For someone who was all “Harrumph! Cacio e Pepe Does Not Contain Cheddar Cheese.” a few weeks ago, I have some nerve telling you what I’m going to next, which is that I’m pretty smitten with an unapologetically “100% Inauthentic!”-boasting cookbook, the celebration of American-Asian cuisine that is 101 Easy Asian Recipes from the editors of Lucky Peach magazine. There are recipes for “Mall Chicken,” for Rotisserie Ramen, Dollar Dumplings, Miso Claypot Chicken (No Claypot), and then, the recipe in the dessert section that’s going to make you shut the book and never look back again, that for sliced oranges. You know, like the kind they put out at Chinatown restaurants at the end of a meal.
Let me get the obvious out of the way: you are not going to win friends, neighbors with whom you share airspace or small children over with cabbage casserole. It’s beige and gray with traces of drab green. It’s cooked forever, or until whatever vim and vigor may have initially been in the leaves has departed. At best, it’s akin to unstuffed cabbage, which means that it will be comfort food to some but torture to others.
I read about French farçous pancakes for the first time on Friday morning and by lunchtime I was eating them. As my usual process of funneling the hundreds of recipe ideas swarming around in my head into a single one worth sharing is an exercise in exasperation involving extensive considerations of how I’d like to approach something, ingredient availability, time availability, estimated number of rounds it will take to get said recipe right, scanning my worry meter over all the places I suspect it might flop, number of stores to get to find ingredients, all interspersed with baby feedings, and overdue items on an forever-long to-do list, getting from “yes I want to make this” to “eating it” in a little over an hour alone makes this the best thing I’ve made this year.
Among the great Ashkenazi soul food traditions — bagels, lox, chicken noodle soup, challah, brisket and its cousins, pastrami and corned beef — few are more deeply rooted in the communal psyche than kugels, or starch-based puddings that hail from southern Germany. The word kugel, meaning sphere, globe or ball, originally referred to dumplings dropped over a soup pot, the version baked casserole pans became my people’s favorite, always made in vast quantities, served on Shabbat or holidays in squares and usually shoved in the hands of unsuspecting relatives and guests in disposable foil tins on their way home. The smart ones know resistance is futile.
This was my first summer having a garden and it coincided with the summer I hatched a new human and the themes of both keep blurring together: The goofy pride in growing things from seed. The occasionally overwhelming feeling that there are so many things and they’re all very hungry and counting on you to fix this. The twinge of sadness as they look less sprout-y and more robust. The urgency to not squander any of this.
Is this a good place to admit that in all years I sat down at the Thanksgiving table when I didn’t eat meat, it never occurred to me that I needed an alternative meal? Because: sweet potatoes. Because: green beans. Because: stuffing and cranberries and dinner rolls and four types of pie! My plate was heavy. My face was stuffed. I mean, who’s really in it for the turkey?
Sara Jenkins is famous for making the Italian roasted pork street food known as porchetta trendy in New York. She’s also known for her way with pasta (and has a new book out with her famed food writer mom celebrating it). She’s had turns at a handful of great Italian restaurants in New York, earning them stars and accolades and has written at length for The Atlantic about Italian food. And almost all I ever want to talk about here? Her salads.