More ‘Taters, Less Haters

Potato salad, as a basic concept, brings to mind visions of buttery golden cubes of potatoes, drenched in a heavy white blanket of mayonnaise, with a few token flecks of celery and onion strewn about like stray confetti.

Turning that concept on its head, Chinese potato salad isn’t even cooked, let alone heavily dressed. Raw potatoes, shredded into fine floss, crisp as taut guitar strings, are lacquered with a simple, acidic, and often spicy vinaigrette.

The finest example of this rare specimen I found was in Honolulu, at Angelo Pietro where it’s their signature salad. It’s been a long time since I was lucky enough to visit the islands, and sadly, it will likely be a while before I can return. For now, recreating those cherished flavor memories is the next best thing to making that 2,397 mile journey.

Turns out the full recipe (all 5 ingredients of it) was published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin 20 years ago! The secret is that the potato is cut with the sharp, peppery bite of daikon radish, and a touch of lettuce for a refreshing crunch. Even if you can’t pick up the official, branded dressing, that too is effortlessly replicated in your own home kitchen. For a lighter, brighter, refreshing take on potato salad, this is one you’ve got to try.

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Supersize My Citrus

Almost 50 years ago, it was the illustrator B. Kliban that published a cartoon depicting a man being served an outlandish platter of nondescript, indecipherable mound of food. “Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head,” proclaimed the caption- rather flatly for a humorist, I might add. While that’s generally sound wisdom, especially when presented with a garbage heap of questionable edibles, there’s an exception to every rule. In this case, that exception goes by the name of pomelo.

If you’ve seen these supersized citrus before, you’d know they can grow to monstrous proportions. The average weight is somewhere between two to four pounds each, with particularly robust specimens tipping the scales at ten to twelve pounds, all told.

Don’t let their daunting size deter you. Beneath that thick rind, neatly sealed away in pockets of thin membrane, lie juicy segments that combine all the best best aspects of grapefruit flavor. Bright, floral, acidic yet somehow lacking that characteristically bitter, mouth-puckering sour taste. While they can be treated just like more common lemons and limes to make vinaigrette, marinades, lemonade, and more, their distinctive texture lends them to preparations that utilize the full flesh, rather than just the juice.

Segments separate easily into networks of pods that bear droplets of the sweet, tangy liquid. They’re firm enough to mix into salads while maintaining their structure, which is the most common way pomelos appear in Southeast Asia, where they thrive. In this case, though, they form the base of one salsa that melds all five tastes, to balance perfectly on one chip. Sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory, there’s no prepared mixture that even comes close.

Pomelo salsa is a prime appetizer to serve with tortilla chips of course, but its full potential goes way beyond the first course. Use it to top tacos, stuff burritos, or complement any range of grilled meatless proteins for a quick, satisfying meal.

Were he still around today, I would challenge Mr. Kilban to reevaluate his statement after trying these oversized fruits.

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Honey, I Shrank the Squash

If the current state of seasonal produce has you down in the dumps, dreading another farmers market haul of little more than potatoes and onions, take a closer look at the hardier squash. You might have missed one bright spot of culinary inspiration on the shelf, tiny as they are at no more than 6 inches tall. Honeynut squash look like miniature butternuts, but boast a remarkably intense sweetness beyond compare. Darker, creamier, denser, and overall richer, they’re everything you know and love in conventional gourds, amplified and intensified into a pint-sized package.

All it takes is a touch of heat to yield a flavorful side; even the skin is edible, if you so desire! The very best approach is to anoint with oil and perhaps a savory marinade before sending seeded halves through a blazing hot oven.

Of course, I can never leave well enough alone, and can’t resist the opportunity to take the name more literally. Brushing homemade vegan honey over wafer thin slits, allowing the nectar to penetrate the flesh in all its dulcet golden glory, takes only a tiny bit more effort that pays off in spades. Scattering a handful of crisp sliced almonds on top brings in a world of textural contrast, although I’d be tempted to try a more resounding crunch with chopped pecans or walnuts next time.

If you thought there was nothing to get excited about for wintertime harvests, stock up on these small squash. Just one bite will chase away the hibernal gloom.

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Bean Me Up, Scotty

Is there anything less glamorous, less thrilling than a pile of beans? Common beans, simply seasoned beans, just cooked and served, not even drained of the excess pot liquor. The humble staple food has kept many afloat in hard times, but it’s not exactly something to write home (or a blog post) about.

At least, that’s what I thought until I landed in Austin and had the pleasure of spending time there with born and raised Texans. They’d like the world to think that barbecue sauce flows through their veins and they cry tears of Big Red in agony, but in truth, these people are powered by pinto beans. Simmered for hours until meltingly tender with little more than salt and pepper, perhaps a chili or a bit of bacon, and for a really fancy flourish, a dab of sour cream can be found swirled on top.

As much as bread or a side of slaw, beans complete the meal. I was once told that if you find yourself at a picnic in Texas without any beans at the table, it’s not really a party; just a meeting at best.

Suspend disbelief, look beyond the humble, spare components, and you’ll begin to believe it, too.

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Noshtalgia

Nostalgia (nos·​tal·​gia):
1 The state of being homesick : homesickness
2 A wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition

Nosh (näsh):
1. Food
2. To eat enthusiastically

Noshtalgia (nosh·​tal·​gia):
Longing for a food you can no longer eat

Every time I return to my hometown on the east coast, I’m hit by a wave of noshtalgia that could drown the strongest Olympic swimmer. Driving by the space where my culinary roots originally grew, at Health in a Hurry, I’m suddenly yet predictably swept out to sea. The taste memories come flooding back; the white bean delicata, the almond pate nori rolls, and oh, the beet marmalade! What I would give for just one more bite.

Slowly, painstakingly, I’ve begun to reassemble the recipes by sheer force of will, powerful cravings, and a touch of good luck. All previous formulas have been lost to time, but some were so powerfully ingrained through repetition of preparation and consumption that they reemerge from their decade of slumber fully intact, unharmed.

As if they had been written down on the backside of a napkin that I finally thought to turn over, I find the formula instantly, without any revisions nor concessions made.

Welcome back to the world, Lemon Curry Rice Salad.

Arguably our most popular dish, I must admit that its charms were lost on me at the time. Adding raisins to a savory entree was still unappealing to my immature tastes, and the base composition was so basic.

Rice, curry vinaigrette, some vegetables and scallions, tossed and dished out. Sure, I ate plenty of it given the opportunity, and made gallons at a time to fill the front cases, but I never thought it would be something I yearned for when it was gone.

Older, wiser, and hungrier than ever, one bite of the grain and vegetable amalgamation brought me right back to those early years, blending up batch after batch of dressing, thinking for sure it was more than we could ever use and yet discovering that somehow, it still wasn’t enough to feed the hordes that arrived for their fix.

Warming, well-seasoned but not spicy, the golden elixir brightens a riot of textures, from the crunch of toasted cashews to the toothsome grains of rice, crisp carrot strings to the tender green peas and chewy dried fruit. It’s a daring, seemingly discordant combination, a diverse set of distinctive characters, that somehow manage to work together in delicious harmony.

Now I get it. Now, after reducing quantities to a more manageable amount, it would have been wise to double up, at least.

When you fall in love with the warming, tangy, and sweet blend, rest assured that it’s well suited to scaling up. Double, triple, quadruple, or more; feed an army or just keep some on hand to arm yourself against sharp pangs of noshtalgia. Trust me, you won’t regret it; this one has stood the test of time.

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One and Done

One bowl. Six ingredients. No oil. No gluten.

Ready? Set? Bake!

It’s a lot to ask of one little loaf, but this pumpkin bread can truly do it all. Pared down to the bare essentials, it’s the ace up my sleeve for last-minute fall festivities or sudden sweet cravings. Everything comes straight out of the pantry and into the oven faster than you can say “good gourd!

Versatile, flexible, and endlessly adaptable, this basic foundation is just the beginning. Dress it up with nuts or seeds, get spicy with chai or apple pie blends, or go whole grain with buckwheat flour instead. Add cocoa powder, chocolate chips, and marshmallows, oh my!

This isn’t exclusively a bit of autumnal magic, either. Swap 3 – 4 large, ripe, mashed bananas for the pumpkin puree and you’ve suddenly got a crowd-pleasing perennial banana bread sensation to serve.

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