PHOTO: Aaron Farley/Da Capo Lifelong Books; Pies from Lust for Leaf by Alex Brown and Evan George
Laura Brehaut/Postmedia News
Originally published on July 23, 2013;
Calgary Herald: August 31, 2013; page I5
Montreal Gazette: July 31, 2013; page B4
The Vancouver Sun: July 27, 2013; page E6
What better time than summer to enjoy flavourful food in the great outdoors? Poolside, tailgate, park or patio – the specifics don’t really matter as long as you have help eating the vast quantities of potato salad and ice cream.
Los Angeles-based authors and Hot Knives food bloggers Alex Brown and Evan George have compiled some of their crowd-pleasing vegetarian recipes in their second cookbook, Lust for Leaf (Da Capo Lifelong Books, June 2013).
Being vegetarian, The “Maillard Fakeout” Burger (recipe below) in Lust for Leaf is comprised of extra firm tofu, mushrooms, garbanzo beans, beet and potato. The name of the recipe refers to the Maillard reaction, which is one of the most important flavour-related reactions in food, and is achieved by browning meat or toasting bread. The flavour produced by browning meat patties is of course something vegetarians typically have to do without.
We knew we couldn’t get the exact texture of burnt muscle, but what if we could replicate the chemical reaction of seared flesh, which by all accounts is standard for a beefwich? Well, we did,” the pair write in the book. Likewise with the HK (Hot Knives) Dogs, which smell so much like hot dogs that Brown and George promise they will result in summer camp flashbacks.
To test the recipes for the book, Brown and George threw parties for their friends and colleagues. The photos throughout the book were taken by Aaron Farley at the “picnics, potlucks and ragers,” allowing the reader glimpses of the food in the wild. “We wanted to focus on this idea of hedonism and outdoors, and more than anything we wanted to make sure that people ate the damn food,” Brown says with a laugh.
One favourite recipe was the Junk Food Potato Salad (recipe below). “I think once people came down from the swimming pool to watch what was going on in the kitchen and they saw us pulsing nacho-flavoured Doritos in the Cuisinart and then dusting butter-pan-fried-potatoes with them, and then covering that in mayonnaise there was definitely some oohs, aahs and disgusted sounds,” George says.
“I think that took people by surprise,” he adds. “A lot of people associate our cooking with relatively healthy cuisine, which is partly true but when you break out something like Doritos-coated mayonnaise potato salad, I think that gets tossed by the wayside.”
The contents of Lust for Leaf are presented as “The Hot Knives’ Food Pyramid” with different kinds of cooking for large groups represented. Potlatches (mezze-style dips, flatbreads and salads) is at its base, followed by Bro-tein (DIY wieners and patties, potato salads and sauces) and BBQ Mosh Pit (Southern-inspired po’ boys, cornbread and succotash), then Pizza Pool Party (ale dough, pesto and marinara), which is topped with Wild Grub (meals and snacks for hiking and camping) and Taco Zone (tacos, nachos and salsas), with Sweets (ice cream, sorbets, pies and fruit salads) at the very top of the pyramid.
“We loved the idea of a food pyramid and of course at the top of the food pyramid there has to be ice cream,” Brown says. “There has to be something categorically not healthy right at the apex. That influenced us to think, ‘What desserts can we make? What desserts should we make? What desserts do we want to play around with?’ That whole section ended up being my favourite.”
Brown gives the example of the Booze Holes in the Sweets chapter, which was inspired by a Southern favourite – bourbon balls. George developed the recipe, with its pastis, gin, mezcal and bourbon variations. Booze, cookie crumbs, powdered sugar, roasted nuts and syrup; these treats are no-bake and a cross between a liquor-filled truffle and a doughnut hole.
The hand-churned ice creams in the book include Toasted Corn, Whiskey Cherry, Lemon Verbena and Grilled Peach. There are also simple and flavourful sorbet recipes like Persian Cuke, Strawberry Hibiscus, and Icey Hot (chiles and more chiles). “Those were really fun because we really wanted to make flavours that connoted as much of our farmers’ market lust as possible,” Brown says. “Making sorbet out of roasted green chiles… that was crazy – so good. And making an ice cream out of roasted corn was really fun too.”
Brown and George write in the Introduction to the book: “Parties don’t throw themselves. They require planning, prepping, and sometimes, praying (for a party). But don’t worry, that’s why we’re here. We are your bearded mezcal-swilling Marthas.” George is the self-professed uptight planner of the duo, and shares some practical tips for throwing food-centric parties in the summer.
“I can speak from experience having thought of some great entertaining dishes to make and then realizing: Oh my God – I’m using the stove and the oven, and this sounded good on paper but now the house is hot and I’m stuck inside,” George says. “I’ve made this mistake as much as other people I imagine but it’s one to try and get out of. We became big fans of Weber grills over the summer that we were writing this book, and we tried to not use the stove and the oven as much as possible.”
A good host is able to keep food preparation and service on-track, as well as banter and toast with guests. “You can’t ignore the party that you’ve brought into your home,” George says. He also recommends having a detailed plan when you’re entertaining more than 10 people. Identify the elements that can be prepared beforehand, and those that you can do out in the open while entertaining.
“You have to have a good sense of what those things are so that when 10, 15 people start showing up at your house, you don’t just put up a wall and say, ‘I can’t talk to you – I’m cooking.’ Because that would probably be our gut instinct as people who take food really seriously and yet that’s just not fun,” George adds.
A light-hearted take on summer entertaining with recipes full of exciting flavour combinations (dates, blue cheese and red curry paste – delicious), Brown stresses that their aim with the vegetarian recipes in Lust for Leaf wasn’t political or health-based; he sees these as secondary. “The primary goal is have fun, learn something, and make you, your lovers, and your friends happy.”
Recipes excerpted from Lust for Leaf (Da Capo Lifelong Books, June 2013) by Alex Brown and Evan George.
6 ears of corn, unhusked
6 tbsp labneh or mayonnaise
6 tsp Maldon salt
6 tsp urfa biber
6 oz Pecorino Romano
1 lime
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1. Well, you have to have a grill going.
2. Toss the unshucked ears of corn on the grill and cap it. Give them a quarter turn every 5 minutes until the outer husk is dry and toasted. This could as long as 20 minutes depending on where your coals are. Remove the ears and let cool.
3. Grate the Pecorino on a microplane or the smallest hole on your box grater. Divide that lime into six equal wedges. Mince the cilantro.
4. Peel away the outer layers of the husk and remove as much silk as you can with your hands. Then hold the corn close over an open flame, or place back on top of the grill to burn off extra silk. Leave the cobs on the grill, or continue to toast turn over an open flame on your stove-top until 60 to 70 percent of the kernels have browned slightly.
5. Assemble each cob one at a time and hand them off immediately: start by rubbing an ear of corn with a section of lime. Then, using a spatula, cover all the kernels liberally with labneh or mayo. Sprinkle on the salt, the urfa, the cilantro, and then finish by adhering as much Pecorino as possible to whatever remaining wet spots remain on your cob.
6. Repeat.
serves 6
2 lb red skin potatoes
half a 17-oz bag of corn chips
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup labneh or yogurt
1/2 cup scallions, sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
sea salt to taste
1. Parboil the potatoes: dice them into cubes on the larger end of bite-sized. Add them to a pot of salted water. Set on medium and cook until you reach a rolling boil. Remove and strain the potatoes immediately, letting them cool in a colander for a couple minutes.
2. Dump half a bag of your preferred corn chips into your food processor in a couple batches, depending on size of the processor, and blend for 20 seconds or so to create fine chip crumbs (should yield at least 2 cups). Set aside.
3. Combine mayonnaise, yogurt, scallions, and chopped herbs and set aside.
4. Heat a large skillet or cast-iron on high heat and once it’s hot, turn to medium and add butter. Add the potatoes and sauté for 3 minutes. (Taste a potato; it should be cooked, but pert, not soft or crumbly.) When you’re happy with them, add the chip crumbs and gently toss to coat. (Some of the crumbs will stick to the potatoes, some will bounce around the pan, this is fine.) Cook for another 2 minutes to lightly toast the crumbs, then remove from heat.
5. In a large bowl, gently mix the potatoes with the dressing. Garnish with extra chip crumbs, taste, and salt to your liking.
serves 8 to 10
We officially do not endorse Doritos’ makers, or their subsidiaries. But their corn byproduct (powdered cheese frankenchips) are frankly amazing. Mea Culpa.
1 block extra firm tofu
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 portobello mushroom
10 shiitake mushrooms
1 white onion, minced
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans
1 medium-sized white potato
1 red beet
1 tsp fresh black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1. Press out as much moisture from your tofu as possible: slice the brick in half lengthwise, wrap it in towels, place a cutting board on top, and then dogpile as many pots on the board as feels safe. Let the crush do its thing for about 20 minutes.
2. At least 2 hours before you plan to cook the burgers, marinate the tofu: mush it up inside a Tupperware with a fork until you get a consistent, fine crumble. Add soy sauce and 1/4 cup of the olive oil, top with a lid and let sit.
3. About 90 minutes later, prepare the rest of the burger fixins. Finely slice the shiitakes and the portobello. Place a cast-iron or large sauté pan on high heat and toss in the mushrooms bits. Toast like this for about 5 minutes, then add the minced onions and stir to combine. Now dump in the marinated tofu crumble, stir well to distribute the juices, and let cook on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring a few times throughout, then remove from heat to cool.
4. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Take the whole beet and wrap it in aluminum foil.
5. Cut the potato into medium chunks, then put in a small sauce pot and cover with water. Cook on high heat until you reach a thorough boil, then remove from heat and let sit for another 5 minutes before removing. Shove the beet into the oven to roast for 30 minutes.
6. Strain the garbanzo beans, rinse, shake dry, and put them in a food processor. Pulse, adding the remaining olive oil to help it move. Toss in the potato chunks and pulse again until you have a mostly smooth bean-potato puree.
7. Combine the bean-potato puree with the cooked tofu-shrooms in a large bowl, mixing them together with your hands until you have one consistent mixture. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Let sit to marry.
8. Remove your beet from the oven and let it rest for about 20 minutes, or until cool to handle. Once it is, gently rub off the peel (using the foil as a scrubber to keep your hands from being dyed red) and slice the beet into many thin slices using a mandoline.
9. Now you’re ready to form your patties: pinch off a small handful (about 1/8 cup) of burger mixture and pat it between your hands like you’re clapping, until you form a nice evenly round circle that’s about 2 centimeters thick. Now grab a few slices of beet and slap this on top of your patty and rest this on your cutting board. Pinch off a second handful of mixture and repeat to form a circle, and place this second patty on top of the first. Cupping it gently, press the two together and pat for 30 seconds or so until it forms one double patty with the beet slices cemented in the middle. Make sure the patty’s surfaces are flat like a hockey puck and not oval. (Surface area for frying is good.)
10. Place the patties on a plate covered with wax paper and fridge ’em until you’re ready to use. To cook, either pan fry for several minutes on each side until brown, or place a cast-iron on your outside grill to give you a flat outdoor cooking surface.
makes 8 patties
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