Winter caprese, low-carb vegetarian dinners, a new book dedicated to leftovers
Good morning eaters and readers. Today’s newsletter is brought to you by the above winter caprese and the reminder (yet again!) that you’re all sleeping on off-season grape tomatoes. When tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted at 350°F for about a half hour, the tomatoes become just the right concentrated charry-jammy wonder to pair with creamy burrata. Add some basil, olive oil, and crusty bread and call it a meal. Here are the Three Things I’d like all you dinner lovers to know about this week…
1. How Do I Eat Vegetarian Without Leaning on Carbs?
Since I wrote The Weekday Vegetarians, I have gotten this question at every turn. The first thing I need to say is that in general, we eat a normal amount of carbs in our house. We’re not eating pasta every night, but nor are we serving riced cauliflower with our stir-fries. (I’ve tried. I just. Can’t. Do. It.) The second thing I want to say is low-carb vegetarian eating isn’t easy. But there are a few recipes in the old archive that have accidentally fallen into this category, so I wanted to re-up them for all the hounders. The not-so-secret secret is that in order to feel satisfied without carbs and without meat, you need fat and you need protein. To that end: Okonomiyaki (pictured above) the savory Japanese pancakes traditionally made with eggs, flour (this recipe requires a very small amount, 1/2 cup spread across eight pancakes), shrimp and pork. I just load them up with mostly cabbage and shredded vegetables, and serve with a salad for a quick Monday night event. Coconut milk can stand in for all kinds of carby things you think you need, as evidenced by Thai Green Curry…just leave out the rice noodles. (Subscription only.) An indulgent sauce or dressing can do the job, too, as is the case with this surprisingly satisfying Indonesian-ish Tofu Salad with Pineapple and Peppers, which is finished with a spicy peanut sauce. Now that I think of it, that off-season caprese would work in this category as well, if rounded out with a few other small plates. Here is the Okonomiyaki recipe, and as always, please share your own discoveries if you’re into this kinda thing.
2. Free Advice
Under the category “So Stupid it’s Smart” may I present to you this tip for making sure soup ingredients — greens in particular — do not end up stringy and unwieldy: Snip them right in the soup pot with scissors. They can be just regular old scissors, no need to spend bucks on fancy kitchen shears. And why stop at soups? I use them to cut too-big chicken cubes when I’m frying them, whole peeled tomatoes while they are still in the can, and easily trim any dough overhang around a pie plate. You’re welcome!
3. Loving the Unloved: A Book About Leftovers
Tamar Adler, who has made a name for her as a sort of M.F.K. Fisher of our time, is out with a new book, the follow-up to her manifesto-adjacent Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. This time, she turns her poetic sensibility towards the noble art of salvaging leftovers and addressing the food waste problem in this country. But, to hear her explain it: “I feel about leftovers the way I feel about empty restaurants and unkempt gardens: I love them because they are unloved.” In The Everlasting Meal Cookbook, she gives us an A-to-Z guide for using up any possible leftover you might have staring at you from a Tupperware container. And not only using them, but enjoying them. From her introduction:
“If you’ve never felt tenderly toward leftovers, it may still be of interest that thousands of culinary delicacies rely on using what seems useless. They include ribollita and French onion soup, bouillabaisse, minestrone, arancini, rice pudding, fried rice, cider vinegar, and dumplings and bone broth and, and, and. All of those and more are products of the ancient happy marriage of economy and pleasure. That so much good food is born of this abiding coupling is simply not said often enough. But it’s true. I find that truth not only practical but holy.”
Every resourceful family is resourceful in its own way, but in our house, it’s usually not the prepared leftovers that beg to be put to work. It’s the whole ingredients, specifically produce: the half head of wilting cabbage in the “crisper,” or the snacking apple from a batch that wasn’t quite what it was promised to be and therefore sits slowly rotting in the bowl. It’s cauliflower that I bring home in a burst of optimism thinking I’m finally going to make the famous Dan Barber Cauliflower Steak on a bed of cauliflower puree, and somehow forgetting that I am the only one in the house who actually likes cauliflower, which means it’s overlooked night after night. So, as a test, I decided to look up all three of these culprits in Adler’s book. The cabbage entry yields inspired ideas for pierogis, and “the Best Cole Slaw,” along with the delightful reminder that “cabbage that has actually gone bad is a rarer breed than the passenger pigeon.” When I looked up “Apple” I was directed towards a swap-in-any-fruit recipe, which is my favorite kind of recipe, in this case a muffin:
Basic Muffin Batter
8 tablespoons room temperature butter plus more for tin, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt, 2 eggs, 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup milk.
Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a muffin tin. In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and both sugars. Beat in the sour cream or yogurt and eggs. In a second bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add the flour mixture in several additions to the butter-egg mixture, alternating with the milk. Divide the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake until golden and crisp at the edges 20-25 minutes. Any dried fruit, or nuts or seeds, or any jam or any chopped raw fruit can be added to the batter.
And when I looked up cauliflower, I got an answer for what to have for dinner tonight:
1 head cauliflower, salt, 2 cloves garlic (peeled), 2-3 tablespoons butter plus more for the baking dish, 1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream, 1-1 1/2 cups grated cheddar or other melting cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, a few sprigs of thyme (optional), toasted bread crumbs (optional)
Including all but the rattiest leaves and the base of the stem, cut the cauliflower into small florets and thinly slice the core and leaves. Heat the oven to 400°F. In a large pot of boiling water salted to taste like pleasant seawater, boil the leaf and stem pieces and the garlic for 5 minutes then add the cauliflower florets and boil until just cooked, another 5 minutes. Drain. Butter a baking dish that will fit the cauliflower piled up a bit. Add the cauliflower. In a bowl, chop or smash the garlic, add the cream, cheddar, and Parmesan and stir together. Pour over the cauliflower. Nestle in thyme if using. Dot with butter, bake for 30 minutes, adding breadcrumbs (if using) for the final 10 minutes. cook for 5 minutes before eating.
And if you happen to reside in a house where you frequently have leftover lavash and seaweed salad from the sushi order, you’ll find ideas for those too. (Fattoush and rice bowl with toasted sesame seeds, respectively). It’s an encyclopedia after all, and it appears there’s no takeout food or prepared meal that is too obscure for gold-spinning.
Thanks for reading, have a great week.