Rice, Rice, Baby

Young vegans today don’t even know how good they’ve got it. Back in my day, dairy-free milk was still a rarity, available only in niche health food stores. Even there, your choices were limited to only soy or rice. Oat? Almond? Cashew? Forget about it! Who knew there were so many potential sources of creamy liquid back then?

Shelf stockers at mainstream markets would either scratch their heads, dumbfounded by the request, or haplessly led you to the lactose-free cartons. For a compassionate eater living in the suburbs, without a driver’s license, that meant stocking up and paying obscene prices for the luxury of access, or getting a bit more creative.

Guess which path I chose?

When sold in watered down cartons, rice milk was usually my least favorite option, but at home, I found a crafty loophole to create a thicker, richer blend. Creating a dense rice milk concentrate, not entirely dissimilar to wallpaper paste, I could better control the viscosity, flavor, and sweetness, all while building up a stockpile to easily whip up another cup, quart, or gallon at a time if I so desired. It was cheap, effective, and highly satisfying to beat the system.

Over time, my own means of access improved along with a boom in widespread availability. Once an essential staple, that formula that served me so well fell to the back of the digital recipe box. Collecting virtual dust, forgotten until an unfortunate computer crash forced me back onto an old laptop, it suddenly popped up like a long lost friend.

Today in 2021, I don’t need to make my own rice milk in bulk (thank the stars) but the concept spoke to me in a whole new way this time around. With a few little tweaks, a little polish, and some modern upgrades, I had a beautiful, brilliant instant horchata concentrate on my hands.

Perfect for sweltering summer heat when all you need is a tall, icy drink to keep your cool, horchata is the ultimate agua fresca. Creamy but not thick or rich, subtle notes of cinnamon and almond play in the background with in delicate, balanced harmony.

By skipping the time-consuming step of soaking whole grains of rice, prep time is slashed by an eighth or more, and it’s ready to reconstitute whenever a profound thirst strikes. Whether you’re serving a solo drinker or making a pitcher for a party, this stuff is like liquid gold for a quick fix.

We may not need bulk rice milk anymore, but you can never have too much horchata.

Continue reading “Rice, Rice, Baby”

Cacio-22

How do you make cacio e pepe, without butter, cheese, or cream? Just add joy.

No wait, that’s actually Joi, your new best friend for creamy comfort food. Though these bases are essentially condensed plant milks, I’ve found them most useful for creating quick cream sauces and soups for savory dishes, or heavy cream for desserts.

Turning nut butter into milk is one of my favorite thrifty tricks. When you’re in the middle of a recipe, burners blazing with the dials cranked up to 11, it’s the worst feeling to discover that you’re missing a critical ingredient. I tend to guzzle non-dairy milk by the gallon, despite the fact that it only goes into my coffee, which can lead to a terrible disappointment if I don’t double up at the store.

Typically, it takes just 1 – 2 tablespoons of raw nut butter, be it almond, cashew, or even peanut, blended with 1 cup of water, to fill the gaps. It’s not the most elegant solution; naturally, it separates if it sits around too long, curdles in coffee, and comes with a heavier nut flavor than something specifically formulated for cooking or drinking straight.

Enter: Joi, your new shelf-stable, bulk milk best friend. I’m IN LOVE, full stop, with the cashew version for its rich yet neutral flavor to meld seamlessly with absolutely anything. Don’t believe me? Fine, don’t take my word for you; taste it for yourself! Use the code “BITTERSWEET” for 10% off of their website, or click straight through the link to have it applied automatically.

Once you’ve stocked up, hurry back here to make this easy winner. You could still use my old trick in a pinch, employing raw, pure cashew butter in times of need (and untenable cravings.) The name may translate to “cheese and pepper,” but in common parlance, it means creamy, cheesy pasta sparkling with freshly cracked black pepper. It’s the original mac and cheese from ancient Rome, polished up with modern methods. Who needs the blue box when you can start from scratch with equally gratifying instant results?

Continue reading “Cacio-22”

Totopos por Todos

In the same spirit of equally amorphous concepts like salads and curries, basically anything you throw on top of tortilla chips can be considered nachos. In fact, many further blur the lines with alternative bases like pita chips or potato chips, deftly dancing across cultural boundaries with ease.

Unlike the aforementioned culinary abstractions, nachos can trace their lineage directly to one single innovator. Mr. Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, maître d’ of Club Victoria in Piedras Negras, Mexico was not even a chef, but a tirelessly hospitable host. When, in 1943, a group arrived at the restaurant and the cook was no where to be found, he leapt into action. Piling up what scant ingredients he could find, the towering plate of tortilla chips topped with sliced jalapeños and melted cheese was an instant hit. Named for the man of the moment, the Nachos Especiales, would forever change the way that Mexicans, Americans, and the world at large, ate their chips.

There’s no one “right” or “best” way to make nachos; they’re the ultimate blank slate, infinitely adaptable to your personal tastes. Though it defies the conventionally accepted definition, even the chips are variable, if you’d rather a base of fries or tots. Personally, I must insist that some form of cheese or queso is mandatory, but from there, just a few ideas for toppings include…

  • guacamole or diced avocado
  • pico de gallo
  • shredded lettuce or cabbage
  • fresh spinach
  • fresh or grilled corn
  • roasted red peppers
  • halved cherry or grape tomatoes
  • whole pinto or black beans
  • re-fried beans
  • sliced black olives
  • fresh or pickled jalapeño
  • fresh or pickled red onions
  • meatless grounds
  • pulled jackfruit
  • crumbled tofu
  • sour cream or cashew crema
  • hot sauce
  • pepitas
  • scallions
  • cilantro
  • fresh lime juice

That’s not even the half of it. Think about the possibilities for a breakfast variant, and even sweet options for dessert nachos! Given the endless choices, what are your go-to’s?

Kiss and Tell

One small batch of nostalgia, coming right up.

For someone who built a career on sweet treats, my kitchen has been churning out distinctly savory dishes lately, with desserts far and few between. It’s tough testing so many sugary indulgences when you’re baking for one, and the pandemic has cut severely into my opportunities to share. Still, there’s no denying the call of cravings, a deep, undeniable, almost primal urge for the comfort that only a bit of sugar might bring.

Large pies are out of the question, as are elaborate entremets. Nothing too fussy, nor too perishable in reasonable quantities for a solo eater to take down. Most days, I can satiate those innate desires with sensible poached pears or macerated strawberries with softly whipped coconut cream, but there’s something about the ritual of actually baking that soothes the soul, almost more than the act of eating the end results.

To that end, I turn to this scant handful of treats that comforted me as a child. Impossibly picky, there wasn’t much I wanted beyond the basics, which is where these cocoa kisses came in. Meringues tinted with a hint of chocolate, my mother modified a recipe right out of The Joy of Cooking to create a cookie that was crisp, light as a cloud, but slightly gooey and soft on the inside. Perhaps it’s not the proper form for a true meringue, though who’s to judge when they were snapped up as soon as they could cool?

Bringing down the yield to a more manageable quantity, you can whip up a batch in minutes, and feel just fine about devouring them just as quickly. Anytime I feel that familiar craving for nostalgic sweetness, I won’t deny it; this is the kind of self-care that everyone deserves.

Continue reading “Kiss and Tell”

Broadly Speaking

What’s in a name? Broad beans are a confounding classification that encompasses a whole swath of the legume population. Some use the term interchangeably, referring to butter beans and lima beans as if they were the same thing. Defying all rational definition, in a sense, they are! Why is it that lima beans tend to get the short end of the stick, the bane of many picky childrens’ existence, while butter beans come with an air of whole luxury? Words do matter, more than one might want to admit.

Different varieties for each title exist, but the whole naming convention is further complicated by location and appearance. In the south, you’re more likely to see butter beans on the menu, but if they’re younger and thus greener, they’re the spitting image of what one might otherwise refer to as lima beans. It’s the same, but different.

If we could forget about names for a minute, I truly believe that the smaller, greener subspecies would have a fighting chance at mainstream acceptance. Tender, but with the same toothsome bite as edamame, they’re textually unparalleled in the bean kingdom. That’s especially true if you treat them properly; canned or over-boiled beans are likely the root of cause of such historical disregard, but fresh or frozen, you’re talking about a whole different hill of beans.

Pan-fried with a generous glug of fresh pressed olive oil, they finally live up to the promise of buttery taste, too. Blistered over scorching hot temperatures, a literal flash in the pan, their skins become crisp, adding a whole new dimension of texture to the plate. Simply prepared, with a touch of garlic, salt, and pepper, you could easily eat them straight, as an entree over mashed potatoes, sprinkled over salads, or served up with bar nuts as a hot new beer snack.

This same treatment works for just about any bean, including but not limited to chickpeas, fava beans, and even lentils. Now, don’t even get me started about the additional complication of the terms “pole beans” and “butter peas.”

Continue reading “Broadly Speaking”

The Duchess and the Pea

What could be more proper than a decorous English tea sandwich? Filled daintily but not overstuffed, crusts carefully removed, each mouthful is an architectural feat, rendered in an edible medium. History has spared no detail on this stately creation, giving full attribution to Anna Maria Stanhope, seventh Duchess of Bedford, who felt the sharp jab of hunger midday, while dinner was still many hours off. A well-mannered lady could not simply pilfer scraps from the kitchen- Heavens, no! Fashioning these elegant little two-bite affairs to serve with tea, no one needed suffer the embarrassment of an uncontrolled appetite in civilized company.

Why, then, has it taken so long for contemporary cooks to realize the potential of another British staple, the English pea, when crafting a perfectly proper filling? Tender, sweet green pearls that sing of spring’s bounty, they’re an even more esteemed asset than the common cucumber.

While we’re on the subject of names and origins, I must wonder why there isn’t more tea involved in a rightful tea sandwich? Of course, like coffee cake, the moniker intones what should be served with the food at hand, but I find myself unsatisfied with that explanation. In my remodeled bread building, stunning butterfly pea tea powder grants lightly tangy cream cheese an arresting blue hue.

In less formal settings, the pea spread could become a dip for any variety of fresh vegetable crudites, crackers, or chips. In fact, it could be swirled through strands of al dente spaghetti for a savory seasonal treat, too. However, something about the full combination of elements, complete with effortlessly yielding soft sandwich bread, really makes it shine. Do give it a go; it’s only proper to try.

Continue reading “The Duchess and the Pea”