I believe that if Americans had more opportunities and resources to travel internationally, we’d be a much more empathetic and compassionate culture. I’ve been blessed to visit the community bread ovens at the crack of dawn in Marrakesh, and get scolded by a nonna in Bologna for suggesting we use fresh mint in tortellini instead of parsley (that recipe is so ingrained in the culture it’s officially documented in the city’s ledger!).
Uncommonly Good brings some of these experiences to life with recipes like Ras el hanout, a signature house spice blend inspired by my visit to Morocco; turkey in mole sauce, which pays tribute to the mother sauce of Mexico; and our “Green Fairy” kale and cabbage soup, which celebrates some quintessentially Swiss ingredients like gruyere cheese and absinthe.
So much creativity went into the book. What do you hope Uncommonly Good will inspire in your readers?
I hope readers feel inspired to experiment in the kitchen. And more importantly, immerse themselves in their dining experiences, whether at home, or eventually with others and when traveling as the world begins to reopen post-coronavirus. If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that that joy can be found in simple pleasures, whether it’s our “Bad Day” brownies, a big pot of chili, or buttery dinner rolls perfect for sopping up whatever’s on your plate.
Uncommonly Good: Stories of Food, Life and the Birth of Good Commons is now available for sale on Amazon.com, and at your local bookshop by request.
Recipe excerpts from Uncommonly Good: Stories of Food, Life and the Birth of Good Commons (for Passport Magazine)
By Tesha Buss and Matthew Wexler
Recipes by Matthew Wexler
Tofu Bánh Mì Sandwiches
According to Tesha Buss, “It’s more complicated than you might think to find a locally grown cucumber in the Green Mountains. Matthew and I drove up and down Route 100 (one of the state’s ten scenic byways), hardly knowing a soul and trying to find farmers that could grow our much-needed produce. We had just given up hope, headed toward the supermarket across the border in New Hampshire, when we stumbled on a roadside stand. The only problem: They didn’t have enough of one vegetable to make a dish for twenty yogis. Matthew pickled everything we bought and packed them onto bánh mì sandwiches that we took to our secret watering hole at Buttermilk Falls.”
Overnight Pickled Vegetables
1 cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup sugar
¼ cup salt
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
5 allspice berries
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 cups ice water
1 English cucumber, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
In a saucepan, combine the ingredients for the pickling liquid and cook over medium heat until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add ice water and let cool to room temperature. Add sliced cucumber, red onion and carrot and refrigerate overnight in a nonreactive bowl or large jar.
4 small French baguettes
14-ounce package extra-firm tofu
1 tablespoon five-spice powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sriracha or other red chile sauce
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
¼ cup cilantro leaves
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Slice baguettes lengthwise. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown, and set aside.
Drain the tofu and pat dry. Slice the block of tofu in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 4 pieces for a total of 8. Pat dry again and sprinkle generously with five-spice powder, salt and pepper. Heat the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu slices and sear on each side for 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned and beginning to crisp. While the tofu is cooking, combine the mayonnaise and sriracha and set aside. Remove the tofu and drain on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
To assemble, spread 1 tablespoon of the sriracha mayonnaise on one side of each roll. Add two slices of the seared tofu. Top with a generous portion of drained pickled vegetables, several slices of jalapeño and cilantro leaves. Wrap in parchment paper, tie with a string and bring along to your next picnic or road trip!
Uncommonly Good Tip: A traditional Vietnamese bánh mì roll is worth seeking out if you can find it at a local market. Ciabatta will also suffice in a pinch.