Notes on pandemic eats, March to mid-October 2020

I became vegetarian in February. It was a really, really long time coming, and becoming vegetarian before the start of a pandemic was really convenient. Few things beat having a bunch of dried beans, lentils, and veggies plus a bunch of rice on in my pantry while you're figuring out grocery delivery in NYC that doesn't exploit gig labor.

In March, April, and May, I made a lot of granola and ate it primarily with homemade almond milk. I have never been more grateful to have a powerful Vitamix blender than when we were making almond milk at least twice a week, and I can't believe I waited months before buying a nut milk bag to strain it instead of using a fine mesh sieve. I really cannot overstate how much time using a nut milk bag saves. Mexican Horchata also entered our regular drink rotation.

Toast slathered in butter that's topped with thinly sliced radishes and finished sea salt has become my favorite savory breakfast/afternoon snack. Toast slathered in one of Ayako & Family's many varieties of plum jam has become my favorite sweet breakfast/afternoon snack.

Photo of a piece of toast topped with whipped ricotta and a muted orange greengage plum jam on a plate
For my (semi-)sweet tooth: toast with whipped ricotta and greengage plum jam
Photo of a piece of toast topped with butter, halved thin French breakfast radishes, and noticeable salt crystals on a plate
For the side of me that loves sharp savory notes: toast with butter, halved French breakfast radishes, and a good helping of fleur de sel

Soy eggs are a regular snack when we realize we have accumulated too many eggs through our weekly farm share delivery. I use a regular sodium soy sauce and leave them overnight, and despite the warning in the ingredient list, they have never been excessively salty.

When I'm feeling uninspired regarding a veggie in my farm share, I decide whether it would rather be roasted or salad and just do that. Roasted veggies are always a welcome side or addition to a dish in my home. Salad tossed in any quickly homemade dressing is still an incredible and simple to prepare treat, and yes, I admit I will forever be a stock photo cliché.

Laura Wright's ginger, sweet potato, and coconut milk stew with lentils and kale is forever going to be in our regular meal rotation. We add about triple the chilli stated in the recipe. Also, her creamy corn and lemon pasta with thyme is a favorite summer treat.

It's decorative gourd season, so I made a vegan squash soup. Cooking red lentils in the spices I would usually add to a soup and adding those to the blender helped make this a full meal, alongside some crusty bread, of course.

Photo of two shallow bowls (one half cut off) of a smooth roasted squash and red lentil soup topped with drizzled olive oil and mustard sprouts, a plate with two slices of a crusty bread, and a small bowl of olive oil with ground chilli and pepper for dipping the bread in.
I (briefly) felt fancy by topping this soup with drizzling olive oil and mustard sprouts.

I've been craving mapo tofu for months. (I'm not aware of a good vegetarian version available in my part of the city.) My friends Alex and Erin sent me this very detailed recipe from Chinese Cooking Demystified, which made me feel confident I could make it if I gathered the right ingredients - though I wanted to have a minced protein instead of just omitting it to make it vegetarian. I use food processor minced fresh mushrooms instead of beef, which take longer to cook down and require more oil as mushrooms absorb it instead of releasing fat, and I replace the broth with shiitake dashi. (If you don't have another plan for the rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, they can be minced and added to the fresh ones to replace the beef.)

Photo of finished mapo tofu in a pumpkin-shaped Dutch oven, ground toasted Sichuan pepper on top but not yet mixed in.
Finished mapo tofu!
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: mushrooms fried in oil mixed with doubanjiang, douchi, ginger, garlic, and chili flakes make a paste.
The base of the sauce: mushrooms fried in oil, doubanjiang, douchi, ginger, garlic, and Sichuan chili flakes
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: mushroom broth has just been added to the paste. It's bright red.
A lovely bright red color after adding the shiitake dashi
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: tofu has been nestled into the broth.
I managed to not break too many of the soft tofu cubes.
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: chives are piled on top of the tofu with reduced and thickened sauce.
I used chives instead of green garlic or scallions because it's what I had on hand.

Tali sauce is still a fun way to transform a simple bowl of rice and beans, and it freezes beautifully. That said, a humble bowl of rice and beans is always a pleasure on its own.

Speaking of beans, I never throw out bean cooking liquid. If I don't want it as part of the beans, I save it to reheat and mix with miso paste, as a treat.

Close-up photo of a mug of pinto bean broth miso soup with sprouts
Pinto bean broth miso I topped with sprouts (I forget the variety)
Photo of a handled mug of black bean broth miso soup with chopped scallions and a small ceramic cup without a handle with matcha
Black bean broth miso topped with scallions

Soy curls are a delightful shelf-stable protein. I often use them in Japanese or Thai curries.

Eggplant parmigiana is a lot more delicious to me when the eggplant is roasted instead of fried. I use parm instead of the romano listed and my own tomato sauce recipe, which also has onions and uses Diaspora Co.'s incredible ground chilli instead of crushed red pepper. (Diaspora Co.'s chillies are brimming with flavor. I can't be anyone's barometer for spiciness because I don't notice it until it hits my digestive system, but I hear they're somewhat milder in heat than expected. P.S. All their other spices are incredible, too.)

Photo of a casserole dish full of eggplant parmigiana on top of my stove
Small fairytale eggplants made this delicious dish quite cute.

Lekka Burger's vegan chocolate chip cookie is made entirely of shelf-stable pantry staples and is absolutely incredible. I highly recommend microwaving any cookies you don't eat the first day for 15 seconds before eating.


  1. This is actually quite irritating. There's a whole lot of food out there that is praised for being delicious because it's "really spicy" but actually packs no flavor behind the heat my body ignores.