Free Range on Food: Vegan burgers, using avocados in sweet recipes and more.

Jun 14, 2017

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Here it is, our favorite day of the week -- because we get to hang with you till the clock strikes 1!  Welcome to the Free Range chat, where all culinary inquiries are worthy and we're calling the session to order:



Old business: Today's Post Points code is FR1641. Got that? You'll need to enter it at the Post Points site under Claim My Points in order to earn credit for them. The code expires at midnight. 


New business: Tim Carman has registered something else to worry about on my anxiety screen: blue catfish. Read all about it here, and discuss. We're skewing sweet on avocado, thanks to Kristen Hartke's story and roundup of recipes. She'll be here. It's National Soul Food Month, and Adrian Miller reminds us of its historical impact at 1600 Penn Ave. Cookbook author Ann Hodgman finds the humor -- and nifty recipes -- in her new "Vegan Food for the Rest of Us,"  and she's chatting with us this hour. And colleague Tom Sietsema's been fielding #tablesthisclose complaints over at his chat, I reckon, but feel free to vent further in this space.


Regulars M. Carrie Allan and Jim Shahin -- recently nominated by the Association of Food Journalists for their work in WaPo Food, huzzah! -- should be stopping by as well. Editor Joe and Kara Elder are away.


Almost there: Couple of lucky chatters will win a cookbook, including Ann's new one and "Nopalito," source of this week's #DinnerInMinutes oven-free enchiladas. We'll announce who that is at the end of the hour. Here we go. . . .

Oh Ann, you have no idea how many times I have turned to your cookbooks for comfort & guffaws in times of crises. Your spiced pecans remain a staple of mine, and every April Fool's Day I chuckle at the thought of your daughter stumbling across the school dress code letter and screaming, "Why?!?!?!?!?!" My ex was a vegan, so this cookbook would have been dog-eared and beloved 10 years ago. I will pick it up anyway, and keep it on my bedside table, as a soothing balm. Thank you for bringing joy into my kitchen.

No, no, thank YOU for this day-brightener! I hope you'll like reading the new book even if you don't cook from it (though the chocolate cupcakes are amazing even for omnivores). My "Why?"-screaming daughter now has a why-screaming daughter of her own, so I'll be able to pass along April Fools' Day jokes I used throughout the years.

I have a nine month "project" I am working on which doesn't allow me to drink, can you help me with some ideas for mocktails? Nothing too sweet, please. thanks!

Not sure about your personal threshold for sweet, but here are some ideas.

Orange on Orange (a mocktail)

RECIPE: Orange on Orange (a mocktail)

Green Goddess

RECIPE: Green Goddess

RECIPE: Folic Fizz

Other interesting booze-free possibilities:

Strawberry-Balsamic Shrub

RECIPE: Strawberry-Balsamic Shrub (also see Apricot-Ginger Shrub and Cucumber Shrub)

Watermelon Mint Zinger

RECIPE: Watermelon Mint Zinger

Jaljira Spritzer

RECIPE: Jaljira Spritzer


RECIPE: Tepache

Hi all- I recently picked up a block of Sriracha Cheddar cheese and found it to be a bit too Sriracha-y for my tastes for straight snacking. Other than substituting for regular cheddar in pastas or sandwiches (am trying to stay grain free) any suggestions for different kinds of dishes to use this? thanks!

That cheese might provide some nice zing to omelets or frittata. Or how about in a cheesy dip for veggies? Maybe with enchiladas, quesadillas or fajitas made with corn tortillas.

Ooh, I think I might use it for making a zingy pimento cheese

I'm going to a potluck BBQ this weekend and have been asked to bring a snack or appetizer. I'm looking for something that I can make Saturday morning, and will hold up at room temp/outside, and getting stuck. Thoughts?

This Manchurian Dip would be right at home, because it tastes like BBQ sauce. It makes a crowd-pleasing amount, and you wouldn't have to tell anyone that it clocks in at 15 cals and 0 grams of fat per serving. Nothing in it that couldn't withstand the weather.

Love this Walnut and Red Pepper Spread, too.

And don't forget something as simple as chilled watermelon/melon/grape skewers, or candied cherry tomatoes (Caramelle di Pomodoro, dipped in a homemade caramel, chef Alex Levin's idea!) on toothpicks. A winner.

Can I peel the potatoes before I boil them?

You have my blessing. I love this recipe, fyi, thanks for bringing it to the fore! 

RECIPE German Potato Salad

Hi Tim - This may be a question for your expertise. We've just moved to the Brightwood area of DC, just west of Takoma. Are there any restaurants you recommend in the area, or within a short walk/drive? The selection seems a bit thin. Thanks!

Hi Brightwood!


Congratulations on the move. Brightwood, I think, has historically been a hard neighborhood for restaurants to find solid footing. Several restaurants have come and gone from the community, including one that was dedicated to all things chocolate (even in savory cooking).


But like Petworth before it, Brightwood has lots of unrealized potential for dining. Two quick examples of restaurants coming soon to the neighborhood: BBQ Bus will take the wheels off and open a bricks-and-mortar location in the former Chocolate Crust spot at 5830 Georgia Ave. NW. Oohhs and Aahhs, the terrific soul food shop on U Street, will open a second location inside the Brightwood Wal-Mart at 5929 Georgia Ave. NW.   Chef/owner Oji Abbott says he's going through inspections now and hopes to open "soon."


In the meantime, you might try Simple Bar & Grill. As its name states, it's a no-frills operation. But it has a good beer list and a really solid burger. Plus, the vibe is relaxed and friendly.  Further up Georgia Avenue is Teddy's Roti Shop, a little Caribbean takeout that makes some of my favorite roti anywhere. You can get them with bone-in meats or vegetables.

On the other end of Georgia Ave., you have probably the best sandwich/charcuterie shop in town: Straw Stick & Brick, run by a couple who are cooking school graduates. They smoke and cure all the meats in-house. There's not a bad sandwich on the menu. Here's my review of it. (The pulled pork sandwich above is from SSB.)


REVIEW: The $20 Diner is sweet on Chocolate Crust in Brightwood


REVIEW: Straw Stick & Brick: A gem of a deli packs deliciousness into sandwiches

On Saturday I made the Kindred milk bread from the Food52 website. I thought I would be more precise and convert the flour measurement from cups to grams. I used the King Arthur Flour website to find out the weight for bread flour. After I weighed out the flour, I decided to measure the volume as I mixed it with the other ingredients. I was short by half cup. I looked up a different website and their measurement gave me 40 grams more of flour. I don't know if the difference is that I used Hodgson flour instead of King Arthur flour. It would be nice if all online recipes gave you the option of showing the ingredient list in volume/ounces/grams.

Agree, mostly. It would be a happier universe for cooks with kitchen scales. But even some baking recipes work without gram-precise measuring, and some flour measuring differs due to the humidity on a given day, etc. The King Arthur standard would only work when the source has used it as a baseline, right? Did you happen to ask Food52 whether it has standardized measures in its recipes? Come to think of it, I guess WaPo Food ought to own up as well! (For baking recipes measured in grams, we have been using KA numbers for the past two years or so, fyi.)

The article by Adrian Miller re "National Soul Food Month" is most informative and made me LOL as it brought back fond memories of my deceased parents. I had my fair share of eating possum and sweet potatoes. I grew up in a small town in the segregated South where soul food was a staple.


I think my father knew all of the possum hunters in town as we ate it regularly. Possum was sold already clean, therefore, my sister and brother did not know what it looked like before cleaned. My father convinced us that the meat was good for us. Only when we moved to Michigan when I was 12 years of age, where libraries were available, I check an encyclopedia to learn what a possum looked like which was frightening.


I'm flattered that presidents experienced the same diet as mine. I'm thankful that there are now unlimited choices in the food chain as I enjoy eating stir fried broccoli with tofu and sriracha-roasted cauliflower. I still eat soul food occasionally but will never eat possum again regardless of what my father thinks. 

Restaurants often carry veggie burgers that are made with eggs, so not vegan. Do they realize that if they just offered vegan burgers instead they would make more people happy? Or are they oblivious to this? I live in a rural area where it is a big deal that restaurants are even carrying veggie burgers, but as a vegan, I can't eat them. It's disappointing. It's a great way for chefs to get creative! But I'd be happy with a boring vegan burger...anything!

Ugh, how frustrating, especially when it's so easy to make good vegan burgers in quantity. It's hard to be the customer who's asking why the burgers aren't vegan, and the server may not pass along the message anyway. Maybe that's where mail comes in? There's no reason for restaurants not to serve vegan INSTEAD of vegetarian burgers and kill two birds with one stone--to speak in a very non-vegan way.

I have lots of pet peeves with restaurants on the veggie burger issue — besides the fact that chefs don't seem to understand the vegan vs. vegetarian issue, they also don't seem to consider that the flavor of the burger is also important. A black bean burger, for instance, can have a very specific flavor that doesn't necessarily translate to all types of toppings, because the black beans can overwhelm the other flavors. 

I've moved to Belize and am dying to find good vegan burgers. What is a simple way to make them at home in a 3rd world country that is lacking ingredients and kitchen equipment? Thank you!

Here's where the internet can help you. My vegan burger recipe that's in this week's WaPo has fairly standard ingredients, but I'm guessing wheat gluten doesn't leap off the shelves in Belize. But they sell it (and black rice, if you want that) online! I buy a lot of ingredients on Amazon and on food sites. It's easier than trying to track that stuff down in a "physical" store.

I think all vegan burgers are improved by the addition of some brown or black rice. It gives a better "chew," and the rice on the exterior browns up in a way that's more reminiscent of a charcoal-grilled burger.


I bought some Beyond Meat Beyond Burgers a few weeks ago, and they were amazing. Is there any point to making the vegan burger recipe, or am I now doomed to disappointment with any other veggie burger?

Of course I'd be delighted if you tried my recipe, but if the Beyond Meat version works, go with that. Life is too short to try to match things that are already amazing. Besides, Beyond Meat deserves to find a wide market. Where did you find it? I live in a 3,000-person CT town and have been having trouble finding it anywhere.


ARTICLE AND VIDEO The shockingly beefllike veggie burger that's not aimed at vegetarians

I am growing rosemary, basil, and oregano. Do you have any dessert recipes that they would be good in.

Plenty for rosemary and basil, though not oregano (which I think is a little too potent for sweets). Feel free to search for more in our Recipe Finder (use the herb as the search term and set the course to dessert), but here are a few to start.

Rosemary Dark Chocolate Baklava

RECIPE: Rosemary Dark Chocolate Baklava

Rosemary-Orange Shortbread Cookies

RECIPE: Rosemary-Orange Shortbread Cookies

Vanilla Basil Shorties

RECIPE: Vanilla Basil Shorties

RECIPE: Lemon-Basil Tea Cake

Blueberry-Basil Ice Cream

RECIPE: Blueberry-Basil Ice Cream

The avocados in local grocery stores are usually Hass Avocados, and when ripened correctly these are delicious, with to me a distinct walnut taste.


There is another avocado in the stores occasionally that is about the same size as the Hass, but to me not so flavorful. And there is also the big Caribbean or Florida avocado, with a texture and flavor of its own. I’m looking for the small, intensely (so I’ve read) anise-flavored Mexican wild/local (criollo) avocados.


Have any of you seen these in a local market? Or have you seen the fresh avocado leaves with the anise scent? Or have any of you bought one of these avocado fruits produced by the plants with the anise-scented leaves and grown on the pit to have a supply of the fresh leaves?

I grew up in Florida, so am very familiar with the large Caribbean/Florida avocados, which some people really dislike. I actually like them myself, but they are quite watery and do not work well in things like guacamole, although they have a sweeter flavor than Hass avocados which is great just sliced into salads and sandwiches (a typical lunch when I was a kid was to fill the center with a scoop of cottage cheese). I very rarely run into criollo avocados in this area, but you can sometimes find different varieties of avocados by purchasing them online when in season from an exotic produce supplier ( is one option to explore). Avocados ship really well, so this can be a good option.

I'm permanently "hooked" on the above-mentioned recipes that Joe featured on Facebook several weeks ago. I've purchased pistachios at several grocery stores an on several occasions I've had to return them because the were stale. Can you recommend places that sells good pistachios please?

I have the best luck either ordering online (partial to those very green Sicilian ones) or getting them at a Middle Eastern/Med market, where turnover is high.


In the meantime, add this to your repertoire: Tender Green Salad With Strawberries, Cucumber, Pistachio and Basil

are the recipes published today a good way to use up overripe avocados or do they still need to be used at that perfect, fleeting (in my experience) moment of peak ripeness?

Sadly, an overripe avocado really is hard to use in any recipe, especially if it's already started to go brown and bitter. Check out the tips in the link above.

I have a fair amount (probably 4-5 cups) of some leftover spiced rice (cumin, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric) with lentils. It's great to have leftovers, but I also have a fair amount of fresh produce in the fridge competing for my attention - asparagus, scapes, baby leeks, zucchini, green beans. Any thoughts on how to perhaps repurpose some of this rice and incorporate some of my lovely fresh produce too?

Seems like you have the makings of a pretty nice Indian veggie dish. How about riffing on this Vegetable Biryani?


Or just roast or saute some of your veggies with similar spices you used in the rice. Serve with a nice yogurt sauce.

Planning to go blueberry picking soon, for tart rather than just sweet berries. and I'm looking for a new idea for them. Something other than the crumble/pie/etc. route, where the sweetness of the berries normally is featured, leading to a bit of a muted muddle. I'm hoping for something that features more of the possible tartness and actual blueberry flavor. Thanks!

My dear pacifist friend thinks that expression is too violent and coined 'grow to trees from one seed.'

I love that and I'm going to start using it. I may say "acorn" instead of seed because I love acorns so much that I'm in an acorn group on Facebook.

Yekta Market in Rockville has very good pistachios.

Yes it does! 

I've given up on buying them, because lately it seems like they're rock hard...rock hard...STILL rock hard...and then totally spoiled...with an "edible" window of approximately 20 minutes (doubtless opening in the middle of the night). Am I doing something wrong? I don't remember such a short viable time in years past, but that could just be faulty memory. Regardless, they're way too expensive to buy in the hopes that I'll notice that split second when they're ripe but not rotten yet.

When I was interviewing Pati Jinich and Lara Ferroni about how to choose avocados in order to avoid exactly the problems that you describe, they both spoke about choosing avocados with skin that is glossy and mostly black with a hint of green — this is an avocado that will be ripe within 1 - 3 days (if you want it to ripen more quickly, place it in a paper bag in a warm spot in your kitchen). Once it's ripe (press your thumb at the base and the flesh should be lightly tender), you can store it in the fridge for up to 6 days and it should keep really well — thereby extending that 20 minute window!

I have a jar of preserved lemons and I'm not sure what to do with them. Any ideas?

First of all, make sure that whatever you do with them, you scrape out the pulp and rinse them before you use them! Also, remember that they keep forever and a little goes a long way. In my omni days, I mostly used them in crab cakes, and they work well in veggie and vegan patties of all kinds. They're also good chopped very fine and added to Indian-inspired legume dishes.



Are they considered fruits or veggies? How are they nutritionally? Any decent recipes?

Plantains, or "cooking bananas" as some call them, are indeed fruits. As the Field Guide to Produce notes, "Plantains start out starchy and hard and ripen to soft and sweet."


Here are some nutrition facts on the plantain.


And here are a few plantain recipes from the database:

Fried Sweet Plantains (Platanos Maduros)


Chicken and Plantain Stew


Tacos With Grilled Plantains


And many others.


I'm rather partial to an ad hoc fried rice

My two cents worth: These are amazing. I've been making them now for a few years. I started growing my own rosemary just for this recipe.

That's quite an endorsement, thanks! Looks like I ought to put my rosemary plant to good use with this, too.

Yup! Was just trying not to duplicate on the shortbread front. Glad you like these.

I have found that for avocados, purchasing from one of the latin markets (I go to Mt Pleasant) often results in FAR better results.

Yes, absolutely! There are some places where I simply do not even bother to buy avocados anymore, because they are consistently over- or underripe, which tells me that they have a bad supplier or do not know how to properly store their produce. 

They have a zillion kinds of cheese, they have molokhia frozen, they have enough kinds of lavash and related stuff to make you very very happy; they have inexpensive high quality veggies; they have date molasses; they have everything for (non-Israeli) Middle Eastern cooking in a variety of brands so you can find a favorite. I love them. They're nice to those of us not obviously Middle eastern. Go there right now.

Endorse! And the freshest walnuts. 

Another love letter of sorts, from our occasional Ethnic Market Scout series

I just got my first share from Crowd Cow. It is a website where you can buy "shares" of local beef that they send frozen to your house. My question is they say that grass feed beef cooks faster and at a lower temperature then supermarket beef. Although it does look more lean, what accounts for the difference? Today I'll be cooking a cut called a "merlot" steak, so we'll see how it goes. I'm planning to salt and pepper it and sear it quickly on both sides.

Cattle diets start with grass. It's how they finish that matters.  Most U.S. cattle finish on grains, which are unnatural but which fatten them up nicely. It's the kind of big buttery beef that most of us were raised on.


Cattle finished on grass are much less fatty. This accounts for the faster cooking times. Some experts say you should not cook grass-fed beef past medium rare, unless you're going to add fat and moisture to the meat while cooking.

I bought a new fridge 10 months ago. I was happy with it - until the plastic on shelf holding the fruit and veg drawer started to crack. I haven't been overly hard on this poor fridge - and I've never had this happen to me before. When I looked more closely at the shelf, I felt it was a poor design: there's a very narrow plastic rim - with a heavy glass shelf sitting in it. To add to the pressure put on the narrow plastic are the hanging fruit and veg draws that get pulled out all the time. The company sent me free a replacement - but I'm not sanguine about its longevity. The fridge is an LG - my cooker and washer/drier are theirs and I've been happy with them. So check the robustness of shelves when fridge shopping!

This sure strikes a nerve with me, as I daily look at the tape and Gorilla Glue that joins a couple of plastic shelf corners together in my stupid side-by-side. Why o why did residential refrigerators not use simple covered wire shelves? Conspiracy theories abound. 

Hello! We have just gotten a grill for the first time. (It's propane, if that matters.) I would like to spend much of this summer grilling veggies. Could you point me to some non-obvious recipes or combinations? Relatively quick, weeknight-friendly recipes are especially appreciated. Thanks!

    I can give you some general guiidelines. There are scads of recipes in the database. 

    Typically, you'll want to lighly oil your vegetables to prevent sticking to the grates. Lightly paint some neutral oil, such as canola, onto sliced eggplant, zuchini, and onion and place them directly over a medium-hot fire for abourt 3 minutes per side. Remove them to a platter and drizzle a vinagrette over them for an antipasti or use as  side dishes. A friend came over last night who grilled some brocolini and dressed it simply with olive oil, salt and minced garlic. Delicious! 

     You can also use indirect heat (fire on one side, no fire on the other) for a slow roast. The vegetables will caramelize, but won't char or get grill marks. I like to do that with beets (they'll take about 40 minutes), then chop them up and add some fresh-squeezed orange juice, fresh mint leaves and goat cheese for a terrific appetizer. 

      I'd advise buying a grilling pan to help prevent your veggies from dropping through the grates. Try putting a couple of tomatoes, a slice or two of onion, and a jalapeno over the fire for a few minutes to make a fire-roasted salsa. 

       You might want to buy "The Gardener & The Grill" by Karen Adler and Juith Fertig. It is a terrific vegetable grilling and smoking book. 


I've fallen in love with fresh anchovies, and in an ideal world, would eat them with every meal in the summer. Is there grocery store/fish market/anchovy palace in DC or Northern Virginia that reliably carries them?

BlackSalt in the Palisades neighborhood of DC says it'll get some in on Friday, @ $13.99 per pound. And Mediterrafish in N.Va.'s Mosaic District says it'll have them in September. (Pescadeli in Bethesda, a fave fish store of mine, keeps frozen ones from Spain in stock, $19.95 per kilo.)

I'm really interested in trying this (as well as the avocado coconut ice cream). I noticed the recipe calls for sweetened condensed coconut milk, and while I'm familiar with regular coconut milk and cream of coconut, I don't recall ever seeing this. If this isn't something readily available in the supermarket can I use sweetened condensed milk, which I happen to already have at home? Thanks!



You can absolutely use regular sweetened condensed milk, in the same proportion. And if you want to try it with the sweetened condensed coconut milk, that's typically available in the baking section at places like Whole Foods and natural food markets.

Your recipe for Persian Date Cake (June 4 The Washington Post Magazine) got my attention, but the real treat came as I focused in on the accompanying photo. At first I thought the handle had a bit of the cake smeared on it. When I looked again, I realized that the “smear” was the underlying wood of the handle, revealed when the red paint had chipped away. We’ve got a seventy-five-year-old potato masher, probably a wedding present to my parents, with the same red and white pattern and with the same sort of paint chipping. Wow! To think about the meals these humble implements have prepared.

The memories that are stirred by a food photo always fascinate me. Thanks for sharing! Ace photographer Renee Comet has her own prop house of old utensils and such, which I love to use when we are shooting #OnePan and #SundaySuppers for The Post Magazine.

My mom had ONE! wooden spoon (I always have 4 or 5) whose "spoon part" got burned so it was unevenly shaped. When I moved into my first apartment, I tried to burn a wooden spoon into the same shape. Didn't work--I guess setting a spoon on fire is not the same as leaving it to burn in a boiled-out pan.

I was just thinking what a previous chatter did on this issue. This, and some other prepared veggie burgers are so good that haven't been compelled to try and make my own and actually have felt some guilt over this! Plus, I can usually find good, homemade veggie burgers in restaurants so that further reduces incentives to make my own. Thus far, I have only been able to find Beyond Meat Beyond Burgers at Whole Foods and hope other markets start carrying them soon.

FWIW, I don't think you should feel guilty about not making your own. Your time is worth more than any recipe! 

In an interview, Jonathan Safran-Foer, the author of Eating Animals, made the excellent point that we shouldn't be too binary when we adopt a plant-based diet. We wouldn't say, "I flew on a jet, and jets aren't fuel-efficient, so that proves I don't care about the environment and from now on I'm going to stop turning lights off when I leave a room." There doesn't have to be an either-or mentality for something as trivial as vegan burgers. Maybe sometime you'll feel like making a batch, maybe you'll keep buying them. The important thing is that you're helping to reduce cruelty. 

Per PETA: "The point is reducing animal suffering, not personal purity."

What we find difficult--we are gluten free, mushroom free and citrus free. So, we don't trust anything we can't see an ingredient list for.

That's a challenging list. What are some of the flavor-boosters you use? 

Do you have any favorite recipes for bacon wrapped water chestnuts? I'm having a theme party next week (think late 70s early 80s foods). I want to make these because my aunt used to make them when I was a child. I would like to prepare them the day before and cook them before people come. Could I cook them on a gas grill instead of in the oven? Thanks!

Here's the one recipe I dug out of our deep archives (from 1984).


(3 servings)

5 strips bacon

8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained (about 15)

3 tablespoons brown sugar 

Cut each bacon strip in thirds. Roll each water chestnut in brown sugar. Then wrap it with bacon. Fasten bacon ends with a toothpick. Place water chestnuts on roasting rack in an 8-by-1-inch utility dish. Microwave on high (100 percent power) for 8 minutes, rotating dish once. Serve immediately.

So do with it what you will. You might be able to wrap and prep the day before and then grill. Maybe do a trial run? 

Hi guys! For Father's day, I offered to grill up some chicken and steak kabobs. My dad is not an adventurous eater and I need a yummy, simple marinade recipe for the meat. Problem is, I can't seem to find one that really piques my interest. I'm looking for something healthier -- not a ton of oil/honey/brown sugar that they all seem to have. I'll be adding veggies as well (peppers, onions, squash, maybe some pineapple). I'd be willing to do two different recipes; one for the chicken, one for the steak. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

We've gotten great feedback from this recent one via Ellie Krieger's healthful #Nourish column -- and there's no long marinating: Spiced Chicken Skewers With Grapes



Here's an easy steak kebab dish with a sauce your dad might like.


And if you're a fan of lamb, try these kebabs with a minted yogurt sauce. 

I made banana pudding (nilla wafers, bananas, layered between whipped cream with doctored vanilla pudding folded in) for a potluck and there is a bit left over. But I can't eat it because I hate bananas. I make it because I like my friends. Do I have a few days to get the left overs to another friend whose family loves it? I've never had any left overs before, but this was a small dinner and all women, so no one went for seconds.

Where do you live? Just kidding, but I love banana pudding and I would definitely have had seconds! If the leftovers are stored in an airtight container in the fridge, it should be totally fine for a few more days. I'd also tuck it into the back of the refrigerator where it's usually the coldest.

I have found vegan foods high in sodium sometimes. Can you recommend how to build flavor with low sodium?

Hoo-boy, that can be tough. You might try citric acid, which I always have on hand. You can buy it at most drugstores and, of course, online. When I use it, I dissolve a small amount (half a teaspoon or so) in a teaspoon of water and add to the recipe. It works very well in a solution.

You could also combine it with ground black or white pepper and use as as a sprinkler. 

I added some to a stovetop stew I made with chickpeas, rice, canned diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a Moroccan spice blend, and it was delicious! Also vegan and ridiculously cheap.

Perfect. A jolt of acid can really brighten a dish, and the slight bitterness of preserved lemons is also a great addition.

I wonder how it would work in a Bloody Mary? You'd have to blend it with some of the liquid to make it into a purée, but it might be more interesting than lemon or lime juice.

I need to make "tea cookies" for a women's tea. I'd like to make something that has some kind of surprise ingredient but not something too difficult to make. I have a hand mixer but not a stand mixer, so nothing that really needs that appliance. Any recipes you can suggest?

Well, I'd say these avocado cookies from today would qualify!

Chocolate-Dipped Avocado Cookies

RECIPE: Chocolate-Dipped Avocado Cookies

Or you could go meta and make something with tea in it.

Green Tea Shortbread With Poppy Seeds

RECIPE: Green Tea Shortbread With Poppy Seeds

Spicy Smoked Tea-Pecan Crisps

RECIPE: Spicy Smoked Tea-Pecan Crisps

Try making fried blueberries. Instead of pancakes with a handful of berries they are berries with a smidgen of pancaked batter holding them together. Make your standard pancaked batter and then keep adding berries until the batter serves as glue and nothing more. It works really well with tart berries to bring out the flavor

Sounds fun.

The berries dont burst?

When I was a teenager in the late seventies, avocados were still an exotic commodity in my area of NYS. I really wanted to grow plants from the pits, so I bought a few and made an avocado cheesecake. My significantly younger brother took one bite and said, "This tastes like a frog!" He just reminded me of that episode the other day. Your article brought back "sweet" memories.

That is such a fun memory and thanks for sharing it! Your memory reminded me of my parents growing an avocado plant from a pit when I was a kid during the same time period — I think that was quite a fad then! I don't think we ever got any actual avocados from it, but I think we did use the leaves in some dishes, which do have a nice flavor.

Does anyone have ideas for candy/chocolate making in the DMV area this weekend that can be a fun activity? If not something easy enough to make as a gift for my husband?

Looks like the Chocolate House in D.C. has a truffle class on Sunday.

I am getting old, and forgot I had water boiling in it. It is dead, but in its memory I now vow to turn on a timer every time I boil water. Reverware appears to have been denatured - what kind of copper-bottomed saucepan can I get for boiling water these days? No, I don't want a teakettle or an electric water boiler. Just a pan, with a handle and a copper bottom, that is not yet ruined by me.

At one point my husband decided to give all our Revereware away and get Calphalon instead. I missed my Revereware and replaced it, piece by piece, on eBay. I think the modern versions still use a copper base sandwiched between stainless steel, but I wanted my same old kind with the visible copper base. There were all kinds of vintage Revereware on eBay, and they're described specifically enough that you know how heavyweight each piece will be. Here's what's on offer today.

High quality saffron for less than you would spend elsewhere, though it still isn't cheap. Ask at the counter. They don't just leave it out with the other spices.

OMG! We've got one of those too! And I hope I have it as long as I have a kitchen. It must be older than I am, and it's a precious talisman of mom's wonderful cooking.

Oh boy, sorry that you had the shelf problem with yours. I had the compressor die in mine about a year outside the 5 year warranty, and it was going to be so expensive to replace that we ended up having to get a new fridge. Also, I understand that LG parts are hard to get in general. I know it's a chicken and egg problem, nobody had LG appliances so no parts were stocked locally, but you'd think they would be doing better this many years into the US market. We ended up getting a GE that was cheaper than the LG we replaced just because everyone can work on them.

The annoying thing about a broken shelf (or, in our case, ice maker) is that it's such a cheap piece of plastic to begin with. When you're paying so much, why is that where the manufacturer decides to cut corners?

I made a ton of banana pudding for a party a few months ago (like, 100 people's worth) and had an insane amount left over. The bananas might get a bit brown and the wafers will get soggy - but some people think that is the best time to eat it! It will definitely last a few days in the fridge.. unless you send it to me of course :)

Those spiced chicken kabobs look amazing and soo much different from the honey/soy recipes I kept finding. THANK YOU!!!

Corn finished has a different mouth feel and taste profile too. Sometimes I prefer grass fed and other times a crave a nice prime dry aged for 30+ days porterhouse steak cooked to medium rare on the Weber Kettle.

Yes, that's what I was trying to imply with the "big buttery" flavor of grain-finished beef!


I like both too.

Now that it's HOT, my preschooler and I have been on a freeze pop kick (because why not, really)? Can you help us expand beyond orange-banana, fudge, and dream-sicle? Since I do the laundry, I'm hoping to avoid too much red.

Because I'm on an avocado kick, let me make a plug for avocado popsicles! Blend ripe avocado, coconut milk, lime juice and honey until smooth and then freeze just like you would other popsicles. The color is really pretty and fresh and they have a rich creamy flavor!

I don't know if this exactly the appropriate forum for my question but here goes: We're headed to San Antonio next week with a detour through the Hill Country. I've read so many restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor that my head is spinning. Can anybody recommend a really good Mexican restaurant? We don't care about atmosphere or trendiness or Tex Mex. We're looking for something more traditional, if that exists.

My buddy Lou, who visits San Antonio frequently with his wife, Judy, a native of the city (and also a friend!), says Patty's Taco House "is glorious. Not downtown but hands down the best I've had. Judy would agree."


One drawback: Patty's is only open for breakfast and lunch.


Lou also recommends Mi Tierra, which is more touristy but tasty.

How about something fresh and herby to cut the BBQ saucy - I'm think a parsley forward tabbouleh

Like that idea, but maybe not as an appetizer or snack as the chatter requested here?

       I've served tabbouleh as a side dish with barbecue, especially beef (brisket, ribs). It goes great with the rich meats, helping to add a bright, fresh note to the meal. 

       You might also try a lemon and evoo-based potato salad, with mint and a little crushed hot red pepper and minced garlic. It's a nice break from the classic mayo-based version and goes well not only with beef but also pork and chicken.

        You can do a variant with coleslaw, adding a variety of fresh herbs, including mint, basil and thyme, to a lemon and evoo-based dressing. Along with the herbs, if  you add red cabbage to the usual green and include carrots, the slaw makes for a fun, colorful addition to the bbq table. 


Does it make sense that a recipe which includes a lot of sugar and fresh peaches would specify a dry white wine as an ingredient? I substituted a moscato, a sweet white wine, and love the results. Moscato and peaches are made for each other! Would a dry wine have made a significant difference?

Moscato is definitely a nice flavor with peaches -- and the dry white wine works also, because it provides a bit of a counterbalance in flavors — slightly more acidic against the sweetness. I have a French recipe for peaches cooked in red wine that's also delicious, and most people would never think of peaches as something that should be cooked in red wine!

I made baba ganoush recently by putting the eggplant directly on charcoal in a grill to cook. When I brought the eggplant in to peel and prep, my nine-year-old daughter decided she wanted to try it. She loved it and ate quite a bit! That's not bad for her, is it?

      To paraphrase the character McCoy in the old Star Trek show. I'm a barbecue guy not a doctor. But I've done the same thing many times and I even include a tiny bit of the charred exterior (minced) for color and flavor in my baba ganoush. It's never laid me low. 

I had some during a recent trip to Germany and it was delicious! It's MUCH less sweet than American Fanta and uses sugar instead of high fructose corn shlock. I thought the Hispanic version here would be the same, but sadly while it was made with cane sugar, it was still way too sweet. Do you have any idea where I can get the European version here? All the online sources I found were out of stock plus ridiculously expensive to ship.

I haven't seen the European Fanta, but the San Pellegrino Aranciata may be a pretty tasty substitute. It's drier and more orange-peely than most American varieties.

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who has an emotional attachment to old family kitchen utensils. I still use a mixing bowl that was a wedding present to my parents (60+ years ago), and over the years it's faded from bright blue to white with just a pale blush of blue. I like using it, instead of just tucking it away, but, know that if it ever breaks, I will miss it more than most other things in the house.

We could run a weekly series, I bet. I still use my mom's old mouli grater, which is so dented that it doesn't make a clean rotation anymore. 

Not sure I've ever gotten as much feedback on a piece as I did when I wrote about the Corningware I got from my mom, which was her mom's.

ARTICLE: The vintage casserole dish that keeps on cooking, just like Grandma did

Do you have a suggested substitution for the vital wheat gluten, for someone with gluten sensitivity? Thanks. Also, I love that the recipe is for 18 servings (!) - which suggests to me that these burgers are really delicious ...

They ARE delicious. And vegan burgers tend to take so much more time to make than beef burgers that I like to make them in quantity so I can pull one out of the freezer anytime I want. I think vegans should be able to say "Oh, let's just have burgers" the way omni eaters can!

But replacing the wheat gluten: hmmm. It helps the texture so much that I've never found a good substitute. I wonder what xanthan would do? Tapioca? Both of them can add elasticity...

A few of the berries burst but not the majority.

Made me crank up the great James Delaney Buffet's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and have a nice corn finished real burger made with a nice 80/20 grind of steer meat cooked to medium rare with some nice cheddar on it with grilled onions, mustard and catsup on a toasted English muffin!

English muffins make all the difference on ANY kind of burger. And mayo, vegan or regular. 

Besides being an awesome bluegrass band name, I have one that was the chocolate chip cookie spoon. My mom is an expert cookie maker and passed it on. I only use it for cookies, though. Don't want to stain it with sauce.


Harris Teeter has them for those who are local.

According to Beyond Meat's website, they're also available at some Safeway locations.

I would put the leftover rice in a gallon zip lock bag, and spread it out flat in the freezer. Then you could break off chunks of it when you want to use some.

Yes! I freeze leftover rice all the time in quart-size freezer bags -- makes it so easy to whip up a quick stir-fry at the end of a busy day.

La Fogata is one of my favorite Mexican places in the country. I still dream about the mole and sitting out in the patio with a margarita.

Thanks for the recommendation. I'm really craving Mexican right now.

I would like to make a crunchy salad topping to go on all the lovely lettuces and other salad greens coming out of the garden this time of year. Suggestions?

I love shiitake mushroom "bacon" on salads — you can make them quite simply by slicing the mushrooms thinly, tossing with a little olive oil and salt and pepper, then baking on a sheet pan at 375° for 30 minutes, or until they are crispy. I have a tough time not eating them before they actually make it onto the plate. Here's another version that's also really delicious, just takes a bit more effort.


Here's a good recipe for a Savory Granola.

Add a little minced to your salad dressing. Also great in marinades for chicken.

I don't typically buy unsalted butter even though so many recipes call for it. If it's a cookie recipe I just use salted and try to wing it on adding salt. My question: just how much salt is in a stick of butter? I usually buy Costco or sometimes Land O Lakes.

Sigh. This is so hard to figure out. For years I used unsweetened butter in cookies and added salt. Then, a few years ago, cookie recipes started specifying SALTED butter, and I was amazed to find that I preferred it.

According to the FatSecret website, 1 ounce of salted butter has 163 mg sodium. There are 4 ounces in a stick. Land O Lakes website cites 90 mg per tablespoon in its salted butter. 

I cannot describe how avocado-crazy I am (except to tell you I even sleep in avocado-green sheets) but I never thought of using them in ice cream or of drinking them until I saw today's recipes. Many thanks! Now I can only hope that my excitement helps me burn off some of the calories I'll soon be slurping down ;)

I'm so happy that you're inspired to try the recipes! I'm adding them into cakes, cookies, and brownies and they add so much moist, nutty flavor. Happy cooking!

The comment above reminded me of a date I had in college, many many years ago. A young man took me out to dinner at a macrobiotic cafe in College Park. The dinner was rice, peas, and corn, with no spices. He said, "Well, I said it was good for you, not that it tasted good." There was no second date. Healthy food can taste good, it doesn't have to be bland.


Boy is that ever true. I don't think flavor is the point with macrobiotic food.


The spatula I use on my cast iron is 1970s vintage. It's from my childhood and has peeling 'seventies orange' paint on the wooden handle. Let me tell you - that sucker is terrific, much better than any modern one. I pay homage to its flexibility every morning when I make my over easy egg.

Chipped paint on the handle from the food, we're hoping! 

Check out Southtown, south of downtown. Lots of good restaurants!

Well, you've blended us with coconut milk and churned us to a smooth and creamy state, so you know what that means . . . we're due for some chill time! Thanks to Ann Hodgman, Kristen Hartke, Carrie Allan and Jim Shahin, and to you, dear readers, who always keep things interesting. 


Cookbook winnahs: The Veggie vs. Vegan Burger chatter gets a copy of Ann's new book (with a signed nameplate!); the chatter who reminded us about bacon-wrapped water chestnuts gets a copy of "Nopalito."

Send your mailing info to and she'll get those right out to you. Till next week, happy cooking and eating! 

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Kristen Hartke
Kristen Hartke is a Washington-based food writer and editor.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Ann Hodgman
Ann Hodgman's latest cookbook is “Vegan Food for the Rest of Us” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).
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