We Found the Perfect Cookbook for These Times
Charlotte Druckman’s Kitchen Remix is all about using pantry staples in new ways and learning why certain ingredients work well together.
When Charlotte Druckman started working on her second cookbook, Kitchen Remix: 75 Recipes for Making the Most of Your Ingredients, she had her brother in mind. "It worried me that he could not make a pot of pasta," she says. "He did not know how to boil water." So, for Christmas 2015, she gave him a mini food processor and a cooking lesson. She wanted to teach him some basic skills so he could not just provide sustenance but also enjoyment—the thesis of her book.
Kitchen Remix is broken down into 25 groups of three ingredients, each featuring three different recipes. Druckman was inspired by Hugh's Three Good Things by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, which combines three items to form a dish that "is always greater and more delicious than the sum of its parts."
"My first thought was that it would be so much more useful if he had given us three recipes with these three good things instead of just one, because I don't come away from this book understanding why these three ingredients in particular," Druckman says. "And that was something that stuck in my head." So rather than just instructing home cooks how to cook the recipes in her book, Druckman wants to teach them why certain sets of ingredients work well together.
For each ingredient, she describes its character (lamb shoulder is "earthy, grassy, sweet"); lists substitutes (try bell peppers, mushrooms, or extra-firm tofu in place of eggplant); offers helpful tips ("When a recipe calls for mincing garlic, you can grate it instead of chopping it."); and gives you a set of complementary foods (zucchini goes well with sweet bell peppers, pasta, feta, shrimp, and lamb).
"Ultimately, I want to show you that if your main ingredients get along, you can trust them—and yourself—to produce something you'll want to eat," she writes in the introduction.
For Druckman, it's all about getting people to a point where they're confident going into their kitchen to prepare something that they enjoy. "I think that there's this thing that happens with a lot of food writing where we focus on one recipe, and we're like, this is the thing, and we're not really teaching people how to cook or to think about approaching those things in the larger sense," she says. "How do you do this so that they don't feel like you're telling them what to eat?"
When it does come to recipes, Kitchen Remix shines a light on how to transform pantry items into dishes that go well beyond the ordinary. Oats, apples, and Gouda are transformed into "oatotto" (oat risotto) with apples, apple-oat scones, and an apple salad with savory granola. Meanwhile, carrots, cashews, and coconut can be made into a Thai-ish carrot salad, a carrot upside-down cake, and curry-roasted carrots with cashew-coconut cream. "I joke that my style of cooking is 'weird but good,'" she writes in the headnote for the recipe for creamed leeks with roasted broccoli.
One of Druckman's favorite recipes is the Fool's Ful, a riff on the Egyptian dish of stewed fava beans that instead uses cannellini beans. They’re mixed with roasted garlic, tahini, and lemon before being served with a drizzle of chili oil over top. "I crave the Fool's Ful all the time, honestly," she says. Her sweet potato casserole with tahini fluff is now a Druckman-family holiday staple. "I will be making those every year for Thanksgiving—no question."
Given the current shelter-at-home orders, during which many of us are relying on our pantries much more than usual, Kitchen Remix turned out to be the perfect cookbook for this time—despite Druckman having finished it three years ago. The book's publication date was delayed, which now seems serendipitous.
For example, in her spaghetti with crab, lemon and nori recipe, she says you could replace the fresh crab meat with tinned seafood from the pantry. To stand up to the more intense flavor of her favorite sardines or anchovies, she'd likely swap a regular lemon instead of the Meyer that's listed, scallions for chives, and black pepper in place of pink. "I was thinking about how this very elegant-seeming dish in a cookbook could very easily become a pantry quarantine dish," she says.
"Cooking is one of those things in life where it's just a skill you should have in case,” she says. A pandemic is without a doubt such an instance. "And we don't have to be able to do it so that it looks nice on Instagram. We don't have to do it with finesse. It doesn't have to be soignée, fancy, or on-trend or anything—but, yeah, we should know how to boil water."
To buy: Kitchen Remix by Charlotte Druckman, $22 at target.com