Summer can get a little unruly when it comes to eating. While there's always that impulse somewhere in the back of our heads to stick virtuously to seasonal salads, cold soups, grilled veggies, and raw fruits, it's often pretty easily overridden by any number of temptations that reliably crop up from June to August: meaty barbecues, whipped-cream-drenched desserts, coolers full of beer. Summer can feel like a vacation from the rest of the year, and sometimes we cook and eat accordingly. (Case in point: my last three newsletters have been about chicken parm, pizza and ice cream).
Even if you haven't been eating your way through August like it's a month-long child's birthday party, the first week of September is always a welcome excuse to rein it back in a little. It's back to school season, it feels like some kind of fresh start, and it's as good a week as any to string together a few reasonably healthy dinners.
Here are four candidates (dinners for Tuesday through Friday if you're feeling plucky): two vegetarian (vegan, actually), one chicken, one fish. There are these unusual, kind of habit-forming tofu pancakes, really good veggie burgers made with beans and rolled oats, some easy but "elegant" chicken and asparagus roulades (aka roll-ups), and a Vietnamese caramel salmon, which and is worth a spot in your rotation. They're all easy recipes, and, aside from the hour it takes to chill the burgers in the fridge, they're all fast. Sure, there are little pockets of goat cheese in the roulades, but you'll notice that inappropriate quantities of dairy (see my last three newsletters) are conspicuously absent here, and overall these dishes will make you feel pretty principled.
A simple side will turn each of these into a full-fledged meal: Some brown rice or cooked grains for the salmon and chicken, a no-frills salad for the burger, and maybe a bright, crunchy vegetable (like Sichuan Cucumbers) for the pancakes. See what works for you, happy September, and see you Friday.
These super, unusual, savory (and obviously vegan) pancakes take advantage of tofu’s chameleonlike qualities. See the variations for just a few of the flavor combinations you can use.
These burgers are excellent served on a bun with the usual fixings, no matter which bean you use, but I will say that black beans give the best possible result. If you start with well-seasoned, cooked-by-you beans, the results are even better. If you like, replace the oats with rolled rye, wheat, or even soybean flakes. Like almost all veggie burgers, these hold together better if you refrigerate them before cooking.
The French—and fancy—word is roulade, and it describes a practical way to assemble and cook multiple ingredients simultaneously. The presentation is always impressive. Use the leftovers for sandwiches.
Here, the salmon is cooked (poached, essentially) directly in the caramel, which gives it a delicate texture and an unbelievable amount of flavor. It may sound like a strange technique, but this cooking method is classic and totally ubiquitous in Vietnam. Feel free to swap in a different kind of fish for the salmon; red snapper, grouper, black sea bass and catfish will all work.
Talk To Me, Goose!
Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.