Free Range on Food: The no-cook issue

Aug 07, 2013

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range! We've got  no-sweat dishes in today's section: Tony Rosenfeld's gorgeous menu of things that don't require even a smidge of heat; Visi Tilak's lovely iced/spiced beverages; and more. And there's an excerpt of my new book, too!

Tony and Visi are here to help us answer your q's. Tim Carman is on a much-needed vacation. You've got me for just a quarter-hour or so, when I have to rush off to WAMU for a segment on today's Kojo Nnamdi show. (Tune in to 88.5 at 1 p.m. after our chat; listen live online if you're not in the area.)

Oh, I almost forgot -- we'll have giveaway books for our two favorite chatters. There's a signed copy of "The Washington Post Cookbook: Readers' Recipe Favorites" put together so ably by Bonnie; and my own "Eat Your Vegetables." So make your questions and comments entertaining, and you'll stand a chance of winning one of them.

Let's do this!

To whet your whistle: This week's Mindful Makeover (see above) is a no-cook recipe as well: Seafood Salad With Mango and Lime.

I bought some white eggplant at the farmers market but don't know what to do with it. If you have any stove-top suggestions, I'd prefer those to oven recipes. Thanks!

White eggplant's difference is really just in the color of its skin. Judge it by the content of its character! ;-)

Two stove-top ideas:

Steamed Eggplant With Sherry Vinegar

Ratatouille in Tomato Crepes


We built a raised bed garden this year and planted a jalapeno bush, not realizing that it would become the most abundant producer (with the exception of the tomatoes) in the garden. We have TONS of jalapenos! What to do? We have used them in guacamole, tomato sauce, a variety of Mexican dishes, etc. We still have extras. Any suggestions or recipes would be appreciated!

As far as I'm concerned, this is a very good problem to have. I would vote for you to pickle the jalapenos. Though you could certainly follow the proper steps to pickling (sterilized Mason jars, etc..), I like to quick-pickle jalapenos: slice them thinly, cover with a splash of water and white vinegar, and then try to use them up in chilis, stews, and braises in the next couple of weeks (they'll hold in the refrigerator perfectly fine over that time).  

Jalapenos areawesome in pestos too. You can make a fabulous sun dried tomato and jalapeno pesto. Use them in drinks, you can find the recipes in todays post food section. In India we make chutneys with jalapenos, both fresh and roasted over an open fire. So many possibilities.

One of my husband's colleagues made candied jalapenos with her abundance of peppers. I'm still waiting on that recipe, but here and here are two that sound promising.

Hi there! One of my friends is planning on making garlic scape pesto this weekend. I had the idea of maybe just using it on some toasted bread as bruschetta? The other idea we had was making pizza with the pesto as the base and some tomatoes and fresh cheese (I always use fresh mozzarella as I find the quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten). Do you think we will be ok with these alternative ideas - or should we just make some pasta? Grazie!

I recently tried making a chutney with Garlic Scape ginger and tomatoes... It was a hit with everyone. Recipe coming shortly to my blog. You can also make fabulous Garlic Scape pancakes, just as you would scallion pancakes.

congrats on the new book! Amen to making an effort to cook for yourself. I find I am more willing to experiment when I cook for myself because I don't worry if it doesn't turn out well.

Thanks! And good for you. That's just the kind of attitude/approach I'm hoping to encourage. What are some of your experiments and their results?

I really want to make my own tomato soup - and would love to use the tomatoes that are in season now. I'm stumped as to storage though - make the soup now and freeze it? Make it now and can it? Or buy the tomatoes now and freeze/can those? Or something else entirely. A little help (from you) will go a long way (for me)!

Personally, I would prefer to make tomato puree and freeze those in single use freezer bags. I find that those work best for me. I use them as and when I need them, for soups or sauces or chutneys.

Carrie Allan, I must have your recipe for ghost pepper simple syrup! I raise ghost peppers and Trinidad scorpions. I make a pineapple ghost pepper sauce and have made the Pear Ghost Pepper Jam, courtesy of the Post, multiple times. Also made a sort of Turkish Jelly candy with the ghost peppers and mango reduction. Recently? An Indian curry with the scorpion pepper. That tested my limits, I'm afraid. And a new pepper, Jaloro Jalapeno pepper. Has a citrus undertone that worked beautifully in a pepper jam. I'll give you that recipe for the simple syrup recipe. I'll even send you a jar of it. Can I have the recipe? Please?

Carrie's out this week. How about you send us an e-mail to, and I can forward it to her. That way she'll have your contact info.

I got about half a pound of basil this week at the farmers market and wanted to make a big batch of pesto. It had already started wilting a little bit but I figured it would be fine overnight. Apparently not. By the time I got to it yesterday to make the pesto almost all the leaves had darkened and were almost black, and tasted horribly bitter. Unfortunately, I had already put some cheese, garlic and walnuts in the food processor, so I just spun those together and figured I'd deal with it tonight. I'd prefer not to buy a whole lot of basil, and while I could spinach or kale pesto, is there anything else I can do with this concoction? I haven't added oil yet, so it is pretty dry.

If you don't want to turn it into another kind of pesto, I think it'd be lovely on its own as a pasta topping -- perhaps with some breadcrumbs and perhaps some lemon zest (and that aforementioned oil.) Maybe a little crushed red pepper for a kick.

I am thinking of inviting the neighbors over for an outdoor dessert party around Labor Day. Any good drink ideas?

The Ginger Lime Cooler would be fun. If you want to add to the spike with alcohol, try adding a ginger liqueur to it. Apple ciders with a suspended jalapeno are amazing with dessert too.

Ginger Lime Cooler

I'm a sometime cook, but I'd like to become a more often cook (official terms). As such, I'm thinking I need to add some sort of blender/mixer to my kitchen. I have a mini cuisinart, which is good for herbs or sauces, but a lot of recipes call for something bigger. Between the following, which do you think will give me the most bang for my buck: a blender, an immersion blender, or simply a larger cuisinart. Thanks!

I've become a bit of a proselytizer on behalf of all  immersion blenders.  The small-ish Cuisinart immersion blender I picked up last year is easily my favorite tool in my kitchen, kind of for the reasons you seek: it can take on pureeing large batches of product (chilled soups, stews, vinaigrettes) so it's wonderfully versatile. It's also really easy to clean (as compared to a standard blender or food processor) and though I never thought I would spend my days talking about a product's ease of cleaning, hey, it makes me happy!

I am hesitant to even disagree with Tony, but I will do it anyway! I'm putting my vote in for the bigger Cuisinart. I use mine all the time. It can do the same stuff a blender can, but has many other uses as well. I use it for pizza dough, soups, spreads, tart crusts...

I really wanted to check out the blueberry/lemon ice box cake for a dinner party this weekend but all i get when clicking on the link is the chicken salad recipe. I tried three times to no avail and i am worried that these erroneous clicks will count toward my free articles. So two questions really- the recipe? And do the link clinking count against my free articles. Thanks.

I have fixed the recipe link in that story. Sorry about that. But for you and the rest of the class, here's the Blueberry and Lemon-Cream Icebox Cake.

Blueberry and Lemon-Cream Icebox Cake

Going to the same page more than once only counts as one click.

I think it's just a mental block, but how do I get past the sliminess of okra? I love the taste of it but it is just so...ick. And leaves your cutting board a bit of a mess. Any tips? Or should I just suck it up?

One thing to do is to avoid cutting okra when it is wet, increases the slimy nature of it. Not sure if there is much else you can do to get past that while cutting it. However, when you cook it, if you add a half teaspoon of tamarind paste while cooking it quickly stops the slime and makes the okra more dry. Not to mention the fabulous flavor of the tamarind that the okra absorbs. Hope that helps.

At the risk of sounding like a "Portlandia" sketch, pickle them!

I picked up "summer" wheatberries at Roots, but I see that Bonnie's recipe calls for "winter" wheatberries. Are they interchangeable? Anything special I should do with the prep of the summer berries? Thanks!

Just a matter of availability. The winter wheat berries might be slightly chewier but please feel free to use either.  For this recipe, as long as they are cooked, that's all the prep you need to know about!


Not sure what "summer" ones are; ask your Roots store manager? The winter ones are planted in fall and harvested in late spring/early summer, and the spring wheat berries are planted in warm weather and harvested in late summer. 

I have to post early because of a meeting during the chat. :( I am moving at the end of the month to a brand-new townhouse. Yay! My husband and I opted for a gas range as opposed to electric. Do I need to alter anything about how I currently cook to compensate for the change? I know that gas heats and cools much faster and better, but that's about all I know about the difference. I figured that you see all the chefs on TV and in kitchens use gas for a reason. :P

I think you'll find the transition pretty seamless. Gas is more responsive than electric, so you'll notice that when you turn heat up and down, it happens more quickly than with electric. With the latter, some cooks get in the habit of taking pots off burners when they turn them off, because it takes so long for the element to cool off. You won't have to do that with gas.

And you'll be able to hold your head high mid-kitchen sessions and say, "Now we're cooking with GAS!"

I am fascinated by the corn soup concept but I have two questions: Why can't I find the article about corn stock and soup using the recipe finder? Can I can it? (I have both a pressure canner and a water bath canner.)

Do you mean this Corn-Poblano Soup, made using this Corn Broth, by chance? I think the reason you can't find it is because you were searching "corn stock" rather than "corn broth," and I'm afraid our current version of the Recipe Finder needs search terms to be pretty close. (This is something we're working on and have a fix coming soon, though, so be patient!)

As for canning it, I think you should be able to pressure can the broth, because I've seen lots of chatter about pressure canning vegetable broth, but this is not my area of expertise, so I'd seek out other guidance.

I completely agree with Joe: just one is enough for a good home cooked meal. I live by myself and still love to cook. I'm lucky that I like leftovers (or sometimes just share food with friends). In the summer I love "picnic" dinners: a combination of guacamole, hummus, boiled corn, a salad and some salami slices. There is no husband or kids nagging me for a meat, potatoes and a side dinner ;) Congrats on the new book Joe!

Thanks! And I love the "picnic" idea!

I need something to wow my family for my night cooking at the beach rental next week. There's 3 generations, nobody's particularly picky but it needs to be healthy and relatively easy so I don't have to leave the beach too early to get back and cook! And maybe it involves corn?

I like the sound of this Barbecued Chicken, Corn and Black Bean Salad from Stephanie Witt Sedgwick. It's healthful AND make-ahead. Can be prepped up to three days in advance. You may want to double it for your family.

Barbecued Chicken, Corn and Black Bean Salad

What is pretzel salt? it seems much "saltier" than other salts. There's always so much left at the bottom of the bag, I tried sprinkling some on baked potatoes. It imparted a marked pretzelly taste.

Some salt labeled that way is more about marketing than a seasoning with unique properties. But if you get your hands on the stuff that's fairly chunky-looking, you'll see that the crystals are flat, designed to adhere better to that wide, shiny brown expanse of pretzelville. I suppose it can be jostled off in a bag, which is why you're finding a motherlode at the bottom. As for pretzelly taste, maybe that's just from being product symbiosis. 

When it is in the low 80s? You missed your best window when it was 95 and felt like 110 in August. Seems to me that lots of no cook recipes require more knife skills than I have and/or a blender or food processor. I have a food processor (passed on from someone else) but I'm pretty sure I have never used it. I think I am scared of it. Any ideas on how to just get over that?

You're betting that we won't get that swelter again? Oh, if only you were right. We've had a cooler spell, but it's going to hit 90 on Friday, looks like. I daresay there are plenty of opportunities to sweat on the way. Anyway, as for your fear of a food processor, can you, um, process your fear for us a little bit? What's it about? The best way to get over it is to make something delicious. There's very little danger in a food processor, since you can't even open the thing without it turning off (unlike a blender).

Several anaheim peppers were included in this week's CSA box. The only idea I've got is to make chili rellenos, but I'm not really a fan of frying. Other thoughts?

There's a poblano tapenade in my new book that's pretty addictive. But if you can hold onto them until next week, my next Weeknight Vegetarian recipe is for roasted chile rellenos. If you can't wait, just do what you would do for the fried version, but instead put them in a roasting pan after you peel and stuff them -- and don't worry about trying to toothpick them together; it's fine if they're open on one side. And roast until the filling is bubbly and the cheese (I'm assuming you'll have cheese in there!) melted.

I have delicious beets - about 2.5 pounds of them! I love beets, but have eaten a LOT of salad with beets, goat cheese, and pecans lately. And it's not really soup weather. (OK, a good recipe for chlodnik would take care of these beets...) So what shall I do with the beets? Bonus points if I can can it. Oh, and pickled beets are one of the few ways I do NOT like beets. Roasted, boiled, in salads, in beet caviar, mashed, borstch, I like all those.

How about Beet Rhubarb Jam?

Beet Rhubarb Jam

Beet-Walnut Pate is another one you might like.

Beet-Walnut Pate

And if any of your beets are on the small side, check out this Baby Beet Tarte Tatin.

Baby Beet Tarte Tatin

I know it's early to know, but please say you guys and the chat are staying! If not, I have a strongly worded letter to write.

Of course we are! The leadership team is all staying, and they appreciate what we do here in Food, so no worries on our end!

Love to cook, but hitting a busy spell and feeling uninspired (tragic, I know, in the middle of summer veggie season). Getting tired of my bulk meals to get me through - what are your go-to cook-once-eat-thrice dishes for this time of year? Getting tired of chilli and ratatouille. Bonus points for lentils.

Roast a pan of veggies of your choice. Use them cold on salads, hot in fried rice, puree into soup, hot as a pasta sauce.

I read a WaPo article yesterday that I can't seem to find today, but hopefully you guys remember it. It was about different diet cookbooks, like paleo, gluten-free, etc. I was looking forward to a review of different books and the article started off sounding like it would be about the books themselves and their merits, or lack thereof. Unfortuantely, it was an article that seemed to just talk about the diet themselves and not whether the books were useful or had good recipes. I might have missed past articles, but could we get an article that maybe covers books for those diets? Or do you have any you like?

Here you go, in the Health & Science arena. Maybe we should cross Ghostbuster streams with those folks and come up with useful reviews as you suggest. I like to test out of diet cookbooks from time to time, just to see whether the recipes are improving. In general, I'd say a firm: maybe.  I have been impressed with "Clean" author Terry Walters food, for sure. And Pam Anderson's.

Dumb question, but get this: I've never stir-fried anything before. I know, right? I've been looking at recipes, and I have ingredients, but the order that stuff gets done seems to differ depending on the recipe. How does this work? Do I cook the stuff in plain oil first and then add the sauce at the very end and stir until everything's hot, or make the sauce without the garlic or other spices and add that at the beginning with the oil, or...what? I'm being very adventurous and amalgamating these recipes I've looked at into something that sounds good to me, so I'm a little hesitant to follow one recipe's or another's order since they seem to conflict. If it matters, it's just going to be vegetables. Any other tips or things I should watch out for? I'm sure whatever I make will be edible regardless, but if you can help elevate that to "good," I'd much appreciate it.

Full disclosure: I'm no stir-fry expert and much of what I've learned about that medium comes from reading through cookbooks (Grace Young, Ken Hom, Martin Yan) and stir-frying often at home. That said, I think your easy-going approach is a wise one. The kind of vegetable stir-fry you're describing should be  relatively easy. I would slice the vegetables (broccoli, bok choy, snap peas, peppers...) relatively small (so they cook quickly). Then I would heat up a light film of oil (I prefer peanut) in a wok or skillet until shimmering hot, add the vegetables and maybe some mushrooms or aromatics (thinly sliced onion or shallos) and cook, tossing, until lightly browned and crisp-tender (about 2 minutes). Add whatever sauce you've concocted (a touch of sesame oil, a splash of soy sauce, a little rice vinegar, some sugar), toss well and serve. That's obviously a very simple take on a vegetable stir-fry; start there and you can build up to more exotic pairings...

I do not always have buttermilk on hand and when I look for it mostly says non fat. I WAS RAISED OFF OF REAL BUTTERMILK. How can I make it myself if I do not have any for my cornbread? Beeps needs Buttermilk

Word, Beeps. Make your own? Or you can order/obtain the real stuff from local dairies that sell at farmers markets.  Buttermilk can be frozen -- think it'd be okay to use in baked goods. 

How can you tell if an avocado is ripe when buying them? I got stuck with an unripe avocado on the day I needed to make guacamole. Although, I guess in this case, even if I knew how to tell, it wouldn't have matter because all of the avocados looked the exact same, so they were all probably unripe. :( And, is there a way to speed up the ripening process if you are stuck buying an unripe one?

I always tell people that if they're thinking of making guacamole anytime within the next few days, it might be too late -- they should already have bought their avocados. It's an exaggeration, but only slightly, right? You want to look for an avocado whose skin is completely black and whose flesh gives slightly when you push into it. If it's green and firm, it's not ripe. You can speed it up by putting it in a paper bag in a warm place in your kitchen. (If you have some ripe fruit to add to the bag, that will help speed things up, too.)

Joe - thanks for the idea to roast chili rellenos! Can't wait to see next week's column now, though I'm afraid I'll need to use up a few of these sooner than that. Would you suggest still battering up the peppers for roasting too?

Oh, bad luck. Editor Joe decided not to defy laws of physics and is on his way to appear on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" at 1 pm. Check back next week, or we'll toss this out to chatters. 


Cat's away, folks! Let's get crazy. 

Well, the Post is sold and if they change any of the food chats I will cancel my subscription. You guys are the only reason I am still subscribing. Love all of you and these Wednesday chats I look forward to.

No change of chats is afoot. We appreciate your allegiance! 

I hear there was a lot of drinking after Monday's announcement that Amazon's Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. I'm curious what clever names people came up with for their drinks, whether optimistic (Amazon Grace? Bezotted?) or pessimistic (Amazombie? Sour Grapes?). I hope the absence of toast and goose recipes means y'all are feeling optimistic.

I did not attend the Post Pub drink-fest, but I think it's safe to say that people were too busy talking to come up with names for their drinks. Those drinks already had names, too! But seriously, yes, I'm feeling optimistic. The Grahams have been amazing stewards of this company, and Bezos's ownership represents some pretty amazing possibilities for innovation.

I'm not totally sure what type it is considered, but White Cat Popcorn is hands down my favorite for popcorn with actual corn flavor that pops up large. It's sturdy and makes for really great caramel corn if you want to get complicated, but has wonderful taste for eating with just salt.

Jim Burkette, co-owner of White Cat Popcorn in Ohio, says they use the snowflake/butterfly kind. BTW, he says canola oil has a high melting point (meaning it takes a while to get to the recommended 300 degrees for popping corn) and people typically put oils and kernels simultaneously. That means the kernels get saturated and tend to cook in the oil. So he recommends using peanut or coconut oil. Back on popcorn we go! 

I love making ratatouille with farmer's market veggies. I've seen several different cooking methods for this dish ranging from sauteeing the veggies (sometimes together, sometimes separately), roasting, or grilling them. What method is likely to impart the most flavor to this dish?

Actually, I think all those methods have their merits, and it depends on what kind of flavor you like. Check out our ratatouille collection to experiment. Grill-Sauteed Ratatouille With Toasted Garlic and Thyme (from Tony!) combines methods for the best of both worlds.

Grill-Sauteed Ratatouille With Toasted Garlic and Thyme

I am going out of town this weekend with my fiance and we're staying in a house in Southern, MD that is a 10 minute walk to a small beach. We're planning on bringing some bubbly and a good picnic for dinner once the day cools off. We typically always bring cheese, olives, meat, bread and a dip or two. Since we're coming straight from a place with a kitchen, I'd like to kick it up a notch. I'd also have time to make something on Saturday morning/afternoon if necessary to prep. Do you have any salads, veggies or something else you like to take on picnics? Preferably non-meat centric.

This is one of my favorite salads for the summer. It is very hearty and refreshing, perfect for the beach. If you want more protein it is great with black beans and corn as well.

what makes 'European style' butter taste so much better than land-o-lakes?

All that extra fat.

Looking for a good recipe for a fruit ice cream (strawberry, peach or blueberry--or another yummy fruit if you have something else that is just awesome) for a surprise for my husband this weekend. Help, please!

If you use the base recipe in our ice cream graphic and then follow the instructions for fruit add-ins, you can use whatever you want that looks good at the market.

But we also have recipes in our database:

Blueberry-Basil Ice Cream

Instant Strawberry Ice Cream

Peach Ice Cream

Peach Ice Cream

Mangoes and pineapples crushed together and mixed in with your favorite vanilla bean ice cream. Freeze for a couple of hours. Before serving,  top it off with toasted coconut and chopped pistachios. If you like spice, then sprinkle a pinch or two of cayenne pepper on top before serving.

I never knew that. I always end up throwing away so much. Yay!

I canned about six jars of what I thought would be apricot jam last week. Turns out it's a very tart, chunky, apricot syrup. Anyone have any ideas how I could use such a substance? Thanks!

Sounds like you needed more sugar, and more time. (Do you know about the ways to test jam? Plate or spoon in the freezer for awhile, jam goes on, you see if it firms up?) As for using it, sounds like it'd be great on ice cream or in yogurt, where you don't want something super sweet anyway. Or you could shake some up with a little vinegar and oil for a nice vinaigrette.

How can I prepare veggies (preferably iron-rich ones) so my 2-year-old will try them? She devours fruits, and loves plain hummus, but anything green in front of her she ignores.

My kids loved pesto pasta. So I would cook the pasta well, be liberal with pesto (which I would make with spinach) and let them have it. Would also add carrots and peas to it to entice them. Cream of spinach soup was another savior in our home.

Guacamole AND kim-chi in one bite? Wowzers! This is the best idea since cronuts! Can't wait to try it! But not sure what prepared kimchi to buy or where, since the local Korean place closed.

Not sure where you are, but Whole Foods Markets sell kimchi.  Sometimes health food stores/co-ops will carry it too. 


Editor Joe was joking about why he didn't just do a kimchi cookbook. He's been known to deploy it in grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese and Super Bowl-worthy dips.

I just had the same problem, many more Serranos (two plants) than I could regularly use. Some were already bright red. I combined about 20 of them with a green pepper and made the Jalapeno Jelly from the Ball canning book. On a side note, I think the recipe resulted in a jelly that is too firm for me. I may cut back the pectin from 6 oz (2 packs) to 1 pack next time. I don't think that would affect the preservation?

You should call the Ball folks! They have a number for preserving questions: 800-240-3340.

One of my favorite things to make this time of year is sushi because of the little cooking involved (steaming rice--and if you have a rice cooker, even better) and the lightness and healthfulness of the meal. And once you know how to roll sushi (not as hard as it seems), it is surprisingly easy to make! Lots of choices for fillings, so it doesn't get old.

Thanks for sharing. And even if you can't roll sushi, maybe you can fake it with this Rice Cube contraption. Fun for the wee ones. 

For the jalapeno chatter- I just made a mango slaw that had jalapenos in it for something different. If I recall correctly, it had 2 cups shredded cabbage, 1.5 shredded red cabbage, about half a small red onion super finely sliced, the juice of 2 limes, 1 cup of diced mango, and 2 finely diced de-ribbed and d-eseeded jalapenos. And salt and pepper to taste. Toss, let sit in the fridge for at least an hour, and sprinkle in some some fresh cilantro in before serving.

That sounds delish! My granny would make something very similar, which we would devour as kids. In place of the cabbage she would just use grated carrots and beets. Awesome as a snack on a hot day!

Cant you make butter milk in a pinch by adding a little vinegar to whole milk?

For 1 cup of buttermilk, start with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice and then add enough milk to get you to 1 cup of liquid total (meaning about 15 tablespoons). Let it sit for a few minutes.

My husband picked up some olive oil from BJ's. It's well, peppery. Really, really peppery. I like to drizzle olive oil over my popcorn, but I could barely eat it this time! The brand is Colavita. It's probably not the best brand, but is there any way to get around the odd flavor profile of this?

You could certainly cut it with some neutral oil.

I live in a condo and although my kitchen isn't tiny, I don't have a ton of room for new appliances/toys. Other than a coffee machine, what's my best option for a cup of coffee at home in the morning or during the weekend? One of my friends told me our friendship might be over if I consider instant coffee. Oy. Help!

Ok, coffee might be the most personal of preparations (everybody is an expert!). So I won't pretend to have the perfect answer for you. Though in the crowded 1-cup field (Keurig, Barrisimo...), I'm kind of partial to the old-fashioned Bodum French press

It has higher fat content, but often is cultured as well. Like making butter from creme fraiche. Vermont Butter and Cheese Company makes an American cultured butter that is delicious. Plugra is good, too.

Two snaps up, Euro chatter. You're not trying to butter us up, are you?

I like french press too. I have a small thermos that has the french press in it so I don't need to get a french press and a carrying cup dirty.

I have a small herb garden outside on my porch. How to do harvest them so they grow back? Like a haircut? A little off the top, or should I use an entire stem? Should I just pull the leaves off, or cut the whole thing?

It depends on the herb. There are a lot of primers online, but here's one to get you started.

Think cooking time on the veggies and cook them in that order - carrots and broccoli will take longer to cook than a Napa cabbage or bok choy, for example, so throw the carrots/ broccoli in first, let them cook a little, then add the quicker cooking ingredients. For what it's worth, I always add a leafy vegetable a minute or two before I plan on adding the sauce so they don't turn into mush.

Like that tip. 

Is it safe to eat a tomato whose skin has been pierced so that it is leaking juice? If mold has started to grow, is it safe to cut off that part and eat the rest?

Tomatoes spoil quickly; I'm reminded of this each summer when the fruit flies start buzzing. If I were in your shoes, I would probably ditch leaking or moldy tomatoes if I were serving anyone young or old or anyone with a compromised immune system. That said, I often will dine on these sorts of over-ripe fruit myself, lopping off the unsavory areas (like a bruise on an apple). 

I'm living proof of the cut-it-out, use-the-rest approach. No third eye in my forehead. Yet. 

The best I've ever made is Julia Child's in the Way to Cook. It takes some time (of course) but instead of a mish mash, you have a delectable dish.

It's Julia's birthday month! Hard to go wrong there. Wonder how often "takes some time" has been used in describing her recipes? :)

I bought a bunch of fava beans this weekend on a whim. I boiled them in salt water, took them out of their pods and froze the beans. I was thinking of doing a fava bean puree as a side to salmon, but waaay underestimated the amount of beans I'd need. Other than getting more fava beans, are there other things I could add to it? Maybe peas? Or do you have any other favorite fava bean recipe? I'm curious also how they would do to bring for lunches as a salad topping or if they would get slightly gross overnight.

You can definitely bolster a puree of fava beans with green peas. My only suggestion is to not cut the favas too much (with the peas): you'll lose their rich flavor. Favas are fine to puree after freezing, but I would suggest avoiding them in salads and instead tuck them into quick sautes or braises. They can develop a slightly slimy texture upon defrosting.

I always pass on the sweet peppers offered at the store or farmers market stands, but they are always so colorful I wish I knew what to do with them. Are there any particular varieties to watch out for? Can they just be diced as a salad/pizza/pasta/sandwich topper, or should they be cooked?

Don't pass them up! They are full of flavor and are so versatile. Eat them raw after you remove the seeds, with yor favorite dip, stuff them with breadcrumbs, herbs and cheese, for a great apetizer. You can also use them, roasted, in pastas and pizza.

I haven't used tamarind paste before but that sounds really interesting. Would it add flavor as well? Where do I pick some up? And, of course, what else could I put it in? :)

Tamarind paste is made from the fruit of the tamarind tree. It is very tart, slightly sweet and fruity. Available in whole foods markets and most Indian and Asian stores. Used a lot in Indian cooking, so most Indian cookery books should have great tamarind based recipes. I have a fall tamarind recipe collection coming out on my blog...

Tamarinds and dates blended together with spices make an excellent chutney that you can use in sandwiches as a spread, or on salads and pastas as well. 

What cookbook do you suggest for a New England - meets - West Africa, vegetarian-meets - carnivore couple? I know one of them loves to cook but my guess is the other hasn't developed many kitchen skills before now. Maybe the WaPo book? Or ATK Cooking for Two?

Both of those sound good, of course. I also put together a list of suggested cookbooks for newlyweds as part of some wedding coverage earlier this year. You can see them in this gallery.

This strikes me as the perfect picnic sandwich.

Also worth considering: Pressed Veggie Sandwich, from David Hagedorn.

Pressed Veggie Sandwich

First, no batter if you are roasting, just melt the cheese and add a nice tomato sauce if you like. I use anahaims instead of green peppers, it gives sautes, sauces, soups, etc. a light kick. As for how to tell if an avocado is ripe, most of the time in the markets here we find the haas avocados, if it's green is not good yet... look for heavy, blueish black ones with a slight give (as in when you press you thumb is not hard rock or soft). and Congrats Joe!

If you just want to get the veg into the child, a smoothie is a good way to hide the spinach, etc. Otherwise, just keep offering alongside or packed in with familiar foods. Let her see you eating them, too.

I have 2 big (huge) onions from my CSA haul this week. what to do with them?

Caramelize them! You will find many uses for them, although I will admit to eating them on their own.

Caramelized Onions

Add the sauce at the end or your veggies will be more braised than stir-fried.

A plea - if you use keurig at home please get the reusable pod. You'll feel so environmentally friendly!

The cucumbers I picked up at the farmers market on Saturday are all bitter -- to the point of being nonedible (and I love cucumbers). Any thoughts on what I could do to salvage them? Any thoughts on why they could be so bitter?

There is hope for cuke salvation in this fairly comprehensive take, thanks to the Augusta Chronicle. 

You could also just use that bottle to make salad dressings, pestos, purees, etc and just not add pepper. It might actually give you a different flavor that you like more!

that sounds SOO good. question though - is there anything I can sub for lyle's golden syrup? maybe just light corn syrup?

I also tried the blueberry puree with honey and that worked well. Texturally, corn syrup will work well, though it has a different kind of sweetness than the honey or Lyle's. Agave syrup might also be a better option than corn syrup.

Last summer I had a delicious cucumber soup from Lightfoot in Leesburg. Incredibly rich and complex flavor, maybe with some sherry vinegar? I've thought about it for the past year. Any chance you could get this recipe, or recommend an amazing recipe to try? I've found two cucumber soup recipes in the WaPo database, but neither are quite right (although the cucumber avocado soup sounds great). Thanks!

Cucumber Dill soup recipe from Martha Stewart is a good one that I use often. I also use them to make cucumber raita, which is made with grated cucumbers and yoghurt - though this is a side dish and not really a soup, it works wonderfully as a thick and creamy soup recipe.

Cucumber tzatziki is another dish you could try. See a recipe I did for NPR's Kitchen Window here.

Love me served warm with garlic viagrette and manchego shavings melting over them

Joe must be gone, but I'm just not sure what the problem is. It is going to make a mess? My fingers are going to double in length and get sucked in and chopped off? It will turn everything into total mush even if I want it to be just chopped up? Heck, maybe it is just the noise. I don't even own a blender.

What can I use instead of crab meat (I am allergic to it) in Avocado/Melon chilled soup? The menu looks delicious by the way, I can't wait to put it together.

My first response would be cooked shrimp (from the seafood case) though my guess is that you're also allergic to that. If you do have to go with a non-seafood option (and still want to follow the no-cook theme), I think thin strips of prosciutto would go nicely with the fresh corn and the chilled avocado broth; just make sure to lower the lime juice by at least half with that mixture.

Makes everything taste better butter, milk, ice cream, beef and pork.

I LOVE that mango arugula fiance has this thing where he can't do sweet and savory together. Ever. The very idea of putting sweet and savory together (even cheese and fruit!) unnerves him and he hates it. Even to the point of hating sweet potato black bean burritos. In six years, the closest I've come to getting him to enjoy the combination is adding ricotta to blueberry pancakes, and I had to lie about that one. Luckily, it's just a "more for me" thing most of the time, however, I'd like this picnic to have something we'll both enjoy. So...unfortunately, can I beg for a different recipe, or other ideas?

I use raw mangoes in this recipe, so it barely has any sweet, just a fruity tart flavor.

Try this heirloom tomato salad recipe. This is also very hearty, espcially when you add cucumbers red kidney beans, and corn to it. And it is great with crusty breads.

My coworkers and I are sure that Mei will have a baby and we're going to have a party in celebration. Any suggestions for fingerfoods, desserts, etc?

Black and white cookies? Salads with bamboo shoots?

Black and White bean salsa with black corn chips and white corn chips. Dark and White Chocolate Cookies, and a cocolate and vanilla layered birthday cake!

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - love River Cottage Veg but all his books should be right for them.

If you go to, you can subscribe to various newsletters. One is for Vegan meals. Lots of great ideas there (as well as on the recipe finder tool on the site) The print magazine is also pretty great, FWIW.

A Melitta drip cone works great for me, but I recall Joe mentioning something similar that holds the water with the ground beans until you release it, which I have been meaning to check out.

Me too, OP, except my kitchen *is* tiny. Instant coffee is pretty horrible, although those flavored, sugared things are OK sometimes since you don't expect them to taste like coffee. (Seems like the mornings I need the caffeine the most are the ones when I'm in the biggest rush! Cans of International Cafe are probably why I'm still employed.) But for when you do have time, I second the French Press idea. Love mine. I got an electric coffee grinder too, to make the grind the right size, but it takes up little space, it's easy to clean, and after a small learning curve, the coffee turns out excellent. (And it's way cheaper than getting a Keurig.)

Get a Vitamix! I fought the urge for years and thought it was all hype. But it has impressed me. It really does obliterate ice without hesitation, which my blender never could do. I never liked smoothies until I used my Vitamix. No need to buy it brand new for $500. I bought a refurbished one for $380. It was only a year old (manufactured date is on the back) and I suspect it was used at roadshows. You get new cookbooks and containers--the only thing refurbished is the motor and blade. I know Joe is a skeptic but I use my Vitamix more in a week than I ever did the blender I had for 10 years. Easier to clean than a food processor too.

Well you've pureed and chilled us to perfection, so you know what that means: We're done! Thanks to Tony and Visi for their no-cook expertise. The hour went by all too quickly and we wish we could have answered more of  your q's. Then again, this allows for the frisson of excitement when our colleague Jane Touzalin chooses your q as a Chat Leftover


On to the prize situation: Joe's new cookbook goes to the chatter who offered the stir-fry tip about greens. The WaPoCookbook goes to the chatter who asked about the safety of a weeping tomato -- in mighty anticipation of next week's Top Tomato issue!  (I have to say, entries were a cut above this year.) Send your mailing address to and she'll get those books out promptly, as is her wont. Till next week's red fruit abundance, happy cooking and eating! 

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy Food editor Bonnie Benwick and editorial aide Becky Krystal. Guest: Visi R. Tilak, freelance writer and author of this week's piece on cooling and spicy Indian drinks; Tony Rosenfeld, food writer and cookbook author, who put together this week's no-cook menu.
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