All Aboard the Gravy Train

If I’ve learned anything over the course of 30+ Thanksgivings, it’s that you can never have too much gravy. While battles could be fought over canned or fresh cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts or green beans, everyone agrees that the standard serving size for gravy is about a pint per person. No matter what’s on the menu, it’s always much more palatable when swimming in a pool of this savory sauce.

In my early years as a newly minted vegan, I distinctly remember my first tentative meals with the extended family. It was a classic situation where misunderstandings meant there was chicken stock in the rice, butter in the roasted vegetables, and of course not a scrap of plant-based protein to be seen. Prepared to fend for myself, I did come armed with the one thing I knew would enhance any meal: gravy.

Though simple, made from sauteed onions and blended chickpeas, it was a golden elixir that brightened everything on the plate. My only mistake was offering to share because as soon as it hit the table, the pitcher was dry as a bone. Even my picky, omnivorous family who would never dream of forsaking the traditional spread drank down every drop. After that, I learned to at least double, if not triple, my gravy contribution.

My cooking has evolved considerably since then, resulting in a much more complex gravy that’s even easier to whip up. Adding in volumes of umami flavor with a little pinch, Sugimoto shiitake mushroom powder is the ace up my sleeve. Like whole dried shiitake mushroom caps, this miraculous seasoning gains even greater depth when allowed to soak overnight, which makes it an ideal candidate for including in my greatest make-ahead gravy.

Becoming more flavorful the longer it sits, this gravy is your new best friend for Thanksgiving. Prepare it well in advance of the main meal so you don’t need to worry about such a critical component when the day of the big feast arrives. It can scale up almost infinitely, as leftovers keep like a dream. Since there is genuinely no such thing as too much gravy, you won’t regret making this investment in culinary currency.

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Uncanny Casserole

Thanksgiving as we know it is an entirely modern phenomenon. Nearly every element is so far removed from the original harvest, the original pilgrims and native Americans would find the spread entirely unrecognizable. The “classic” dinner menu is more of a marketing ploy than historical homage, after all. The indispensable green bean casserole is the best example on the table.

Invented by none other than the crafty Campbell Soup Company, it hit the holiday scene in 1955 as a thrifty way to utilize canned goods. As canning technology picked up following WWII and the end of rationing, hapless housewives needed guidance on how best to work with these novel tin cans. The green bean casserole called for just six ingredients, minimal prep, and a short cook time; perfect for a party.

Quite frankly, I never saw the appeal. Mushy green beans with mushy mushrooms baked until they’re mushier? Yum…! Despite that, I’m in clearly in the minority, as the infamous casserole graces the table for over 20 millions Americans every Thanksgiving. This year, I was determined to take back the green bean casserole on my own terms.

For starters, let’s lose the cans. Modern innovations mean that fresh fruits and vegetables are no longer out of reach, no matter the season. Crisp, snappy green beans retain their crunch through a flash fry without oil, but the favorite kitchen toy of our generation: The air fryer.

Freed from their tomb of mushroom goop, the beans get a light coating of crushed fried onions in this festive twist on green bean fries. Better than breading, it infuses savory flavor into every crunchy bite, while providing a naturally gluten-free alternative to bland old breadcrumbs.

Now these slender green dippers can take center stage as an appetizer before the main event, or stand up to competition on the dinner plate as a truly stellar side. Don’t forget to whip up an extra batch of rich gravy for dunking to your heart’s content.

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Bedtime Story Plot Twist

How do you cope when you can’t sleep at night? Do you burrow deeper under the covers and count herds of sheep? Do you reach for your phone and scroll through social media feeds until your eyes can’t focus and the words all blur? Do you get out of bed to pull out a book, or binge-watch the latest trending series?

Me? I head straight to the kitchen. I’m not looking for a midnight snack, though. The first thing I’ll grab is a bag of flour. While the world outside is dark and still, all I want to do is revel in the soothing simplicity of making bread. Watching the yeast come to life, turning a shaggy, sticky batter into smooth, elastic dough. Gently, methodically kneading the warm mixture is almost like a massage enjoyed vicariously, without any messy human interaction.

Wordlessly, thoughtlessly going through the motions, it’s more about the process than the product. It’s usually a simple sandwich loaf I’ll find rising on the counter in the morning, still bleary-eyed and barely awake. Sometimes I’ll get more ambitious and try something new, a curiosity that I can’t decipher until taking a bite later. In other cases, it’s the perfect opportunity to fulfill longstanding cravings, set aside as being too time-consuming for the average day.

Scallion buns, soft as a pillow, twisted into golden strands that dance with green onions, might just be better than a full night’s rest. The stars aligned when I pillaged the fridge to discover a bouquet of fresh herbs already past their prime. This was their big chance, and mine, to make something magical.

The results would be equally satisfying steamed or pan-fried, but in my sleepless stupor, it was easiest to turn on the oven and walk away. Don’t go too far though, because they bake quickly, meaning you can leave the shaped buns in the fridge to finish off bright and early, rather than staying up all night.

Adapted from The Foodie Takes Flight, I would implore you to watch the superlative video to see how a real pro shapes these twisted sisters. Words can only do so much for such a visual technique.

Next time sleep is elusive and the hum of the oven beckons, I know exactly what I’ll be making. Do you?

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Serial Stalker

Watery. Stringy. Bitter.

These insults are regularly lobbed at celery by picky provocateurs, myself included. Provided as an afterthought alongside buffalo wings, or stuck unceremoniously into a bloody Mary, it’s the last vegetable I would ever pick off the crudites platter. Even raw cauliflower florets have more appeal when angling for that last smear of hummus.

Limp stalks with little flavor to speak of, they’re all fiber, no flavor. Digestible dental floss, if you will.

Despite that, somehow, celery has wormed its way into the very foundation of French cuisine, thus cementing its place in the greater culinary canon abroad. Making up a third of the classic mirepoix, it seems like every soup, stew, sauce, braise, and beyond calls for one or two of these stringy green sticks. That’s how I end up with an abundance of the very vegetable I despise: Find a new recipe, buy a whole bundle, use about 1/30th of it. Rinse and repeat.

Still, I do staunchly believe that anything can be made delicious with the right treatment. Besides, I’m not one to waste perfectly good food, even if it’s not my favorite. Borrowing a page from childhood snacks to appeal to basic cravings, I sought inspiration from good old ants on a log. Thick, sticky peanut butter filling the the void with sweet raisin “ants” marching down the line, celery is merely the vehicle, adding mostly crunch, with a subtle salty undertone.

All grown up in a simple, crisp slaw, this is the recipe to win over celery haters. Texture is absolutely essential, no matter how you prep your celery; floppy stalks are never acceptable. If they get a bit tired waiting around in the vegetable crisper, slice about an inch off the bottoms and pop them in a jar of ice water, like a vegetal bouquet. In about an hour, the cells will absorb water and reinflate, good as new.

Having “too much” celery just became a very good problem, indeed.

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Naan-Sense

Salads aren’t just wilted leafy greens and tired, limp carrot sticks. Stunningly diverse once you peel back that initial concept, it’s difficult to pin down one concise definition of the concept to encompass all of the culinary possibilities. Salads are most frequently thought of as chilled dishes, but they can also be served warm. Though generally the healthier option on the table, some salads can be real gut bombs. Heck, if you can call something with cookies in it a “salad,” then you, too, can be anything you set your mind to.

Today, while I have less lofty aspirations in mind, the results are no less impressive. Simultaneously inspired by the glorious fresh tomatoes and cucumbers at the farmers market and exhausted by the idea of the labor of real cooking, salads are given high priority in my daily diet on hot summer days. All I want is something fresh and satisfying I can cobble together out of the contents of my fridge with an absolute minimal commitment to genuine cooking. Toasting bread, sure, I can handle that, but all the rest feels like too much work after a full shift and long commute.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to some truly questionable salads. Nothing is off limits; cooked grains, nuts, fruit, vegetables are all fair game of course, but what about that loaf of bread sitting on the counter, growing more stale by the hour? Well, why not? There’s a long tradition of thrifty Italians inventing imaginative twists on panzanella, so that only stretches the imagination for the uninitiated. Expanding on that carb-based formula, consider the pita and all it does for fattoush over in the middle east. Thus, it stands to reason, naan should be a perfectly acceptable ingredient in this formula as well, right?

Garlic naan, a thing of beauty in and of itself, seems almost too good to sacrifice to the salad bowl. Chewy, tender slabs of gluten rich oil and pungent minced garlic, is a sadly rare treat to find in ready-made vegan form. Typically prepared with yogurt and or ghee (butter,) it’s one of the few Indian staples firmly off limits for the lactose intolerant among us. Now that California Lavash has expanded its range to include a completely dairy-free rendition, nothing is out of bounds. I’m tempted to bring a package with me even when eating out at top Indian restaurants, but resist the urge by doubling down on my naan consumption at home instead.

It was only a matter of time before I found a way to shovel this glorious flatbread into my mouth by the forkful. Lightly toasting it to a crisp exterior and bestowing it with a golden curry dressing, this is a combination I could eat on repeat all summer long, and well beyond. Feel free to expand upon the vegetable inclusions based on what you have available, or go crazy with your own creative add-ins. As we’ve established, a salad is anything you want it to be, if you just believe in it.

Yield: Makes 2 – 3 Entree Servings; 4 – 6 Side Servings

Curried Naan Panzanella

Curried Naan Panzanella

Lightly toasting chewy naan bread to a crisp exterior and bestowing it with a golden
curry dressing, this combination is unbeatable for summertime savoring, and well beyond. Feel free to expand upon the vegetable inclusions based on what you have available, or go crazy with your own creative add-ins.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Additional Time 15 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Pound (1 Pint) Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, Halved
  • 1/2 English Cucumber, Quartered and Sliced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt, Divided
  • 5 – 6 Ounces (1 Pieces) Garlic Naan Bread, Cut into 1-Inch Squares
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
  • 1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Tahini
  • 1 Teaspoon Madras Curry Powder
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Cup Cooked Chickpeas
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Roughly Chopped

Instructions

  1. Begin by tossing the sliced tomatoes and cucumbers with half of the
    salt. Set aside for about 15 minutes to draw out some of the excess
    liquid. Drain the extra water they’ve given off before proceeding.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the sliced naan with 1/2 tablespoon of oil and
    spread the pieces out in an even layer on a baking sheet. Run under the
    broiler in your oven set to high for 10 – 15 minutes, until toasted
    golden brown and crisp.
  3. Simply whisk together the remaining oil, lime juice, tahini, curry
    powder, black pepper, and remaining salt to create the dressing. Toss
    everything into a large bowl, including the drained vegetables, toasted
    bread, dressing, chickpeas, and cilantro, and mix well to combine. Serve
    immediately; this salad doesn’t keep well once dressed as the naan will
    begin to get soggy.

Recommended Products

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 376Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 599mgCarbohydrates: 55gFiber: 4gSugar: 5gProtein: 12g
 

 

 

Irish Canons of Taste

What could be more Irish than potatoes and cabbage, when it comes to cuisine, at least? So beloved is the classic colcannon that it was historically greeted by song, praised for its simple, buttery charm. Although most frequently enjoyed during Halloween celebrations back in the olden days, today, this time-honored side dish has come to symbolize the culinary genius of the Emerald Isle whenever St. Patrick’s Day rolls around.

For a delicious twist on the Irish staple, mashed broccoli and cauliflower join forces with kale, cabbage, and horseradish in this harmonious family reunion. They’re all cruciferous vegetables, and all pitch-perfect when singing together as a modern ode to the old-fashioned spud. It will be hard to go back to plain old mashed potatoes once this fresh blend has graced your table.

Cruciferous Colcannon
From Real Food, Really Fast by Hannah Kaminsky

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Cups Stemmed and Chopped Kale*
2 Cups Shredded Savoy or Green Cabbage
3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Pound Frozen Cauliflower, Thawed
1/2 Pound Frozen Broccoli, Thawed
1/4 Cup Vegetable Stock
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
2 Teaspoons Freshly Grated Horseradish
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Vegan Butter, to Serve (Optional)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the kale and cabbage in handfuls, stirring until wilted down enough to comfortably accommodate all the green. Toss in the scallions and sauté for two more minutes to soften. Introduce the cauliflower and broccoli next, along with the vegetable stock. Cook for 4 – 5 minutes, until the vegetables are fork-tender.

Remove the vegetables from the heat and roughly mash with a potato masher. Add in the nutritional yeast, horseradish, salt, and nutmeg, stirring, folding, and mashing until the whole mixture is completely combined, creamy, and well-seasoned. Transfer to a serving dish and for an extra indulgent finishing touch, top with thick pat of vegan butter melting luxuriously over the whole mound.

Makes 3–4 Servings

*Quick Tip: You can even use frozen kale! Check your local grocery store’s freezer section, and you might be happily surprised about the abundance of prepared greens stashed away amidst the typical vegetable options. To keep things fresh and exciting, consider mixing up the greens; spinach is always a solid option.

Printable Recipe