulating moods over time.
  • Have tissues handy because this stuff will clear out your sinuses and ease congestion. Plus, capsaicin has antibacterial properties which are effective in fighting and preventing chronic sinus infections.

Most importantly, this is medicine you’ll WANT to take.

Toppings for congee are entirely up to the eater. Creamy rice porridge can do no wrong as a gracious base for anything your heart desires. Aromatic ginger and garlic are a classic starting foundation, amplified by savory, salty soy sauce.

Consider the following ideas to customize you own invigorating and restorative hellbroth:

  • Shiitake mushrooms are brilliant here, chopped finely to infuse every grain with umami.
  • To satiate a heartier appetite, bulk it up with plant proteins, like baked or braised tofu, or cooked beans.
  • Add textural contrast with toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds.

The only non-negotiable is the chili crisp. This is what transforms a bowl of mush into a downright addictive meal. While it’s tempting to eat it straight from the jar, try to keep at least a 1:1 ratio of chili crisp to congee, for the sake of your stomach.

Whether it’s a cold, flu, or corpse poisoning, this flaming hot chili crisp congee will cure what ails you.

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Playing With Fire

Food is simply more fun when you can set it on fire. Don’t believe me? Clearly, you need more saganaki in your life.

What Is Saganaki?

Although most people associate the word saganaki with gooey cheese that’s pan fried and served hot, the word itself actually refers to the cast iron pan itself. A wide variety of appetizers, or Greek tapas, if you will, fall under the category. Given the popularity of molten cheese though, 9.5 times out of 10, this is the version most people think of.

Fire isn’t a mandatory or even traditional ingredient. It was first presented with this theatrical flare at the Parthenon Greek Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. Given the opportunity to set food on fire, however, why would you chose anything else?

How To Make Vegan Saganaki

Vegan saganaki is made just the like classic by simply swapping out the dairy. Of course, there’s no direct non-dairy translation for traditional kasseri cheese, but plenty of respectable substitutes. Plant-based feta is your best bet, since it melts reasonably for that satisfying gooey interior, has a strong flavor that can stand up to the alcohol infusion, and is widely available in most markets. My favorite vegan feta options, in order, are:

  • Violife
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Daiya

The key is to buy only full blocks, not crumbles or cubes, and nothing tofu-based which is impervious to melting. Of course, meltability is both an asset and a flaw for this preparation. Instead of staying firm but gooey, like a runny brie at room temperature, vegan feta tends to lose all structure and form, liquefying into a rich, creamy dip with a glorious toasty surface. Plant-based saganaki is possibly an improvement over the original, because this version has further applications, such as:

  • Pasta sauce
  • Pizza topping
  • Spanikopita filling

What To Serve With Saganaki

Flaming cheese alone doesn’t make a meal, but it can become a central facet of a well-curated array of savory bites. Whether this is the prelude to a full entree or the main event itself is all in the portions. Classic accompaniments and serving suggestions include:

  • Crusty bread, toast, or crackers
  • Pita wedges, grilled or warmed
  • Olives
  • Dolma (stuffed grape leaves)
  • Hummus
  • Mediterranean or shirazi salad
  • Raw crudites, like sliced cucumbers, carrots, or celery
  • Roasted or grilled vegetables, like red bell peppers, zucchini, or eggplant

Tips For Success

  1. Any high-proof spirit will work in this recipe. Try ouzo to keep it Greek, or use vodka for a more neutral flavor.
  2. Safety first! Turn off stove and remove the pan before adding alcohol. Use a long lighter to ignite the cheese, or light the end of a piece of dried linguine or spaghetti first to act as a conduit.
  3. To make this recipe gluten-free, use your favorite gluten-free flour blend instead of all-purpose.
  4. Make a smaller batch by cutting your feta in half or even quarters, and adjusting the remaining ingredients accordingly. It’s more about the technique than exact measurements.Like moths, we’re all inexorably drawn to the flames. When you want to start an event with a bang, impress someone special, or just play with fire, this will be your new favorite party trick.

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If Wishes Were Like Shlishkes

Certain staples of Jewish cuisine are beloved as nonpartisan delicacies, as they should be. Steaming bowls of matzo ball soup soothe the soul, crisp latkes satisfy cravings for all things fried, and bagels are the grab-and-go breakfast for countless generations. Food doesn’t care what you do or don’t believe.

Shlishkes, however, haven’t made the same leap into mainstream culture. Originating with Hungarian Ashkenazi Jews, these humble potato dumplings are often compared to Italian gnocchi for their similar structure. Tender, soft, gently simmered morsels made from a bare minimum of ingredients, they’re within easy reach of anyone on a budget or with limited cooking experience.

Potato Shlishkes

How do you make shlishkes?

It’s quite simple:

  1. Boil and mash potatoes.
  2. Add flour.
  3. Cut into dumplings.
  4. Boil and drain.
  5. Toss with breadcrumbs and bake until toasted.

This final step is what truly separates it from the other potato-based pastas. Liberal use of vegan butter or schmaltz and breadcrumbs transforms homely dough into nutty, crunchy, rich, and savory delights.

Want to make these shlishkes your own?

Such a simple formula is ripe for creative interpretation. A few easy ideas for a tasty twist on tradition include:

  • Use coarse almond meal or crushed crunchy chickpeas instead of breadcrumbs for a gluten-free option.
  • Swap white potatoes for orange or purple sweet potatoes.
  • Add cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes to spice things up.
  • Use olive oil instead of vegan butter or schmaltz to decrease the saturated fat.
  • Finish with a sprinkle of vegan Parmesan cheese.

Like any good starchy side, shlishkes are best accompanied by a hearty entree. In truth, though, there’s no bad pairing or inopportune time to serve them. Enjoy shlishke for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, birthdays, Bachelor parties, Satanic rites; anything worth celebrating with a comforting, homemade meal!

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Long Noodles For Long Days

In January it’s so nice
While slipping on the sliding ice
To slurp hot chicken with long rice
Slurping once, slurping twice
Slurping chicken with long rice

Perhaps that’s not quite how the original children’s book begins, but it’s close enough. Closely linked in my mind to the earliest days of childhood, sitting in my Papa Sam’s lap as he read to me from the colorful pages, the lilting cadence of that simple poetry instantly takes me back. Memories of pillow forts and story time, footie pajamas and a bed full of stuffed animals bubble up like a pot simmering on the back burner. It’s fitting that this particular tale is all about comfort food, since that’s the hunger it satisfies in my soul.

Of course, the real story is about soup, but there’s room for more than one home cooked source of solace. Chicken long rice is basically the brothless equivalent.

What is chicken long rice?

First introduced to me by a friend living on Oahu, chicken long rice features thin vermicelli noodles interwoven with shredded chicken cooked in a savory broth spiked with ginger. It’s a cozy dish that satisfies all those wintry cravings, but also brilliantly light and easy to eat in the heat of summer.

The name itself is a bit of a misnomer; while rice noodles are acceptable, it’s most commonly made with mung bean threads (AKA cellophane noodles, glass noodles, or saifun) which are resilient, chewy, and great for soaking in all of that flavorful liquid.

Adapted from Chinese cuisine, it’s now a Hawaiian staple that turns up at luaus, potlucks, and everyday dinners across the island state.

What makes this the best recipe for chicken long rice?

I’m so glad you asked! Naturally, it’s plant-based like everything else I make, putting it firmly within the grasp of hungry vegans and vegetarians at last. Additionally, the starch-based noodles open up the possibility of catering to gluten-free eaters; just use wheat-free tamari instead of soy sauce, and double-check that your meatless chicken follows suit, too.

Do yourself a favor: Bookmark this page right now. Just like in the children’s story, there’s no bad time for a bowlful of comfort. You’re going to want this one for the months ahead.

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Unholy

Fresh herbs wait for no one, which is a pressing issue when you’re prone to over-purchasing. Some can be preserved beautifully through drying or freezing, but others perish through the process. There’s a reason why dried basil and dill taste nothing like their original glory, aromatic and herbaceous, reduced down to straw-like hay at best. That’s why a treasure like Thai basil must be cherished immediately, given the opportunity.

What is Thai holy basil?

Distinct from Italian basil, Thai holy basil is more pungent and peppery, sharp and bright, unlike anything else on the market. Despite the misleading name, it’s in fact an entirely different plant, with no relation to other types of common basil. While you could substitute one for the other, you might as well use cilantro instead, since the taste would end up being equally disparate.

What’s the best way to use Thai basil?

Pad Krapao, AKA basil stir fry, is an ideal way to clean the excess fresh herb out of your fridge. It takes almost no prep, comes together in 10 minutes or less, and has an invigorating if not downright addictive flavor. The most common variety you’ll find is Pad Krapao Gai, made with ground chicken, but the beauty of this concept is its versatility. American restaurants tend to favor whole cuts, but you could easily use any protein you prefer.

What are some ideal protein substitutions?

Naturally, my chicken is plant-based. If you’re craving something lighter, heartier, or simply different, you have plenty of choices:

Want to veg out?

I like to keep this prep fast and streamlined, focusing on just one featured vegetable for the sake of simplicity. Go ahead and add a full rainbow to bulk up the meal, especially if you have a frozen stir fry vegetable blend you can effortlessly toss right in. My favorite vegetable additions or substitutions include:

  • Bell pepper strips
  • Snow seas or snap peas
  • Shredded carrots
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Baby corn
  • Sliced zucchini

If you should be so lucky to have access to fresh Thai holy basil, don’t let a single leaf go to waste. There will be no such thing as “too much” when you have this easy, crowd-pleasing recipe in your repertoire.

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Radicalized Radicchio

I do not like radicchio.

Full stop.

Maybe that’s not the most enticing way to start a post about a radicchio recipe, but I’m nothing if not honest here.

Radicchio, miniature heads of tender red leaf lettuce, have a delicate, feathery appearance. They seem ethereal, soft as if they could float away, yet eye-catching for their molted mulberry hue.

Bitterness is not a bad thing in itself; it’s essential for contrast and balance in a dish, to fully appreciate sweetness when it rings true. The bitterness in radicchio, however, is something else. It’s bitter like a freezing rain whipping in a cold wind. It’s bitter like Ebenezer Scrooge before his encounter with three spirits.

Radicchio macro

How can you tame the bitterness of radicchio?

All is not lost when radicchio darkens your vegetable crisper. The secret is really quite simple:

  1. Cut it into thin strips or finely shave it.
  2. Soak it in ice water for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Drain and thoroughly dry.

That’s it! Like magic, the once biting acridity has been de-fanged. Now the question remains…

What’s the best way to cook radicchio?

Actually, that’s a trick question. While it is suitable for stir-frying, sauteing, braising, and roasting, I happen to find the milder version quite pleasant raw.

Radicchio Purple Potato Salad

Allow me to introduce: The Purple Potato Salad.

Unlike conventional takes on the concept, the potatoes are roasted with autumnal herbs and spices for a warm finish and crispy edges. It’s still all about contrasts here, with fresh radicchio providing a tender-crisp bite against the creamy flesh of purple sweet potatoes. More floral and fragrant than their orange brethren, they’re worth seeking out for a truly showstopping magenta masterpiece. Nutty, buttery roasted chestnuts round out any remaining sharp edges to the radicchio, coupled with the crunch of toasted pine nuts. Like any thoughtful salad, it’s not just a random pile of leftover ingredients, but a carefully assembled composition.

How can you make this recipe your own?

Think seasonally and you can’t go too far wrong. Other complimentary additions could include:

Radicchio Purple Potato Salad

Still think radicchio is beyond redemption?

Take it from a reformed hater: It’s all about proper prep. Anything can be made delicious with the right care and attention. If this Radicchio and Roasted Purple Potato Salad doesn’t change your mind, I don’t know what will.

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