If you’ve eaten at a small-plate restaurant in the last decade or two, you might have noticed something: In good restaurants, vegetables abound. In fact, I’ve long said that the trend has helped chefs break their habit of center-of-the-plate protein, resulting in creative ingredient combinations — and many more options for vegetarian and vegan diners.
This same phenomenon is at play, for amateur cooks this time, in the new book by Lukas Volger, Snacks for dinner. Volger was inspired to write it after a friend took her to lunch with her husband in California, interrupting a trip in which they were eating one restaurant meal after another and serving them a seemingly effortless and informal range. small dishes – tabbouleh salad from a local maker, farm-fresh carrots, dips, crackers, etc., which became their favorite meal of the trip.
This style of eating, of course, is prevalent in many cultures, from Greek mezze and Korean banchan to the Southern moaning board. And as Volger says, it’s a perfect way to satisfy plant eaters. “You can just have all these different vegetable preparations,” he told me on a Zoom call from his home in Brooklyn. “As a vegetarian, that’s what you’re actually excited to eat.”
One of Volger’s earlier books is Balls, and I couldn’t help but think of the connections between a modern grain bowl, with its multiple components, and the approach to dinnertime snacks, with its multiple plates. Either way, the dishes – or meals – can seem daunting if you’re starting from scratch, but if you make a habit of doing things ahead of time and aren’t afraid to rely on elements High quality store bought, they couldn’t be quicker to put together. “I think of dinner snacks as a bowl for the dinner table,” he said. “All of these components can come together, and it’s possible to customize to some degree what goes on your plate – or in your bowl.”
I expect to cook my way through Volger’s book, making a variety of dishes for friends such as mixed mushroom pâté, Brussels sprout crisps, nut and seed crackers, and chicken strips. soft tofu. The first thing I made for myself and my hubby was this Asparagus and White Bean Salad, which is a great combination of fresh seasonal ingredients, a pantry staple, and a special twist. Asparagus, when fresh from the farmer’s market, can be left raw, as can watercress. Beans can come from a tin can – or from your fridge or freezer if you dry-cooked and stored them.
The special touch is a cheddar frico, a savory crisp you make by cooking shredded cheese until the oil separates and it’s lightly browned, magically firming up into a disc as it cools. Previously, I’d made this just from parmesan or pecorino cheese and baked it, arranging the grated cheese in little mounds that turned into crispy circles, perfect for layering over soup. (Of course, if you form them into a cup while still hot, they become a vehicle for appetizer-sized servings of spreads, dressed greens, or bites of whatever you like. ) In this recipe, you make the frico in a large circle in a nonstick skillet and use sharp cheddar cheese, sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper, to make a zesty, delicious, and crispy crouton for the fresh vegetable salad.
Whenever possible, I like to offer readers a vegan option. But I was skeptical about whether you could make a frico with vegan cheese shreds, which usually include starches and which I doubted would allow for the oil separation necessary for the cheese to be dry, fried, and crispy. . Sure enough, the first time I tried it, the vegan shreds were unresponsive – literally – to the heat of the pan. But all I had to do was drizzle a few tablespoons of oil over the shreds, which melted together, then drizzle in the excess oil once the cheese was golden.
The result: a vegan frico with all the lacy texture of dairy. I tossed the asparagus, beans and watercress in a lemon vinaigrette, broke the frico on top and served it to my husband with crackers and hummus on the side. It tasted exactly like what I wanted to eat and had everything for a seemingly effortless snacks-for-dinner night.
2 to 3 servings
Storage Notes: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days, keeping the salad (preferably without the dressing) and frico separately to keep everything crispy.
1 cup (4 ounces) coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese (can substitute shredded vegan-style cheddar cheese plus 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil; see NOTE)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
8 ounces asparagus, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
One can (14.5 ounces) no salt added cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed or 1 1/2 cups cooked
1 cup (1½ ounces) sprigs of watercress or baby arugula
Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle the cheese over the entire surface in an even layer and season with a few black peppercorns. Allow the cheese to melt then bubble as the oils separate from the solids and the cheese darkens slightly to a pale brown color, 4-6 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the cheese cool for a few minutes, until it becomes crispy. Using a thin spatula, loosen it from the pan, transfer it to a plate and let it cool completely. Break into pieces.
In a small bowl, whisk together oil, lemon zest and juice, honey or agave, and salt. Taste and add more salt and/or honey as needed.
Taste the asparagus: if you don’t like their raw taste, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until simmering. Add the asparagus and sauté the slices until tender, 1 to 2 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the asparagus, beans and watercress or arugula. Toss with dressing to coat. Just before serving, garnish with frico.
REMARK: If using vegan cheese, after adding the pepper, drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil over and around the cheese. It may take a minute or two longer to brown than dairy cheese, depending on the brand. Cook until it turns medium-dark brown, then squeeze out any excess oil before letting it cool.
Nutritional information per serving (1 2/3 cups), based on 3 | Calories: 417; Total fat: 26 g; Saturated fat: 10g; Cholesterol: 40mg; Sodium: 646mg; Carbohydrates: 30g; Dietary fiber: 7g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 20g
Adapted from “Snacks for Dinner” by Lukas Volger (Harper Wave, 2022).