Wordless Wednesday: Coming in Hot

Vida Cantina – Taco Tuesday

Thai Fresh – Red Curry with Tempeh, Mushrooms, Gailan

Old Thousand – Xiao Mian

Native Foods – BBQ Brisket Burger

Cidercade – Vegan Pizza

Bistro Vonish – Brussels Sprouts Mac & Cheese

Steak Your Claim

Did your parents ever admonish you for watching too much TV as a kid? Did Saturday morning cartoons become a thing of the past once you grew up, relegated to memories of simpler days?

Not me. I would consume animated series like water, greedily drinking them in one after another without pausing for a breath of air. Slumber parties consisted of staying up into the wee AM hours to binge watch entire seasons back to back, staying glued to the screen until the lines looked blurry and the words seemed to echo.

After a long period of my life where I took myself too seriously and gave up such pleasures, I’m hooked again, back with a vengeance. My thirst remains unquenchable, but this time around, I fixate on very different details than in my youth. Unsurprisingly, it almost always relates to food.

食戟のソーマ (Food Wars) seems like it should have been an instant hit, being all about one young upstart trying to stake his claim as the best cook in an elite culinary school, but it’s definitely not for everyone. If you can get past the gratuitous nudity and unnecessary sexual innuendo, however, there’s ample inspiration to be found. One of the first dishes that really caught my eye was the Chaliapin Steak.

Despite its western name, this is an original Japanese preparation. Conceived in 1936 for the Russian opera singer Feodor Chaliapin when he visited Japan, it was created to accommodate a terrible toothache. At the time, he was suffering considerably and wanted only the most tender meat so it was easier to chew. By cooking a prime cut smothered with caramelized onions, the result was just what the dentist would have ordered, if one might have been consulted.

Translated into vegan terms, I thought a hamburger steak made from meatless ground might be even more appropriate. A loosely bound patty turned out to be even juicier, practically melting in your mouth. Plus, this is yet another Japanese innovation, distinctly different from conventional hamburgers and Salisbury steak.

Transforming humble, unremarkable ingredients into a 5-star dish worthy of high honors, the key is patience. It takes time to properly caramelize the onions, not just brown or sauté, to fully extract their natural sweetness.

I chose to serve mine over rice, donburi-style, in keeping with the inspiration, but traditionally this would be presented without much fanfare, perhaps a green vegetable or salad on the side. You can’t go wrong with a basic buttery mashed potato or thick-cut fries, too.

Even if anime isn’t your thing, you’ll still find your stomach growling after this episode.

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Let’s Taco ‘Bout It

Imagine taking a bite into a crisp, juicy apple at the peak of the season, as sweet and fragrant as it can possibly get. Downright decadent, the experience goes well beyond simple sustenance. However, after that single bite, you toss the rest of the apple straight into the trash. Who could be so wasteful, so thoughtless, so downright heartless? Though the typical experience is less dramatic, perfectly good food is squandered like this every single day.

Despite best intentions, we often ignore leftovers and forget about perishables until they’ve withered in the vegetable bin, barely even fit to compost. Adding insult to injury, perfectly good ingredients are too frequently tossed for a lack of understanding. Dried shiitake mushrooms are a common victim of this crime, accused of having inedible stalks that must simply be removed and discarded. It’s high time we debunked this myth and restored the stem to a place of honor on our plates.

Make no mistake, shiitake mushroom stems are much more fibrous and tough compared to their tender, meaty caps, but they are entirely edible and packed with all the same rich umami flavor. As always, quality counts, so you can expect the best results from Sugimoto shiitakes, selectively grown for their incomparable culinary potential. In fact, the chewy quality that many write off as their downfall can actually be an asset in the right recipe.

When crafting a dish with only the caps, don’t think for a minute that the detached stems are dumped in the garbage. Since they’re small, I tend to keep a baggie of them in the freezer, filling it slowly until I’ve collected enough to cook with. That way, they won’t spoil before I have a good quantity to work with. Even if the dish isn’t focused on shiitake mushrooms, they add incredible depth to all sorts of soups, stews, curries, vegetable patés, stuffings, and beyond. Anywhere that a melange of vegetables can be added, finely minced shiitake stems are your new secret ingredient for even more savory, satisfying results.

Finely chopped, the hearty, toothsome texture enhances plant-based proteins with an extra meaty mouthfeel and incredibly rich, beefy taste. Easily surpassing more processed alternatives in both flavor and nutrition, it’s a wonder that such misinformation about this vital ingredient persists. Clearly, the people perpetuating the defamatory rumors about shiitake stems have never tried cooking them into hot, spicy taco filling. One bite of this quick fix meal would win over any cynics.

Bolstered by minced tempeh, this instant entree simmers with nuanced seasonings, easily adjusted to personal preferences. With a smoky, subtly charred edge from the kiss of a cast iron skillet, no one would ever miss the meat here. Especially when piled high on soft corn tortillas with a barrage of fresh salsa, herbs, and buttery avocado, it’s unthinkable that the key ingredient might have otherwise been destined for the landfill.

Don’t wait until taco Tuesday to whip up a batch. Beyond classic taco fodder, this meatless marvel makes an excellent pizza topper, superlative spaghetti sauce addition, and brilliant breakfast side. Waste not, want not, especially when it comes to prime Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms.

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Not Your Average Joe

Of all the foods that Americans try to claim as their own, the Sloppy Joe may be one of the few that an actually trace their roots back to the good old U.S. of A. First referenced in the 1930’s and attributed to a cook only credited as “Joe,” it has humble beginnings befitting of original description of “loose meat sandwiches.” Doesn’t that just sound finger-licking good?

Many similar dishes exist abroad, owing largely to the simplicity of the concept, but few would recognize the childhood staple outside of these United States. However, the idea is still as foreign to me as tikka masala. I certainly enjoy it and appreciate its unique nuances, but can’t quite put my finger on what makes the best renditions so great. I must have been at least 20 years old before I ever assembled my own meatless melange. My mom never made it for our family meals, and I didn’t know enough to ask.

Lacking that essential reference point, it would be some bold claim to say that my illegitimate version is the best… But feels entirely fitting for this modern recipe revival.

That’s because instead of using the predictable, one-note tomato sauce base, I’ve pumped up the flavor volume with The Beet Goes On sauce from Bold Palate Foods. With a natural, subtle sweetness, deeply earthy savory notes, and bright spices, it’s a dynamite starter for any daring dining adventure. Simmered into an equally hearty and heart-healthy base of tender lentils and chopped cauliflower, there’s no contest when comparing nutritional stats.

Though you could very happily slap this thick stew on a bun and call it a dinner, I love the snappy, tangy bite of dill pickles on top. Conventional garnishes might call for a slice of day-glow orange American cheese, but I prefer to go bold, pouring No Cows on This Ranch dressing all over instead. It’s hard to beat that creamy, cooling, herbaceous contrast.

Tired of toting such big buns? Alternate serving suggestions run the gamut from spaghetti to baked potatoes, french fries, or even tacos. No need to stick to the beaten path when brighter, bolder, and smarter options are out there.

Be bold, and enjoy with reckless abandon.

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