Oh, Good Larb

Waves of heat ripple across the surface of the wok, a thin layer of oil shimmering in the late afternoon sun. Power dial turned up all the way to 10, intense heat emanated from the stove, setting a controlled conflagration ablaze right within reach. With one fell swoop, our fearless culinary guide and adept chef sent verdant handfuls of tender green vegetables flying, sizzling violently against the carbon steel, instantly searing upon contact. One minute later, the meal was served; blink and you’d miss the whole show.

The beauty of larb, otherwise written as laab, lahb, larp, laap, or lahp and prepared just as many different ways, is that it comes together in a flash, even if you don’t have the same kitchen confidence as bay area food guru Philip Gelb. Under his guidance, I encountered my favorite version of this Laotian and Thai dish, lightly charred by the kiss of the wok and brilliantly perfumed with a bouquet of fresh herbs and spices. Stunningly simple in composition yet impossibly complex in flavor, every bite was a new revelation. It’s the kind of combination that can never get boring, offering a fresh experience with every mouthful, and opportunities for different variations with every passing season.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many riffs on this timeless theme, sometimes with a delightful discovery of tender green asparagus or the unmistakable umami of chopped mushrooms sprinkled throughout. Even in the heat of summer, that man-made inferno is short lived, smoldering on only in flavor, and tempered by the cooling foil of crisp lettuce cups for serving. It’s well worth that fleeting moment in the fire.

Tempeh Larb

By Chef Philip Gelb of Sound & Savor

2 Tablespoons Raw Brown Rice

3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
3 Tablespoons Palm Sugar
1/4 Cup Lime Juice

8 Ounces Tempeh, Cut into 1/4-Inch Cubes
Oil for Frying

2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1 Stalk Fresh Lemongrass, Minced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Teaspoons Ginger, Minced
1 – 10 Thai Chilies, Minced
1/2 Cup Green Peas, Fresh or Frozen
1/2 Medium Red Onion, Diced
1/4 Cup Fresh Thai Basil, Chopped
1/4 Cup Fresh Mint, Chopped
1/4 Cup Fresh Italian Basil, Chopped
1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Chopped

Crisp Lettuce Leaves, Such as Romaine or Bibb Lettuce, to Serve

In a hot frying pan over medium-low heat, dry toast the raw rice. Shake the pan continuously for 2 minutes until the rice smells nutty. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush it until it’s powdery. Set aside.

Combine the soy sauce, palm sugar, and lime juice and set aside.

Deep fry the tempeh until crisp and golden brown. Set side.

Place the coconut oil in a hot wok. Add the lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and as many chilies as you like. Stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the peas and onion and stir-fry for another minute. Add all of the fresh herbs and cook for only 10 seconds before add the soy sauce mixture. Give it just 1 more minute on the stove before turning off the heat.

Add the toasted rice powder and fried tempeh and stir everything together. Serve with lettuce leaves and let diners wrap parcels of larb with the lettuce.

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

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Naan-Sense

Salads aren’t just wilted leafy greens and tired, limp carrot sticks. Stunningly diverse once you peel back that initial concept, it’s difficult to pin down one concise definition of the concept to encompass all of the culinary possibilities. Salads are most frequently thought of as chilled dishes, but they can also be served warm. Though generally the healthier option on the table, some salads can be real gut bombs. Heck, if you can call something with cookies in it a “salad,” then you, too, can be anything you set your mind to.

Today, while I have less lofty aspirations in mind, the results are no less impressive. Simultaneously inspired by the glorious fresh tomatoes and cucumbers at the farmers market and exhausted by the idea of the labor of real cooking, salads are given high priority in my daily diet on hot summer days. All I want is something fresh and satisfying I can cobble together out of the contents of my fridge with an absolute minimal commitment to genuine cooking. Toasting bread, sure, I can handle that, but all the rest feels like too much work after a full shift and long commute.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to some truly questionable salads. Nothing is off limits; cooked grains, nuts, fruit, vegetables are all fair game of course, but what about that loaf of bread sitting on the counter, growing more stale by the hour? Well, why not? There’s a long tradition of thrifty Italians inventing imaginative twists on panzanella, so that only stretches the imagination for the uninitiated. Expanding on that carb-based formula, consider the pita and all it does for fattoush over in the middle east. Thus, it stands to reason, naan should be a perfectly acceptable ingredient in this formula as well, right?

Garlic naan, a thing of beauty in and of itself, seems almost too good to sacrifice to the salad bowl. Chewy, tender slabs of gluten rich oil and pungent minced garlic, is a sadly rare treat to find in ready-made vegan form. Typically prepared with yogurt and or ghee (butter,) it’s one of the few Indian staples firmly off limits for the lactose intolerant among us. Now that California Lavash has expanded its range to include a completely dairy-free rendition, nothing is out of bounds. I’m tempted to bring a package with me even when eating out at top Indian restaurants, but resist the urge by doubling down on my naan consumption at home instead.

It was only a matter of time before I found a way to shovel this glorious flatbread into my mouth by the forkful. Lightly toasting it to a crisp exterior and bestowing it with a golden curry dressing, this is a combination I could eat on repeat all summer long, and well beyond. Feel free to expand upon the vegetable inclusions based on what you have available, or go crazy with your own creative add-ins. As we’ve established, a salad is anything you want it to be, if you just believe in it.

Curried Naan Panzanella

1/2 Pound (1 Pint) Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, Halved
1/2 English Cucumber, Quartered and Sliced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, Divided
5 – 6 Ounces (1 Pieces) Garlic Naan Bread, Cut into 1-Inch Squares
2 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 Teaspoon Madras Curry Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Cooked Chickpeas
1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Roughly Chopped

Begin by tossing the sliced tomatoes and cucumbers with half of the salt. Set aside for about 15 minutes to draw out some of the excess liquid. Drain the extra water they’ve given off before proceeding.

Meanwhile, combine the sliced naan with 1/2 tablespoon of oil and spread the pieces out in an even layer on a baking sheet. Run under the broiler in your oven set to high for 10 – 15 minutes, until toasted golden brown and crisp.

Simply whisk together the remaining oil, lime juice, tahini, curry powder, black pepper, and remaining salt to create the dressing. Toss everything into a large bowl, including the drained vegetables, toasted bread, dressing, chickpeas, and cilantro, and mix well to combine. Serve immediately; this salad doesn’t keep well once dressed as the naan will begin to get soggy.

Makes 2 – 3 Entree Servings; 4 – 6 Side Servings

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Lazy Days

Writing a cookbook all about 10-minute recipes has made me the laziest cook ever. I’ve often said that it’s spoiled me for regular dinnertime prep, reducing me to infantile tantrums if anything should threaten to spill over that arbitrary time limit. Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I’ve been known to throw down a spatula mid-stir and plunder the cupboard for a bowlful of cereal instead, too hungry or impatient to complete the absurdly simple task. Just like the increasing efficiency of technology has eradicated our tolerance for lag, knowing just how quick a meal can come together creates a terrible intolerance for long, drawn out steps towards food fabrication.

For anyone else who knows that struggle, I’d like to introduce your to my easiest, fastest recipe yet, possible to slap on the table in 3 minutes all told. No arduous chopping, sauteing, baking, grilling, poaching, or advanced techniques required. If you can open a can and operate a microwave, you can feed yourself very well indeed. Truly, it’s so simple that it’s barely even a recipe, to the point that I hesitate to share this quick fix as a formal preparation. Considering how many times it’s saved me from the daily dinner dilemma, however, it seemed like a worthwhile idea to share.

Beans. Salsa. Spices. Heat and eat. It’s not fancy fare, but it’s a healthy bowl-in-one and deeply satisfying. Even a bare-bones sort of pantry should be able to accommodate without advanced planning, especially when you look at the ingredients with a flexible perspective. Simple as it is, the beauty of this basic formula is that it’s infinitely adaptable to any type of beans or seasoning you can scrounge up. See the end notes for more inspiration, but don’t be afraid to depart from the beaten path; make it your own and embark on a new flavor adventure.

Instant Fiesta Soup

2 (15-Ounce) Cans No Salt Added Pinto Beans (Undrained)
1 1/2 Cups Salsa
1 1/2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

For Topping (Optional):

Diced Avocado
Thinly Sliced Chives or Scallions

Toss the beans, aquafaba and all, into your blender along with the salsa and spices. Blend until mostly smooth but with a bit of texture still remaining, as desired.

Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high, until steaming hot all the way through; about 4 – 5 minutes. Alternatively, a single serving into the microwave for 2 minutes and store the rest in the fridge, sealed in an airtight container, for up to a week.

Ladle into bowls and top each with avocado and chives or scallions. Dig in!

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Variations:

On less lazy days, cook your own beans from scratch! Simply use about 3 cups total and either 1/2 – 1 cup of the aquafaba or vegetable broth, to reach your desired consistency.

To simply switch things up a bit, consider using black beans instead of pinto.

Make it an Italian-inspired soup by using white beans and marinara sauce in place of the salsa, plus a generous handful of fresh or dried herbs (heavy on the basil and parsley, please!)

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No More Street Meat

Right now, right at this very moment, a ponderous line is snaking its way down the sidewalks of downtown Berkeley, roiling with ravenous foodies clamoring for a taste of what some have called the best Halal food in the entire country. It doesn’t matter what time you’re reading these words; I guarantee that line still persists, waxing and waning well into the darkest hours of the night, thinning but remaining ever-present even once the doors shut for a brief reset in the morning. The hype behind New York’s famous Halal Guys is no joke. Even though their first outpost in the bay area is fully accessible in downtown San Francisco, the demand for these middle eastern platters of street meat has reached fever pitch.

Rarely have I read reviews so overstuffed with outrageous hyperbole; you’d think these writers were describing lucid dreams after one too many drinks, or perhaps something a bit stronger. From the glowing golden rice, infused with a mysterious savory flavor that no one can quite agree on, to the legendary “white sauce” described as a particular excretion from an angelic source, it’s hard to believe that any real life experience could ever live up to such bold advertising.

Though halal truly refers to the method of slaughter, deemed acceptable by Muslims to eat in good faith, the concept has come to simply indicate a sort of middle eastern cart cuisine, strong on spices, quick and easy to eat on a brief lunch break, and always there for you after a late-night binge. Such culture really only exists in NYC, but cravings know no boundaries, and so that same style of food has begun to take root on the opposite coast.

Allow me to tempt you to step out of line for a meatless rendition that needs no breathless amplification to sell itself. Leave the social media madness behind and focus on the flavor here. Tempeh soaks in all the rich, nuanced spices of a deceptively simple marinade to pack all the protein punch you could ever ask for. Load it up in a generous mound over fluffy, fragrant yellow rice, lavish it with white sauce of more reputable origin, and finish the plate with a few fresh garnishes for the complete experience.

Sure, it’s no 10-minute meal, but every single second is worth the wait for this unrivaled flavor explosion. Each piece is quite winsome in its own right, but the harmony that happens when the whole platter is united is difficult to describe in words. It’s something that must be experienced to be fully understood, just like the original inspiration.

Besides, you’ll still easily work your way through the whole process in half the time it would take to arrive at the front of that interminable line.

Halal Cart Tempeh Platter

Tempeh Shawarma:

2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Fresh Oregano
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Tablespoons Olive oil
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 (8-Ounce) Packages Tempeh, Cubed
1/2 Cup Finely Diced Yellow Onion

Yellow Rice:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Cup Jasmine or Basmati Rice
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

White Sauce:

1 (5.3-Ounce) Container Plain Vegan Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Tahini
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
2 Tablespoons Fresh Mint, Minced
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

To Serve
:

Shredded Romaine Lettuce or Cabbage
Tomatoes, Sliced or Cut into Wedges
Pita Bread, Lightly Toasted and Cut into Wedges
Harissa

The longer you can let the tempeh marinate, the better, so begin preparing this meal at least 2 hours in advance, if not a full day. Start by whisking together the lemon juice, soy sauce, spices and herbs, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well and add in the cubed tempeh and onions, tossing thoroughly to coat. This is also fantastic to prepare in a zip-top plastic bag to ensure complete coverage and an airtight seal. Place the mixture in your fridge and let rest for an hour at minimum, and 24 hours at best, before proceeding.

When you’re ready to cook the meal, get the rice started so that it’s hot and ready when you are. Place the olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat, swirling it to coat the bottom. Sprinkle in the turmeric and coriander, sauteing very briefly just to toast the spices and allow their full flavors to develop. Deglaze the pan with the vegetable stock, stirring well to ensure that there are no spices sticking at the bottom, and add in the rice, salt, and the pepper. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Let rest for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, return your attention to the marinated tempeh. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat and bring it up to temperature before dumping in the entire contents of the zip-top bag. Don’t be alarmed if it immediately begins to sizzle and smoke; that’s what you want to see! Spread out the cubed tempeh so that it’s arranged an an even layer, with full contact on the skillet. Let cook, undisturbed, for at least 5 minutes until browned on the first side. Flip and continue to cook, repeating until all sides are golden and crispy.

For the white sauce, simply whisk together all of the ingredients until smooth.

Finally, you’re ready to serve! Layer a sturdy base of fluffy golden rice on each plate, followed by a mound of hot tempeh. Drizzle generously with white sauce and garnish with any or all of the suggested accompaniments. Offer a dish of harissa paste or any other hot sauce on the side. Devour immediately!

Makes 4 – 5 Servings

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Spiraling Out of Control

Will It Noodle? Like the popular series inspired by one particular turbo-charged blender, challenging contenders to step up to the plate for possible processing, the answer is invariably an emphatic yes. Testing the limits of my trusty spiralizer has proven far more gratifying though, since these trials end with delicious strands of vegetables, rather than a pile of useless rubble. Zucchini tends to get all the fame and glory, shredding easily and blending seamlessly with any bold sauce, but there’s a wide range of unsung plant-based options, ripe for the noodling.

Scrounging through the fridge for a more reasonable dinner than greasy takeout or cold cereal, my intention was never to make something worth posting about, and yet the results were too beautiful to ignore. Spinning up an orange-fleshed spud instead of squash started out my bowl with a hearty, substantial base for a southwestern-inspired celebration of summer. What’s more important than the individual components, however, is the basic concept. There’s so much more than just green zucchini out there, perfect for spiralizing. Harder root vegetables can still be eaten raw, but depending on your preference, might be more enjoyable lightly steamed and softened. With that in mind, I would invite you to consider the following alternatives:

  • Sweet Potatoes/Yams
  • Beets
  • Daikon
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Broccoli Stems
  • Turnips
  • Jicama
  • Cucumbers

Don’t stop there. On the sweeter side of the menu, apples can turn into noodle just as easily, along with a full rainbow of more exotic fruits and vegetables. Once you’ve got a spiralizer, you have instant access to endless pasta replacements. Keep on whirling your way through the produce bin with abandon! There are just a few guidelines to determine the best bets for noodling:

  • Don’t use anything with a hollow or highly seeded core
  • Pieces should be at least 2 inches in diameter and 2 inches long to create full strands
  • Firmer, more solid-fleshed options will yield the best results

It feels silly to write out this formula as a full recipe; all quantities and ingredients are entirely adjustable. Not feeling corny? Lose the kernels. Prefer peas? Invite them to the party! In truth, I would have preferred pinto or black beans to fit the theme better, but chickpeas were the only canned legumes in the pantry at the time. Despite that shortcoming, I don’t think the end results particularly suffered. The most important takeaway here is that if you’re wondering, Will It Noodle?, there’s only one way to find out… And it’s almost always a delicious experiment.

Southwestern Sweet Potato Spiral Bowl

8 Ounces Spiralized Sweet Potato, Raw or Lightly Steamed
1/3 Cup Corn Kernels
1/2 Cup Chickpeas
1/2 Avocado, Sliced
1/3 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
1/4 Cup Salsa
1/2 Cup Shredded Lettuce
1/3 Cup Sliced Bell Peppers

Quick Chipotle Crema

3/4 Cup Raw Cashews
1/2 Cup Water
2 Tablespoons Lime juice
1 Chipotle Chile Canned in Adobo + 2 Tablespoons of the Adobo Sauce
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
2 Teaspoons Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Begin by tossing all of the ingredients for the chipotle crema into your blender and cranking it up to high. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the containing if needed. You will likely have more crema than needed for one portion, but trust me, you’ll wish there was even more leftover once you taste this stuff. In fact, feel free to double the quantities and save the sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Spoon a generous dollop or two of the chipotle crema onto the spiralized sweet potato and toss to thoroughly coat the noodles. Place in a large bowl, and pile the remaining vegetables on top in an attractive pattern (avocado rose not required.) Dig in!

Makes 1 Serving

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Monochromatic, Never Monotonous

In such murky, turbulent times, it’s comforting to know that some things remain clearly defined in black and white. Even through the dense fog of uncertainty, it’s easy to identify a satisfying meal when you see one. Should it be clad in an attractive range of tones that never deviate too far from one scale of the color spectrum, so much the better.

Black pasta is crowning jewel of this monochromatic treasure chest, arrestingly dark spirals twisting through a sea of contrasting produce. Though the concept would traditionally suggest that squid ink was at play, the rise in popularity of charcoal has brought a new tint onto the food scene. I can’t vouch for its “detoxing” abilities, nor do I care to test out the claims; what interests me most is the dusky onyx hue it imparts to everything it touches.

In truth, you could pair absolutely anything with those obsidian twisted noodles with equal success and beauty, but the bold visuals of pale white cauliflower and tofu feta create stunning visual appeal, and an equally stellar flavor profile. Briny kalamata olives join the party to add a salty top note, accentuating the deeper roasted flavor of the cruciferous addition and lightly caramelized onions. Pine nuts add an occasional crunch to keep every bite exciting.

Plan ahead for this meal and everything will come together quite easily. Handmade pasta is definitely a labor of love, but can be prepared well in advance to save you the struggle when the dinner hour rolls around. Trofie, my shape of choice, is a Ligurian pasta that is already vegan by nature, no eggs needed. Rolled by hand into bite-sized twirls, it requires no special machinery, but can be time-consuming to complete. Feel free to go a simpler route with basic linguine or spaghetti to save yourself the hassle. The pasta will taste just as good, and look every bite as darkly handsome.

Black Trofie Pasta

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Food-Grade Charcoal Powder
1 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 – 1 Cup Water

Place the flour, charcoal, and salt in a large bowl, whisking thoroughly to equally distribute the ingredients. Make a well in the center and pour 3/4 cup of water. Begin mixing the flour into the water, maintaining the well in the center as best you can. When the mixture gets too thick for a fork, drop the fork and get your hands in there to continue mixing. Drizzle in additional water as needed to incorporate all of the flour to form a cohesive dough. It should feel tacky but not sticky.

Knead on a lightly-floured surface for 8 – 10 minutes, until very smooth. Let the dough rest for an hour before proceeding, or cover with plastic wrap, place in the fridge, and let rest overnight.

To shape the noodles, first lightly flour a baking sheet and clean work surface.

Flatten the dough out into a disk and cut a strip about 1/2-inch wide. Don’t worry too much about the exact measurements, since you will next roll it into a rope about half that width. Slice it into 1/4-inch pieces.

Take one nugget at a time and rub it between your palms, creating a small cylinder with tapered ends. For extra flare, you can further twist the shapes to create ridges, but for an “authentic” trophie, you only need to rub the dough between your hands three or four times to create each noodle. Drop the finished shapes onto your awaiting baking sheet. Let the noodles rest and lightly air-dry, uncovered, for at least one hour before cooking.

The pasta will cook in boiling water in just 30 – 120 seconds (yes, seconds, not minutes!) depending on the thickness of your noodles. Stand by and taste-taste for when they’re perfectly al dente.

Makes About 1 Pound; 4 Servings

Black and White Pasta

1 Batch Black Trofie Pasta, Above

1 Head Cauliflower, Cut into Florets
1/2 Medium White Onion, Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

1/2 Cup Kalamata Olives, Pitted and Halved
5 Ounces Tofu Feta, Roughly Crumbled
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Toss the cauliflower, onion, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl until the vegetables are evenly coated. Spread everything out on your prepared baking sheet in an even layer, making sure nothing overlaps, and slide it into the hot oven. Roast for about 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is golden brown and fork-tender.

Toss the roasted vegetables together with the cooked pasta, kalamata olives, tofu feta, and pine nuts. Add in a tiny splash of the pasta cooking water if desired, to give the dish a bit more moisture. Serve immediately, while piping hot.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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