If nothing else, we are eating well!

Photo credit: Lara Kelly

“If nothing else, we are eating well!” — those were the words my wife commented the other day as we once again considered the past four preposterous months of this coronavirus pandemic. With stay home orders in effect and restaurants closed since March, many at home had to start fending for themselves in the kitchen. For me, as someone living with a severe inhalation food allergy to shellfish, eating out pre-pandemic had become a love hate-relationship: I love someone else cooking for me, but I sure hate the constant fear of being exposed to my allergen.

Luckily, I come from a long line of incredible Italian cooks — I still have the fondest memories of my straight-out-of-central-casting Italian grandmother standing by her stove for hours in her amazing orange and yellow 1970s decor kitchen, cooking up some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Growing up with an aunt who also knows her way around a kitchen, and my mother who’s cooking rivals my grandmothers, and who now uses her superpower cooking skills as a personal cook for others, and often, luckily, me and my family — I’ve picked up a thing or two.

As my mom and aunt get older though, I often get asked when I am going to take over the reigns; in all honesty I am in no way near their level of cuisine perfection, though when time allowed in pre-pandemic days, I could hold my own in the kitchen and really did enjoy it. I also did start taking on some of the cooking responsibilities, but mostly for my in-laws (I make a mean Hanukkah dinner). Other than that though, with my very busy work, school, and volunteer schedule there really wasn’t enough hours in the day to even think about recipes and ingredients, let alone time to prep and cook them. Then COVID19 hit and time stretched into a new reality, allowing for more creativity, experimentation, and good old home cooking in the kitchen.

Over the course of the past four months I have been guided by three powerful female chefs who not only highlight good food but the good of humanity: Padma Lakshmi’s Taste the Nation, Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat, and Nadiya Hussain’s Time to Eat. I highly recommend checking them out!

Inspired, my wife and I began to expand our mealtime options. Not every recipe has been successful, but in all honesty, most have. I have attempted recipes that I never would have thought to in the past, and dedicated hours and days to others. Trying out ingredients that I hadn’t even known existed — and some times not even knowing where to buy them. In our home right now, I do most of the cooking and my wife does all of the grocery shopping. She therefore has gone on multiple scavenger hunts to different grocery stores trying to find certain ingredients that are not typically sold in your standard American grocery store, something that highlights the immense need to embrace other people and cultures!

So here is a list of recipes I’ve attempted, some of which I’ve mastered, some not so much, but I’ll keep trying:

Black Pepper Tofu & Green Beans

I’ve made this probably six times in the last four months and love it the same every…single…time. It is incredibly flavorful, so much so I generally end up sneaking down to the kitchen and eating the leftovers straight out of the container, standing in front of the fridge.

Falafel

It is hard to get our kid to eat anything other than pasta — she is not an adventurous eater outside of all things sushi — but she loves this falafel recipe, paired with the lemon rice and pickled onions below. I’ve made this 4 times in 4 months and will be making it again very soon if the kid has anything to say about it.

Lemon Rice

It’s…so…good and very easy to make.

Pickled Red Onion

I love all things pickled and have been playing around with different varieties including my go to for all meals, the pickled red onion. I literally put it on almost everything — tacos, sandwiches, falafel, salads, pasta, veggie burgers…etc..

Pickled Red Cabbage

These go great with black bean veggie burgers and rice (I generally forgo bread and just put a veggie burger over rice), add a little feta and arugula, and its a great lunchtime meal.

Spicy Pickled Radish

These go great with tacos!

Lemony Lentil and Rice with Caramelized Onions

This is another recipe I’ve made multiple times — however this one is a little more temperamental; it has always been good but some iterations have been better than others. My guess is that it depends on the brand of lentils used. This recipe is also a bit of a commitment as it takes a good two hours to make.

Classic Masala Dosa

I love dosas! They are by far one of my favorite foods. They take some major planning over a few days though. It is not a quick meal but totally worth it!

Pan BBQ Tofu

As a vegetarian home one of the things we consistently miss most is finger licking BBQ! This BBQ tofu recipe pared with the collard greens below hits the spot. I always throw another vegetable on the pan with the tofu as well — broccoli or zucchini. Bake up some cornbread (gluten free or regular) and you have a great meal.

Southern Style Collard Greens

We love us some collards in our house, so finding a vegetarian recipe that packed enough flavor was important. I like this recipe a lot but it needs some tang, so I add in my own secret ingredient, rice wine vinegar, and it is the perfect addition to these spicy tangy greens.

Cauliflower Hot Wings

My wife loves hot wings, and it is one of the foods she misses most since becoming a vegetarian. I made this recipe once and it was pretty tasty, though getting it crispy was not easy.

Easy Lo Mein

The kid loves Lo Mein so we make variations of this recipe, along with the Fried Rice recipe below a lot. I will thrown in whatever veggies we have in the kitchen that make sense and it always turns out scrumptious. Cook up some pre-made frozen veggie dumplings and its a perfect, quick meal.

Restaurant Style Fried Rice

Golden Syrup Oatmeal Cookies

I don’t bake much but I saw golden syrup used on Nadiya Hussain’s show and really wanted to try it. It is a British baking ingredient that I had never had the opportunity to try; let me tell you, having now tried it, I could drink that golden goodness straight from the bottle! In lieu of that though, these Oatmeal Cookies are perfection — and I never even liked oatmeal cookies, though I suppose if people baked them with golden syrup maybe I would have. Plus they were super quick and easy to make, and it was very easy to substitute gluten free oats and gluten free flour into the recipe.

Tahdig

Every one of the cooking shows I mentioned above featured Tahdig, a traditional crispy rice goodness dish. I could not wait to try it and it did not let me down. This is going to be a staple in our house moving forward.

Lebanese Chickpea Stew

I paired the Tahdig with this stew (not a traditional pairing I know), it was pretty good.

Sautéed Bok Choy with Chili Garlic Sauce

We love bok choy in our house; this recipe is like eating bok choy candy — it is so good.

Potato Cabbage Hash

The Irish girl in me is drawn to anything potato and cabbage, so of course I love this recipe. Add some hot sauce and its perfection.

Baked Mac n Cheese

The kid loves, loves, loves baked mac n cheese. I’ve made this for her a couple of times and it never fails to satiate. I generally end up making two different batches of this since I don’t eat cow’s milk cheese or gluten so I substitute gluten free pasta and gluten free bread crumbs, along with a goat’s milk cheese, and its good enough for me! Pair it with a can of stewed tomatoes and it’s perfect comfort food!

Caramelized Cabbage

As I mentioned above, I love all things cabbage but I did not like this recipe at all, which is a shame because it looks sooo good.

Greek Spaghetti Squash

I like spaghetti squash way more than anyone else in my house. This recipe was pretty good and easy to make.

Cheddar Pesto

I don’t eat cow’s milk and the kid is allergic to tree nuts, so I needed a pesto recipe where I could substitute parmesan — I have a nice goat’s milk cheddar I use — as well as remove the walnuts (though you could substitute sunflowers seeds). I didn’t love this recipe, it was a bit salty and oily. If I make it again I’ll really need to adjust the quantities.

Ziti

I am Italian after all, so making some good old fashioned gravy (according to my mother good Italians do not call it sauce, its gravy— fight amongst yourselves) to go along with any pasta dish is important. I used the “red sauce” recipe from this site and it was so much better than any red sauce I’ve had from a jar — though not nearly as good as my mom’s or grandmom’s gravy, but in lieu of that it will have to do! Combine it with the garlic bread recipe below and its magnifica!

Garlic Bread

There are a number of recipes on my pandemic cooking list that I have yet to make, and more get added everyday including:

Baked Cameroonian Jollof

Red Curry Noodle Bowl

*I have made this recipe in the past but not since the pandemic began. I make it without the steak and in my opinion it doesn’t need it at all. This is a hot, yummy bowl good for the soul!

Afghan Kidney Bean Curry

Buffalo Chickpea Taquitos

Egg Salad and White Bean

General Tsos Tofu

Sheet Pan Veggie Shawarma

Spicy Potato Lentil Soup with Kale

Sweet Potato Curry Chickpeas

Tofu Chow Fun

Zucchini Tomato and Rice Gratin

I am aware of, and grateful for, the privilege afforded me to have the time and resources to cook these meals. I am happy I can share them all with you virtually, but I can’t to resume sharing communal meals together again! Until then, bon appetit!

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Marion Leary

Science geek. Passionate abt Philly, resuscitation, social media, scicomm, innovation, art, & helping others. http://marionleary.strikingly.com