More ‘Taters, Less Haters

Potato salad, as a basic concept, brings to mind visions of buttery golden cubes of potatoes, drenched in a heavy white blanket of mayonnaise, with a few token flecks of celery and onion strewn about like stray confetti.

Turning that concept on its head, Chinese potato salad isn’t even cooked, let alone heavily dressed. Raw potatoes, shredded into fine floss, crisp as taut guitar strings, are lacquered with a simple, acidic, and often spicy vinaigrette.

The finest example of this rare specimen I found was in Honolulu, at Angelo Pietro where it’s their signature salad. It’s been a long time since I was lucky enough to visit the islands, and sadly, it will likely be a while before I can return. For now, recreating those cherished flavor memories is the next best thing to making that 2,397 mile journey.

Turns out the full recipe (all 5 ingredients of it) was published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin 20 years ago! The secret is that the potato is cut with the sharp, peppery bite of daikon radish, and a touch of lettuce for a refreshing crunch. Even if you can’t pick up the official, branded dressing, that too is effortlessly replicated in your own home kitchen. For a lighter, brighter, refreshing take on potato salad, this is one you’ve got to try.

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Frequent Fryer

It’s the culinary equivalent of the Tickle Me Elmo craze that swept children into a nationwide temper tantrum in the final late days of the 1990’s. All the cool kids have one, or are getting one, because no other toy can compare. This particular modern marvel is considerably more functional, more respectable, but one could argue, no less frivolous than the furry robotic puppet. I’m talking, of course, about the air fryer.

Leading holiday sales for retailers of small appliances all across the map, these wildly popular contraptions are in no danger of selling out, unlike the door buster deals of yesteryear that would inspire fist fights in minimal parking lots. There’s a different model for every day of the year, and well beyond. Demand hasn’t waned but supply has exploded with such a surplus that prices have fallen to irresistible rates, even without a Black Friday discount. Paralyzed by an overabundance of choices, where does the tentative, newbie fryer begin?

First, we need to talk about what an air fryer really is. Purportedly an alternative to deep frying, without any mandatory fat, hyperactive home shopping network hosts would like to shout from the rooftops that it’s a miracle device guaranteed to change your life. Imagine: all the mozzarella sticks, tater tots, and corn dogs you can eat! Welcome back to childhood and Merry Christmas to all! …If only it really worked like that.

It would be more accurate to describe the device as a super-heated countertop oven. Convection heating circulates air at scorching temperatures and breakneck speed, allowing food to cook faster than in a conventional built-in appliance. It works more efficiently because it’s also smaller, although that brings us to our first drawback: The size can be a limiting factor if you want to cook for more than two or three. Larger models are now available, but you will never be able to fit as much food into one as a full-sized kitchen appliance as a simple matter of physics.

The “frying” effect is most successful with prepared, frozen snacks, which have already been at least partially cooked with a fairly generous amount of fat. French fries are the clearest example of this phenomenon, especially since they’re hands-down the most popular order for this short cook to tackle. Crinkle-cut, curly, waffle, skinny, or home style wedges all come out golden brown and impeccably crisp, fluffy on the inside, glistening with the sheen of success- And oil. If you tried the same set-it-and-forget-it approach with raw potatoes sticks, it would a sad, starchy story, with a real limp ending. Set your expectations accurately and understand how to harness the unique abilities of the machine, however, and this toy starts to regain some of the initial shine.

If you’re still craving a healthier alternative to cool satisfying meals from scratch, there’s hope for this crazy contraption yet! I relying on mine primarily as a toaster alternative, since I don’t have space on my counter for both. Set to low temperatures, it can also function quite efficiently as a dehydrator, to preserve fruits, vegetables, and herbs, or make some tasty snacks with minimal effort. Best of all, and especially critical as we enter the sweltering summer months, it keeps the kitchen cool, as opposed to the full-sized oven that radiates heat like a genuine furnace. As a general guideline for converting existing recipes, reduce the temperature by 25 – 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) and the baking time by 25%. It will take a bit of trial and error if starting from scratch, but plenty of resources and general guidelines are already out there to make the process painless. You can also find handy charts for best practices regarding specific produce picks.

For your initial voyage on the SS Air Fryer, it will be much smoother sailing if you let the experts pilot the ship. Start with recipes specifically designed for complexities and eccentricities of the machine to turn out hits right from the beginning. My favorite cookbooks are The Vegan Air Fryer by JL Fields, Vegan Cooking in Your Air Fryer by Kathy Hester, and The Essential Vegan Air Fryer Cookbook by Tess Challis, in no particular order. These three highly respected authors also have many other tips and tricks folded into the mix, so you’ll be well educated on the capabilities of your shiny new gadget by the time you read them cover to cover.

Okay, so what about the air fryer itself? Of all the colors, shapes, and sizes, how could you possibly choose the perfect model? I can’t claim to have tried them all, but over the course of two years, I have gone through three different unique types: The Philips GoWISE 3.7-Quart, the Power Air Fryer XL 5.3 Quart, and the Power Air Fryer XL Pro 6 Quart. Which did I ultimately chose to keep?

Presenting, the winner of this round, the Power Air Fryer Pro (previously named the “Oven Elite” at the time of purchase)! Shaped like a miniature, traditional oven with moveable racks, it’s simply more versatile and easier to use than models that only provide a solid basket receptacle. This one provides that too, along with a rotisserie spit, rotating metal skewer attachment, and wire mesh basket. Furthermore, it’s a bit more spacious than the aforementioned options, and the separate racks allow you to cook multiple foods at once. Breaking down all the finer points to consider:

Pros:

  • Much more space! Wire racks allow you to separately cook different foods at the same time.
  • Rotating mesh basket means no more stopping and shaking food halfway through the cooking process to ensure more even browning.
  • Works brilliantly as a dehydrator; minimum temperature of 90 degrees.
  • Excellent and seamless toaster oven replacement. Creates a consistently golden crust on bread, bagels, and beyond. There’s even a dedicated pizza button for reheating leftovers.
  • Removable and non-stick drip tray makes for easy cleanup afterwards.

Cons:

  • Not exactly plug-and-play. Had a hell of a time figuring out how to install the skewers, and still couldn’t stop them from falling out eventually, regardless of the configuration.
  • The window is nice, but it would be more helpful if the light inside the unit stayed on after you closed the door. Doesn’t it defeat the purpose if you can’t see when the food is done?
  • Maximum temperature of 400 degrees. I’d wager that’s enough for 90% of all cooking needs, and most foods could just be cooked for a little bit longer to compensate, but it can be limiting for more precise, high-heat preparations.

Ready to embark on your exciting journey towards extra crispy, perfectly tender, and simply easier homemade meals? With expectations appropriately set and temperatures properly dialed in, the much lauded air fryer is a handy little helper that can make it happen. Naturally, all those years of testing and tasting have built up a considerable backlog of my own recipes to share, so stay tuned for much more!

Wordless Wednesday: Wildly Delicious

Ceviche of King Trumpet Mushrooms; leche de tigre, avocado, mango and seeded chips

Beet Poke; macadamia, baby cucumbers, ponzu, seaweed garlic crackers

Curried Cauliflower; with muhammara and toasted almonds

Mexican Corn Cakes; cherry tomatoes salad, lime, chili and queso

Mezze Plate; falafel, smoked white bean hummus, baba ghanoush, cucumber, marinated feta, pomegranate-tomato and parsley tabouli, seeded flatbread

Neatball Masala; warm super grains, lentil and mushroom neatballs, coconut masala, pickled carrots, tzatziki

Donburi; warm super grains, kimchi, avocado, roasted yam, shiitake mushroom, chard, roasted cauliflower

Peruvian Hodo Soy Tofu Skewer; with King Oysters mushrooms, yam, aji amarillo, quinoa salad, and cucumber yogurt

Impossible Burger; grilled onion, chipotle aioli, tomatoes, gem lettuce

Warm Chocolate Cake; beet and chaga, Gio’s chocolate gelato, coco nibs

Wildseed
2000 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123

Nuevo Gazpacho

Chill out. Watermelon might sound like an unconventional base for the classically tomato-red gazpacho, but it’s nothing to lose your cool over. Given a surplus of the highly perishable fruit and an oppressive heatwave to contend with, this sweet and savory mashup was inevitable.

As preferences quickly skew toward the fast, easy, and refreshing dishes, I can think of no better recipe to fit the bill. Gazpacho, no matter the color nor contents, must always be on hand for days like this, waiting in a properly chilled pitcher for instant access.

Balancing fruit and vegetables in elegant sufficiency, with a subtle bite of vinegar and fresh, verdant pop of basil, it’s an invigorating study in contrasts.

Don’t let the juicy inclusion scare you off. I promise, it’s not a vegetable-forward smoothie… Although it’s so good that you’ll still want to drink it straight from the blender.

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Quick Picks

Inundated by the staggering volume and variety of summer’s bounty, even the veteran gardener, cook, and farm stand enthusiast can easily become overwhelmed. The sudden flood of fresh produce can shift from blessing to burden overnight. That extra pound of cucumbers, so crisp and refreshing, the impulsive addition of pinata-striped sweet bell peppers, the peppery little bundle of Easter egg radishes, didn’t seem like much in the shopping basket, but add up in a big way back at home.

Now those prime, promising assets transform into ticking time bombs, turning brown and limp with every passing day. Use it or lose it! they cry, languishing in the back of the fridge. Delay the inevitable and freeze what you can, but don’t forget, there’s an even better method of preservation that’s served our forefathers and mothers well before the invention of the ice box.

Yes, we can. Canning and pickling, stocking up while enhancing natural flavor, is the only way to go. To the uninitiated, there are four barriers to entry into the pickling game. Old fashioned techniques sound too hard, too time consuming, too confusing, and require a bunch of equipment. On the contrary, anyone, young or old, seasoned or inexperienced, can make pickles in 10 minutes or less.

Allow me to introduce Aunt Pearl and Uncle Johnny, the inspiring figures behind Pearl and Johnny. Guided by the motto that “real food is beautiful,” their all-inclusive pickle mixes have nothing to hide, and a whole lot to share. Complete with reusable glass jars to showcase your perfect pickles, all you need to do is supply the vegetables and vinegar. Seasoning blends are as unique and diverse as the fans eating them up, from classic dill to piquant jalapeño-horseradish. Only organic, non-GMO ingredients make the cut, showcasing simple, honest foods at their finest.

The only limit is your imagination. Beyond the standard cucumber, there’s nothing on earth that doesn’t benefit from a bit of brine. Green beans, okra, cauliflower, and zucchini were my picks for this first shot, but far more creative opportunities are at your fingertips. Have you ever eaten pickled avocado? What about whole cloves of garlic? Have you even heard of pickled peaches before?

Consider these easy kits as pickling with training wheels. If you’ve never had the joy of reveling in a root cellar fully stocked with homemade preserves, Pearl and Johnny are here to hold your hand for a proper guided tour.

This review was made possible as a collaboration with Pearl and Johnny. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!