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Cooking Concierge – The New York Times

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In the ever-expanding multiverse, there is a version of me smashing away at a keyboard with her feet, doling out dos and don’ts to the masses as that world’s Dear Abby.

But here in our reality, I’m Tanya, an editor at New York Times Cooking and Tejal’s editor on The Veggie. And for better or worse, there’s one pastime I’ll never give up: dishing out advice. Luckily, my work occasionally affords me the opportunity to embrace that. Today, think of me as your personal Cooking concierge in Tejal’s absence.

These questions come from a handful of reader emails that Tejal has held on to for future newsletter inspiration, and I’m more than happy to answer them.

Is there an all-purpose substitute for mushrooms in vegetarian dishes where they’re an integral component? Or are there multiple substitutes, some of which are better than others, depending on the application? — Kim O.

In most cases, you’ll want to swap for an ingredient that is texturally similar: Think sliced tofu, tempeh, eggplant and even artichoke hearts. But if the mushrooms are also doing heavy lifting in the flavor department, you’ll want to make up for the loss by seasoning with umami-rich ingredients, like soy sauce, kombu or roasted seaweed, miso or tomato paste.

These mushroom chicharrón tacos could just as easily be made with bite-size strips of seared or baked firm tofu, or slightly chewier tempeh. (You could also make these crumbled tempeh tacos instead.) In stir-fries, vegetables like eggplant or zucchini, which sear and absorb seasonings similarly to mushrooms, could serve you well. Try that swap in this gingery fried rice, and taste as you go — maybe you’ll want a dash more soy sauce or a sprinkle of garlic or onion powder.

I love your recipes, but as I have bad reactions to tomato, eggplant, peppers, chiles, potato and all other nightshades, I can seldom use the recipes. Any ideas? — Gretchen N.

Spring vegetables are your friend: This polenta with asparagus, peas and mint and this crunchy spring salad are great places to start. During the rest of the year, check out our cauliflower– and cabbage-forward recipes. And the gingery fried rice I mentioned above becomes nightshade-free if you skip the jalapeño. In fact, you’ll find that a lot of mushroom recipes on New York Times Cooking will work for you as written or are easily modifiable.

I purchase pickles and olives at the farmers market. They have so many different varieties. Anyway, I would love to repurpose the brine, as it seems a waste to discard it. Any suggestions? Some of the flavors are horseradish, fiery, rosemary or even sweet and spice. — Fran K.

Time to make pickle soup! Brine is also an incredible way to season potato salads and dressings like this vegan avocado ranch. And you should absolutely shake some of those up with vodka or gin — dirty martini, anyone? — if you enjoy a cocktail now and then. Cheers!

Go to the recipe.


Vegetarians who eat them know that eggs are a kitchen all-star — they add heft, protein and savoriness to otherwise simple dishes. You really, well, can’t beat ’em!

If that sounds like you, do turn your attention this week to our great ode to eggs, written by Eric Kim and complete with 24 recipes, the majority of which are meatless, including Tejal’s lovely egg curry.

And speaking of Tejal: On May 17, she’s hosting a virtual event with the Food editor Emily Weinstein all about making delicious vegetarian food at home. They’ll talk to the chef and writer Samin Nosrat, and give advice to readers with vegetarian cooking challenges. You can R.S.V.P., as well as submit your own cooking dilemma for them to discuss, here.

Tejal will be back next week. Thanks for reading, and for having me! Until next time, you can find me on Instagram.

Email us at [email protected]. Newsletters will be archived here. Reach out to my colleagues at [email protected] if you have questions about your account.