Q&A With Our Friends at Chef's Collaborative
Before joining Oldways and the Whole Grains Council, I was the Communications and Outreach Intern at The Chefs Collaborative, where I was fortunate enough to witness the very beginnings of The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook. Now, as a member of the Oldways family, things have come full circle and I am lucky enough to have the new Collaborative Cookbook, right here in my hot little hands! (And speaking of full circle, The Chefs Collaborative was founded at an Oldways conference in Hawaii in 1993!) The book includes a fantastic collection of recipes, tips, and useful kitchen/pantry information, collected from some of the country’s most celebrated sustainably minded chefs. We caught up with Melissa Kogut, Executive Director of Chefs Collaborative, to chat about the new book. - (Mallory Cushman)
OLDWAYS: I'm sure you started with a fantastic list of contributors and recipes. How did you decide which recipes to include in the book and did you get to test all of them?
MELISSA: We invited our entire membership to contribute a recipe for consideration. The top consideration for inclusion was that the recipe needed to be delicious! We asked member chefs to provide recipes that were not too cheffy but not too simple either. We wanted recipes to represent the range of seasons and a range of ingredients. And we wanted a good geographical spread. All the recipes were tested – some more than once – to be sure instructions were clear, amounts made sense for cooking at home, and that the results were to die for. I tested a few of the recipes but mostly this was the job of our co-author, Ellen Jackson. Ellen did a remarkable job selecting a balance of recipes that reflect how sustainability-minded chefs are cooking today.
OLDWAYS: What was the reason behind organizing the cookbook by ingredient rather than season or meal?
MELISSA: The goal of this book was first and foremost to be a great cookbook. But it also aims to teach home cooks what Chefs Collaborative members have learned over the years about sourcing and cooking sustainably. The issues around sustainable sourcing vary from ingredient to ingredient – for example, the questions we need to ask when were buying pork or poultry are different from what we need to know when shopping for fish. So, it made sense to organize the book by ingredient.
OLDWAYS: The chapters include lots of tips and notes from the well-known contributing chefs. Can you share a few of your favorites?
MELISSA: My favorite sidebar is called “Just how Much Meat is That?” If you decide to support a local rancher and buy a quarter cow, how much freezer space is needed and how many meals does this yield? It’s information like this that invites people to visualize the possibilities for trying something new. “Kitchen Scrap Tips from the Pros” is fun – chefs tell us what they do with corn husks, chard stems, coriander flowers, tomato leaves, mushroom stems, carrot greens, and more. And I like “The True Cost of a Dozen Eggs” that compares the nutritional value of an egg from a chicken raised outdoors with industrial counterparts.
OLDWAYS: The recipes all look fantastic but many of them seem like they could be complicated. What advice do you have for the home cook who might feel overwhelmed by the complexity?
MELISSA: Many of the recipes are not complicated at all – here are some of my favorites: Steve Johnson’s Smoke-Roasted Chicken with Moroccan Spices has made it into regular rotation at my house. The spice rub provides enough for 3-4 chickens so once it’s mixed up you have it on hand for a super easy, beautiful, delicious roast chicken that makes the house smell divine. Brian Alberg’s Blue Cheese Bread Pudding is a wonderful savory dish to add to a salad or meat dish – it says 6 servings but 3 of us ate the whole thing – couldn’t stop. Justin Aprahamian’s Nasturtium Soup with Braised Pistachios has a lot of ingredients but was so worth the effort. The cardamom in the braised pistachios is a nice surprise. While I waited until I could find nasturtium leaves at the farmers market, this soup can be made with spinach or watercress.
OLDWAYS: We'd like to share a recipe from the book. Can you share one of your favorites with us?
Melissa: Of course!
Tacos with Greens in Green Garlic Mojo
Frontera Grill | Chicago, Illinois
Filled with robust, flavorful greens like kale and chard, these tacos are earthy and rich, with a fresh citrusy punch from mojo made with green garlic. They come together quickly and are endlessly adaptable to whatever greens are in season, offering a refreshing change from the expected bean filling in many vegetarian tacos. Salty, tangy queso fresco is the perfect accent. Makes 12 tacos; serves 4
1 large bunch (about ½ pound) Lacinato
or Russian kale, stems removed, sliced crosswise into ½-inch pieces
1 to 2 bunches (1 pound) Swiss chard, lower tough stems cut off, sliced crosswise into ½-inch pieces
½ cup Green Garlic Mojo (recipe below)
12 small corn tortillas
4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled
¾ cup Roasted Tomato-Arbol Chile Salsa (recipe below)
Edible flowers, for garnish (optional)
Put the greens (there should be about 8 cups) in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, and mix in the green garlic mojo, a large pinch of salt, and 1⁄2 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, warm the tortillas. Put a vegetable steamer in a large saucepan with 1⁄2 inch water in the bottom and bring to a boil. Wrap the tortillas in a heavy cotton kitchen towel, lay them in the steamer, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Boil for 1 minute, remove from the heat, and let stand without removing the lid for 15 minutes. If you don’t have a steamer, wrap the tortillas in 2 attached squares of lightly dampened paper towels. Microwave for 1 minute and immediately remove the tortillas from the towels. Store in an insulated warmer or small thermal chest for up to 1 hour. The tortillas will stay hot if the warmer isn’t opened.
Spoon the greens into a warm serving dish, place the warm tortillas in a cloth-lined basket, and serve at the table with queso fresco, salsa, and edible flowers to garnish, if desired. Alternatively, spoon filling in the center of the tortillas and roll them up. Arrange 3 per plate with a spoonful of salsa across the middle and a sprinkle of queso fresco.
Green Garlic Mojo
Makes 2 cups
5 to 6 whole green garlic stalks, about 6 ounces, washed and split in half lengthwise
1½ cups extra-virgin olive oil
¾ teaspoon kosher salt; more as needed
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, preferably from key limes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh epazote, or 2 teaspoons dried
1 tablespoon lemon thyme leaves
Cut the green garlic crosswise into thin slices to make 1 1⁄4 cups and add to a medium-sized nonreactive saucepan with the oil and salt. Stirring occasionally, bring the mixture barely to a simmer over medium-low heat; there should be just a hint of movement on the surface of the oil. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and continue to cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the lime juice, epazote, and lemon thyme and continue to simmer for 10 minutes to encourage the flavors to come together. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
Roasted Tomato-Arbol Chile Salsa
Makes about 1 1⁄2 cups
2 medium-small ripe red tomatoes (about 12 ounces)
12 dried arbol chiles, stemmed
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt; more as needed