Fritter the Day Away

From the beginning of time, when humans discovered fire and the very concept of cooking itself, fritters have bubbled up across all cultures. Defined primarily as battered and fried morsels, the specifics that flavor these nuggets are limitless. Vegetables, fruits, or proteins could be the main feature, or a combination, or none of the above. The dough could be raised by yeast or baking soda or eggs, or left unleavened altogether. Served at any meal from day break to nightfall and in between, fritters can be sweet or savory, spicy or mild, served hot or cold. When you start trying to pin down exactly what a fritter is, it might be easier to describe what it isn’t instead.

Most Americans are familiar with simple, comforting fritters born primarily in the south; apple fritters are a staple lining in any decent pink doughnut shop box, while corn fritters are essential summer snacks. The French have beignets, while Italians call them bigne. Pakora hail from India, binding together bits of onion, potatoes, cauliflower or other vegetables in savory, seasoned chickpea flour.

While I could write a whole dissertation about the diverse world of fritters, I’d like to draw attention to a less celebrated sort today: the black eyed pea fritter. Known also as accara, this legume-based variant is primarily found in Africa. You could almost think of them as falafel from another motherland. Dried pulses blended coarsely with spices, fried until golden and crisp, they’re irresistible eaten out of hand as a snack, but work well in everything from sandwiches to salads.

This recipe comes from Chef Philip Gelb, who in turn adapted it from Bryant Terry. I was fortunate enough to first taste this beloved street food first hand, at one of his cooking classes eons ago. They were part of a lavish Jamaican spread including jerk cauliflower, calaloo, run down stew, and peas and rice, but I daresay they stole the show. Paired with a tart, tangy, sweet, and spicy tamarind chutney, I have a feeling you’ll fall in love with them, too.

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Let the Good Times, and Rice Balls, Roll

Get your favorite fat pants on and pull up a chair; it’s almost time for Fat Tuesday! You never need an excuse to indulge, but Mardi Gras is the best excuse to splurge on rich Cajun and Creole fare. No need to repent with fasting and self-denial for Lent, as per the Catholic tradition, though. When you’re eating plant-based, even the most lavish feast can be rationalized as a “healthier” choice. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself when I reach for a third, fourth, and maybe fifth round of fried jambalaya.

Italians would call them arancini, but it just hits different when you say it with a southern twang. Plump, sticky sushi rice is slowly simmered with the holy trinity, tomatoes, garlic, and a powerful punch of savory spices. Morsels of meatless sausage meld with the mixture for a substantial, satisfying bite. It’s a complete meal in one convenient, crispy package.

Dip, dunk, or plate the sizzling hot spheres with creamy remoulade sauce, tangy and punchy, spiked with vinegar and hot sauce to really get the party started. Go all out with a dollop of scallion pesto on top, or for a simpler finishing touch, sprinkle on plain scallions generously and call it a day.

With such bold flavors condensed into these tiny packages, you couldn’t ask for anything else… Except, maybe, one more helping.

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Udon of a New Day

Instant noodles are the staff of life. Globally, they sustain wild swaths of the population, satisfying picky children to discerning adults, proving a quick fix for the hapless homemaker and the harried office worker alike, fitting the bill for both impoverished college students and affluent entrepreneurs. Curly bricks of ramen, dried, fried noodles, make the world go round.

There’s so much more to slurp, though, with considerably fresher appeal. Udon, thick as double-braided nylon rope, make ramen look like limp spaghetti by contrast. Dense, chewy, substantial wheat noodles, it’s hard to improve upon the classic soup base.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, of course.

With just a bit of quick knife work, cut cubes plunge into bubbling hot oil rather than plain water to meet a crispier fate. Compulsively munchable, savory, and salty, these noodles are more than a last-minute dinnertime staple. Serve them with drinks for a new happy hour hit, pack them up for snacking on the go, or toss them into green salad as upgraded seasoned croutons.

Up until recently the best varieties could only be found frozen, flown in from Japan. Now the edible art form is available in the refrigerated aisle, made right here in the US by Fortune Noodles. Offered with a mushroom seasoning specifically and boldly labeled as VEGAN right across the front, they come out with the perfect texture and balanced yet bold umami broth every time.

Check out more inspiration from JSL Foods via Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Plus, if you join the Noodle Club, you’ll be rewarded with a high-value freebie coupon right away at Stater Bros, Safeway, Von’s, Aldi, Lucky’s, SaveMart, Food Maxx, Food 4 Less, or Raley’s.

There will always be a place in my heart, and my pantry for instant ramen, but no one noodle can do it all. Fresh udon makes greater snacking opportunities possible.

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Decadent Delicata

Hannukah is NOT the time to embark on some radical new low-fat diet. No matter where you believe lipids belong on your own personal food pyramid, oil is hero of this holiday, and the substance we all celebrate. From the oil in the miraculously burning lamps to the oil frying our food, the stuff has left its gloriously greasy residue all over this joyous event. This is the one rare time of year that we’re implored to ignore conventional nutritional advice and fry, fry again.

That’s not to say that just any old grease ball on a plate will suffice. Typical holiday fare turns starchy potatoes into crisp latkes and yeasted dough into jelly-stuffed sufganiyot. Dessert is where things get interesting, as the number of acceptable permutations for those requisite oily cakes hovers somewhere in the thousands. Latkes, on the other hand, are either right (however your grandma made them) or wrong (everything else.)

So on this occasion I throw caution to the wind along with another decadent treat into the vat of angrily bubbling oil. If there ever was such a thing as a “healthy” doughnut, laughable baked versions notwithstanding, it would unarguably be one made of a vegetable.

Inspired by their naturally alluring rings, simple sliced delicata squash stand in for the carbohydrate portion of the program, replacing the predictably dense dough with tender, subtly nuanced, pumpkin-like flesh. Far more flavorful than the bread-based default, it wins the battle for ease of preparation as well; the thin green skin needn’t be peeled, so just slice, remove the seeds, and you’re well on your way to an entirely new sweet holiday sensation.

Lightly battered and graced by a crunchy coating of simple cinnamon sugar, it’s hard to believe that such decadent treats are little more than plain squash rings dressed up in their finest. While you won’t fool any vegetable haters into confusing these for traditional doughnuts, you may just win them over.

Take it one step further still with a luxurious glaze of apple cider icing, redolent of the orchards on a brisk fall day. Reducing the cider does take a bit of patience, but every extra minute is well worth the wait. These dainty iced doughnuts are always the first to disappear.

Delicata Doughnuts

1 Medium (A Little Over 1 Pound) Delicata Squash
3/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Starch
2 Tablespoons Chickpea Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
3/4 Cup Water

Neutral Oil for Frying, such as Rice Bran or Canola

Cinnamon Sugar:

1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon

Cider Icing:

2 Cups Unfiltered Apple Cider
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar

To begin, fill a large saucepan about 1/3 full with your neutral oil of choice and heat to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, thoroughly wash and dry your delicate before slicing it into 1/2-inch thick rings. Clean out the inner guts and seeds by either scraping it with a spoon, or using small round cookie cutters to punch out the stringy innards.

Prepare the batter by simply whisking together all of the dry ingredients before slowly adding in the water. Whisk just until the mixture is smooth. Separately, stir together the cinnamon and sugar topping in a medium bowl, and set aside.

For the glaze, place the apple cider in a small sauce pan and simmer until it has reduce to a mere 1/4 cup. Add in the vanilla and confectioner’s sugar, stirring until perfectly smooth and lump-free. Set aside.

When the oil has come up to the right temperature, dip the delicata rings into batter one at a time, letting the excess drip off. Carefully lower them into the hot oil, cooking no more than two or three at a time, depending on the size of your pot. Let them cook undisturbed for about a minute before turning, flipping them frequently from that point onward to monitor browning. When the rings are evenly golden brown all over, use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer them to a wire rack. While still warm, toss them individually in the cinnamon sugar, if using. If using the cider icing, let the donuts cool just until you can comfortably handle them, and gently dip the tops into the prepared glaze.

Best eaten as soon as possible!

Makes 10 – 14 Doughnuts

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Dollars to Doughnuts

Name any day of the year, and I’ll tell you what food the calendar advises us to celebrate. National food holidays have become more of a joke than ever, despite never having serious credentials or origins of real significance in the first place. Every food council wants to get their edibles on the map, from soup to nuts- Literally. Celebrating these obscure occasions used to be a fun diversion, a bit of trivia to share and an excuse to eat something different, but now it’s just too difficult to keep up. However, there’s still one event that I’ve been celebrating since junior high, marking the date every time I put a blank calendar on the wall: National Doughnut Day. The first Friday of every June has been designated as a time to indulge in these sweet fried rings or spheres, and not just because the United Fried Snack Cake Board of America* said so. No sir, this holiday goes back to the late 1930’s, when the Salvation Army began giving out free doughnuts to soldiers who served in the war. There’s real history behind this joyous, delicious affair.

*Totally fictitious organization, but someone really ought to consider establishing this, don’t you think?

Happily, everyone can join in on the fried festivities now, war veteran or not. Although there are quite a few shops giving away free oily goods to mark the day, you can do so much better by turning to your own kitchen rather the drive through for doughnut satisfaction. A fear of frying puts many cooks off, but with a simple recipe and a healthy dose of caution, you’ll be rolling in hot, crispy doughnuts, fresher and tastier than anything else on the market. Cake-based doughnut holes fit the criteria beautifully: There’s no yeast that needs to awaken or dough to rise, no fussy shaping or cutting to speak of. You can just mix and fry at a moment’s notice.

One of the greatest benefits of fabricating your own fried treats is the freedom to flavor them in any way your heart desires. Chocolate is always a winning pick, one that I couldn’t resist for this particular celebration. Do you really think I would choose just plain chocolate doughnut holes, though? Clearly you don’t know me very well…

Hidden inside of each tender sphere is a gooey, sticky marshmallow, turning these average munchkins into one-of-a-kind hot chocolate doughnuts, inspired by mugs of hot cocoa topped with a crown of mini mallows melting on top. The crisp, sugar-coated exterior gives way to the most moist chocolate cake you could hope to taste, the marshmallow in the center adding equal parts indulgence and nostalgia. To further the “hot” part of the theme, cinnamon sugar or even a spicy, cayenne-flecked sugar could provide the finishing touch, but a simple, straightforward sweetness was exactly what I was craving.

Hot Chocolate Doughnut Holes

20 – 30 Vegan Mini Marshmallows
1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

To Finish:

1 Quart Neutral Oil, for Frying
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar

Before getting started on the batter, place your marshmallows in a single layer on a plate or small sheet pan and stash them in the freezer. They must be frozen solidly before going into the hot oil or else they’ll melt away completely! Allow at least 30 minutes before using your icy mallows.

The batter comes together very quickly, so first begin by pouring the neutral oil into a medium pot with high sides over set over medium heat on the stove.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, stirring to combine. Separately mix the non-dairy milk, vinegar, and olive oil before pouring the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Stir just until the batter comes together with no remaining pockets of dry goods. The mixture should be somewhat on the wet side and definitely sticky, but manageable when handled lightly. Scoop out heaping tablespoons of the batter and stuff a single frozen marshmallow into the center of each. Use lightly moistened hands to shape the dough around the mallow, rounding the raw doughnut out into a rough ball and making sure that the marshmallow is fully sealed inside. Handle them gently, since the dough is very soft.

When the oil hits 360 – 370 degrees, carefully lower 3 – 5 doughnut holes at a time into the pot. Cook for 4 – 5 minutes, turning the doughnuts as needed to ensure even frying all over. The best way to tell if they’re done is to watch and listen to the oil; at first, it will fizzle up madly and seem to almost hiss, but by the time the doughnuts are finished, the surface of the oil should be much calmer, and you will hear more of a pinging sound.

Use a spider strainer or slotted spoon to lift the doughnut holes out of the oil and drain them on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts. Let them cool for at least 15 minutes before rolling in the additional granulated sugar, and serve as soon as possible. Doughnuts don’t get better with age, and I wouldn’t recommend keeping them beyond a day. Luckily, with doughnut holes this good, I don’t think you’ll have any problem with leftovers!

Makes 20 – 30 Doughnut Holes

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