Giving Tofu the New Look It Deserves

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It’s not likely that tofu will become anyone’s favorite food; this we know. Those who grew up in households where it was well prepared may relish it, but for the rest of us it’s a bit of a requisite, something we think we “should” eat in place of chicken or eggs whenever we can stomach it.

However. With meat substitutes and even alternative animal protein like bugs surging in popularity — or at least media attention — it’s time to re-evaluate and finally embrace the original plant-based mock meat. (There are others, of course: seitan, or wheat gluten, which in the current anti-gluten climate is difficult to talk about, and tempeh, a fermented soy and grain product that I don’t cook with much. That could change.)

Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here.

 

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9 Worldly Ways to Make a Burger

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Standing over a grill full of hamburgers with a spatula in one hand and a beer in the other is about as American as it gets. So patriotic is this summer ritual that it’s easy to forget how far burger culture extends beyond American soil. (The hamburger is named for a German city, after all.)

Countless cuisines feature their own versions, which, in plenty of cases, are better, or at least more interesting, than our default. So, for the sake of mixing it up — and frankly, because you probably don’t need me telling you how to make a classic hamburger — here are nine burgers that move beyond beef.

Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here.

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Rethinking the Word ‘Foodie’

At a dinner party the other night where people were asked to say a word about themselves, one woman said, “My name is” — whatever it was — “and I’m a foodie.” I cringed.

I’m not proud of that visceral reaction; in fact, I think it’s wrong. But I do wish there were a stronger, less demeaning-sounding word than “foodie” for someone who cares about good food, but as seems so often the case, there is not. Witness the near-meaningless-ness of “natural” and “vegetarian” and the inadequacy of “organic” and “vegan.” But proposing new words is a fool’s game; rather, let’s try to make the word “foodie” a tad more meaningful.

As it stands, many self-described foodies are new-style epicures. And there’s nothing destructive about watching competitive cooking shows, doing “anything” to get a table at the trendy restaurant, scouring the web for single-estate farro, or devoting oneself to finding the best food truck. The problem arises when it stops there.

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Cherries Go Savory, Sweet and Boozy

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I suppose most of us have missed out on the best cherries, the ones that grow in the backyard. Still, when cherries are good — juicy, fleshy, even crisp — even the supermarket variety can be irresistible. So I buy them by the sack, mostly for snacks.

In June, it becomes impossible not to cook with them. Like most stone fruit, cherries are usually slated for pies, cobblers — maybe duck breasts — and not much else. To give cherries their due, here’s a whole meal made out of them — sort of. I’ve dished up four cherry-based courses, and the first is a boozy cocktail, pretty much rendering the next three enjoyable no matter what. You are certainly under no obligation to prepare them all on the same evening, but they’re different enough that it works.

Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here.

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The Food Industry’s Solution to Obesity

You can buy food from farmers — directly, through markets, any way you can find — and I hope you do. But unless you’re radically different from most of us, much of what you eat comes from corporations that process, market, deliver and sell “food,” a majority of which is processed beyond recognition.

The problem is that real food isn’t real profitable. “It’s hard to market fruit and vegetables without adding value,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “If you turn a potato into a potato chip you not only make more money — you create a product with a long shelf life.” Potatoes into chips and frozen fries; wheat into soft, “enriched” bread; soybeans into oil and meat; corn into meat and a staggering variety of junk.

How do we break this cycle? You can’t blame corporations for trying to profit by any means necessary, even immoral ones: It’s their nature.

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Add Whole Grains

Mark Bittman has always been a whole grains guy, but he really began to embrace them about 10 years ago while working on his cookbook How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. “I had no intention of becoming a vegetarian,” he recalls, “but I embraced the concept and started playing around with whole grains more. I became more intentional about eating them.” Nowadays, Bittman has no problem getting in his three-per-day minimum, and he thinks he may know why others aren’t as successful at reaching this goal. “The misconception that whole grains are hard to cook or that they take a long time probably keeps a lot of people from trying them.” Here, he debunks these myths and offers a few suggestions for making grains easy to add to your daily menu.

MARK’S TOP 5 TIPS

Learn how to cook one grain, and you know how to cook them all. “One thing that makes whole grains really easy is that they pretty much all cook the same way. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, they all get boiled until they’re tender. If you boil them in too much water and they get tender, you drain the water off; if you boil them in too little water and they’re not tender, add a little more water. There’s nothing easier.”

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The Big Dig: 12 Clam Recipes

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Clams are summer food, not because you can’t dig them in the winter — people do — but because you don’t want to; working in damp, exposed mud flats during a windy low tide is no one’s idea of fun. But whether you dig your own or not, thoughts of fried-clam shacks and steamers and clambakes make it feel like clam season. And there are many options for cooks.

There are also many kinds of clams, but we can make two categories: soft-shell clams, which have thin, brittle shells and are typically called “steamers” (razor clams fall in this group); and hard-shelled clams, which are called by a thousand different names, including littlenecks, cherrystones, Manilas, cockles and quahogs (and which, of course, can be steamed, though are never called steamers). Soft-shells are almost always sandy and take more care, so these recipes are generally best with hard-shells, which require almost no work to get ready: Rinse or scrub off exterior sand, discard any that can be pulled apart easily with your fingers (or those with smashed shells), then wash in several changes of cold water — as you would salad greens — until all traces of sand are gone.

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These Chiles? Nothing to Fear

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AKUMAL, Mexico — There is no one American cuisine, and I suppose you can say there is no one Bittman cuisine either. The nation developed without respect for what was here before the Europeans flooded in, and what might have been was supplanted by anything goes. This culinary manifest destiny can be fascinating, of course; my block has Turkish, Southwestern, Tex-Mex and Italian, all within 100 feet of one another. (That’s before you cross the avenue.) None are very good, but you can’t complain about variety.

My own story is one of rejecting, or at least subsuming, a limited culinary heritage that I saw, and continue to see, as inferior to those of much of the rest of the world. Oh well, it’s not inconceivable that in the course of their threatening, perhaps horrible, early years and subsequent difficult journey across the Atlantic, my grandmothers lost many of the better elements of the cooking of their mothers and grandmothers. I’ll never know.

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Food’s Big-Picture Guy

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I wish Olivier de Schutter had the power to match the acuity of his analysis, but it’s great that we’ve had an advocate whose vision is as broad as that of the corporations who have for the last 50 years determined global food policy. Since 2008, the human rights lawyer has had the title of United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food. (His second three-year term ends this week.) This is obviously not a genius marketing title and, even worse, the position carries no real power.

Still, the notion of an impartial observer who can see trends as corporations do — across political borders, and agnostic to them — is a valuable one. It’s easy enough for individual Americans to see how our problems may resemble Canada’s; it’s much more difficult to imagine ourselves struggling the way Indonesians do. That’s what De Schutter has done: shown us that the issues with the food system are as global as trade.

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Ribs, 3 Ways

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You cannot argue that ribs are seasonal. If you’re a fan, you want them as badly in January as you do right now. In fact, regardless of when “now” is, it’s as good a time to be cooking ribs as any, because ribs are equally good when prepared using almost any method of cooking. If there is a revelation to be found here, it is in the lightest and probably easiest recipe: ribs braised with anchovies and white wine — a dish in which the ribs can be eaten neatly, with knife and fork (and the sauce used to dress pasta or rice, or as a bread-soaker).

But there is a range of options. The standard, most straightforward method is two-step grilling with little more than salt and pepper — I offer more elaborate, though hardly difficult, variations. The most complicated recipe, which uses two cooking methods, is also by far the most time-consuming, but could be the most rewarding, at least for classicists. You smoke the ribs over indirect heat with sage and ginger (or other spices; see the variations). This can be done in advance, and it can be done simultaneously with direct-grilling something else, or even as the heat is dying down from a big fire.

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