Melissa Clark has a terrific new recipe in The Times this week, for a sheet-pan dinner of roast chicken, plums and red onions (above). She came up with it as a dish appropriate to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins on Sept. 18, but it’s outstanding whatever your faith or lack thereof: a sticky, bright-flavored joy that you could pair with couscous to great effect. I hope you do.
But that’s not all I hope you cook this week. I traffic in recipes most days, strict instruction for cooking particular dishes in particular ways. Of course, I don’t always use recipes, and most likely you don’t either, sometimes preferring improvisation to a precise list of commands. There’s a joy in that, in seeing where an idea takes you, rather than following a script. (At least sometimes. I wouldn’t freestyle a loaf of bread.)
So, for instance, you could try your hand at some Vietnamese-style summer rice rolls, made at the table, an interactive meal. It worked out well for me. At lunch the other day, far in advance of dinner, I cooked rice noodles and drained them well, let them cool in the refrigerator. Later I sliced cucumbers, scallions, carrots, picked lots of cilantro and mint leaves, arranged them all on a platter, with a pile of the noodles. I made a simple nuoc cham, the Vietnamese dipping sauce: glugs of fish sauce brightened with squeezed lime juice, softened with a spray of sugar, made fiery with thinly sliced hot peppers. (Add water to taste.) Then I broiled some shrimp — though you could use grilled pork or tofu — and put them on a platter next to the vegetables. Opened a sleeve of rice wrappers, thin and translucent and stiff, and put those on a plate, next to a big bowl of warm water, next to all the rest.
And that was dinner, with each in the family dipping a rice wrapper in the warm water to soften it, then filling it to taste with vegetables and protein, wrapping it up like a newborn, spooning some nuoc cham over the top. There was a meal where before there was only a notion, and it was grand.