Veggie Burger and Fries

So here’s the thing about veggie burgers. They’re not great. Just as a general rule: even the highest quality, truffle infused, butter brushed, created by gastronomic geniuses who have taken their studies of cuisine down to the molecular level vegetarian burger will pale in comparison to the most basic frying pan beef patty. That’s the name of the game. Burgers are just meant to be meat. However; if you (like me) want a burger-adjacent vegetarian option-I’m going to show you a fantastic runner up. Forget about bean burgers; people chase after the perfect bean patty because it’s the closest texture wise to ground beef, but at best they end up tasting like, well, beans – and at worst the taste like salty dirt. What we need to do is make something that will taste great and forget about the rest. Flavor is king, everything else comes second. Mushrooms are a great option (just imagine a nice, fat slab of portobello on a bun) but they can be a non-starter for some picky eaters. Instead, for this burger I’ll be using eggplant steaks. Smokey, creamy, with an umami tang that rivals the meatiest of burgers, this vegetarian option will make you forget the taste of a beef burger – almost.

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Shortbread Cookies

In truth, I am not particularly skilled when it comes to cookies. To the disappointment and regret of both my and Alexis’ stomachs, I have previously made notoriously bad biscuits (a.k.a cookies if you aren’t British or haven’t, like us, been consuming unhealthy servings of the Great British Baking show). The butter always seeps out and leave a wafer thin biscuit that approaches a caramel crisp. In an attempt to be delectably creative, I have in the past made “salted chocolate” cookies that were, in a word, inedible. However, with Christmas approaching and the urge to churn out adorable, uniform, and decorate-able cookies at an all time high (to tide over Saint Nick on his trip) I went to the kitchen and whipped, shaped, and baked until these came out. They are deliciously buttery, just sweet enough, with an extremely satisfying snap and crumble that the name shortbread demands. 

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Samosas

The first time I remember eating samosas was in Botswana. IMG_0587There was this Indian restaurant – “Mogul” – down the street from our house and it seemed like we ate there at least once a week. It can’t have been that often, but the more I try to remember, all I can picture is the six of us crowding around a table covered with greens and reds and yellows; Palak Paneer, Tikka Massala, stewed lentils and chickpeas and eggplant; a variegated assembly of curries, rice, and naans. This was prime sharing food – wrestle a naan in half with the sibling next to you and dip it in the same curry pot as everyone else. The only part I could guarantee was mine was a single triangle of fried dough stuffed with potatoes, peas, and onion, and those moments were when and how I fell in love with samosas. All of us around the table sneaking glances at everyone else’s plates through the steam pouring off the top of half eaten samosas, ensuring they had eaten their one and they weren’t coming after mine. Bring a batch of these to the table, and they’ll disappear before you have a chance to sit down.

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Ropa Vieja Burritos

It means: old clothes, but if my laundry filled the apartment with the same smells as this dish, my washer and dryer would never run. IMG_0581I think the first time I ate Ropa Vieja was in Curacao, probably snagging it out of a Cuban friend’s lunch. It wasn’t an entirely unfamiliar dish, I had had beef slow-stewed in tomato sauce before, but Ropa Vieja is the dish I come back to time and time again. Maybe, it’s just the name. Maybe it’s the way the roast shreds into a crimson pile of aromatic strands of beef that melt on your tongue. Maybe its the sharp, bright, and spicy flavors – the way the tomatoes render into sweet umami paste that coats each bite of beef and blends perfectly with the cumin and the cilantro and the chili peppers. Whatever the case may be, this dish is dead simple and drop-dead delicious. Eat it plain, with rice, beans, and plantains; layer it on top of a ham and cheese sandwich to make a Cubano that’s out of this world; or – my personal favorite – pair it with fresh onions, avocado, and cilantro, then roll it all up in a tortilla.

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