Jerk It Out

Certain foods fly under the radar, overshadowed by classic crowd-pleasers or passing trends. No matter how delicious, versatile, or accessible, they remain firmly out of sight, out of mind. Occasionally, something will shake us out of our stasis, forcing the question: Why don’t I eat this more often?

Speaking for myself, I’m talking about plantains here. Satisfyingly starchy, subtly sweet, I like to think of them as tropical potatoes rather than fruits. Anything spuds can do, plantains can do, too. Not to invoke Bubba Gump, but you can boil them, fry them, saute them, bake them, mash them, stew them… You get the picture.

Thus, inspired by my Za’atar Melting Potatoes from The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet, Jerk Melting Plantains are encrusted with jerk seasoning, roasted at high heat to a blackened, crispy finish while retaining a downright buttery interior. The result can only be described as downright juicy, succulent in a way that you might not expect from a starchy vegetable. Hopefully this will help you and me both remember to put plantains on the grocery list more often.

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Do As You Peas

Standing in the kitchen, hands full of half-peeled zucchini in the dark of night, I’m trying to channel my grandmother circa 1984. Five years before I was born, President Ronald Reagan was in office, astronauts went on the first untethered space walk on the moon, and Apple made a splash with its infamous “1984” Macintosh commercial. It was also the year that Bon App├ętit magazine published a recipe for Zucchini Cups Stuffed with Peas.

Zucchini Cups Stuffed With Peas - Recipe Card from Bon Appetit Magazine, December 1984

I know this because my grandmother so carefully clipped and preserved this relic of the past. It survived nearly four decades, multiple moves, deaths and births, whole lifetimes. Not once did I ever see zucchini cups with peas grace our table, and I can’t help but wonder…Zucchini cups, cored

Why? Why zucchini cups?

  • Why was this recipe run in December, for starters, when neither zucchini nor peas would be in season?
  • Why was this the standout dish my grandmother kept, of things?
  • Why couldn’t I stop thinking about it, from the minute my mom unearthed it?

Stuffing baked zucchini cups with peas.

These questions have no answers.

My grandmother doesn’t remember the zucchini cups or what inspired her to file the recipe away. I’m okay with not knowing; some things just are that way, and I’m happy to have this taste of the past, maybe even better than what my grandmother had envisioned during her years of entertaining.

Zucchini cups stuffed with peas on a silver platter.

Small changes were necessary, of course, to veganize and enhance the original stuffed zucchini recipe with modern ingredients and technology.

  • Butter is traded for peppery extra virgin olive oil.
  • Dried tarragon gets axed in favor of verdant fresh herbs.
  • Melon ballers belong only in museums at this point, so I reached for my trusty zucchini reamer instead (yes, that’s a thing)- Though you could very happily use a regular pairing knife here.
  • Boiled zucchini sound downright dreadful, which is why the dry heat of the oven, which concentrates flavors and gently browns the surface, had much greater appeal.

The real beauty of the concept, however, is that it doesn’t take much to assemble or enjoy. I suppose they were intended to serve as appetizers or snacks for guests, as every good housewife should be ready to entertain at the drop of a hat, but I happen to think they make a fantastic side dish for any random weekday dinner, too.

Green pea stuffing.

If you have extra peas, those alone are brilliant to pair with just about any protein, such as a meatless loaf, balls, or cutlet, especially with creamy mashed potatoes or al dente pasta as a base. Beyond that, consider using them to top avocado toast, puree to use as a dip, or mash roughly to stuff into sandwiches.

Zucchini cups stuffed with peas on a silver platter.

I’m certain my grandmother never made the original recipe, but I hope I could still do her proud with my rendition. We don’t have many memories together, at least in recent years, so I’m grateful to keep making new ones now.

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Radicalized Radicchio

I do not like radicchio.

Full stop.

Maybe that’s not the most enticing way to start a post about a radicchio recipe, but I’m nothing if not honest here.

Radicchio, miniature heads of tender red leaf lettuce, have a delicate, feathery appearance. They seem ethereal, soft as if they could float away, yet eye-catching for their molted mulberry hue.

Bitterness is not a bad thing in itself; it’s essential for contrast and balance in a dish, to fully appreciate sweetness when it rings true. The bitterness in radicchio, however, is something else. It’s bitter like a freezing rain whipping in a cold wind. It’s bitter like Ebenezer Scrooge before his encounter with three spirits.

Radicchio macro

How can you tame the bitterness of radicchio?

All is not lost when radicchio darkens your vegetable crisper. The secret is really quite simple:

  1. Cut it into thin strips or finely shave it.
  2. Soak it in ice water for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Drain and thoroughly dry.

That’s it! Like magic, the once biting acridity has been de-fanged. Now the question remains…

What’s the best way to cook radicchio?

Actually, that’s a trick question. While it is suitable for stir-frying, sauteing, braising, and roasting, I happen to find the milder version quite pleasant raw.

Radicchio Purple Potato Salad

Allow me to introduce: The Purple Potato Salad.

Unlike conventional takes on the concept, the potatoes are roasted with autumnal herbs and spices for a warm finish and crispy edges. It’s still all about contrasts here, with fresh radicchio providing a tender-crisp bite against the creamy flesh of purple sweet potatoes. More floral and fragrant than their orange brethren, they’re worth seeking out for a truly showstopping magenta masterpiece. Nutty, buttery roasted chestnuts round out any remaining sharp edges to the radicchio, coupled with the crunch of toasted pine nuts. Like any thoughtful salad, it’s not just a random pile of leftover ingredients, but a carefully assembled composition.

How can you make this recipe your own?

Think seasonally and you can’t go too far wrong. Other complimentary additions could include:

Radicchio Purple Potato Salad

Still think radicchio is beyond redemption?

Take it from a reformed hater: It’s all about proper prep. Anything can be made delicious with the right care and attention. If this Radicchio and Roasted Purple Potato Salad doesn’t change your mind, I don’t know what will.

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Stick To Your Ribs

For years, I’ve resisted the lure of corn ribs. Despite the fact that they were everywhere I turned, plastered over Instagram and Pinterest, playing on an endless loop in TikTok videos, it wasn’t hard. The whole concept was a turn off. Who really wants corn that eats like ribs, with all that sticky, messy sauce coating your fingers as much as the food? In age and wisdom, I’ve come to realize two simple truths:

  1. I need to take myself less seriously.
  2. Being messy and playful is the whole point.

The reason why it took off as a food trend is exactly why I couldn’t stand the idea to begin with, which is more of a personal failing than a dig on the social media complex. Yes, some of the appeal is novelty, like most “stunt food,” but it goes deeper than aesthetics. If you let yourself get dirty, digging in with both hands and throwing caution to the wind, you might just enjoy it.

Besides that, the technique yields effortlessly tender-crisp fresh corn with beautifully charred, lightly caramelized edges.

If BBQ isn’t your bag, there are plenty of alternative seasonings to consider for corn ribs:

To be honest, no further garnishes need apply. A touch of green scallion is nice for color and a gentle hint of allium flavor, but you can happily take those corn ribs from the kitchen to the table as is. When you want to pull out all the stops, that’s far from the only choice. Dipping sauce on the side is always welcome for a cooling contrast too.

More tasty toppings for your corn ribs includes:

An air fryer makes easy work of this recipe without heating up the whole house, but it’s a snap to toss into a conventional oven as well. Double, triple, or quadruple as needed to feed a crowd; the formula is flexible and infinitely scalable like that.

If you’re going to serve corn this summer, you might as well have fun with it. Stop worrying and learn to love the mess.

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Make Pasta Salad Grate Again

Macaroni and cheese is the foundation of every childhood diet, often the first thing kids learn to make for themselves. Meanwhile, macaroni salad is the catalyst for every summer picnic or backyard barbecue worth attending. How is it possible that these two keystone American staples have never met before? The share the same beloved noodle and the same creamy consistency; what’s kept them apart for all these years?

Mind you, I’m not talking about leftover mac and cheese eaten cold, straight out of the fridge, due to sheer apathy or lack of energy. We’ve all been there and I think we can agree, that is not the pinnacle of culinary achievement the concept truly deserves.

This summer, let’s make it happen. Macaroni and Cheese Salad is the stuff of dreams, made in brilliant full color.

Like the original inspiration, it doesn’t take crazy ingredients, tons of time, or extenuating effort to make possible. Just some noodles, some cheese, and a craving to kick-start the process.

Enough noodling around. What is a macaroni and cheese salad?

It’s quite simple, really. Take al dente elbow noodles and toss them in a creamy, mayonnaise dressing along with your favorite cheese shreds, tender green peas, and a touch of fresh scallions, and that’s it! Like magic, the combination becomes increasingly irresistible overtime as the flavors meld and grow more harmonious. Like any any good picnic offering, it’s ideal for making ahead of time, sitting out like a champ all day, and tasting just as fresh as the minute you made it, regardless of the conditions. That means it’s also an excellent addition to any packed lunchbox for school, work, or travel.

What can you add to level-up your macaroni and cheese salad?

That’s an easy one, my friend. Think of all the things you love in either of the original dishes, and you’ll be golden. That means…

  • Rich caramelized onions
  • Crisp meatless bacon bits
  • Umami sauteed mushrooms
  • Spicy vegan pepperoni
  • Chopped tofu “eggs”
  • Wilted spinach or arugula
  • Fresh basil
  • And beyond!

At long last, this is the mashup the world has been hungry for, even if that need was never verbalized. Just show up at your next big summer shindig with a big bowl of this luscious pasta powerhouse, and you’ll be the guest of honor going forward.

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Pearls Before Wine

Given the choice of any bottle on the shelf, red wine is probably the last variety I would reach for when I want a drink. Why, then, do I keep buying it regularly, and sometimes even more often than my preferred whites and roses? Few ingredients can unlock such a wide range of flavors, transforming an average dish into something spectacular. Red wine is my secret ingredient for many savory recipes.

The science behind cooking with wine really is fascinating. The alcohol content is almost completely nullified, leaving behind great taste without the buzz. Much like salt, the alcohol itself doesn’t exactly add to the final flavor but instead helps other elements taste more like themselves. It adds acidity for brightness, and umami for greater depth and savory richness.

Although you shouldn’t cook with something you wouldn’t drink, the very best bottles are not great cooking wine, especially when it comes to reds. Your best bets are a merlot, cabernet sauvignon, or red blend, and should cost somewhere between $3 to $15 a bottle. Choose a young (not aged) wine with low tannins, since these can impart a bitter aftertaste.

The best red wine to cook with, of course, is whatever you have leftover! That’s where this simple, comforting, yet dazzlingly luxurious side dish comes in. Acini di pepe take center stage, which are really just a fancy way of referring to pearl couscous in Italian. The Translation means “seeds of pepper,” which makes a final flourish of cracked black pepper only fitting.

Balancing out these intense, robust flavors, candy cap mushrooms introduce an unmistakably sweet flavor, shockingly much like maple syrup with an added earthy undertone. The combination is complex, nuanced, and truly greater than the sum of its parts. Even if you’re not much for red wines either, you’ll want to keep some on hand to whip this dish up in 15 minutes flat.

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