This creamy mushroom lasagna uses a cashew cream for richness.

Thanks to Jessica Murnane, I now believe in the power of cashew cream.

But let me back up a second. I hadn’t heard of Jessica Murnane and her One Part Plant movement until she very kindly shared a Modern Potluck recipe on her blog and Instagram feed. As soon as I checked out her site, I knew she was a budding star. And now she has a new cookbook!

In a world in which plant-based (aka, mostly vegan) eating often feels elitist and precious, Jessica’s approach is fun, welcoming, and positive. Up until a few years ago, she didn’t know how to cook and basically subsisted on junk food and frozen dinners. When faced with the possibility of getting a hysterectomy because of her endometriosis, she learned that a plant-based diet might help manage the symptoms. Her diet overhaul worked, and now she’s trying to encourage others to eat more plants.

One of the things I appreciate about Jessica’s work is that she does not spread pseudoscience. She shares when studies support her style of eating and when they are inconclusive. Essentially, she acknowledges she eats this way because it makes feel better. She thinks it might make others feel good, too.

Now back to that cashew cream. I recently launched a project called Potluck Nation, in which I’m hoping to inspire people to use potlucks as a force for good. I’ve noticed many communities host vegan potlucks, so I thought I’d share Jessica’s lasagna, a crowd-pleasing dish to take to a party.

While her lasagna doesn’t have a stretchy cheesy factor, it is creamy like lasagnas made with béchamel (a milky white sauce). The secret to its satisfying richness is an easy-to-make cashew cream. Jessica then boosts the veggie quotient of the dish by adding mushrooms and greens in addition to a tomato sauce.

Clearly, this is a meat-free lasagna, but if you’re potlucking with carnivores, just don’t mention the ‘v’ word, and I promise they’ll love it.

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Deviled egg fillings ready to pipe into the eggs.

When I was growing up, I could take or leave deviled eggs. They were usually made with a little too much mayonnaise, just a whisper of paprika, and not enough salt. Then I tried chef April Bloomfield’s version at her New York City restaurant, The Spotted Pig, where the eggs are luscious and punchy at the same time, and I became a convert.

In my forthcoming book, Modern Potluck, I devote a section to deviled eggs along with four recipes for different fillings, including my favorite, the Bloody Mary Deviled Egg (see the filling on the left).

Transporting deviled eggs seems tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. Here, some tips:

  1. For the minimalist cook: Set the assembled eggs in the cups of a muffin tin or in ice cube trays and cover them loosely with plastic. This option is best if you’re not concerned about perfection, you’re not going far, and you plan to eat the eggs as soon as you get to the party.
  2. For the deviled egg obsessive: If you’re the one who always bring the eggs, it might be worth spending the $10 to $20 for a deviled egg carrier, which you can repurpose to hold kitchen odds and ends when it’s not in use.
  3. For the perfectionist foodie: Bring the egg whites in an airtight container (you can stack them) and the filling in a resealable plastic bag or a piping bag (see above). At the party, arrange the eggs whites on a platter, snip off one of the bag corners, and use that bag to pipe the filling into the egg cavities. Or you can do like I did last year after the book photo shoot and bring the four fillings in bags, set out the whites separately and let people pipe in the filling themselves (or even mix and match!).
A Middle Eastern-Inspired seven-layer salad.

From Modern Potluck. (Clarkson Potter 2016) Photo by Yossy Arefi.

I just folded last week’s laundry, and it was full of sweatshirts. Eight days ago, I wondered if I’d ever be able to put away my winter hat. Now, I’m sitting in shorts and a tank top and dreading the fact that I need to turn on the oven later. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, summer showed up overnight here in the mid-Atlantic, and it looks like these temperatures are here to stay.

In time for Memorial Day weekend (and all your summer picnics), I am thrilled to reveal a recipe from my forthcoming book, Modern PotluckIt’s a new take on a seven-layer salad, which I love in theory because it can be assembled in advance, and the vegetables stay crisp, sealed under a layer of creamy dressing. The problem, however, (for me!) is that the bacon bits, sharp cheese, and raw scallions in the traditional recipe tend to overpower the salad so much you can barely taste a vegetable. (I understand this is part of the appeal for some people!)

For my version, I take a cue from the Middle East, adding a layer of vibrant fresh herbs, a sprinkling of toasted spices and a yogurt dressing that’s based on the white sauce you find at New York City’s street meat carts. (You know the stuff, right? Like ranch dressing, it has that perfect balance between creaminess and tanginess and makes whatever it touches almost impossible to stop eating.)

For the other layers, feel free to play around. For example, later in the summer, you can add tomatoes in addition to or instead of the cucumbers and radishes. Instead of the iceberg, you can try salt-massaged kale or shredded cabbage. Instead of the gluten-free quinoa, you can substitute 6 cups of cooked bulgur or freekeh (a chewy smoked green wheat). Both grains are found throughout the Middle East and will make this inauthentic salad somehow more authentic.

Middle Eastern Sever-Layer Salad
 
This recipe is from my book, Modern Potluck (Clarkson Potter 2016).
Author:
Serves: at least 10 servings
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SALAD
  • 2 cups quinoa (any color, but black is especially stunning), rinsed
  • 5 cups water
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 4 cups fresh herb leaves, such as mint, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, and dill, roughly chopped (the more variety you use, the better)
  • 1 bunch red radishes (about 10), halved and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
  • 1 pound seedless cucumbers, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
  • FOR THE DRESSING
  • ½ teaspoon each cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 cups plain greek yogurt (preferably full-fat or 2%)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt
Instructions
  1. ASSEMBLE THE SALAD: In a large, heavy pot, cover the quinoa with the water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the quinoa is tender and the water is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes. Uncover the pot, top with a clean kitchen towel or a layer of paper towels, and close the pot again; let stand 5 minutes. (This will help ensure the quinoa is dry and fluffy.) Spread the hot quinoa out on a platter or baking sheet and let cool to room temperature. (This sounds like a fussy step, but it helps the quinoa cool without overcooking.)
  2. In a very large glass or clear plastic serving bowl, spread the iceberg lettuce in a single layer and season lightly with salt and pepper. Arrange the herbs on top, followed by the quinoa. Spread the radishes on top, followed by the cucumbers, pushing them toward the edge of the bowl if you don’t have enough of each vegetable to form a complete layer.
  3. MAKE THE DRESSING: In a dry skillet, toast the spices over moderate heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a mortar or a bowl and let cool. Use a pestle or the bottom of an ice cream scoop to lightly crush the spices.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt with the mayonnaise, lemon juice, and vinegar. Season with salt. Spread the dressing over the salad, sprinkle with the spices, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
  5. POTLUCK PREP: The salad can be refrigerated for up to 8 hours before serving and can stand at room temperature for up to 2 hours or in hot outside temperatures for up to 1 hour. (Set the bowl in a tray of ice if you want to leave it out longer.)

 

Grilled Zucchini with Dill and Walnuts

My cookbook, The Modern Potluck, is forthcoming from Clarkson Potter in July 2016. On occasion, I will share recipes—either my own or those I encounter out in the world—that I feel are fit for a potluck. And, of course, I’m creating a new hashtag around this theme: #SoModernPotluck. Enjoy!

I almost feel like I’m cheating, writing this dish up as a recipe. But this is what summer cooking should be, right? Take something you have in abundance and grill it. Sprinkle on the herb that’s growing wild in your garden or that you bought too much of at the farmers’ market. Add a nut that’s hanging around in the pantry. Serve it all with ricotta toasts and you’ve got dinner. Or a really nice dish for a #modernpotluck.

That’s the story here. I had too many zucchini and summer squash in the fridge as any cook tends to in the summer. Grilling the squash made sense: Not only do they become incredibly silky, the pieces shrink, so two people can polish off four of these babies if you’re not serving much else. I would have garnished them with basil except that I had a huge bag of dill. Walnuts then felt like the right nut to sprinkle.

Of course, you can plop the dish down in the middle of a table at a party, perhaps with ricotta and toasts, as I did, or a drizzle of salted plain yogurt and tell your guests to have at it. Any leftovers are great on sandwiches or tossed with pasta.

For wine, you ask? We ate this with a dry German Riesling, which was a stellar pairing. The zippy acid is delicious with rich, milky ricotta. Any light, citrusy white would work well here. continue reading