If you assume that food trucks are a modern concept, think again. The only thing that’s “new” is the truck part. Humans used to be the vehicles for street food, so the whole idea had legs well before it had fuel-powered wheels.
Tan tan refers to an across-the-shoulder pole carried by food peddlers in old Sichuan. Baskets—one with sauce and the other with noodles—dangled from each end of the pole, providing an inexpensive and nourishing meal to strolling locals. Eventually the noodles were named after the pole, coming to be known as "peddler's noodles.”
The traditional, original Chinese recipe is a chili-laced noodle soup strewn with ground pork, preserved vegetables, and scallions. My own version combines minced vegetables and tofu with a black bean-chili-garlic-peanut butter sauce to make a ground meat-like hash that coats the noodles with deep, dark essence and crunch.
• You can get the rest of the recipe going while waiting for the noodle water to boil.
• Make sure you use a large-enough, deep-enough pan to house the volume of this dish.
• I alternate between Lee Kum Kee Black Bean-Garlic Sauce and Chili Black Bean Sauce for his recipe, as they both work very well. You can also use a plain chili paste or any chili-garlic sauce.
• Use the least-processed, freshest-tasting peanut butter you can find. The salt measurement in the recipe is based on the creamy, lightly salted variety I use in my own kitchen. So keep that in mind if you are making the recipe with unsalted peanut butter, and adjust the seasoning accordingly.
• Almond butter can be swapped in for the peanut butter.
• Use the firmest firm tofu you can find. If you have any doubts, you can firm it up further by boiling it, already diced, for about 10 minutes well ahead of time. Drain and dry it thoroughly before adding to the stir-fry.
Romaine and arugula join forces with radicchio and fresh orange sections, and an orange-laced yogurt dressing coats the leaves, allowing a scattering of pistachios to adhere at random. If you choose to form a bed of couscous or extra yogurt underneath each serving, you will be rewarded with an extra layer that both absorbs the delicious trickle-down juices, and also boosts the volume of the dish, herding it into light main-dish terrain.
You can wash and spin the salad leaves (keeping them cold and very dry), prepare the vinaigrette, and section the oranges well ahead of time. Dress and finish the salad immediately before serving.
The tangy vinaigrette, free-standing, will keep very well —for weeks— in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. Shake well, or stir from the bottom, before using.
Makes 10-12 servings
Pastoral is the word that comes to mind whenever I even think about returning to this recipe. And return is another important word. Your first experience of baking lemon-laced pears into a sturdy, slightly crunchy pine-nut studded cornmeal crust, devotedly crowned with a beautiful lattice top, might well extend into a personal tradition.
The loving care you invest in this preparation will reward you with a tart that will feed many and can freeze and defrost seamlessly —so you can feed many again at a later time. Just be sure to wrap it tightly and thoroughly before freezing, and defrost completely before serving.
This tastes especially wonderful served a la mode with vanilla or salted caramel ice cream.
Beany and slightly spicy, this recipe combines two traditional American favorites. The tawny effect from combining red kidney beans, colorful peppers and chilies, and chlii powder is further enhanced if you use an orange cheddar. Not essential, but lovely. I love to serve this dish with a side (or a topping) or fried green tomatoes.
• This calls for a standard chili powder. They all differ, so find and adopt your own favorite. Depending upon our palate, you could add touches of New Mexico chili powder (ground, dried New Mexico chilies) and/or chipotle chili powder (ground, dried, smoked jalapenos) in addition to the regular chili powder.
• One 15-ounce can of kidney beans will do it for this recipe. If you happen to have 1 1/2 cups of home-cooked beans on hand, go ahead and use them.
Fresh kale is wilted ever so slightly by tender-crisp, hot onions – and glazed with reduced vinegar before being graced with freshly made croutons, shaved cheese, and figs (fresh or dried). A single pan handles all the parts of this recipe that need heat, and the flavor that accumulates in there is absorbed by the bread as it toasts. Deliciousness builds, step by step, and the results are glorious. (My feelings about this dish are pretty much summed up in the yield estimate.)
• The ripeness of the figs is key. Make sure they are very soft when gently squeezed. If you can’t find fresh figs, go ahead and use dried ones. Slice them first, and then give them an extra pre-soak (with some additional time) in a little balsamic vinegar or lemon juice —possibly beyond what the recipe calls for— as needed, to soften them up.
• Look for lacinato kale with smallish, very deep green leaves, for a more tender result. Also cutting the kale before washing and drying it ensures it will all fit into your salad spinner, and become drier and crisper.
• Soak the figs, and cut, wash, and dry the kale ahead of time, but plan to assemble the finished salad shortly before serving, as the perfect texture of the freshly grilled bread will not hold. (Store the prepared kale in the refrigerator—directly in the salad spinner, if your fridge has room.)
• Once the ingredients are ready, final assembly will go quickly. (Open your windows in anticipation of step 8.)
• Tongs are a great utensil for this.
• You’ll be pleased to know that no pan-washing is needed between steps.
Celery doesn’t get top billing very often—an understandable, but somewhat sad fact that makes this dish even more of a standout and conversation piece than it already is. The olive oil, lemon, dates, blue cheese, and almonds are so at home here, it will seem as though they made this dish without you —volunteering for it, and jumping into it, on their own while you were out doing something else. The Yiddish word “beshert,” comes to mind. “Meant to be.”
• This is delicious free-standing, as an appetizer, side dish, or after-entrée refresher.
• Use a very sharp knife — or possibly even a mandoline — to slice the celery super thin.
• This is a good opportunity to buy and taste a small amount of a blue cheese you might have been curious about. If you add the cheese sooner, it blends into the dressing. If you wait and then sprinkle it on top at serving, it will be more distinct.
• The cheese provides more than enough salt for the recipe. People can add some at the table, if they desire.
Makes about 4 dozen tiny cakes (up to 8 per serving)
Cooked quinoa is stirred into a simple batter with otherworldly results. These tender, easy "blini" are a reliable crowd-pleaser as an appetizer, side dish (dotted, perhaps, with sour cream), or light main dish for breakfast (ideally with a dab of blackberry jam).
• It's nice to use red quinoa for this, so it will be more visitble within the yellow cakes.
• To cook the quinoa, at least 45 minutes ahead of time, combine 1/2 cup rinsed quinoa and 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to the slowest possible simmer (with a heat diffuser, if you have one, underneath). Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork as you let it cool a little, then measure out a packed 1/2 cup to use for this recipe. You can use any leftover cooked grains to sprinkle into a salad or on top of a cooked vegetable (very nice touch).
• The batter can be made as much as a day ahead and refrigerated in a tightly covered container. Stir to recombine before cooking.
Delightfully slippery noodles; soft tofu, ever-so-slightly crunchy cabbage, chewy mushrooms, and hot and sour kimchi make this a sensuous, even mysterious texture-fest. It stores and reheats well, adding an always-welcome convenience factor.
• Bean thread, aka “cellophane,” noodles are commonly (and inexpensively) available in most Asian grocery stores. They cook up quickly.
• There are many kinds of kimchi. Some are hotter—also some are sweeter—than others. Flavor characteristics are usually indicated on the label. Taste around to discover your preferred brand. Personally, I like the hot kind for this. Whichever kind you use, be careful when opening the jar. Because it is fermented (and still active) it’s a lot like opening a bottle of beer or sparkling wine, creating its own little celebration. In other words, do this over the sink.
• Consider using a roasted, rather than plain, peanut oil – both for the initial frying and also to “dress” it afterwards—in addition to, or instead of, the toasted sesame oil. It’s an aromatic oil usually used for finishing, but sturdy enough to cook with.
Back by popular demand from the original-original Moosewood Cookbook, this recipe now appears, adapted slightly, in The Heart of the Plate.
• You will likely want to serve this a la mode with some excellent vanilla ice cream. I wouldn’t blame you. And if you anticipate this need, be sure to have the ice cream on hand before you begin, so you won’t find yourself running to the store at the last minute to get some.
•The cake is quite sweet as is. If you are going to serve it with the ice cream, you might want to reduce the sugar a notch or two - maybe to 1 ½ cups. Experiment with this (my guess is you’ll be making it a lot).
•If you buy extra fresh whole cranberries in season and freeze some, you can enjoy them year-round. No defrosting necessary.
About 8 servings
4 - 5 servings
Frisée is a leggy chickory with a delicate, slender format, and an insistently spunky texture. It loves the crunch of a good nut partner (hazelnuts being ideal) and also readily pairs with pears. Hence this easy salad that is another winter favorite, compatible with a wide range of soups.
This semi-wilted preparation is sturdy, so (and unlike many other tossed salads) you can prepare it up to an hour in advance, short of adding the pears, which should enter at the last minute.
To blanch hazelnuts, spread them out on a baking tray and toast in a 300°F oven for about 10 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice during the process. Transfer them to a bed of cloth or paper towels, and, when the nuts are cool enough to comfortably handle, rub them vigorously. Most (not necessarily all) (but don’t worry about it) of the skins will detach.
Yield: About 2 cups – enough to top 6 to 8 servings of this or that
Thin to the point of transparent, with a whispery coating that all but disappears into the ephemeral crunch, these onion echoes melt so quickly in your mouth, you’re not sure what just happened. It might have been a quick little dream, but the amazing, lingering onion flavor hints that what you just experienced was real. Just to check, you reach for another.
• Fry in batches, as necessary, in very hot oil until they are golden and crisp, then drain on paper towels. For best results, use high-oleic (also sometimes called “high heat”) safflower oil or regular grapeseed oil.
• The oil doesn’t need to be deep-fry deep, just as long as it is deep enough to cover the onion slices, and instant-sizzle hot before you add them.
• This goes fast —only a minute or so per batch. Eat them immediately, or let them sit out at room temperature until needed. They can also freeze incredibly well in heavy gauge zip-style plastic bags. As with many of the Crowning Touches in this section, these are great for snacking as well as for topping things, so consider making extra.
4-6 servings, depending on the context
Red lentils (which are actually orange) cook up quickly into a mustardy yellow mash that is quite tasty on its own, even before you add anything to it. From that vantage point, a generous batch of long-cooked dark, sweet onions casts its spell on the entire potful, creating a secret cave of flavor. Suddenly, all you want in this moment is to waft into that cave in a little boat, bringing just a bowl, a spoon, and maybe a flannel blanket. This dish is its own category of comfort food.
Serve this as a bed under grilled or roasted vegetables of a contrasting color, or spread this thickly on toast. It goes very well with another piece of toast topped with Curried Mashed Carrots and Cashews (following recipe).
Get the onions going at least 45 minutes before you hope to have the finished dish, then put up the lentils, so both can cook at the same time.
This will keep for several days in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. It also freezes beautifully, and reheats well —covered, in a 250°F oven, or in a microwave.
Moderately spicy from the ginger, and just the right degree of rich from the cashews, this mash is a definite mood booster. My kind of Code Orange. You can eat it plain for lunch, layered underneath the rest of your dinner, or simply as a bolstering afternoon snack, reheated in a microwave.
• The sweeter the carrots, the better this will taste.
• Stock option: If you put a few slices of ginger, some onion, and a clove or two of garlic into the carrot cooking water, you’ll end up with a lovely broth. You can heat it and serve it straight, as a very light appetizer or a nourishing snack— or add it to any soup you might deem compatible. You can also use it to thin this mash into a soup.
* You can do step 2 while the carrots simmer.
• This will keep for 4-5 days in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. It also freezes beautifully, and reheats well —covered, in a 250°F oven, or in a microwave.
Makes 1 serving. Easily doubled.
Here is something easy and inexpensive to round out and enrich your vegetarian meals. Top your favorite simple vegetable and grain dishes with this beautiful preparation, or simply eat the eggs free-standing (perhaps with a simple salad and a glass of crisp white wine) for a soothing, light weeknight supper.
To make the bread crumbs, toast four average slices of your favorite whole wheat bread. When they are crisp, buzz them to your desired consistency in the food processor. This will yield (approximately) a generous cup of fine crumbs, or 2 cups coarser hand-hewn crumbs (or anything in between).
You will need a medium-sized (9-inch) skillet with a tight fitting lid.
Strips of fresh lacinato kale cook on contact with hot noodles, then they marinate together in orange-garlic-chili oil. Fresh orange sections and almonds are introduced at serving time. This salad tastes so exotic that you’ll forget just how straightforward it was to prepare. Even the most labor-intensive preparations (cutting the kale, zesting and removing the orange sections from their membranes) are not difficult and can be done in advance.
I use Lee Kum Kee Chili Garlic Sauce, which is widely available. That said, if you have your own favorite brand on hand, go ahead and use it. The range of orange zest allows you to customize both the labor and the flavor.
However much you decide to use, you will be all the happier for remembering to zest the oranges before you peel and section them. Remove the orange sections from their membranes by first peeling the fruit completely with a serrated knife, and, holding each orange over a bowl, sawing in and out of the membranes with the same knife to release the sections. Squeeze in the juice and discard the membrane left behind. This is a wet, yet worthwhile, procedure. (Just keep a few damp kitchen towels handy.)
This tastes best within 2 hours of being made. It does not need to be all-the-way chilled, and in fact, tastes best at cool room temperature.
Crustless—and replete with an airy, custardy pancake-like texture (therefore, a popover), this is baked directly in a round skillet and then gets cut into wedges (hence, a pie). Very much fun, especially for mushroom lovers, for whom this could well become the new dinner fall-back plan.
• The combination of fresh domestic and shiitake mushrooms results in layers of deep mushroom flavor. If you can’t find shiitake, it’s okay to substitute crimini (brown) mushrooms or use all domestic ones.
• Room temperature eggs acquire much more volume when beaten than cold ones, so if you think of it—and your kitchen is not too hot— take the eggs out of the refrigerator a few hours ahead of time. Break them into a bowl while they are still cold, and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a plate.
Makes 3-4 servings
Roasted eggplant readily soaks up this exotic (but not difficult) vinaigrette, elevating this salad to focal point status for a light summer lunch.
You can make the vinaigrette well in advance. It will keep for a good long time, refrigerated in a tightly covered container. Let it come to room temperature (and stir from the bottom – or just shake it) before using.
Although designed specifically for the salad, the vinaigrette goes swimmingly (if not surprisingly) with any tossed green salad.
After you’ve used your 3 tablespoons of coconut milk for this recipe, preserve the unused remaining can contents by freezing it in an ice cube tray. Once firm, transfer the cubes to a heavy-gauge plastic bag (label it!) for longer storage. Pull out what you need, when you need it, and you will have wasted not.
This frittata is like a crustless, veg-centric quiche. The zucchini, onion, and artichoke hearts—abstractly stacked like interlocking puzzle pieces, lightly spotted with goat cheese—provide the foreground. The egg serves mostly just to hold them together. Note that this preparer-friendly dish is both forgiving (you don’t have to walk on eggshells [sorry] as you might with an omelet) and forgiveness-worthy (if it breaks at any point, just piece it back together). This is a true keeper and a confidence-builder for any beginning cook.
Room temperature eggs acquire much more volume when beaten than cold ones, so if you think of it—and your kitchen is not too hot— take the eggs out of the refrigerator a few hours ahead of time. Break them into a bowl while they are still cold, and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a plate.
4-5 servings, and completely adjustable / augmentable
The traditional tomatoes step aside to allow a new plateform for summer fruit in its prime. (I meant to write "platform," but I think my typo was actually a good one, so I'll leave it.)
You can also use strawberries, peaches, plums, or melon. It's all good, and it's so fresh and easy, you'll want to make this every day. And sometimes just for yourself.
5 - 6 Servings
Zucchini gets smacked out of its introversion with a good dose of stove—heavy pan, slick of oil, confident heat. Without passing go, it heads directly into a garlic and shallot-infused vinaigrette, sealing the deal on its newfound personality upgrade. Cue the maximally sweet, in-season corn and tomatoes, and the makeover is complete.
The zucchini should be sliced very thin and then cooked very quickly, so it becomes almost like sturdy-ish vegetable riboons. Use a very sharp knife, as always—but especially here, so you can get fairly uniform slices. You can also use the slicing attachment of a food processor.
This tastes best at room temperature, within an hour of being made. If you want to prepare it further in advance, it’s fine to let the zucchini sit (covered tightly and refrigerated), but hold off on adding the corn and tomatoes until shortly before serving.
4 - 5 Servings
Dappled like a fruit soup version of a Seurat painting, this refreshing summer special might come out slightly different each time, depending on the colors and flavors of your melon and peaches. Make sure to serve it very cold, for maximum effect.
You need to plan ahead for this one – as it’s at its best with a good 4-hour chilling time and is even better if it gets to sit in your refrigerator overnight. It’s not that it’s a lot of work, but rather that the components need time. The pickled onions need at least an hour, and can be made as far ahead as a week or two, stored in a jar with a tight fitting lid in the refrigerator. You will have a lot of them leftover, so you can use them as needed/desired for the many things they go well with. (That would be just about everything savory. They will remain crunchy, delicious, and gorgeous indefinitely.)