Serious About Food

There are certain things that only serious foodies understand. While everyone eats, and most people can appreciate the food on their plates to some degree, there’s a certain hunger that goes far beyond what’s on the plate. It’s a craving for connection that drives these people forward, for understanding history, culture, and the cooks driving it all forward using food as a vehicle. Personally, it’s the stories that keep me coming back for more.

Serious Foodie was found on exactly that premise. By exploring the world through recipes, you get more than a great meal at the end of the day. Their carefully crafted spice rubs, sauces, and spicy condiments serve as accessible entry points to culinary adventures that span the globe. Visiting both new and familiar lands forges stronger ties and awareness of the foodways that have existed long before any of us first picked up a spatula.

Straight out of the box, the Indonesian Sambal captured my imagination, promising a complex and nuanced blend of crushed red chilies, lime juice, vinegar, garlic, and salt. Much more than another hot sauce to stack up on the shelf, it brings a balanced heat with genuine flavor to the table, not just sheer firepower. It also made me realize that Indonesian food in general gets so little attention, despite the substantial influence it’s had specifically on vegetarians worldwide. Where would we be without the invention of tempeh, for starters?

Using the classic fermented bean cake and this smoldering yet sweet sauce as inspiration, I folded the two together into a fusion dish that everyone would recognize and enjoy: Tacos. Anything can be made into a taco without much effort. In this case, soft corn tortillas wrap gently around crispy cubes of tempeh that have been bathed in this sticky, savory glaze. Fresh cabbage adds a crisp crunch, paired with juicy mango salsa that sparkles with fresh flavor. Crunchy toasted peanuts seal the deal with just a hint of nutty flavor at the end of each bite.

This is the kind of dish that could convert a tempeh hater and make existing tempeh fans swoon. It’s a quick, easy, and foolproof meal with Serious Foodie. This is also my entry to the Serious Foodie Recipe Challenge; wish me luck! You can find more spicy ideas by visiting them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Go beyond the beaten path to discover a world of new flavors. When you come back, don’t forget to bring that inspiration back to your own kitchen.

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Endless Summer

Blinded by the midday sun, slung high above sparse, pillowy clouds, I close my eyes and throw my head back in submission. Ice clinks against the glass in my hand as it slowly melts, shape-shifting into smaller and smaller fragments before giving up on maintaining solid form altogether. Cicadas buzz and sizzle in the heat, flooding the air with their electric symphony. All extraneous details quickly fade away; this could be anywhere in space, at any point in time.

Just like that, days turn into weeks, trickling by without particular notice, blending into one another to create the fabled “endless summer.” Undoubtedly, the heat will persist well beyond the calendar’s seasonal boundaries, strengthening that illusion with every subsequent sunny forecast. Unfortunately, that magic never lasts, choosing to suddenly disappear for its final trick. With it goes the bounty of luscious summer produce. Goodbye to the watermelon and blueberries, so long tomatoes and cucumbers; we know you’ll come visit again, but a year feels like forever away.

We can’t make summer stay, but we can preserve some of that magic. Pickling is one of the easiest ways to save these seasonal gems while injecting some extra flavor. Inspired by the classic cocktail featuring gin and lime juice, gimlet pickles transform simple seedless cucumbers into savory snacks elegant enough to act as a garnish, but without being so fussy as to stand out in a sandwich or served on a charcuterie plate.

Gin contributes a uniquely woodsy flavor, imparted by juniper berries, that reminds me of pine needles with a touch of lemon. Since that can be a bit polarizing, a popular variation on the mix uses vodka instead. Taking a page from that traditional twist, feel free to play around with any distilled spirit you prefer.

Whatever you do, don’t let summer slip away. It may feel limitless right now, but in an instant, it could be swept away by cold winds and dark days. Drink in every savory moment while you still can.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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