If you want a show-stopping vegetarian dish for an upcoming holiday party, this is it. Vegetarian pâté is new to me—I might not be old enough to have experienced it in its heyday, which I’m guessing was the eighties, and I admit I’ve never thought to look up a recipe—but I now understand the appeal. It’s such a striking addition to a feast, such a validating reward for some hard work in the kitchen, and it’s delicious, too, sliced up into thick, cold slabs and smeared on crackers or bread.
Jeanne Lemlin’s Simply Satisfying is a book I’ve had in my kitchen for a while now. My friend and editor, Matthew Lore, loaned me his copy of the first edition, which was titled Vegetarian Pleasures, published in 1986, and one of the recipes I found there inspired the corn soufflé in Vegetarian Entrees that Won’t Leave You Hungry. Then I had the pleasure of working on the photo shoot for this recent reissue (with photographer Cara Howe and stylist Maria del mar Sacasa), in which the title changed to Simply Satisfying, and sampled many of the recipes firsthand.
For me, Thanksgiving is usually about letting go. I try not to be annoying. I do my best to stay out of the way of whoever is in the kitchen. I try to keep my mouth shut when the electric mixer comes out to whip the potatoes (one year I brought my potato ricer with me, and I haven’t done that since) and canned green beans are taken out of the pantry for the casserole. I help if I’m asked t0 and I offer my services as a dishwasher. It’s just that while I always want to try new things—maybe give that menu from Bon Apetit a shot and do it to a T, or perhaps make cornbread stuffing, rather than the kind we always make, eh, eh?—in my family it’s all about doing things the same as we’ve always done them. My grandpa makes a very, very good stuffing, and my grandmother’s recipe for candied yams—boiled yams, sauteed in an electric skillet in butter and brown sugar and a few pinches of salt (to which I secretly add a few grinds of black pepper, which is unorthodox)—is, indeed, something to look forward to all year long. And holidays are about traditions, and the repetition of familiar things is just what traditions are. What’s my problem with having one holiday, one day a year, when you can roll up your sleeves and put your muscles through the those familiar motions, savor those familiar smells and familiar tastes, and enjoy the familiar company in the kitchen? Here I pound my fist on my desk: But doesn’t it start to get old, even if it’s just once a year? I think it does! Can’t a holiday can be made more special by giving something new a shot?
Last week I found myself making hash browns a few times, which is strange behavior on my part. Idaho boy that I am, potatoes are not a vegetable I crave. I got my fix growing up, when there was a baked potato at almost every dinner, and if not a baked potato then some kind of potato dish: twice-baked potatoes in a casserole, scalloped potatoes from a box mix, sour-cream mashed red bliss potatoes, et cetra. After I moved to New York I’d meet someone new, share that I grew up in Idaho, and brace myself for his or her response: “Did you grow up on a potato farm?” (I didn’t grow up on a potato farm.) Potatoes—my bête noire.
But as summer swiftly came to a close last week, I was more often than not making hash browns with dinner, and I think I figured out why. For many years, my dad would make hash browns for my brother and me before we left for school. The fridge always had a few leftover foil-wrapped baked potatoes in it, and so Dad would grate them up and fry them. (This may have also been a way to improve on his own usual breakfast of Honey Nut Cherrios.) When we came to the kitchen, showered and ready for school—we could hear the garage door cranking closed, because Dad would have just left for work—there would be two plates of hot hash browns on the counter waiting for us. Sometimes they had melted cheddar on top. We’d bastardize them with ketchup, shovel them down, and run off to catch the bus. Continue reading
In a previous apartment, in a previous neighborhood, I used to order scallion pancakes from a nearby Thai restaurant pretty frequently. These were thick and moist, cut into little squares, probably deep-fried, with crisp edges and a chewy center. I’ve never since found scallion pancakes quite like them, and in retrospect it seems clear that they aren’t the types of scallion pancakes one typically expects when one orders them. Were they scallion pancakes at all? I still don’t know. But at some point the restaurant stopping having them. This was discouraging, because anything else I ordered was superfluous, a means of meeting the delivery minimum. Finally I went into the restaurant to place my order and asked what exactly had happened that they weren’t selling them anymore. I was told that the delivery—the shipment, I should say, for the woman at the counter boasted that those scallion pancakes came all the way from China—had been delayed. How on earth were they getting their scallion pancakes from China? Had they been frozen? Was she making this up? I lost interest, felt duped.
This is the moment in the veggie madness blog where the “madness” part comes in. Dal Doughnuts? What does that even mean? Why on earth are you trying to ruin doughnuts, Lukas? What is your problem? I’ll state first that this was a challenge. A year ago, my friend Meghan wrapped up a “season” of monthly Top Chef nights that she hosted at her apartment on Ludlow street. This was called Top Chef: Ludlow. The challenges ranged from “The South” to “Red and Green” (for Christmas) to food inspired by Oscar nominated films. The first time I participated I expected a regimented potluck, but boy, that was really not the case. There was a panel of judges, and all of us chefs pandered obnoxiously to them, and the judges, it must be said, quickly mastered Padma and Tom’s game face, that blithe, sideways glance of a God considering his or her supplicant’s offering. It became clear early on: No one was there to make friends. Winning a round was uniquely satisfying.