Next-Level Latke

Scaling down holiday plans for socially distant celebrations will require a number of sacrifices, but certain things are not negotiable. If nothing else, there absolutely must be latkes. Trimming a standard recipe down to two or three servings would be simple enough, but the trouble is the amount of effort the process still demands. My parents go through great pains to make the very best latkes, which strikes me as an entirely overwhelming ordeal to go through for one solo meal.

I’m taking it easy for Hanukkah and making a single, giant latke that takes far less work than your typical potato pancake. Frozen hash browns are the real power players here, cutting prep time and reducing the number of dishes by at least a quarter. Using a liberal amount of oil to properly honor the biblical miracle, the whole mixture goes into the skillet all at once.

Practically cooking itself without any fuss, it takes only one decisive flip, searing to a darkly golden, impeccably crispy finish on both sides. Tender potatoes flecked with onion bind together in this grande galette, which might alternately be considered a torte, rosti, or a jumbo hash brown. At least for me, it strikes the pitch-perfect notes for latke nostalgia.

Slice into wedges to serve as a side, or use the whole thing as a base to pile high with all the toppings your heart desires. Beyond the main festive event, it would be great as a breakfast option, lavished with some carrot lox. You could even serve it a bit later in the month as New Year’s hors d’oeuvres, sliced into elegant, thin fingers and crowned with vegan caviar.

There is one good thing to come of these solitary celebrations… No need to share.

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Love Your Leftovers

Scaling down a recipe is a cinch… In theory. The math isn’t hard, the general procedure is all the same. Maybe the time or temperature needs some adjustment, but we’re not talking about anything drastic here. In reality, at least speaking from personal experience, there’s a strange mental block that makes it feel much more difficult. Why go through all that effort to make a meal for one, when you can just as easily feed an army? That would certainly explain why I’ve ended up with Thanksgiving leftovers that could very well last me until next Thanksgiving, no matter how consciously I planned for a downsized feast.

Now, however, I do have yet another thing to be thankful for. Leftovers are quite simply the best part of any meal, be it takeout or home cooking. Cook once, eat twice or thrice, and the flavors only get better over time. If repetition gets dull, it’s a snap to switch things up, re-purposing tired components into a vibrant, fresh dish.

If you’ve never tried toasting your quinoa, you’re missing out on a wealth of flavor, nutty and woodsy, with notes of warm cereal, and a gorgeous golden color. To this endlessly accommodating base, Thanksgiving leftovers get a new home, no matter what you’ve got kicking around in the fridge. Brussels sprouts, tender persimmons, and roasted pumpkin seeds cozy into these plush grains, revived and enlivened with a hot browned butter vinaigrette- No dairy need apply, of course.

Sometimes, the leftovers are simply too good to mess around with aside from reheating. There’s no shame in eating Thanksgiving on repeat, verbatim. Just make sure you don’t miss out on this winning combination, even if you have to start from scratch.

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Well Butter My Biscuit

Like clockwork, come mid-November, one particular recipe on BitterSweet starts getting a flurry of fresh page views. Thanksgiving revives long-forgotten cravings for tried-and-true, classic comfort foods, so I would expect any of the pumpkin pie variants to attract new attention, or perhaps the more adventurous Cheeseburger Stuffing, but no. That would be too obvious.

Of all things, it’s the Garden Herb Biscuits that go viral. Created without any holiday in mind, and still not one I would necessarily associate with a traditional Thanksgiving feast, there’s apparently a spot at the festive table for them in many homes out there. If you ask me, we can do better.

By no means am I suggesting you go biscuit-less (heaven forbid), but let’s make something special this time around, fit for the occasion.

Soft as butter itself, with equally tender yet flaky layers and a subtly sweet flavor, these alluring magenta biscuits are the perfect fusion of southern comfort and southeast Asian flair. Purple sweet potato could do in a pinch, or even the average orange-fleshed yam, but part of the appeal is definitely the gem-like periwinkle hue.

Accented with the tropical aroma of coconut milk, each bite, each crisp but supple crumb melts away in a pool of nostalgia on the tongue. Memories of happy childhood meals and celebratory dinners bubble up to the surface, buoyed by an undercurrent of wanderlust, satisfying the need for new and novel experiences.

Who knew such a simple biscuit could contain these complex, seemingly conflicting characteristics, all with incredible grace and always, great taste? Apparently all the people searching for them in years past; I’m the one late to finally get the message.

Don’t let the holiday season pass you by without a batch or two of these brilliant biscuits gracing your plate. They’re not just for dinner, after all. Leftovers make for some of the best breakfasts one could dream about… If you can resist their lure fresh out of the oven, that is.

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Cutting Edge Cuisine

Let’s cut to the chase: Ceramic knives don’t get the respect, or the place of honor on the cutting board, that they deserve.

Ceramic may sound like a delicate, impractically fragile material to make strong, sturdy kitchen implements from, but it’s different from the dainty plates and coffee cups sitting in the cabinet. My top recommendation, Vos Knife, uses zirconium oxide, which is even harder than stainless steel or carbon steel. It’s more likely that your vegetables will shatter than the blade here.

Light as a feather, ceramic knives glide through fresh produce like a breeze, making them ideal for precision cuts, garnishes, and fine dices. The sharp edges, combined with such easy handling gives the user complete control. No more squished tomatoes or ragged, stringy celery. Instead, imagine slices of crisp apples so paper-thin that you could read through them. If you’re just getting started in the kitchen, they’re ideal for practicing knife skills.

Low-maintenance and long-lasting, ceramic knives retain a razor-sharp edge considerably longer than metal knives, which means they rarely need to be sharpened. As an added benefit, they’re almost impervious to stains and odors. Go ahead, chop those onions with abandon! Butcher your bloodiest red beets! It may look like a horror scene in the kitchen, but you won’t shed any tears over it.

The Vos Ceramic Knife in particular has a specially designed ergonomic grip, fitting like a glove in hands both big and small. The same can be said for all of their colorful, practical equipment. The ceramic peeler especially, as part of the 7-piece utility set, has quickly become an indispensable staple in my tool kit. Effortless zucchini ribbons, without busting out the bulky spiralizer? Sign me up!

Or, in this case, how about sweet potato fettuccine in a creamy melted onion sauce? Thin shavings of onion caramelize and seem to dissolve away into a rich cloak that fits the tender strands of spuds like a glove. This is where the chef’s knife really shines, making easy work on those onions without any tears. A sharp knife will damage fewer cells in the onion, thereby releasing less of the irritating oxalic acid into the air. Goggles, chewing gum, lighting candles, and other folk remedies can’t compare; the truth hurts, but that’s nothing to cry over.

Further expediting the caramelization process is a tiny pinch of baking soda. It’s the secret ingredient that softens, browns, and breaks down the onions in a fraction of the time.

Though simple in concept and effortless to prepare, the complex flavors could have anyone fooled. You could keep it straightforward and serve this dish as a side, or dress it up with crispy sauteed tempeh and toasted pecans for a dynamite main entree. If you just start with the right tools, half the work is already done.

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Fee, Fi, Fo, Fonio

Move over, quinoa; there’s a new ancient grain in town. Protein-rich, gluten-free, and quick-cooking, fonio is the best kept secret in wholesome superfoods. Though little known in the western world, this African staple has all the makings of the next big healthy craze.

Neutral yet subtly nutty in flavor like good old brown rice, fluffy like fresh couscous, and faster to whip up than a pot of pasta, the only barrier to mainstream adoration is distribution. Though the supply chain is especially stressed by the current pandemic, fonio has long suffered from inaccessibility. No one’s out there flying the fonio flag, demanding more, so most consumers and home cooks simply don’t know what they’re missing. They say ignorance is bliss, but this is more akin to an act of negligence, cruel and careless.

Uses for fonio know no limits. Receptive to marinades and sauces the world over, it thirstily drinks in the flavors of a stew while retaining toothsome tenderness. Use it cold in salad; serve it hot as a side; form it into patties and pan fry; blend it into batters, cakes, and cookies; don’t even bother cooking it, and use it instead of breadcrumbs; the only way you can do fonio wrong is to keep it off the menu.

For basic cookery, all you need is 1 part fonio to 2 parts boiling water. Combine and let rest for about 5 minutes, fluff with a fork, and enjoy. You don’t need a stove, a microwave, or even electricity; it’s really that simple. Your hard work will be rewarded with a nutritional dynamo, rich in B-vitamins, iron, and calcium.

That said, there’s no need to stick with the bare basics, of course.

Golden grains spring to life with savory aromatics and a touch of spice. It’s the kind of side dish that could very well steal the show, and considering the protein quotient, which is bolstered by tender chickpeas, it’s not a stretch to call it a one-pot meal all by itself. Kernels of corn enhance the sunny yellow appearance, but a bit of contrast would be a nice option, be it from green peas, red bell peppers, or even dark, chewy raisins.

Oh, little fonio, this is just the start. There are big things in store for this tiny grain. Just wait until the rest of the world catches on. Quinoa had better watch its back.

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Lettuce Eat Celtuce

“Excuse me? Hi, yes, thank you. I know it’s been a while since my last visit, but I don’t see the Chengdu-style fava beans on the menu. Am I looking in the wrong section?”

Spoiler alert: I was not looking in the wrong section. Those supple pods bathed in fiery red oil, kissed by the heat of a blazing wok, were gone. In light of all the new, exciting eateries opening up everyday, few spots warrant repeat visits whenever I return to my hometown on the east coast, but Shu always drew me back in no matter how brief the trip, for another round of those inimitable fava beans. Now, bereft of my essential staple, I scrambled to amend my order. What could possibly take the place of this rare delicacy?

Not one to play it safe, naturally, my eyes drift to the most unusual option I can find. Vegetarian chicken with lettuce. Lettuce? Really? Described merely as an entree containing peppers, wood ear mushrooms, and scallion in a white garlic sauce, I pressed the waiter for details, to no avail. Not even Google translate could help, alternately suggesting that the Chinese characters might be indicating a type of celery, or asparagus, or an unidentified stem. It was perfectly peculiar.

Thus, I accidentally discovered celtuce, the greatest uncelebrated Asian vegetable to take root in Chinatown. The entire thing can be eaten, but is often sold with the leaves separated from its white stems. More versatile than your average tuber, it can be eaten raw, with a crisp texture similar to jicama or water chestnuts, or cooked, be it steamed, boiled, pickled, grilled, roasted, or sauteed, yielding a more tender bite. The flavor is mild but subtly nutty, with a slight woodsy, smoky piquancy, almost reminiscent of broccoli stem or kohlrabi.

Celtuce is almost too versatile, making it hard to narrow down the options for preparation at home. After much deliberation, I landed on a simple dish that is equally adaptable. Keep it cold and you’ve got a refreshing salad. Give it a little saute and you’ll be enjoying a hot stir fry in minutes. Toss with pasta, like al dente bucatini or spaghetti, and it’s a whole new meal.

Simple, fresh, full of crisp seasonal produce, it could become the star of your next potluck picnic. Spring is just around the corner, no matter the weather right now! Introduce your friends to celtuce with this compelling little salad, be it hot or cold.

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