Some Of Nature’s Miniature Pharmaceutical Factories Are Also Culinary Powerhouses

Photograph by Mari Maeda and Yuji Oboshi. Styled by Suzy Kim

I have not done a count, but I would guess the New York Times has been the source of as many stories we link to as any other publication. Mostly that would be due to the excellence, and relevance to our goals, of the Science section. The New York Times Style Magazine is not normally a source for us. I cannot find a single link to that publication on this platform in 9+ years and among 4,000+ posts. We feature plenty of shiny pretty things but only those that offer insight relevant to this platform. On occasion the trendy and/or the fashionable intersect well with the stories we favor, and we have no problem pointing those out.

A selection of herbal and mushroom powders from Apothékary. Sarah Gurrity

So it goes with fungi. There are many fungi-focused posts on this platform, few of which would be seen as glamorizing. Surely we are trying to validate the topic by shining an attractive light on it. But we favor knowledge over visual stimulation. Aesthetics are not lost on us, nor is the intent to get more people interested in a topic we care about, so:

Are Mushrooms the Future of Wellness?

Long thought to have medicinal benefits, fungi including reishi, lion’s mane and chaga are gaining popularity in the wellness world.

Even before the onset of the pandemic, which has increased the demand for all manner of so-called organic immunity elixirs, wellness-minded Americans were warming to mushrooms. To be clear, mushrooms don’t cure Covid-19, but they are thought to provide a host of other benefits, from serving as an aphrodisiac to bolstering one’s defenses to toxins…

Not one, but two articles in the same issue, both with fabulous photography. The first, by Arden Fanning Andrews, deals with the health benefits of fungi; the second, by Ligaya Mishan, focuses on the culinary:

A duo of royal trumpet mushrooms alongside ladybugs, lichen and wild ferns.Credit…Mari Maeda and Yuji Oboshi

Mushrooms, the Last Survivors

Neither plant nor animal, mushrooms have confounded humans since ancient times. Now, they’re a reminder of our tenuous place in an uncertain world.

The mushrooms sit on high, behind glass, above bottles of Armagnac and mezcal in a bar at the Standard hotel in Manhattan’s East Village. They are barely recognizable at first, just eerie silhouettes resembling coral growths in an aquarium, blooming in laboratory-teal light: tightly branched clusters of oyster mushrooms in hot pink, yolk yellow and bruise blue, alongside lion’s mane mushrooms, shaggy white globes with spines like trailing hair…

Remains of a Feast

Food and Beverage as conservation themes have been long time interests at this site, whether it be recreating ancient ales or maintaining the artisan ethos of ancient food ways.

I have to admit that the blend of cuisine and archaeology are equally fascinating; I would have been one of the first of the “curious passersby” at the feast described here. The article is behind a paywall, but worth the read.

A taste of antiquity: what’s it like to eat 2,500-year-old food?

How Fuchsia Dunlop sampled food from the tomb of a long dead king

The four sheep turned on their spits, wafting out rich aromas over the bleached Turkish landscape. Nearby, I stirred a vast potful of lentil stew over an open fire, lashed by smoke and sunlight. A long table in the yard was already laden with dishes: handmade hummus and fava bean paste, whole honeycombs, stacks of tandoor-baked bread and piles of pomegranates. Beyond it loomed the great burial mound of a ruler of the Phrygian kingdom who had died here in the eighth century BC — thought to be a historical King Midas or his father. Aided by a team of Turkish cooks and food experts, I was doing my best to recreate his funeral feast.

This wasn’t an idle exercise. In the 1950s, archaeologists from the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania had excavated the tomb, near the old Phrygian capital at Gordion. Although this King Midas was not the mythical man with the golden touch, they still found a treasure trove of bronze cauldrons, drinking bowls and clay pots in his burial chamber, including the largest Iron Age drinking set ever discovered. The vessels contained the physical remnants of a banquet the mourners had shared, but it was about 40 years before advances in science permitted chemical analysis of the residues.
This was done in the late 1990s by experts from the Penn Museum, led by Patrick McGovern, scientific director of its Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health, and author of Ancient Brews: Rediscovered & Re-created.

Using modern techniques such as infrared spectroscopy, liquid and gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, McGovern and his team examined the vestiges of both food and drink found in the bronze vessels. The mourners, they concluded, had shared an unusual brew made from a mixture of honey, grapes and barley — a sort of cocktail of mead, wine and beer. And although the researchers couldn’t be sure, they suspected it had also contained saffron because of the intense yellow colour of the residue (and because some of the finest saffron of the ancient world was produced in what is now Turkey).

The chemical detective work on the brown clumps of food matter showed these were the leftovers of a great stew made from lamb or goat that had first been seared over fire to produce caramelisation, then simmered with some kind of pulse (probably lentils) along with ingredients such as honey, wine, olive oil, fennel or anise and other herbs and spices. Continue reading

Aficionados-R-Us

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When you talk with aficionados, it usually doesn’t take long for the conversation to veer away from curds, whey, and mold, and toward matters of life and death. Photograph from Alamy

Ruby Tandoh, a food writer and the author of “Eat Up!,” has written an essay that fits perfectly on our platform. It happens to focus on the culture of cheese, which has not featured much here because for the first six years we were in India and since then we have been back in Costa Rica, and there is not much of a culture of cheese in either of those locations. But aficionado should be a category with which to tag most of our posts, whether the topic is coffee, authentic artisan handicrafts, sustainable travel, etc. So thanks to Ruby for emphasizing the aficionados in her essay (I will save for another day the surprise of feta cheese, which a farmer in Costa Rica is now making at Greek quality level):

How a Cheese Goes Extinct

The late Mary Holbrook, a white-haired maestro in the British cheesemaking world, was known for her soft cheeses and her sharp temper. Once a week, she made the trip from Sleight Farm, her home in the southwest of England, to London to check on her wares as they ripened in the maturation rooms of an upscale cheese shop. Holbrook’s apprentices, hardened to her singular style of mentorship, knew to brace themselves for reprimands when she returned. Occasionally, though, Holbrook would come back with bags of treats—yogurt, mangoes, sweets—which she spilled across the kitchen table of her cold mid-nineteenth-century farmhouse on the crest of a hill, and they knew that the cheese must be tasting good, and that Mary’s little world was in order. Continue reading

Wine & Biophilia

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Brian Britigan

Biophilia is a frequent topic here; wine, only a fraction as much. An article touching on both is a rare treat:

From Good Wine, a Direct Path to the Wonders of Nature

For this city dweller, wine provided the opening to a greater understanding of food and agriculture, and their precarious balance.

Last year a friend asked me a question I had never considered before: Over the many years I had been writing about wine, what was the greatest thing this job had given me?

I answered almost reflexively. As a New Yorker who has spent most of my life living in Manhattan, wine had provided me a connection to nature that I most likely would never have experienced otherwise. Continue reading

Ethiopian Vegan

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The vegan sampler at Ras Plant Based features an assortment of dishes traditionally eaten by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians during periods of religious fasting, when they abstain from animal products.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

Always ready to learn more about Ethiopia’s contributions to the world. And the move to animal-free food is an evergreen topic around here. So the story below is perfect for today. The photography is unusual, in the world of food, but the text by Hannah Goldfield is convincing:

Ethiopian Tradition for the Vegan-Curious, at Ras Plant Based

At Romeo and Milka Regalli’s Crown Heights restaurant, vegan proteins stand in for meats, and tangy, fermented injera soaks up sauces spiked with traditional berbere spice or puckery lime.

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Romeo and Milka Regalli, who describe themselves as passionate about vegetables, wanted to both showcase their favorite fasting dishes and offer vegan iterations of common meat preparations.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

Many of the recipes that the chef Romeo Regalli uses in the kitchen at Ras Plant Based—the restaurant that he and his wife, Milka, opened in Crown Heights in March—have been passed down through generations. A number of them came from Romeo’s grandmother, a passionate home cook who died last year, in Ethiopia, at the age of a hundred and four. Yet the dish that seems most likely to have a long, storied history, Mama’s Tofu, traces its origins only as far back as May, when Romeo’s mother texted, from Addis Ababa, a photo of what she had made for dinner.

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An avocado salad with diced tomato, onion, and jalapeño, in a lime vinaigrette.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

“I was, like, ‘Oh, my God, that looks so good!’ ” Romeo recalled the other day. She rattled off the ingredients: tofu, tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños. After she mailed him a batch of her homemade spice mix (the exact contents of which he keeps tight to his chest), Romeo made an approximation, and promptly added it to the menu. Continue reading

Singing the Praises of Wild Foods

A Wild Box from Allora, available for delivery in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, might include, clockwise from top: squash blossoms grown on the farm; a bouquet of common vetch (also known as wild peas), linden flowers, dame’s rocket, and bedstraw; a hunk of a chicken-of-the-woods mushroom.Photograph by Courtney Sofiah Yates for The New Yorker

We’ve long been fans of foraged foods on this site, whether that be the seasonal delights of wild mushrooms, or the community gleaning of urban trees and gardens. These Wild Boxes are definitely an inspiration to get outside with an expert, and find a meal.

Foraged Foods Shorten the Supply Chain

Chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms that fry up like their namesake, snappy sea beans that need no extra salt, sassafras syrup, and other edible offerings from the wilds outside the city limits.

“Alot of the talk about quarantine cooking, in the beginning, was, like, ‘Here’s twenty ways to use a can of tuna,’ ” James O’Donnell recounted the other day. “It was very much survivalist.” O’Donnell and his partner, Amanda Kingsley, own Allora Farm & Flowers, in Pine Plains, New York, where they grow what they need for their floral-design studio, plus vegetables. It struck him that “a lot of people at home could probably use feeling connected to the natural world right now, a little bit of excitement and wonder.” Before the pandemic, a substantial part of O’Donnell and Kingsley’s business was supplying restaurants with ingredients that they foraged sustainably from the acres that they lease, as well as from friends’ properties and from public lands in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island. With the restaurant market shrinking, they decided to experiment with a direct-to-consumer weekly-ish Wild Box, available for delivery in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

To forage safely requires a good amount of training. Perfectly edible plants can look nearly identical to perfectly poisonous ones. In some cases, a berry that grows on a tree may be as palatable as its flower is lethal. Still, eating my way through a Wild Box gave me hope for my chances of surviving should even the canned tuna run out. Learn the rules—many inherited from indigenous peoples—and unlock access to treasures hiding in plain sight in thickets, on riverbanks, and by the shore. A hefty wedge of chicken-of-the-woods mushroom pried from a tree trunk performed exactly as its name would suggest, its edges pan-frying to a crisp golden brown that rivalled a buttermilk crust, its creamy interior shredding almost like meat.

A vial of sassafras syrup, made by steeping bark and small roots removed responsibly from a sassafras tree, was transformed into an aromatically fizzy glass of root beer when mixed with soda water. The detailed ingredient key that came in the box suggested treating tender, sweet, snappy sea beans—a succulent, also known as samphire, that grows on beaches and in coastal marshes—like salad greens, but to leave the salt out of your vinaigrette until you had tasted the dressed beans. Sure enough, they were so infused with a natural brine that they didn’t need a single grain. Continue reading

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

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The Saône river in Lyon (Herbert Frank from Wien (Vienna), AT – Lyon, an der Saône, Eglise Saint Georges / Wikimedia Commons)

When you have 20 minutes it is worth hearing Bill Buford speak about the same experience he has written about. If you have already read about his Lyon baking experience, and enjoyed it, all the more so; this conversation brings more to the table as he discusses his new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. Click the image of the book below to go to an independent bookseller that offers it.

9780307271013Likewise, even if you have already read plenty on the importance of bread and bakeries in French culture you might enjoy one more take, from the present circumstances, in James McAuley’s article about flocking back to bakeries for comfort: …“The power of bread is particularly emotional now. It’s no longer caloric; a vital necessity,” Kaplan said. “Bread still is the conveyor of this extraordinary, important feeling we have that the state cares about us. It’s a reaffirmation of solidarity. Solidarity is really represented by sharing bread.” (Baguettes were price-controlled in France until 1986)…

Support Chefs Who Support Immigrant Workers

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Los Angeles’s participating chefs Photo: Courtesy of Ask Chefs Anything

Devorah Lev-Tov, a writer who covers food, among other things, surprisingly has not shown up in our pages before. I am happy to link to this particular story as a first. Food and agriculture have been central to this platform since we started it in 2011. Also, immigrants-r-us, so I appreciate the effort on their behalf as much as I appreciate the visibility it is receiving in a location surprising to me. Vogue is an unlikely publication for me to source from, but credit where due, a great story:

Ask Chefs Anything: Famous Foodies Are Auctioning Their Time in Support of Immigrant Workers

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country and force businesses to shut down, among the hardest hit are immigrant workers—many of whom worked in the restaurant or other service industries. Now, they are left with no jobs and no unemployment benefits, struggling to put food on their plates and send money home to their families, while fearing getting sick without any support from the government.

In an effort to help them, dozens of famous chefs—including Alison Roman, Nancy Silverton, Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, Suzanne Goin, and Dominique Ansel—are auctioning off 30-minute virtual discussions where they will share recipes and cooking tips via a new initiative called Ask Chefs AnythingNew York City’s ended last week, Los Angeles’s auction is going on now through May 11, and Philadelphia’s takes place May 13 to 17, with more cities to follow. Continue reading

Crunch, Buzz, Twist & Shout

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Asian giant hornets from Japan in a display case at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

For every invasion there is an appropriate response, and sometimes it is culinary. Thanks to Ben Dooley for this set of ideas:

In Japan, the ‘Murder Hornet’ Is Both a Lethal Threat and a Tasty Treat

Long before the insects found their way to American shores, some Japanese prized them for their numbing crunch and the venomous buzz they add to liquor.

D-Tp6RhUwAAGMYtTOKYO — Long before the Asian giant hornet began terrorizing the honeybees of Washington State, the ferocious insects posed a sometimes lethal threat to hikers and farmers in the mountains of rural Japan.

But in the central Chubu region, these insects — sometimes called “murder hornets” — are known for more than their aggression and excruciating sting. They are seen as a pleasant snack and an invigorating ingredient in drinks.

The giant hornet, along with other varieties of wasps, has traditionally been considered a delicacy in this rugged part of the country. The grubs are often preserved in jars, pan-fried or steamed with rice to make a savory dish called hebo-gohan. The adults, which can be two inches long, are fried on skewers, stinger and all, until the carapace becomes light and crunchy. They leave a warming, tingling sensation when eaten. Continue reading

Pep Shot Is The New Bee’s Knees

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For those who can afford it, culinary experimentation could become a practical hobby.HERITAGE / BETTMANN / GEORGE MARKS / AFP / GETTY / PROZHIVINA ELENE / SHUTTERSTOCK / KATIE MARTIN / THE ATLANTIC

$_35Dalgona is a name I did not know until five minutes ago. But I intimately knew the thing itself ages ago. For the 1981-82 academic year I worked with a tutor in Athens to learn my mother’s first language.  Her aunt, who I lived with, had only one way to prepare coffee, using this device to the left. Greek coffee, aka Turkish coffee, was fine.

m-6D-MUyWNCFYE0NFBe6z9wBut I did not love it. My cousin showed me an alternative, cautioning me that our great-aunt did not allow this foreign product in her home. So, I bought the contraband and each morning before she awoke I mixed the instant coffee with the milk and sugar and shook it in a jar and gulped it. It was a brief love affair. Instant coffee is not in our cupboard these days, but I have a fond memory of that fling. I appreciate Shirley Li’s article for reminding me of it.

Current circumstances are pushing us all in new directions of food and beverage production and consumption and for me, for now, the Pep Shot is the new bee’s knees:

In 1950, Americans Had Aspic. Now We Have Dalgona Coffee.

Unlike food innovations from crises past, coronavirus-inspired recipes are more about stress relief than survival.

Allison Ward used to grab coffee during her commute to work. The 34-year-old, a project manager for the McMaster Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, told me she needs caffeine every day, and that ever since the coronavirus pandemic put the city on lockdown, she’s been missing her Starbucks fix.

Then she learned about dalgona coffee. Continue reading

Immunity Boost Pep Shot

5084bce2c484b_170546bWhen Amie and I visited the Greek island of Ikaria in the autumn of 2013, it was years after we had first read about Blue Zones. We were there for work reasons, looking to identify a new location for Xandari. We learned plenty, though Xandari Ikaria never happened. Hortopita, for one. Not only spinach, but all kinds of greens, both cultivated and wild, can make a dish both healthier and more interesting than the spanakopita I had grown up with. For several weeks now, while investigating ways in which the ferias of Costa Rica might adapt to the new health protocols, and whether we might assist family farms in any way, we took a hiatus from attending the one in our town. I am happy to report that our municipality has made adjustments, and so we attended a new, smaller gathering of family farms this last week. Now that the feria is twice a week, the number of people shopping at either one is effectively halved.

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b6cbd244-7cad-4258-bd6a-7293eb55a5b4I bought beets and broccoli and various greens from the stall above a few days ago with no other shopper in close proximity. Good start. And plenty of other distancing measures in place, plus an abundance of soap and sinks and disinfectant sprays at every place where you can enter or exit the feria. Also good. But we remain convinced that a new social enterprise might help these farmers, and shoppers, more. And for that, our kitchen has been a laboratory for generating ideas, with various reading materials to assist. The Blue Zones Kitchen has been especially helpful.

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While the “it” social enterprise is elusive, the meals have been nutritious and tasty. This experimentation has converged with my coffee tests, and my 3-year near-obsession with how to bring Maya nut to a wider audience, so this is what I will report on today.

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I have been combining a couple Blue Zones products with slow brew coffee, thinking of a drink that can add pep to the day and at the same time add other value, nutritional and otherwise. Honey is part of the recipe for its antioxidant properties as much as its sweetness. And the ojoche (aka Maya nut) to the left in the image above is there for its own nutritional reasons, which will require a post of its own.

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But to get this drink just right, sweetly combining pep + immunity, the ingredient that comes from our feria is the magic touch.

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Turmeric became an important part of our diet while living in India. And so it came to be again last month when, just prior to the closure of Costa Rica’s borders, a friend from India visited us. He is a medical doctor, not prone to folk remedies, but under the circumstances we all found ourselves suddenly in, looking for ways to boost our bodies’ immunities–he recommended something simple to us: have some turmeric every day. He specifically recommended combining it with milk, honey and freshly ground black peppercorn. Which we started doing, immediately. And day after day, one thing led to another. So now we have a slow brew coffee with these ingredients, plus some ojoche for good measure.

Searching For Bread

000064298Yesterday’s post got me thinking more about bread, which reminded me of Cherchez le pain. This guide to the best bakeries in Paris was published when we lived there, and its author had been my professor at Cornell. As soon as I saw the publicity for the book I sent him an email congratulating him. To my surprise, he was on sabbatical leave, living just a few blocks from where we were living, so I invited him to join us for dinner.

I had sat through enough of his lectures on the history of food to anticipate an interesting dinner, but I was not prepared for what might sound now like a parlor trick. As soon as we sat for the meal, he picked up the bread in front of him, our favorite from a bakery we had chosen from dozens during our first few months living in that city. He held it to his nose, then brought it to his ear and tapped it with a spoon. He broke it in two and pressed his face into it. Maybe there was more to the show that I have forgotten now. What I do remember is that he named the bakery it was from.

I was impressed. And I was gratified after that when he said we had chosen well. But then he mentioned that if we were willing to walk just two blocks further we would find a bakery that ranked in the top five out of six hundred bakeries he had sampled in Paris. Next morning, of course, we went to that bakery and bought what might be the best bread of our lives. As we walked home with our bread, our entire family halted as we approached the bakery that had been our regular bakery for the past several months. We decided to walk an entire city block out of our way so that the baker would not see us having bought our bread elsewhere.

This Headline Catches My Attention

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Organic cabernet sauvignon grown near the town of Cowaramup in the Margaret River region of Australia. Frances Andrijich for The New York Times

During 2003 and 2004, life in Paris was full of wonders for our family. Bread was really art, we learned. And tarte tatin, which Amie had modified for years using mangos in Costa Rica, is best of all modified by using various French heritage plums available in a nearby marché in late August. And cheese! Plus plenty more, but for now I am reminded of the occasional wine expositions–cavernous spaces filled with hundreds of kiosks of artisanal wine makers–we would attend. At one of those I first tasted natural wine. So today, this headline shouts down all the others. Just the fact that Eric Asimov is still on this particular beat is enough to make me think things are okay, or will be okay, or at least could someday be okay:

France Defines Natural Wine, but Is That Enough?

The wine industry and many consumers have long sought a definition, but the adoption of a voluntary charter may not clarify anything.

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Marie Carroget

Natural wine is healthy and pure; natural wine is wretched and horrible. It’s the future of wine; it’s the death of wine.

For 15 years, natural wine has been a contentious time bomb that has divided many in the wine community, creating conflicts fought with the sort of anger that stems only from extreme defensiveness.

Since 2003, when I first encountered what has come to be called natural wine at the seminal restaurant 360 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, I have been a fan, though a cleareyed one, I hope.

I believe in the promise and beauty of natural wines, while acknowledging that many examples are not good, as is true with all genres of wine. The truth is that natural wines have made all of wine better. Continue reading

Lyon, Bread & Costa Rica

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The bread from Bob’s boulangerie united a neighborhood of food fanatics. Illustration by Leo Espinosa

My first mention of Bill Buford was so brief, you might have missed it–just a link to an event he was moderating. The second was a link to his writing. And then another link to his writing. I am glad to see that he is still harvesting from his experience living in Lyon. It is a city that I have been to twice, with exceptional food memories which I will save for another time. For now I will just mention that one baker in Costa Rica has recently mastered the art of world-class bread-making, including baguette and chiabbata. During these challenging times for this country’s family farms it occurs to me, thanks to Bill Buford’s story, that ensuring the survival of this bakery is worthy of attention as well:

Baking Bread in Lyon

For a newcomer to the city, a boulangerie apprenticeship reveals a way of life.

In Lyon, an ancient but benevolent law compels bakers to take one day off a week, and so most don’t work Sundays. An exception was the one in the quartier where I lived with my family for five years, until 2013. On Sundays, the baker, Bob, worked without sleep. Late-night carousers started appearing at three in the morning to ask for a hot baguette, swaying on tiptoe at a high ventilation window by the oven room, a hand outstretched with a euro coin. By nine, a line extended down the street, and the shop, when you finally got inside, was loud from people and from music being played at high volume. Everyone shouted to be heard—the cacophonous hustle, oven doors banging, people waving and trying to get noticed, too-hot-to-touch baguettes arriving in baskets, money changing hands. Everyone left with an armful and with the same look, suspended between appetite and the prospect of an appetite satisfied. It was a lesson in the appeal of good bread—handmade, aromatically yeasty, with a just-out-of-the-oven texture of crunchy air. This was their breakfast. It completed the week. This was Sunday in Lyon. Continue reading

A Chef Tests Plant-Based Meats

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Our columnist J. Kenji López-Alt making a burger at Wursthall, his restaurant in San Mateo, Calif. Peter Prato for The New York Times

Thanks to the New York Times for having a chef as a writer on these themes we care very much about:

How to Cook With Plant-Based Meats

You may have tried restaurant versions, but making them at home is another matter. J. Kenji López-Alt has tested them and offers practical advice.

SAN MATEO, Calif. — Even before opening my restaurant, Wursthall, here a couple years ago, I knew that taking vegan and vegetarian options seriously — with both traditionally vegan foods and modern meat alternatives — would be a central element of its success.

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A meatball sandwich made with Impossible meat at Wursthall. Peter Prato for The New York Times

Though sausages form the backbone of the menu, my team and I believed that people who don’t eat meat should be able to dine in mixed company without feeling that they were second-class citizens, or that their meal consisted of a series of side dishes, as they so often do at restaurants.

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

For me, a food-science writer who is a chef on the side, this meant testing, and lots of it. Continue reading

To Helen, Just Two Words

Rosner-Yuzu

Among New York chefs, there is, reportedly, a thriving black market in fresh yuzu smuggled from Japan.Photograph from World Discovery / Alamy

Thank you:

NOTHING COMPARES TO YUZU

I suffer terribly from what you might call a paralysis of wonder. When I become the custodian of something truly marvellous, notably beautiful, or a little bit rare, I worry so much about using it for a sufficiently special purpose that, more often than not, I fail ever to use it at all. My kitchen, in particular, is a graveyard of reverent neglect: a golden bottle of sunflower oil, pressed by monks in an ancient Georgian monastery, long past rancid; a little jar of barbecue sauce folded into my palms years ago by a grizzled pitmaster in Tennessee; a desiccated hunk of white truffle tucked in molding white rice; bags of international potato chips hanging on far beyond their sell-by dates. Continue reading

Dirt Candy’s Clean Win

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The eponymous Lekka burger, featuring a patty made primarily from portobello mushrooms and cannellini beans, is topped with vegan mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles, on a house-made bun. Photograph by Heami Lee for The New Yorker

After a meatless month, and a strong belief that alternatives to meat are going to dominate my eating future, my thanks to Hannah Goldfield for another clue of where to eat in New York City if my goal is a mix of meatless and tasty. This one is titled Lekka Burger and the Quest for the Perfect Veggie Patty and the subtitle is the kind of question on my mind lately: In the golden age of vegetable-centric cooking, do we need more dishes made in the image of meat?:

There has never been a better time to eat a meatless hamburger. The current surge of interest in plant-based diets has sparked an arms race of sorts. Companies such as Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are using cutting-edge technology to make ground-beef facsimiles that look, feel, and even smell eerily similar to the real thing; you can find their products everywhere from small restaurants to national fast-food chains and supermarkets. Meanwhile, in New York, a number of creative chefs have put serious effort into improving upon the archetype, using actual vegetables.

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The menu offers five iterations of the burger, some with globally themed toppings such as guacamole and Hatch-chili sauce or papadum and curry-tamarind ketchup, plus French fries and a few salads. Photograph by Heami Lee for The New Yorker

Since 2008, the chef Amanda Cohen has been the force behind Dirt Candy, the first vegetarian restaurant to hold its own in New York’s fine-dining landscape. Cohen had never served a veggie burger before Andrea Kerzner, a South African philanthropist looking for ways to fight climate change, cold-called her to propose that they collaborate on a restaurant built around one, but she was game to try. Last November, they opened Lekka Burger, in Tribeca. Continue reading

Field of Greens

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Assembly required: Sweetgreen’s hexagonal, compostable bowls have become status markers. Rozette Rago for The New York Times

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Illustration by Gluekit; Photographs by Philip Cheung for The New York Time

It is not the first time we are linking out to a story on this company, but thanks to the New York Times for In a Burger World, Can Sweetgreen Scale Up?for a more in depth look at them.

And for that matter, for a theme we care deeply about, which is that we should all be putting more thought into the food we eat, and how it is packaged.

The market is rewarding those companies paying attention to these themes:

Squashing the competition: A worker preparing zucchini.  Rozette Rago for The New York Times

The chain that made salads chic, modular and ecologically conscious now wants to sell you a lot of other stuff.

On a Wednesday morning last fall, several executives at Sweetgreen, the fast-casual salad chain, gathered around a conference table at their headquarters here. They were discussing a new store format, called Sweetgreen 3.0, that had recently been introduced in New York City after two years of planning. At Sweetgreen’s other 102 locations, customers brave queues that, at peak lunch, can make T.S.A. lines look tame. Up front, employees assemble Harvest Bowls, Kale Caesars and infinite customized variants from a spread of freshly prepared ingredients, in a ritual that has become a hallmark of the modern midday meal.

At 3.0, to increase efficiency, the action had been moved offstage, to a kitchen in the rear. Customers give orders to a tablet-wielding “ambassador,” if they haven’t done so ahead of time with their smartphones, retrieving their salads from alphabetized shelves. While they wait they can mull adding one of the Sweetgreen baseball caps or $37 bottles of olive oil on display to the tab.

Many of the changes being tested at 3.0 seem crucial to realizing the ambitious plans of Sweetgreen’s co-founder and chief executive, Jonathan Neman. With its prescient mobile technology strategy, the company hopes to become something bigger — much, much bigger — than a boutique urban chain serving arugula to health nuts and yoga moms. Continue reading

Prepping A Less-Meaty 2020

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Meera Sodha: ‘Vegan food is exciting, easy and delicious.’ Photograph David Loftus

Thanks to Meera Sodha and the Guardian for this prep sheet for meeting our goals of reducing meat consumption in the new year:

Veganuary recipes: Meera Sodha’s daily meal plan

The Guardian’s vegan columnist has plant-based tips for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus snacks to stop you falling off the ‘vagon’

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Meera Sodha’s mixed vegetable Thai green curry. Photograph: Louise Hagger/The Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay.

When I first started my vegan column, I gave myself a month before I’d have to hand in my notice. As an omnivore (admittedly one that ate little meat but a lot of dairy and eggs), I just couldn’t imagine writing recipes week after week with such a strict set of rules, let alone enjoy eating plant-based food on a regular basis. But then, something wonderful happened.

Taking meat, fish, dairy or eggs out of cooking became a catalyst for creativity, forcing me, and many other chefs and food writers, to think in new and interesting ways about how to extract the most flavour and pleasure from the same old characters in the vegetable drawer. Continue reading

Seafood’s Scientific Solution

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Mother Jones illustration; Getty

Companies like Impossible and its competitor Beyond Meat have gotten most of the attention in our pages for plant-based meat-like products, but when it comes to alternative seafood our stories have mainly focused on invasive species, or on farming kelp or on seaweed farming. Thanks to Mother Jones for stretching our attention to the alternatives to fresh caught or even farm-raised seafood that simulates the kinds of fish that have been over-harvested:

We Destroyed the Oceans. Now Scientists Are Growing Seafood in Labs.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Do you love burgers—but not the animal cruelty and environmental degradation that go into making them? I come bearing good news: Someday, you might be able to get your meat fix, without all that bad stuff. Scientists can now grow animal flesh, without raising—or in most cases killing—an animal. This food, called “lab-grown meat,” “cell-based meat,” “cultured meat,” “cultivated meat,” “clean meat,” or as comedian Stephen Colbert jokingly called it in 2009, “shmeat,” has set off a flurry of media attention in recent years. Dozens of lab-grown meat companies have materialized, most aiming to solve the problems associated with large-scale beef, pork, poultry, and seafood production.

Finless Foods, a 12-person food-tech startup founded in 2017 and based in Emeryville, California, claims to be the first company to focus on lab-grown fish, although a handful of other startups have since joined them. In October, 28-year-old Finless Foods co-founder Mike Selden gave me a tour of their facility, and I dished about it on the latest episode of the Mother Jones food politics podcast Bite:

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Selden and his co-founder Brian Wyrwas, both products of an agricultural biochemistry program at UMass Amherst, started the company, he says, to “make something good.” Continue reading