Joshua McFadden's Zucchini Salad with Tomatoes, Peanuts, Basil, Mint and Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce

Joshua McFadden Zucchini Salad

Berlin public schools let out for summer last week and the city emptied out almost immediately. The streets feel empty and quiet now, parking spots abound, rush hour is muted, the air is thick with the scent of the blossoming linden trees. The smell, heavily floral and intoxicating, hangs in our apartment too, the windows yanked open day after day in the hopes of catching a faint breeze. Hugo's school closes for summer tomorrow and next week the boys and I leave for Italy, where the heat has already scorched the grass yellow and my mother awaits us. 

I am desperate to be there, itching with anticipation, actually, after having skipped our annual trip last year in an attempt to regain my sanity a little and write. These days, I feel different. I want to soak up every minute with the children, hold them close, watch them flourish in their happiest place, wild mint crunching under their feet, skin salted from the sea. I cannot wait to be where I feel most free and held, listening to the cicadas sawing away from morning til night, eating meal after meal of drippy melons and tomatoes, the rituals of summer anchoring us so firmly to that place. 

Until we leave, my calendar is filled with dinner dates and lunches and a picnic and celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries. We fling our arms around each other again in greeting and to say goodbye, promising more time together when everyone's back again in August. It feels delicious and indulgent and restorative and frightening and wonderful; totally banal and strange as hell at the same time. We weren't allowed to hug for so long. Is it safe? Meanwhile, tomorrow I will have a rising fourth grader and a little one with just one year left in Kita. It is nearly July. Wasn't it just January? Time is flying. Carpe diem.

The heat means that we mostly eat things I barely have to cook. Melon and ham, tomato and mozzarella, beans and tuna, peaches gulped down over the sink. The other day, I made a wonderful salad from Joshua McFadden's Six Seasons of wafer-thin zucchini and a whole array of cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts and spicy fish sauce. I'm not the biggest fan of raw zucchini - I really love its velvety softness once boiled - but here, the zucchini is cut so thin and then salted and left to rest for a while. The zucchini slices are silky and nicely sweet against the fiery, lusty sauce, the crunch of the peanuts, the fruity burst of the tomatoes. This is the perfect salad to be piled high into a plate and eaten for a meal on hot summer nights when appetites are low, but the belly growls and is in need of satisfaction. 

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Zucchini Salad with Tomatoes, Peanuts, Basil, Mint and Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce
Serves 4
Adapted from Six Seasons

3-4 medium firm zucchini
Salt
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 bunch scallions, sliced on a sharp angle and soaked in ice water for 20 minutes
1 small handful basil leaves
1 small handful mint leaves
1/4 cup Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce (recipe follows)

1. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice or cut the zucchini into thin slices, either lengthwise or crosswise. Toss the zucchini with a teaspoon of salt and place in a colander to draw out moisture for 30 minutes. Then blot the zucchini with a paper towel to remove moisture and excess salt. Place in serving bowl.

2. Add the tomatoes, peanuts, drained scallions, basil and mint. Pour over the spicy fish-sauce sauce. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve immediately. 

Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce
Makes about 1 1/4 cups

1/4 cup seeded, deribbed and minced fresh hot chiles (mix of colors, if possible)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar

Stir everything together in a small bowl until the sugar has dissolved. The sauce will keep in a bowl in the fridge for up to 2 months.


Grace Young's Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce

Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce

Hello, good people! It is a beautiful June day. I am drinking a glass of Apfelschorle (which is the German term for when you mix fizzy mineral water with apple juice) and it is being cooled by the most beautiful ice cubes that I make using this mold, bringing me untold amounts of joy each time I pop out a perfectly beveled little cube. Mercury is retrograde until the end of the month and thus we have been gnashing our teeth for a week straight about all the various things that have gone haywire (to name only a few: broken brake lights on one car, a busted tire on another, a child who insisted on shoving a CD into the delicate CD player mouth of a 16-year-old audio appliance while a CD while already was playing inside of it whyyyyyy), but the fine weather and good humor and fancy ice cubes go a long way in soothing the blow.

Besides, one thing Mercury Retrograde apparently doesn't affect is cooking, thank the moon and stars! 

The most revelatory dish I made this week was this big old pan of hot lettuce. Yes! I know that some of you will look at those words, "hot" and "lettuce", and sail right on by. But wait! Don't go just yet! Cooked lettuce is amazing and just happens to a staple in both Italian and Chinese cooking, so you know it has to be good. And it is! (Besides, I'm just messing with you. Stir-fried iceberg sounds so much sexier than hot lettuce.)

I don't ever eat iceberg lettuce. I don't ever buy it. (Though the excellent comments on this post are all you ever need if you are iceberg curious and need some ideas.) In fact, I stopped eating salad greens entirely a few years ago because I have a hard time digesting them raw. But when I got this big box of vegetables delivered a few weeks ago, a big old head of iceberg lettuce was in the box too. I let in languish in the fridge until this week and the outermost layers had to be removed. The inner leaves and core were still fresh and sweet and crunchy. 

It was just the thing to use in this recipe I'd been saving for...that one day I found myself in possession of iceberg lettuce. You chop up the lettuce into biggish chunks, and fry garlic slices and scallions in oil. Then you add the lettuce chunks to the pan and stir-fry them for just a minute. Then in goes the magic concoction of equal parts soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine (plus sugar and pepper). You cook the lettuce, stirring well so that the sauce coats every piece, and a minute later your meal is done. Pile it in a plate with some rice alongside and you've got my ideal dinner. Sweet and savory, silky and toothsome. It is so delicious and satisfying, not usually what you'd think to describe a head of iceberg lettuce, amirite? 

The recipe comes from this cookbook and Grace Young says you can use other vegetables in this exact preparation with great results. I'm going to do baby boy chop (ed: This is the funniest autocorrect of my entire life, so I'm leaving it, but obviously I meant to write bok choy!) next and then maybe romaine. Ooh. And iceberg again, too, of course!

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Grace Young Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce
Serves 2
Note: You can, instead of iceberg, use romaine lettuce, spinach, watercress, baby bok choy, asparagus, snow peas and snap peas. 

1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice wine or dry sherry
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil or other neutral oil
4 scallions, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or smashed
Half a medium head iceberg lettuce, cored, outermost leaves discarded, inner leaves torn into 4-inch wide pieces (or substitute 12 ounces of other vegetables)
Kosher salt, to taste

1. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine or sherry, sugar, and pepper; set sauce aside.

2. Heat a wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add peanut oil, half of the scallions (including all of the white and light green pieces), and garlic and cook until garlic is golden, about 5 seconds. Add lettuce and stir-fry until lettuce softens slightly, about 1 minute. Drizzle in sauce and cook until lettuce is just coated with the sauce, about 1 minute. Season with salt, divide between 4 bowls while lettuce is just tender and still bright green, and garnish with remaining scallions.


Ottolenghi's Zucchini with Harissa and Lemon

Harissa Zucchini

A few days after arriving back in Berlin, I was sent a huge crate of produce by Fresh Fruit Germany. Every single piece of produce was in perfect condition and with so much flavor! It was the perfect welcome back to my kitchen after nearly four weeks away. Cooking my way through the crate was so much more fun than first picking out a recipe, then going grocery shopping, then getting started in the kitchen. Instead, I had to quickly come up with ways to use up all the eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, potatoes and leeks (just to name a few) that were in peak condition and wouldn't last long otherwise.

I made frittata with peppers, potatoes and prosciutto from Six Seasons. I made Alison Roman's potato and leek soup with sour cream and vinegar (and yes, I left out the dill and the soup was still stellar). I made cucumber raita and Greek salad and bean salad and pasta alla Norma. But the dish that surprised and pleased us the most was this marvelous bowl of soft zucchini dressed with preserved lemons and rose harissa. The recipe comes from Ottolenghi's latest book Ottolenghi Flavor

I cut a few corners, as I almost always do with Ottolenghi recipes. I used far less oil, just cooked the garlic for a minute or two, then added the zucchini without removing the garlic. Also I skipped the basil because we didn't have any (though I'm sure it would be even more delicious with basil). This recipe makes a pretty sizable amount of zucchini, and I fully anticipated having leftovers. But I didn't anticipate Hugo falling in love with it and eating the largest portion! He was fully obsessed. I was pretty amazed, since it's not just rather spicy, but also rather complex, between the chile, the preserved lemon and the rose harissa. But Hugo couldn't get enough. Three helpings, if I remember correctly, and then it was all gone and I was promising to make it again soon.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Ottolenghi's Zucchini with Harissa and Lemon
Serves 4
Adapted from Ottolenghi Flavor

2 tablespoons olive oil 
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 tablespoon rose harissa
1 red chile, finely chopped
½ preserved lemon, finely chopped, discarding any seeds
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 kilo zucchini, finely sliced (about 3 good-sized zucchini)
Generous handful basil leaves, roughly torn, optional
Salt

1. Place a large, non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat with the oil and garlic. Gently fry for a couple minutes, stirring often, until soft, golden and aromatic. Don’t let the garlic become browned or crisp, so turn the heat down if necessary. 

2. Add the zucchini and 1¼ teaspoons of salt. Cook for 18 minutes, stirring often, until the zucchini are very soft, but are still mostly holding their shape (you don’t want them to brown, so turn the heat down if necessary).

3. While the zucchini are cooking, stir the harissa, chile, preserved lemon and lemon juice together in a serving bowl. Set aside

4. When the zucchini are done, stir through half the basil, if using, and transfer to a bowl. Toss the zucchini with the dressing and taste for seasoning. Before serving, finish with the remaining basil, if using. 


Colu Henry's Roasted Broccoli and Scallions with Thai-Style Vinaigrette

Roasted broccoli and scallions

Oof, friends. Just, oof. The pandemic wall has been hit again and again this past week. The despondency sits bone-deep. And it feels so terrible to even mention it, because we are so lucky, we are so fortunate, none of us are sick, we have a roof over our heads, the vaccine is starting to enter the bloodstreams of people we love, hey, the sun even came out today, and yet. And yet. And yet. I feel so tired and sad that I could cry. Oof.

Let me distract you with more frivolous things, yes?

On April 4th, 2019, I left you all hanging with a promise to be back soon with a broccoli recipe so delicious it caused my father, upon first ingestion of it, to say, and I quote, WHAT IS THIS WITCHCRAFT THIS IS THE BEST BROCCOLI I HAVE EVER EATEN. The fact that it took me nearly two years to then follow up with the recipe gives me no pleasure. In fact, I feel like one of those people who get up lazily one night from the dinner table and say, yawning languidly, listen, I'm just going to take one more walk around the block to stretch my legs and then they just never return and 20 years go by before one day they turn up at your wedding with a grizzled face, a stringy ponytail and a sheepish look, asking for your forgiveness.

Too harsh?

In preparation for this post, I made the magical broccoli again. What if it wasn't as good as I remembered? What if I built up your expectations so high that this broccoli couldn't possibly do them justice? I needn't have worried. It really is delicious (phew!). The preparation is nothing especially new: you simply roast broccoli until they're singed and tender, but you add scallions to the roasting pan, which add sweetness and flavor, and then, once the vegetables are finished roasting, you douse them in a sweet-salty, spicy vinaigrette that is redolent with the funk of fish sauce, and shower punchy herbs on top. It gives roasted broccoli a whole new spin and it is addictively good. I could have eaten the entire head of broccoli as my meal, but luckily, I had eaters at my table who saved me from an untimely death by cruciferous vegetable. I might not be so lucky next time.

Thai-style vinaigrette

I think it's important to increase the number of scallions from the original, because they're one of the best parts of this salad (can we call it a salad? I'm not quite sure I'm comfortable with that). The original recipe also says to only serve this fresh from the oven, "otherwise, the vegetables get soggy." Turns out I quite like soggy vegetables? Or maybe I wouldn't call them that to begin with? Yes, this is delectable when the broccoli is still hot and crisp, but it's really still very wonderful after it has cooled to room temperature. So proceed as you like.

And if you have any leftover vinaigrette sloshing at the bottom of the bowl, save it and pour it over some plain rice for your supper. (You could, of course, do what my husband does and simply tip the bowl against your lips and drink the dressing straight, but I'm going to assume you are more refined than he is.)

So there you have it! The miraculous broccoli is yours. May it bring a little sparkle to your day.

Roasted broccoli and scallions with Thai-style vinaigrette

Roasted Broccoli and Scallions with Thai-Style Vinaigrette
Serves 4 as a side dish
Print this recipe!

For the broccoli and scallions:
1 ½
pounds/680 grams broccoli (about 2 good-sized crowns and their stems), cut into florets
8 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the vinaigrette:
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from 1 to 2 limes)
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons light brown sugar
1 small fresh red chile, minced, or ½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint

1. Heat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Place the broccoli and scallions in a large roasting or sheet pan and drizzle with the olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper and toss. Roast until crisp and browned, about 15 to 20 minutes, tossing halfway through to ensure even cooking.

2. While the vegetables roast, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk all the ingredients until the brown sugar is dissolved. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

3. Place the broccoli and scallions in a serving bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. Serve immediately or at room temperature.


Diana Henry's Roasted Tomato, Fennel and Chickpea Salad

Diana Henry's Roasted Fennel and Tomato Salad with Chickpeas

About once a week for the past I don't know how many years, I've sectioned a fennel bulb into eighths, washed a handful of cherry tomatoes, put them in a baking dish with a good glug of olive oil (more is better here) and some salt and then stuck it in a 200C/400F oven until the vegetables are tender as can be and the tomatoes have browned and slumped, about 30 minutes, though I confess I've never really timed it. I also let the dish cool in the hot oven, which helps the caramelization at the end and then I basically eat the entire thing, unless my husband is around in which case I share. I love this dish so much that I nearly lick the baking dish. It's easy, it can be made all year long, since even the yuckiest cherry tomatoes come alive with this treatment, and it tastes ambrosial. If I happen to be lucky enough to have some nice sourdough bread around, I pair the vegetables with that for an easy little meal and life feels good.

I love a ritualistic vegetable dish like this that keeps showing up in my life over and over, that never gets old, that I don't even have to think about when I cook it. Like roasted broccoli, stewed peas, sauteed zucchini - the all-stars of my cooking life. These are the things that flesh out our dinner table night after night and that I imagine my children will remember, either fondly or not, when they look back at the food of their childhood. However, as much as I love these dishes and the comfort they bring me in both flavor and preparation, they are not necessarily stuff for company. They are humble, regular dishes, not show-stopping or even really conversation-worthy. When you're having people over or if you need to bring a dish to a potluck, I think you kind of need to up your game a little. Not a ton, but enough to make a bit of an impression.

Diana Henry Roasted Fennel and Tomato Salad with Chickpeas

Of course, my culinary hero Diana Henry has a recipe for precisely this kind of elevated salad that used roasted fennel and tomatoes as the base, but pumps it up with all kinds of crazy flavorings, like harissa and preserved lemon and balsamic vinegar. It comes from her book How to Eat a Peach and is quite a stunner. The addition of chickpeas makes it a slightly more substantial kind of salad and fresh herbs make it beautiful - the kind of thing you can plonk on a buffet table and feel secretly smug about. And also consume rather obsessively. Which is the whole point. One more thing I love about it: the flavorings are so bold and fresh but actually this salad is essentially seasonless, so you can serve it in spring, when people are crazy for asparagus and rhubarb, and you can serve it in winter, when big roasts and stews prevail, and in both cases it just kind of works. Pretty neat.

As luck would have it, I discovered a similar kind of special version of roasted broccoli dish that you need to know about (as in, my father literally said WHAT IS THIS WITCHCRAFT THIS IS THE BEST BROCCOLI I HAVE EVER EATEN when he had it), but I'll have to save it for next time. My camera, beloved and trusty documentation device on this blog since 2007, died a few weeks ago. Like, right in the middle of taking these photos, which is why I don't have a photo of the final dish (here's one from Diana, though). I thought it just needed a little repair work, but the camera shop guy told me it wasn't worth it - the repair would cost far more to do than the camera is worth. I was unexpectedly gutted, I have to admit. I loved that camera. I salvaged the lens and put it on my husband's camera, which is only a few years newer than mine was, but requires a whole new education. So bear with me while I figure that out. 

Note: This post includes an affiliate link and I may earn a commission if you purchase through it, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Diana Henry's Roasted Tomato, Fennel and Chickpea Salad
Adapted from How to Eat a Peach
Serves 6

For the tomatoes
10 large plum tomatoes (or an equivalent amount of cherry tomatoes, left whole)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1½ tbsp harissa
2 tsp sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the fennel
2 large fennel bulbs
Juice of ½ lemon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp fennel seeds, coarsely crushed in a mortar or left whole
Generous pinch of chile flakes
2½ tbsp olive oil
400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

For the dressing
2 small preserved lemons
2 tsp juice from the lemon jar
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1½ tbsp runny honey
5 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp chopped parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375 F). Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and lay in a single layer in a roasting pan or ovenproof dish. Leave whole if using cherry tomatoes. Mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and harissa and pour this over the tomatoes, tossing to coat well, then turn the tomatoes cut sides up. Sprinkle with the sugar and season.

2. Quarter the fennel bulbs, cut off the stalks and remove any coarse outer leaves. Pull off any tender fronds (reserve these) and cut each piece of fennel into 2.5cm thick wedges, keeping them intact at the base Add the lemon juice, garlic, fennel seeds, chile and olive oil, then season and turn everything over with your hands. Spread out the fennel in a second roasting tin and cover tightly with foil.

3. Put both trays in the oven. Roast the fennel for 25-30 minutes, until tender (the undersides should be pale gold), then remove the foil and roast for another 5-10 minutes, or until soft, golden and slightly charred. Roast the tomatoes for 35-40 minutes, or until caramelized in patches and slightly shrunken. Stir the chickpeas into the fennel and taste for seasoning. Leave both to cool to room temperature.

4. Now make the dressing. Discard the flesh from the preserved lemons and dice the rind. Whisk the preserved lemon juice with the wine vinegar, honey and olive oil, season and add the lemon rind and parsley. Taste for seasoning and sweet-sour balance.

5. Arrange the fennel, chickpeas and tomatoes on a platter, adding the juices from the roasting tins; there might be quite a bit from the tomatoes. Scatter any fennel fronds you reserved over the top. Spoon on the dressing. (Leftover dressing can be used on other salads or to zhuzz up mayo for chicken or tuna salad.)


Jenny Rosenstrach's Perfect Slaw

Dinner A Love Story's Asian Slaw

It was my father's birthday the other day and to celebrate, I used my Instant Pot to make the Korean-flavored brisket from Dinner in an Instant and it was astonishingly delicious and done in less than an afternoon. What?! (Yes, I am still in that annoying phase of Instant Pot ownership where I cannot get over how fast it is. People, meltingly tender, practically spoonable brisket! In less than three hours! I mean!) (I actually used Tafelspitz, because my butcher didn't have any Rinderbrust that day, in case any of you are in Germany and want to make this too, and it was great.)

To round out the meal, I made white rice and this slaw from Dinner: A Love Story, which isn't Korean per se, but Jenny also serves it with something called "Korean Tacos" so I figured it would do as a low-energy vegetable side and you might not believe it if you had only tasted the ambrosial brisket, but this slaw basically stole the show. Now I know why Jenny's Andy said their Korean taco meal really "was all about the slaw." This slaw is perfect.

It's fresh and crisp and perfectly seasoned, with rice vinegar and fish sauce and lime, and just the kind of thing you don't want to stop crunching your way through. You'll have to restrain yourself from spooning up the juices left in the empty bowl. I added chopped salted peanuts, because I correctly guessed that Hugo might be slightly more inclined to eat it if there were peanuts to fish out, and I urge you to do the same. Using Napa cabbage means the slicing is a cinch and you don't need to massage anything or make it in advance. You just dump everything in a bowl and go to town. (I made this two nights in a row and added thinly sliced celery to the slaw the second night, which I also highly recommend!) The cilantro is non-negotiable. WHAAAAAT.

I feel like calling this Perfect Slaw might confuse you because it's not cole slaw. But calling it Asian Slaw feels a little lazy? Vietnamese Slaw? Napa Slaw? I don't know. These are the kinds of things I waste time thinking about. Just bookmark it, commit it to memory (I already have) and soon it won't matter at all what it's called. Or you'll just be calling it Perfect Slaw too.

Jenny Rosenstrach's Asian Slaw

Note: This post includes an affiliate link and I may earn a commission if you purchase through it, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Jenny Rosenstrach's Perfect Slaw
Adapted from Dinner: A Love Story
Note: The size of Napa cabbage is a little subjective, so depending on your head of cabbage, you may need to increase the vinegar and oil to 1/3 cup each.

Slaw
1/2 small head Napa cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup julienned cucumber
1/2 bunch scallions (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced (optional)
Handful cilantro or mint (chopped), or both
1/3 cup salted roasted peanuts, chopped

Dressing
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
Pinch brown sugar
1/4 cup neutral oil

1. Place all slaw ingredients except for the peanuts in a salad bowl.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients, then toss with the slaw.

3. Top with the peanuts.


Aloo Tikki (Indian Potato Cakes)

IMG_7952
Last fall, for the first time ever, I hosted Thanksgiving at my place. Max was traveling overseas at the time, so I hosted it solo to boot. Wah! There were 15 of us and although my guests (Joanie and her whole crew) brought plenty of delicious side dishes and some dessert, the big things - turkey! stuffing! gravy! pies! mashed potatoes! green beans! uh, cranberry sauce! - were on me. It wasn't the first time I'd done a full Thanksgiving dinner - I cooked one for 40 people at Soho House a few years ago - but that was in a professional kitchen with two sous chefs to help. Also, perhaps most importantly, I was being paid to do so. It was still one of my most insane days in the kitchen, except for that one time when we had to reshoot 11 of the Classic German Baking photos. In one day. While I had the flu.

In other words, I know from stressful kitchen days. So on Thanksgiving, I outsourced my children to my sainted parents, blasted The War on Drugs (excellent getting-shit-done tunes, among other things), put my head down and just did it. And, wow, is it different to be the Thanksgiving cook in your own home than it is to just show up with a few side dishes and a pie in hand, my usual role.

(A million seasoned home cooks roll their eyes and yawn, while mouthing ya think, genius?)

I learned so much. Like to err on the side of having a too-big turkey, rather than a too-small one (insert chagrined emoji face here). That baking an apple pie for close to two hours really is revelatory. To stay away from, how should I call them, newfangled variations on cranberry sauce. And that you can't have too many mashed potatoes, as long as you know about this way to use them up: Aloo Tikki, also known as Indian Potato Cakes, also known as my favorite kitchen discovery of 2017.

On Thanksgiving, propelled by some hard-to-articulate terror that we wouldn't have enough food, I made - hold tight - almost 9 pounds of mashed potatoes. After our feasting, this is what I was left with:

IMG_7924

Woah.

I couldn't figure out where to begin re-purposing what looked like about 5 pounds of leftover mashed potatoes. So I took to Instagram to ask for help, and almost 200 comments rolled in with ideas. I mean, people, the wealth of inspiration! It was incredible. (It's here, but warning: don't click on that if you're hungry and not in possession of an obscene amount of leftover mashed potatoes.)

The thing that most tickled my fancy was the idea of combining fresh, hot Indian flavors with the potatoes. Not only did it sound delicious but I was pretty sure it was going to be the best way to get excited about working through leftovers after that first obligatory meal of Thanksgiving leftovers (you know, pretty great the first time, pretty heinous the fifth). Also, they seemed dead easy and if you know anything about me at this point, you know that I will always, ALWAYS choose the easiest way.

So. Aloo tikki. You take a whole bunch of leftover mashed potatoes. You mix in some chopped red pepper and scallions, some cumin, coriander and turmeric, and an egg and flour for binding. Then you make little cakes out of the mixture. Fry them in oil. Whisk up an yogurt sauce (NON-NEGOTIABLE, DO NOT SKIP, PRACTICALLY THE WHOLE POINT OF THIS WHOLE POST). Serve them together and watch your mashed potatoes disappear faster than the speed of light. Magic!

Now a quick word of caution. I do not know authentic this recipe is. I found it on Genius Kitchen, which is the new home of the old Food.com. Some cursory searches online turned up other recipes for Aloo Tikki that certainly sound even better - with fresh ginger and garam masala and peas (PEAS!). But let me put it like this: this basic recipe already was the greatest thing I made all year, perhaps precisely because it was such a cinch. So don't let it stop you and then make the ones with peas (wherein the journalist calls aloo tikki Pakistan and India's greatest street food I REST MY CASE) and report back. Deal?

Aloo Tikki
Adapted from Genius Kitchen
Serves 3-4

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1/2 large red bell pepper, finely diced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 large egg
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder
Vegetable oil, for frying
1/3 cup yogurt (plain or Greek)
1/4 cup minced cilantro, or more to taste
1 jalapeno, minced (with seeds for hotter sauce, without for milder)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt, to taste

1. Place the mashed potatoes in a mixing bowl. Add the red pepper, scallions, egg, flour, and spices. Mix well, then set the mixture aside for 10 minutes.

2. In the meantime, make the yogurt sauce: Place the yogurt in a medium bowl. Whisk in the lime juice, oil, cilantro, jalapeño and salt to taste. Set aside.

3. Put 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet (preferably non-stick) and heat over medium heat. Form as many 2-3 inch patties as you can fit in the skillet and gently put them in the hot skillet. Fry each side until golden-brown, remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining potato mixture (adding more oil to the pan if necessary). You can keep the cakes warm in a 200 F/95 C oven. Serve hot with the yogurt sauce.