Free Range on Food: No-cook foods, 'The Great British Baking Show' and more.

Jul 20, 2016

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

Good afternoon, Free Rangers! Seems like our annual #NoCookWeek is timed just right, with 100-degree temps in the forecast and energies being diverted to cleanup from last night's storm (hooboy).


What's your fave no-cook recipe? Take a break, and join us for an enlightening hour of give-and-take; Pati Jinich (Mexican salads) and Cheryl Sternman Rule (yogurt drinks) will be on hand, plus most of our usual regulars, minus Editor Joe. We're up for just about any culinary q's, so bring 'em on.


Post Points members: Today's code is FR6121; you'll need to record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday to get credit for participating.


Pati's giving away a signed copy of her "Mexican Today," and we'll offer up one other cookbook to a couple of helpful chatters today; winners announced at the session's end.

I loved Pati Jinich's article today on Mexican salads. I really enjoy using Mexican flavors in salad, and agree that "taco salad" is really not what Mexican salads should be, in part because it's not a particularly healthy dish with that fried shell and all that cheese and cream. I was also interested in how she mentioned that Mexican salads will sometimes contain surprising ingredients. A few weeks ago, I had a quinoa and avocado salad at Mayahuel (a Mexican restaurant in New York City) that was really good. The dressing included sesame oil, which I usually associate with Asian cooking, but is that a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine too? I know that sesame seeds certainly are, such as in moles. To my taste, it gave the salad an Asian twist, but maybe that's just because I haven't ever come across the ingredient other Mexican dishes. Regardless, it was really delicious.

So glad you liked the article! Indeed, there are so many ingredients that one wouldn't identify with Mexican cuisine, such as Worcestershire sauce, mustard, mayonnaise, sesame oil, peanut oil, wine vinegars and even rice vinegars, to give you some examples. However, they are very commonly used. See, Mexican cuisine is much more complex than we'd initially think. Throughout history, there have been strong immigrant waves -Spanish first for sure, African, Caribbean, Asian, European, Lebanese- that have brought their basic ingredients with them and have slowly but surely been incorporated in a very Mexican way to Mexican pantries. 

So to answer your question on sesame oil: very common! Sesame seeds on their own as you note are and have been a basic ingredient for centuries of mole sauces and salsas. 

In my new book I have a quinoa salad that also uses sesame oil, and peanut oil and orange and lime juice. I love the depth of flavor of toasted sesame oil and it loves to be paired with peanut oil too!


Your article could not have been more timely! I had ayran for the first time at Semra's in Rehoboth beach not that long ago, and I was blown away. It was perfectly salty, refreshing and light - perfect for a summer day on the beach. I couldn't find it in stores - plenty of kefir, some sweet lassi, but no ayran - so I was going to try to make it at home. I'm pulling out the whisk this weekend!

I'm delighted to read this! Yes, now that you see the ayran recipe you can see how easy it'll be for you to make it at home. Even better, you can customize the saltiness and thickness to suit your preferences.

Nazli Piskin’s Ayran

RECIPE: Nazli Piskin’s Ayran

This question is for Pati Jinich. Besides the taco salad, what other non-Mexican dishes have you found in the US that people here generally think are Mexican? I'm wondering specifically about chimichangas but please mention any others you think of.

Hola! Some others would be Tex Mex combos, old fashioned Tex Mex enchiladas, queso dip. However, the funny thing is many of the dishes are becoming borderless. To give you an example: both the Nachos and the Fajita platters are USA born, but now are also popular in Mexico. 

I tried making Tiffany MacIsaac's chocolate pudding pop recipe and while delicious, I had quite a bit of chocolate scrambled eggs to strain. While it all worked out in the end, any idea what I did wrong? I thought the judicious amount of fat and cornstarch generally would prevent this. Should I have left out the egg whites? Do I need to whisk eggs more vigorously to break up the egg whites in the mixture?

Pudding Pops

Bummer. Such a good recipe! We checked with Tiffany. She said it's possible you brought it up to heat too fast or boiled rather than more gently simmered.

If you were super-worried about scrambled eggs, you could tweak the process a bit. Heat up all the ingredients except the eggs, until just steaming. Then gradually add that mixture to the eggs (in a bowl, off heat), a ladle at a time. Then pour everything back into the pot and proceed with the heating/thickening. This way you temper the eggs, equalizing the temperature so that they don't quickly cook and scramble.

I usually buy a slab fillet of regular farmed salmon for cooking, about $22 per package (about 2 pounds). Recently, my grocery store started to offer organic salmon, for about $35 per package, also around 2 pounds. It looked much darker. Is there any significant difference in taste or texture?

I'm wondering if the color difference had more to do with two different varieties of salmon, perhaps? I'll let the others weigh in here as I always buy wild Alaskan salmon and am therefore less well-versed on farmed.

The farmed Atlantic salmon sold at Costco won in a #WaPoFood taste test a few years back....I see people at the fish counter opt for darker-colored salmon like it's always preferable, but king salmon's light, right? (I think color's mostly an indication of the fish's diet.)

I saw this and thought it looked a bit like gazpacho, but with less spice...and probably very refreshing during a heat wave. Letting it sit and steep for a while makes sense, but I'm beyond curious -- what's the rationale for only using half the water and waiting to add the lemon/rest of the water? Would the result really be any different if we just dumped the veggies as we finished chopping them into a big bowl of lemon water? As fiddly directions go, this one doesn't even rank, but I'm still a little suspicious that it's needless fiddling.

Well, we consulted our in-town Israeli cuisine expert, #EthnicMarketScout Vered Guttman, who says you're right re the fiddly bit. She doesn't think it would make a difference. So feel free to charge ahead -- making it an even quicker #DinnerInMinutes!


All I can say is that the recipe's so quick I didn't mind the 15-minute respite. The tomatoes do not get mushy, as I recall.

I've been getting large amounts of kale and mustard greens in my farm share, and I'm running out of ideas. Can you share any no-cook recipes that will help someone feeling "over" leafy vegetables?

I recommend experimenting with a green smoothie. I know they're very trendy, but there's a reason: They tend to be healthful (when consumed in moderation, obviously) and are as easy as tossing prepped greens in a blender with some liquid, frozen fruit, and yogurt. I'd stick to tender greens like baby spinach or young kale (zipped of its thick stalk) and add some sweet fruits (fresh or frozen grapes, pineapple chunks) to balance out the grassiness from the greens. (I wouldn't use your mustard greens for this, but that's just me.) I usually toss in a knob of peeled ginger, too. Finally, don't overdo the quantity of greens! A generous handful is usually about right for one serving. (I've got a recipe in Yogurt Culture, by the way!)

My CSA sent me 6 (large) cucumbers and then my SO brought home 2 from a co-worker's garden - so I have 8 cucumbers at home! I was thinking of making pickles with them; but, these are just your regular cucumbers, not the small ones that are recommended. Will it still be okay? Do you have a recipe that you recommend? Thanks!

Try quick pickles. I've made a similar recipe using large grocery store cucumbers (a.k.a. not the English cukes called for in the recipe) and it turned out just fine. I imagine your pickles would be even better with fresher, CSA cucumbers.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers

RECIPE: Quick Pickled Cucumbers


Oh! You can make a delicious cold soup! Instead of pomegranate as a garnish you can use anything sweet/tart, from cherry tomatoes to cherries! 


Make some tzatziki!

I have 2 overripe bananas that must be used today. I'm thinking muffins or bread. Any recipe ideas? I don't have yogurt, sour cream, or apple sauce (all ingredients I've seen in some recipes). I do have the basics: flour, oil, milk, eggs, butter, chocolate chips....

This one calls for three bananas, but makes two loaves -- so find another banana or halve and just make one.

Coffee-Spiked Banana Bread

RECIPE: Coffee-Spiked Banana Bread

I recently ordered the pastry wands. The package came with recipes for two types of pie crust - pate sucree and pate brisee. The recipe for pate sucree calls for softened butter. That was such a surprise since every recipe calls for very cold butter. Does the addition of egg yolks compensate for softened butter?

I love a good a short crust like pate sucree -- just used it to make some deep-dish peach pies. For that type of crust, you typically want the butter/fat (plus a little sugar) to be at a consistency that can be well worked into the flour, creating a smooth dough that then is chilled. The yolks provide protein that adds structure and body to the dough, as well as richness and color. I think pate sucree's used more for tarts than pies....

Enjoyed the lead article on Mexican salads. It affirmed my opinion that taco salads are a food abomination. Their aftermath of cold and soggy taco shells is kind of like waking up on cold and soggy sheets "the morning after" (Not that I've ever done that!)


Maybe Trump's anti-Mexican rhetoric, desire to build The Wall, and opposition to NAFTA are rooted in an erroneous belief that Mexico is exporting taco salads to us? Oh, wait, didn't Trump tweet a photo of himself eating a taco salad on Cinco de Mayo?


I recently discovered what appears to be another food abomination. One of my hobbies is reading detective novels set in the UK. The detectives are always eating chip butties. I finally googled to find out what chip butties are. French fry sandwiches. Yuck!

You are cracking me up! And I absolutely adore your cold and soggy sheets metaphor, precisely. Yes, I saw that unfortunate tweet from Mr Trump with a Taco Bowl/Salad combined with his love for the "Hispanics" (that don't eat them!). 

I had never heard about chip butties, that is so interesting. Reminds me of some street tacos that you find in Mexico that add french fries to them... Just comes to show how interconnected our world, our cuisines are. Must be the appeal of pairing something soft with something crunchy!

Hi! I just got my first-ever cast iron skillet and I am SO excited to start cooking with it. What are your favorite recipes that use one? Any tips for a cast iron beginner are also much appreciated-- thank you!

I make tons of frittatas in the summer, and I always use my cast-iron skillet. Melt a good knob of butter and a drizzle of olive oil, and brush some up the sides of the skillet, too, to promote browning. Then saute some red onion/shallot/garlic and toss in some sauteed vegetables (anything cold and leftover from the fridge is easiest, but you can certainly just saute it in real time), maybe some tender greens if you like. Then beat a couple of eggs with a few tablespoons of cream and season it aggressively with s+p. I usually do 6 whole eggs + 3 tablespoons cream for an 8-10" skillet (I think). Cook it on the stovetop until 80% set, lifting large swaths so the eggs flow underneath, then sprinkle with some cheese and broil for 2-3 minutes until golden and fully cooked. Perfect summer dinner!

I am with Cheryl on the Frittatas! One favorite combination of mine is Roasted Poblano Chile/Baby Potatoes/ Feta cheese. Another thing we love to use a heavy cast iron for here at home is to make Huevos Rabo de Mestiza, a kind of Mexican shakshuka of sorts.

Haven't been able to participate in Free Range for a few weeks, but wanted to thank Joe for his article on herb flowers - learned a lot. Would love to see more food/urban gardening articles. And my herbs are flowering.

We will! Don't you just love dill flowers?


ARTICLE A gardener's favorite ingredient: Accidental flowers

Can they be frozen and used later for baking?

Totally. We always have a stash in our freezer. We just toss them in whole and then let them defrost at room temp before using. Throw them in a bowl and as I heard Christina Tosi say at an event once, be sure to include whatever liquid seeps out during defrosting -- tons of flavor in there.

We'll be camping at several national parks in August. When we did this before, my kids named it the "bad food" vacation. Can you suggest easy but tasty recipes that use few ingredients and require no electricity? I'll have a camp stove and camp fire, some pots and pans. I'd appreciate any recommendations you might have.

One of the first things my now-husband, then-boyfriend made me when we went camping for the first time were quesadillas cooked on a camping stove in the rain. They can be as simple as you like and you can dress them up with salsas, etc. I'm guessing Pati has many options for accompaniments in her books / on her site.

Agree with Cheryl! Just as you can "taco anything" you can "quesadilla anything". Bring some good corn or flour tortillas, cheese and either cold cuts or any kinds of fast cook veggies like zucchini, spinach, mushrooms... Also refried black beans! Tuck them in between the cheese tortillas and you will have very happy campers. 

My kids specially love the ham and cheese ones. In Mexico, when using flour tortillas, we call them Sincronizadas.

I like Cheryl's article about how we're branching out and experiencing yogurt in new and different ways. Has anyone tried vegetable yogurts before? I'm curious what the experience was like and if you liked it. I imagine it being a little odd because you're expecting sweet and get savory instead. Are there any recipes anyone would recommend involving vegetable yogurt out there (using it or making it)?

Ah, I love this question. My philosophy is generally to start with plain yogurt and then to doctor it up yourself. I like my savory yogurt to be unabashedly savory -- so I'll season it with salt and then fold in vegetables and often some minced garlic. I love this Garlicky Yogurt with Golden Beets and Dill and my friend Naz Deravian's Persian Mast-o Khiar as examples. Now, these are more like dips than "savory yogurts" like you'd find in the store, but that to me is a feature, not a bug. 

As for the commercial varieties, I always tell people to fill their carts with what they can afford and just taste the ones that are new to you. Unlike fine chocolate or wine or caviar, the price point on most yogurt is relatively low, so purchase an assortment and see what pleases your palate. 

Any suggestions for meat/poultry/seafood that can be prepped in advance and served at room temp or EASILY warmed? Planning a late-summer meal and this needs to be a little upscale (so, I ruled out pulled pork/burger/other sandwiches, for instance). First course will be gazpacho, and I hope to serve a potato-bean combo dish with the main (although I am flexible). I am leaning toward offering a platter of sliced flank-steak or roast beef and shrimp with a sauce TBD, but am VERY open to ideas. While I'd love to make this vegetarian because there are SO many options at this time of year, I want to extend the greatest welcome to our guests and in their food language that means some meat/poultry/seafood is on deck. Only restrictions are that whatever can't be heavily garlicked and no nuts. Thanks!

Here is one of my favorite potato salads that loves to be made in advance.  

As far as meat, I think you are right in using flank, I would also recommend roast beef or beef tenderloin previously cooked to medium and thinly sliced. 

I'd love to hear your recommendations for books about cooking---not cookbooks but memoirs, etc. about being a chef or somehow professionally involved with food. I'm in the midst of Eric Ripert's "32 Yolks" and am loving it. What should I read next?

I loved Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. She's a fantastic writer. It's also the precursor to her cookbook, Prune (named for her NYC restaurant), which you'll enjoy even more if you read her memoir first.

Doesn't have to be new, right? Jacques Pepin's "The Apprentice"'; "Wife of the Chef" by Courtney Febbroriello.

Not sure if they are exactly the genre you're referring to, but I have really liked "The Sweet Life in Paris" by David Lebovitz and "My Life in France" by Julia Child.

You know what I am reading now that I am really enjoying? Matzoh Ball Gumbo by Marcie Cohen Ferris. 

I made it vegetarian with no cilantro, and substituted porcini and lobster mushrooms instead of lobster meat, plus fresh corn! It was delicious and had plenty of spices and flavor without the cilantro.

Love that. If you can send us exact amounts of what you used, we'll add your VARIATION to the recipe online!

RECIPE Coconut Milk Soup With Lobster


Especially with meat, which I don't make often. I afraid of under-cooking so I always end up over-cooking. I just gave a salmon fillet "one more minute to be sure," and came out with tough fish. Tips for someone like me?

Get an instant read meat thermometer (such as a Thermapen), say goodbye to guess work and enjoy perfectly cooked meat. It really is that easy.

In the summer, I do a ton of grilling and I generally build a two-part fire -- one part for direct heat and one part for indirect. Of course, it always depends on the specific recipe and protein you're cooking, but to slow things down I often transfer the seared, partly cooked meat (or fish steak) over indirect heat to finish grilling. This gives me time to check on it before it overcooks. 

For salmon, i think the gentle press of a finger helps tell whether it's done. I usually pull fillets off the fire or stove top when they still have a little give but look opaque on the outside, and let them sit for a minute or two. It's also pretty easy to gently poke in with the tip of a knife or times of a fork to check the interior. 

I hear you! I used to be the same way. 

For fish: the moment that you can "flake the meat" with a fork, it HAS to come out.

For poultry: the moment the juices come out transparent or clean, out as well. 

For meat: experiment and time yourself. I realize that for flank steak for example, if I broil, my perfect time is 6 minutes on one side and 7 minutes on the other. Remember you have to let meat rest. So aim for not overcooked, let it rest 5 minutes and slice it. You can always stick it back in the oven or grill and continue cooking. 

Saw the pic, just wondering. Cute dog though.

No, I didn't have a dog's head grafted onto my shoulders so my appetite would increase by, like, 1,000 percent. That is our sweet (not so little) beagle, Lucinda (aka, Oinkypig, because she snorts like one). She sits on you when she wants to be fed.


It is the Oinkypig equivalent of flagging the manager when service is too slow.

I keep seeing sour cream glopped on top of dishes at Mexican restaurants but I've been told that it's not authentic. What's your opinion? (I'm not a big plain ol' sour cream fan, obviously)

Yes: here is the thing. In Mexican cooking we do have a similar thing to sour cream that is called Crema Ácida or Natural. However it is mostly used as a cold garnish and ironically to make some cold desserts. For savory, we mostly use Mexican Crema. It is thicker than heavy cream and thinner than sour cream. It is tangier than heavy cream but less acidic than sour cream. And it is teasingly and deliciously salty: that is the cream that we use the most. It is VERY different from sour cream. So I hear, you. 

Luckily, you can now find the real deal of Mexican crema in the US. Look for FUD. 

Hello! I love your no-cook week and recipes! I have to say, my absolute favorite no cook recipe is gazpacho! The problem is that it is SO oniony. I went to a meeting in my boss's office, and my boss (not knowing that it was me who smelled oniony) said it smelled like someone walked by her office door with a basket of onions. Oops. Is there any way to have the awesomeness of gazpacho with out the onion/garlicky? I can't see a way to have something similar to it (seeing as part of the reason I love it so much is because of the onion/garlic taste!). Can you help? It has been a saver for having something healthy and filling for lunch time.

If you're sensitive to onions but still want to include them, try setting aside your chopped onions in a small bowl and topping them with some ice water for a good 10 minutes. Then drain and continue with your gazpacho recipe. You'll get some oniony flavor but without the intensity that may be bothering you.

Or raita --- the Indian version of tzatziki. I halve and seed the cukes, shred them with a hand-grater (food processor liquefies them) into a sieve, and drain, since I find most raita in restaurants too watery, then add to your yogurt and spices. Indian cookbooks have a lot of variations on what spices to add to raita.


Also must point out that several of this week's recipes (Cucumber DooghFlutterby LassiCrab, Radish and Cucumber Salad) use cucumbers too.

Another super refreshing/easy/NO COOK! is chopped cucumber and avocado, with a dressing of crema mixed with hot sauce and lime juice. (I've eaten it twice in the last week, after feeling inspired by this recipe on Smitten Kitchen.)

Or this. This is also good. 

Smacked Cucumber Salad

RECIPE: Smacked Cucumber Salad

I love the Spanish word for sesame: ajonjoli, pronounced ah-h-own-hoe-LEE

I love it too!

This is excellent from WaPoFood itself: Tofu Curry With Mustard Greens

leftovers. Seriously. Unless you don't have air conditioning at all, there is always a time when it won't be too hot to cook. Late evening if you like, but I prefer to prep the night before and save any oven time for first thing in the morning. If you have cooked, cold chicken in the fridge, you can't be hungry. Try just serving it with pesto and a salad. Weather forecasting has gotten so much better these days, that you can plan for a few days when it will be too hot to cook at 5 in the afternoon well ahead of time. When it happened when I was a kid (no a/c at all), mom used to just make up a deli platter and we made our own sandwiches for dinner.

Yes they are disgusting - they are made with Brit style 'chips' like you get with fish and chips not 'frites' so there's a fair amount of mushy potato. Brits will make anything into a butty - bacon butty, sausage butty. I remember someone asking my husband if he wanted 'brown sauce' - he looked at me, lost, and I told him firmly he wouldn't like it. Brown sauce is ubiquitous with breakfast food - a bit like HP Sauce.

For the poster who has an overabundance of cukes--I second the suggestion to make tzatziki, as I did with my huge CSA haul of cukes a few weeks ago. Then I had too much tzatziki, so I made potato salad with it. I just boiled and halved some baby potatoes and mixed them with enough tzatziki to get the consistency I prefer. Turned out great.

Tzatziki is also excellent on grilled salmon or draped over skirt steak, or, or, or... (can't get enough).

I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel on my kitchen renovation. This is my first time getting all new appliances (HALLELUJAH!); do you have any tips on breaking in a new oven? I knew the quirks of my old one pretty well. I'm planning to bake some box-mix brownies first, because I know how they *should* be when they're done (plus they're cheap and easy enough that I won't feel bad if I burn them or something), and I'll use another thermometer to double-check temperature. Am I missing anything? And yes, I have a long list of stuff I've been wanting to cook since demolition began. :-)

I say go wild and try something completely new in your new oven!

Bake something that will fill the house with a wonderful aroma (read: buttery, vanilla and/or chocolate). It will induce sensory memories! 

I'm willing to bet the farm that last week's horrified tsktsk-er about 2!Sticks!ofButter! in a recipe wouldn't have blinked an eye if the ingredients had stated 1 cup butter.


I remember reading in one of these chats that the pickle juice can be re-used to pickle more cucumbers or other vegetables. Could you please send me the link if possible. I should have made a note of it, but didn't. I bought a huge jar and am now left with a lot of juice which I hate to trash. I love these chats and try out recipes etc. posted on this. Thanks for all your work that goes into it.

Ah, yes, it was intel from preserved foods queen Cathy Barrow: 

To use your pickle juice for brining fresh vegetables, bring the brine to a boil and pour it over the cut up veg. Refrigerate and taste after a day, after two day. Some vegetables pickle quickly (sliced onions) while others take longer (cauliflower).

You can read the whole chat, if you'd like, here. (Or find other archived chats here.)

It's worse than that. It's soggy thick fries from the fish-&-chip shop (which almost never crisp) on buttered white buns that are as tasteless as Wonder bread. I think it's one of those concepts,, like Marmite, that doesn't travel.

re: I'm pregnant and response by Fritz Hahn. I love beer but have been restricted to the non-alcoholic beers. However, one beer that Fritz failed to list is Clausthaler imported from Germany. Note: All beers have some alcohol content but alcohol "free" have the lower percentage. However, Clausthaler it touted as the lowest alcohol beer in the world. Percentage on bottles say less than 0.5 percent. The web site has it listed as actually 0.45 percent. It comes in at least two that I drink, Premium and Golden Amber, of which, I prefer the premium. Nothing like drinking a great tasting German brewed beer. Could you please pass this on to the person who had the beer inquiry. Thanks, Jim Keller

Will do. I've not had the Clausthaler, honestly. I should give it a shot, as the only non-alcoholic beers I've ever thought tasted like "real" beer were German: Weihenstephaner, Edelweiss, Erdinger.

And a good reminder that "non-alcoholic beer" really means "less than 0.50 ABV." 

I'm never expecting sweet when it comes to yogurt; never got into the sweetened fruit yogurt thing. To me it's an ingredient in savory dishes. (I don't even bother with frozen yogurt because I don't want my ice cream to be healthy. ) Lots of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures as well as subcontinental ones use yogurt to thicken sauces for meat or fish dishes, or serve them in a savory sauce like tzatziki or raita.

Yes, yes, yes. There's a real sea change and wider acceptance of yogurt's overall versatility, particularly in the savory realm as you mention. I wrote this piece last year (called The Not-So-Secret Truth about Yogurt the Rest of the World Already Knows), which you may enjoy.

Since Pati is around, I thought I'd field a question about what I'm planning to make tonight to see if she has any suggestions for making it extra special. My plan is to make the soup base with onion, garlic, sweet corn, tomatoes, cumin, chipotle chili powder and oregano--simmer and puree--to which I'll then add more charred fresh corn and some browned chorizo, topping it off in the bowl with crumbled queso fresco, avocado slices and minced cilantro. Any other suggestions for making this really good? Thanks.

OMG That sounds like a phenomenal corn chowder of sorts!

One suggestion: make sure you cook the onion first over slow/med heat with a bit of oil for like 10 minutes, so it adds a lot of character to the soup. Then I would throw in the garlic until fragrant, and rest of the ingredients. 

One option that I can't resist to suggest is to use roasted poblano chiles instead of the ground chipotle. Char or roast, sweat, peel and then cut into strip (here is method) and add when you add corn. 

You have made one woman hungry. 

These recipes look delicious and would like work very well in a cast iron pan!

Shakshuka With Swiss Chard

Creamy Eggs With Tomatoes and Peppers, Basque-Style

Why, yes they do! 

Our local town residents' association is having its annual picnic this weekend and the 'tyrant' organizing the event assigned me the task of bringing a vegetable dish. Since cole slaw and potato salad are already taken and tomatoes are just starting, i've been trying to figure out what to bring. Thank you, thank you Pati Jinich for the Crab, Cucumber and Radish  Salad. It will stand on its own without the crab, won't it? Regular radishes or French breakfast radishes?

My pleasure! I f you want to skip the crab, add something else in there. Tender cooked shrimp? Tender cooked baby potatoes are delicious in there I have tried that... Diced cooked chicken? I make it with regular radishes, but you can play with it too!

I'm looking for ideas on recipe ideas for freezer meals that include chard, as I've got a garden surplus. For my surplus kale, I make and freeze kale pesto, which my toddler loves over veggie pasta, but he didn't have much affinity for the chard pesto I made last weekend. I'd love to get some easy meals or sauces put away in the freezer for this fall and winter as I'm due with my second baby in a few months. Thanks!

I feel like a savory bread pudding or strata-type thing with chard and some lovely cheese (like Gruyere, perhaps) would freeze beautifully and be incredibly comforting post-baby... (and congrats!)

Thank you all for having Dorie as a contributor with the Post! I've tried several of her recipes so far (including the Light and Creamy Cheesecake you printed back in March) and they have all been phenomenal! I also attend her chats too. I (surprisingly) hadn't known about her before reading about her consistently in the Post, so I just wanted to say thank you. If you're a baker, you should try Dorie's recipes. Light and Creamy Cheesecake.

Happy to hear it, as we love everything about Dorie, and her EverydayDorie column. Speaking of, she'll be hosting her Just Ask Dorie chat right after #FreeRange next week.

as long as it has a high enough fat content that you don't need to carry around oil or butter to get nice browning in a sauté. Slice, cook and add it to whatever you like - pasta, eggs (they have special crates for carrying them while camping) or whatever else you please.

Canned tuna and canned artichokes. Drained, artichokes chopped up (blitz in the food processor). Little mayo, little lemon juice, and per Joe's suggestion ages ago, a bit of smoked paprika.

Why is there such a dearth of good Mexican restaurants in the UK? So many cuisines are well represented but Mexican is somehow missed. A friend an I went several rounds on this - he was disparaging, I explained the problem was not with the cuisine but access in the UK.

I agree.... you know what I have heard is a great option in the UK? Thomasina Miers Wahaca restaurants. 

We love Mexican food and it is often our go-to. In an attempt to simplify weeknight meals, I am search of some recipes that will carry over well as leftovers. Recipes that require some weekend prep and come together quickly would work as well. We often get home too late to cook ambitiously and need some new ideas. Thanks!

Some of our family favorites that love a sit in the fridge are Chicken Tinga (can be served over rice, in tacos, in sandwiches, in quesadillas, in buns, burritos...)

And Chilorio, same treatment as tinga, can go anywhere!


Sadly I haven't eaten tofu since I lived in Japan many moons ago. I miss it and would like to serve it to some meat-and-potatoes guys. OK, to tell the truth I'd really like to make it for my self - can you please suggest a few starter recipes?

This is one of my favorite ways to use tofu -- the "chorizo" is super versatile. 

Tacos With Tofu Chorizo and Potatoes

RECIPE: Tacos With Tofu Chorizo and Potatoes

Or when in doubt, you could always add ketchup. (Trust me.)

Killer Tofu

RECIPE: Killer Tofu

I know you have to plan way ahead and I'm thinking of your Christmas cookie bonanza. If it already isn't finished, I'd like to put in a plug for icebox cookies. I mine Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies for them each year. I especially like the kind that roll one dough around another log to create a filling in the center. Any new interesting combinations would be welcome.


Best thing for browning any meat. I'm a veg, and I cooked a filet for my father in law. He said it was better than his - how did I do it as he used a thermometer etc. I swear it was the cast iron that made the difference.

Always love Pati's contributions to the food section. Do you have any suggestions for an ensalada with nopalitos (cactus leaves)?

Thank you! I LOVE WAPOFood. Here is one of my favorite takes with nopalitos and I love eating it as a warm salad. 

Touche, my friend! I appreciate your perspective...I guess I was thinking more along the lines of commercial yogurts (like Yoplait - sorry!) instead of ingredients in something like tzatziki or raita. I stand corrected and I appreciate it! :) Thank you for your responses, the recipes, and the article, Cheryl! Love to learn new things. :)

I didn't even know Yoplait had gone the savory yogurt route. That shows just how mainstream this movement is becoming!

They're so healthy and so tasty! I've made them with Old Bay seasoning and (separately) with za'atar. Anyone have any other fun spice suggestions I could try, please?

Try grilling them before you dehydrate. I saw this in a vacuum-packed Italian product a few years back at a fancy food show. 

One of my favorite discoveries was that whole-fat yogurt with cilantro and garlic-based hot sauce (like Afghan hot sauce) is really tasty, both as a dip and on its own. That made it easier to give up sugary yogurts :)

YES! The whole fat part is key. 

I love eating fresh bing cherries. However, I'm amazed at the different levels of sweetness depending on the brand. They all come from Washington state, but why is there such a range of sweetness. It it the pesticides and/soil, which can alter the taste?

I know you mentioned Washington state cherries, but here in California we have so many varieties available during our relatively short cherry season, and they all taste different and have varying levels of sweetness. I'm guessing in Washington they have even more varieties since it's such a huge cherry-growing state. How early they're picked also affects sugar content, so that may play a role, too.

I am in the market for some really good Mexican cookbooks. Not Tex-Mex, but more authentically Mexican. I'd love recipes that are healthful, contemporary and a good mix of things that can be cooked after work and longer dishes too. Any essentials spring to mind? Thanks.

There are so many!!  But of course I have to recommend mine, Mexican Today and Pati's Mexican Table, because I absolutely adore every recipe in them. 

I have found Diana Kennedy's very useful and detailed; as well as Mexico: The Beautiful Cookbook. If you are looking for Mexican desserts, Fany Gerson's books on Mexican desserts and paletas are extraordinary too. 

I'll look for the Mexican crema right away! There are several small Latin markets not far from me.

My mother grew cucumbers in her garden every summer, and she made a recipe very similar to the Quick Pickled Cucumber: it included the water, white vinegar, salt and sugar, but added chopped fresh dill instead of the allspice. It was delicious.

I just finished two books by Kathleen Flinn (The Sharper your Knife the Less you Cry & Kitchen Counter Cooking School). And though several years old, I love Ruth Riechl's memoirs; she has such an evocative way of writing about food you can almost taste it.

I must admit that back when I lived in northern England, a guilty pleasure of mine was chips with curry sauce. And, yes, it is objectively disgusting.

Like those gobbled up by Algernon before his aunt, Lady Bracknell, arrives, in Oscar Wilde's immortal "The Importance of Being Earnest" -- Algernon. And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell? Lane. Yes, sir. [Hands them on a salver.] Algernon. [Inspects them, takes two, and sits down on the sofa.] ... Jack. Hallo! Why all these cups? Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Who is coming to tea? ... Algernon. Please don’t touch the cucumber sandwiches. They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta. [Takes one and eats it.] ... Lady Bracknell. I’m sorry if we are a little late, Algernon, [...] And now I’ll have a cup of tea, and one of those nice cucumber sandwiches you promised me. Algernon. Certainly, Aunt Augusta. [Goes over to tea-table.] Algernon. [Picking up empty plate in horror.] Good heavens! Lane! Why are there no cucumber sandwiches? I ordered them specially. Lane. [Gravely.] There were no cucumbers in the market this morning, sir. I went down twice. Algernon. No cucumbers! Lane. No, sir. Not even for ready money.

Wow, that was impressive. I also want to recommend smoked mozzarella and cucumber sandwiches. When I was 20 I babysat for a young girl in NYC for the month of August and her mom made those for both of us to eat in the park every single day. Man, that's a good combination. 

I hate chayote :( but this recipe looks so good. Is there something else I can use instead? Or maybe what I hate is soggy, cooked chayote and raw chayote will convert me?

Try it with the raw and report back. I suspect you'll be converted. 

Are familiar those of us who say "yu'uns" thanks to Pittsburgh's Primanti Bros., who started putting them on sandwiches at their store in the Strip District in the 30's.

God bless them. But maybe there's a diff between french fries as topping and french fries as main ingred....

I am going to vacation in London and I would like to take (food products) gifts for my hosts. Any suggestions on local (DMV) or American made products to take there that are unique?

Lucky you! I love London.

There are so many great small artisans locally that you don't even have to go nationwide. Take a good browse around at Glen's Garden Market, Each Peach, Salt & Sundry, Union Kitchen Grocery, Union Market. And farmers markets of course!

Off the top of my head, I'm thinking of Lindera Farms vinegar, chocolate bars from Undone Chocolate (they also make a cool cocoa shell tea) and Harper-Macaw, Langdon Wood maple syrup, stuffed dates from Julie's Datery, apple chips from FruitCycle....

Wish you would keep politics out of Free Range. Your hour is so very good w/o adding something unnecessary. The Q/As are very good, although there are many words I don't understand (I'm a food novice). thank you.

Emphasis on "Free"....we'll keep in mind the need to explain things better! 

No-cook, or no-prep? I"m guessing the former, as in not heating up the kitchen. I make particularly garlic-laden hummus with fresh lemon juice, and serve it with bread and crudites. Very refreshing in the heat.

Since we retired to the country, I've had to cook almost all the food we eat. Breakfast and supper - no problem, but lunch is a stumper since I was so used to having the food ops of a large city. Help!

I'm a big fan of grain bowls/hearty salads for lunch. My usual formula is cooked grains like wheat berries, farro, etc. + beans, lentils or other protein + fresh chopped veggies + cheese + a dressing. (And don't forget salt!)

 Here's a recipe from Dorie Greenspan, which should provide some inspiration: 

Dorie Greenspan’s Quinoa Bowls

RECIPE: Dorie Greenspan’s Quinoa Bowls

Hi--I have a couple of friends with new babies, and would like to take them each a meal. Any recipe suggestions that would travel well and be quick and easy to serve? One has a toddler also, so kid-friendly would be great.

I know it may be trite, but I have a real weakness for homemade, made-with-love macaroni and cheese. The toddler will also love it, plus it generally freezes well if your friends want to save it for down the line. Here's a recipe that looks awfully good. If you want something with more zing (perhaps leave out the crushed red pepper for the toddler?), try Tara Mataraza Desmond's Indian-Spiced Chicken in Yogurt Sauce from her book Full Belly. It makes a lot and leftovers are great for days.

Well, we had raw broccoli for lunch (how's that for no-cook?) and I've got about a cup left. Any thoughts on what to do with it? Frittata? I'm just not having any creative sparks.

I always find blanched broccoli infinitely more versatile and appealing than raw. Just toss it quickly in boiling water than shock in an ice bath, pat dry, and refrigerate in a covered container. I guarantee you'll toss it into an omelet, pasta, rice dish, or just sweep it through a dip within 2 days. 

I threw in corn, too, like the poster above, and subbed cooked shrimp at very end. Ate it cold--very yummy. Very rich. I think I'd try light coconut milk or use buttermilk instead of half-and-half next time.

Two snaps up!

Try the steak taco salad at Mari Luna in Baltimore and you will be converted to taco salad lovers.

If your hosts are American ex-pats, you might just want to ask. I had a friend who always just wanted Hot Tamales (the candies). Sometimes it's the everyday stuff you miss the most.

Second the maple syrup; it's gone well every time I've brought it over.

Well, you've shaken us into a frothy drink and topped us with rose petals, so you know what that means...we're done! Thanks to Cheryl and Pati for joining us, and to you, dear readers, who keep us on our toes.


Today's cookbook winners: The chatter who asked about Mexican "crema" receives a signed copy of Pati's "Mexican Today"; the chatter who cried out for CSA help gets a copy of "Market Math," source of today's #DinnerInMinutes recipe.


Send your mailing address to and she'll get those right out to you. Until next week, happy #NoCooking 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.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Cheryl Sternman Rule
Cheryl Sternman Rule is the founder of and author of "Yogurt Culture: A Global Look at How to Make, Bake, Sip, and Chill the World’s Creamiest Healthiest Food."
Pati Jinich
Patricia Jinich is chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute and host of "Pati's Mexican Table" on public television
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