All’s Fair in Love and Sushi

Do you believe in love at first bite? I’m far from the hopeless romantic type, giddy over every vague glimmer of attraction, but I sure do. Far from a mere plausibility, I can assure you that it’s a proven fact; I’ve experienced it on more than one occasion. Locking lips with one powerful bite that sweeps you off your feet in a moment of passion, you lose yourself in the moment. The setting, the people, the noise all melt away, leaving only the lingering taste sensation, and lust for more.

Blue Sake Sushi Grill is the most recent backdrop of one such fiery affair. From the onset, I knew this one would be a compelling catch, boasting a lengthy menu of entirely vegan maki and nigiri that go well beyond the standard vegetable garden. We’re talking about tomato ahi tuna, eggplant barbecued eel, ikura CaviArt– And those are only mere components that make up the larger rolls.

Don’t be shy; a little flirtation is a good way to get acquainted. Ease into the conversation with any of the clearly labeled plant-based appetizers, such as the Crispy Brussels Sprouts that could convert a hater. It’s not hard to find incredible fried Brussels in this city, with immaculately crisp, almost translucent leaves and tender, buttery interiors, but these take it to the next level. Slathered in zesty, savory, and subtly sweet yuzu-miso sauce, that plate alone would score serious points for a first date.

Recommending maki rolls from this fetching lineup is a daunting task, but the good news is that there are no losers here. The Cowgirl roll, which includes pickle tempura, sriracha-fried onion rings, BBQ-flavored soy paper instead of nori, vegan mayo, and tonkatsu sauce, is the overwhelming fan favorite. My personal favorite, however, was the Eden roll, comprised of grilled asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, sweet potato tempura, and topped with creamy edamame hummus. It truly does taste like a little bite of heaven, swaddled in white sesame soy paper.

Best of all, you can indulge on a budget during their daily happy hour, which naturally includes a wide selection of carefully crafted mixed drinks. If you need an extra push to give it a try, join the Bite Club to get a sweet discount of $10 off your first $20 purchase.

Laying claim to 15 locations nationwide as of this writing, with plans to continue that rapid expansion, it’s clear I’m not the only one swooning. If you’re still waiting for a branch to open up near you, don’t worry, there’s more than just eye candy on offer here! Blue Sake Sushi Grill was kind enough to offer the secret formula for their incomparable Brussels sprouts. If you’re the jealous type, though, be careful who you share them with; anyone could easily fall head over heels for this hot dish.

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Cooking on Acid

How on earth did I end up with so much vinegar?

Surveying the state of my pantry, you’d think I was in the pickling business. Rice vinegar, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, coconut vinegar, champagne vinegar, all in attendance, front and center on the shelves, to say nothing of the reductions, infusions, and blends lurking in back.

Tart, tangy liquids made through the fermentation of ethanol alcohol are the secret ingredients in the earliest recorded attempts at home cooking. The evidence is there, literally written in stone, all cross this tiny blue marble known as planet earth.

Vinegar, or more broadly acid of any variety is the real secret ingredient to any successfully balanced dish. Instantly heightening flavors much the way that salt and sugar can, without spiking blood pressure or tempting hyperglycemia, just a splash goes a long way in everything from marinara sauce to ice cream. Weaving seamlessly into the grander flavor tapestry, you’d never know this humble player was the one knitting everything together behind the scenes. That is, unless you chose to fully embrace such a sour superstar.

Adobo is the acidic perfect example. Leaning heavily into a pungent brew of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, and black peppercorns, it’s punchy and bold, tart and tangy, unapologetically, fiercely flavorful. Adobo is not the kind of dish you serve with delicate white wine on your finest plates; adobo is a brash party-starter, promising a raucous good time.

Every Filipino family has their own recipe, claiming theirs to be the best of the batch, and I certainly cannot compete with such fervent claims. I can, however, approximate something wholly delicious inspired by the art form, making it quicker, easier, and of course, much more vegan than traditional renditions.

Meaty mushrooms and chunks of seitan take the place of long-simmered beef, automatically adding a rich, deeply umami taste. Speaking to the versatility of vinegar itself, even while prominently highlighted in this Filipino staple, any range of options, or even a blend will kick things up just as brilliantly. This is a good opportunity to clear out the pantry of any odd drips and drabs leftover, should you obsessively hold on to those little bottles, too.

Adobo is possibly even better the day after cooking, so I’d implore you to double the recipe for a generous second helping later down the road. It will be tough to keep around in any great quantity no matter what.

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Not Your Average Joe

Of all the foods that Americans try to claim as their own, the Sloppy Joe may be one of the few that an actually trace their roots back to the good old U.S. of A. First referenced in the 1930’s and attributed to a cook only credited as “Joe,” it has humble beginnings befitting of original description of “loose meat sandwiches.” Doesn’t that just sound finger-licking good?

Many similar dishes exist abroad, owing largely to the simplicity of the concept, but few would recognize the childhood staple outside of these United States. However, the idea is still as foreign to me as tikka masala. I certainly enjoy it and appreciate its unique nuances, but can’t quite put my finger on what makes the best renditions so great. I must have been at least 20 years old before I ever assembled my own meatless melange. My mom never made it for our family meals, and I didn’t know enough to ask.

Lacking that essential reference point, it would be some bold claim to say that my illegitimate version is the best… But feels entirely fitting for this modern recipe revival.

That’s because instead of using the predictable, one-note tomato sauce base, I’ve pumped up the flavor volume with The Beet Goes On sauce from Bold Palate Foods. With a natural, subtle sweetness, deeply earthy savory notes, and bright spices, it’s a dynamite starter for any daring dining adventure. Simmered into an equally hearty and heart-healthy base of tender lentils and chopped cauliflower, there’s no contest when comparing nutritional stats.

Though you could very happily slap this thick stew on a bun and call it a dinner, I love the snappy, tangy bite of dill pickles on top. Conventional garnishes might call for a slice of day-glow orange American cheese, but I prefer to go bold, pouring No Cows on This Ranch dressing all over instead. It’s hard to beat that creamy, cooling, herbaceous contrast.

Tired of toting such big buns? Alternate serving suggestions run the gamut from spaghetti to baked potatoes, french fries, or even tacos. No need to stick to the beaten path when brighter, bolder, and smarter options are out there.

Be bold, and enjoy with reckless abandon.

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Takeout Take Away

Chinese food is one of the most popular worldwide simply because it boasts such incredible breadth and depth. There are eight primary styles of cuisine that fall under this umbrella term, each with its own flavor affinities and specialties.

Even if you only eat “Chinese food” every day of the week, you would never run out of options. Certainly, you’d never get bored.

Cantonese is one of the most common styles found in America, blending a delicate interplay between sweet and sour, with more braises, heavy sauces, and mild seasonings. This is where you find the usual staples like Kung Pao and General Tso’s.

Sichuan and Hunan lean more heavily into fiery hot spices, with a touch of ma la (mouth-numbing) peppercorns adding a distinct sensory experience. Think of blazing hot mapo tofu and dandan noodles.

Shandong cuisine hails from northeastern China, which explains the strong oceanic influence with much more seafood and salty flavors. Sea cucumbers are a particular specialty (though they’re not related to the vegetable you’re thinking of, and certainly not vegan) along with shark fin soup, now banned in most countries.

Anhui and Fujian both come from more mountainous regions, incorporating more earthy notes, wild foraged foods, and simple, sweet tastes. These styles are rarely found in the United States, sadly. “Hairy” tofu, fermented and pungent, is an acquired taste but highly memorable.

Similarly, Zhejiang and Jiangsu foods are almost impossible to find overseas; a sad omission from mainstream restaurants, as these dishes are lighter, fresher, or even entirely raw. Seasonality is exceptionally important, emphasizing the beauty in simplicity. Ginger-braised or -steamed proteins are popular, often paired with delicate white tea.

When you start craving Chinese food, which is your favorite style?