Cooking is easier now than it’s ever been. It’s easier to shop in ways that reflect your principles, from buying local to meeting farmers. It’s easier to find obscure grains and fancy vinegar. An ever-growing glut of cookbooks and resources exists to shepherd us through all cuisines, techniques, and fascinations. You can easily find a recipe for just about anything.
But does all that make us better cooks? If Padma Lakshmi’s Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices (just out) and Lior Lev Sercarz’s The Spice Companion (out this week) are any indication, the common thread in great cooking is the seasoning. The fact that these guides come on the heels of each other suggests that we’re turning our attention from macro ingredients (obscure grains, hyperlocal microgreens) to those little nuts and bolts that set them into motion, whether they’re as simple as salt and pepper or have names we can’t pronounce.
If your pantry is littered with jars picked up once for a recipe and then abandoned, or if you reach reflexively for the same handful of spices without knowing how to branch out, Padma and Lior aim to bridge that gap by helping you use spices better (which is to say: more adventurously, more effectively, more).
Leafing through the pages of Heritage feels like eating your way through a buzzy restaurant’s tasting menu. There are the grabby nuggets that draw you in, the vivid colors of strewn sauces and tweezered garnishes, the bits of genius that let you know you’re in good hands. You get the sense that you’re moseying through someone’s creative vision.
Which is not only apt, but also quite a feat given the breadth of Sean Brock’s work. Born and raised in Appalachia with restaurants in Charleston and, most recently, Nashville, he’s made his name on Southern food. To say he’s done it as a chef would be an understatement; more accurate is as an advocate, preservationist, enthusiast, and chef. But even that doesn’t cover it.
Like most passions, Brock’s sense of the South is hard to satisfactorily put on paper, but Heritage captures it stunningly. You see it in the big, moody photos, the odes and interludes to everything from cornmeal grits to Ossabaw pigs, the profiles of the farmers and producers who typify the South and its foodways for Brock. Of course, you see it in the recipes, lyrical and so richly evocative of a particular time and place that they read in a drawl. It embodies, as Brock described to me, “this Southern way of looking at things and respecting things…that eventually ends up as the same emotion on your plate. That’s what Southern food does — it makes you feel a certain way.”
Remember that time about, oh, six months ago, when we all waxed poetic about balmy June days and lingering August nights from beneath our winter coats? It’s true — summer came not a day too soon. But perhaps we all need a reminder of its early thrills now that it’s hot enough that we’re tempted to forgo simply adorned tomatoes and corn in favor of ice pops for dinner. When you’re throwing open the refrigerator door purely for the blast of frigid air it gives you — when the thought of food feels heavy and sticky — gazpacho will be your relief.
Nowadays, gazpacho conjures up bright splashy reds and raw crispness; of being so deep in the throes of summer that you’re delighted, not pained, to unload your tomato surplus into a blender. But gazpacho was born a peasant food, cobbled together of little more than stale bread, olive oil, and garlic. That triumvirate proved to be a solid foundation for the boatloads of vegetables (and fruit) that joined the party later, a stomping ground for just about any produce under the (sweltering) sun.
Best of all, you need little more than rudimentary blender proficiency — no, not even a recipe — to make a five-star gazpacho. Here’s how to do it.
With warmer weather come outdoor excursions, and one of the greatest things about such adventures—apart from the majestic beauty of the wilderness and what-have-you—is the food. Whether your outdoors-y side takes the shape of car camping or backpacking treks, food tastes better after you’ve spent the day scampering through greenery, when you can scarf down multiple servings and call it ‘fuel.’
Of course, car campers have the ability to lug unwieldy Dutch ovens, grills, and coolers full of steak and beer; you’re just a crackling campfire away from a feast (and here are 20 recipes to prove it). Even if Smokey the Bear limits you to a camp stove, you can make many things ahead of time and keep them cold until you’re ready to reheat. (You can also bring a smorgasbord of fancy cheeses and call it a night, but if you wanted to do that, you would’ve stayed in the city.)
Options are more limited if you ditch your car at the trailhead—when you carry your life on your back, foodstuffs vie for valuable backpack real estate. Food must be filling, quick to make, and somewhat shelf-stable; it should also be lightweight but durable. In my own backpacking experience, gourmet innovations are often just bizarre food combinations: instant oatmeal sweetened with Jell-O powder; ramen noodles with peanut butter and soy sauce; a sandwich of peanut butter, cheddar, honey, sriracha, and crackers. This is how you prove yourself as a rugged denizen of the backcountry and not a lily-livered city mouse. (For the record, I didn’t eat the oatmeal.)
No matter how extreme your planned excursions are, here are some tips for stocking the backpack pantry you never knew you had and making your outdoor meals even better. Think of it as the outdoors(wo)man’s food pyramid. Just watch out for bears.
Call a food a stoner’s delight and you connote wild flavor combinations and envelope-pushing methods of preparation. (My own platonic ideal of the genre is a tower of vanilla wafer, chocolate chip cookie dough, Nutella, and a pretzel.) Arguably the most delightful aspect of stoner cuisine is the way in which it haphazardly throws together random ingredients for an end product that, at least to the eater, is greater than the sum of its parts.
In a way, JoeDough‘s Stoner’s Delight ($7) fits the bill.*
When I traveled to Copenhagen last fall, I scrambled to make a last-minute reservation at Noma, the restaurant ranked #1 in the world by Restaurant magazine for three years and counting. It was a shot in the dark: Noma has an entire page on its website dedicated to explaining its reservation policy, which tells you something about how elusive it is. Tables are reserved months in advance, and “on days that the reservations book opens for a new month,” warns the site, “the system can become overloaded … Please note that it can be hard to get through on the phone as well.”
The polite disclaimers are about as reassuring as a casual “thanks” in response to a proclamation of undying romantic love. Not to be deterred, I frantically signed up for every spot on the waiting list for lunch. A chorus of angels sang from the grey Danish heavens when Noma’s maître d’ called me the next day to tell me a spot had opened up.
That I snagged my table was not a stroke of luck. It was because I had requested a table for one. This was largely practical—I could find no one else who was ready to blow their summer savings on a lunch date—but it was also strategic. Demand for one-tops is low. The stigma on dining alone goes back to kindergarten, where the cool kids eat in crowds and the losers eat in the corner. It’s perpetuated by this glimmering ideal we have of eating as a communal activity (one that is unfounded in the realities of fast food and cubicle lunch).
On Park Avenue in Spanish Harlem, there’s a voodoo botanica and a towering housing project. Every 4 minutes, Metro-North roars past on an elevated track. Tucked under those tracks is Hot Bread Kitchen in the abandoned La Marqueta, a historic Hispanic marketplace. HBK, a food incubator, supports low-income immigrant bakers by providing them with kitchen facilities, mentorship, and a business network.
Yet Hiyaw Gebreyohannes, a recent HBK grad, is not your typical immigrant—nor your typical baker. Ethiopian by way of Canada and Michigan, he came to New York with an entrepreneurial vision and looks the part in his wry t-shirt and hipster sneakers. He does bake injera, a fermented flatbread staple of Ethiopia, but he’s also developed an entire line of prepared foods, Taste of Ethiopia, which has caught on in New York City and is poised to keep expanding. For all his ambition, Hiyaw prefers not to self-promote and gets self-deprecating when he does. A charismatic guy, he’s got a darling demeanor and a gigantic smile. Still, he gets nervous when you ask what the name Hiyaw means. Continue reading →