The Chefs: Ryan Holbird

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From Staff Reports

The Chefs column highlights our local culinary masters. They share a recipe that has a lot of meaning to them and thankfully, how to make it. (Well at least most of it, sometimes secrets must remain that.) This month’s chef is … Ryan Holbird.

Ryan’s Story

I’ve always enjoyed cooking and experimenting, but the explosion of YouTube and TikTok cooking channels in the last few years have provided endless culinary inspirations that anyone can follow.

When we went into lockdown last year and spent more time in our own kitchen entertaining with friends, we expanded our portfolio of fun meals to experiment with.

Unfortunately, I also expanded my waistline in the process.  Our dinners often ran 3-4 hours and appetizers were always on hand.  Wings, sausages, kebabs, jalapeno poppers, candied bacon, sliders … and that was all ‘for fun’ before the real meals hit the table.

As an alternative, I looked for some ways to substitute those less-than-healthy options with something a little more guilt-free.  In the process, we learned that healthy did not have to mean boring.

Here are three of the favorites we keep in rotation.

Zucchini Pizza Boats

Zucchini is an excellent medium for something like this because it’s versatile, provides good texture, and won’t leave you feeling guilty if you happen to fill up on it before the meal.

The toppings customizations here, like normal pizza, are only limited by your imagination.  I’ll start with you with simple cheese and pepperoni.

Begin with a large zucchini, sliced lengthwise into two symmetrical halves.

Scrape out the pulp, leaving approximately ¼” of flesh, so that the halves resemble a canoe.  Or a boat, as the name implies.

Optional: at this point, rub some olive oil on the flesh and lay on hot grill grates, cut-side down, for some beautiful grill marks. Remove.

Spoon 2-3 tbsp pizza sauce into the hollowed-out sections, top with shredded mozzarella and pepperoni, and place on a baking sheet.

The best results are achieved on a hot grill for some smokiness, but a toaster oven works as well.  Cook on toast/broil setting at 450°F until the cheese begins to toast and the toppings are cooked.

Finish with a dash of dried oregano or italian seasoning.

Buffalo Cauliflower

Meat-a-sauruses will tell you this amazing appetizer is blasphemy, but when prepared the right way it’s delightfully satisfying.  And healthy, too.

And the right way is to char it.  This part is critical.  If you don’t cook the cauliflower bits on a hot surface long enough to give some color, char, and crisp, then it tastes like a steamed mess.  And that is blasphemy.

This method serves 4 people.

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces.  If you rinse them, let them air-dry before prepping.

1 cup Frank’s Wing Sauce

Avocado oil

The best way to prepare these is on a large griddle followed by some time in a grill.

If you don’t have that, frying pans and an oven will work as well.  Cast iron pans work great.

Begin by applying a thin coat of oil to the pan and get it smoking hot.

Lay cauliflower pieces down in a single layer, leave in place for 5-6 minutes until a char develops on most pieces.  Flip to char opposite side. This may need to be done in batches if you only have one pan.

Once all pieces have some char, toss them in enough Frank’s wing sauce to lightly coat them, maybe ¼ cup.  You don’t want them too wet at this stage.  Layer sauced pieces on a foil-lined baking sheet (or keep in your pan) and put in oven at 400°F for 10 minutes until sauce has dried to a baked-on appearance. This step also helps to dry out the cauliflower, further enhancing the texture.  Once complete, stir in remaining sauce to desired wetness.

I prefer to eat these with chop sticks and a dipping bowl of cool ranch dressing, but that’s just me.

Pebre – a Chilean version of salsa

This condiment is found in most local restaurants throughout the country of Chile.  I had it on some business trips years ago and have been trying to perfect it with local ingredients ever since.  This hits pretty close.

It resembles Mexican pico de gallo or Argentinean chimichurri.  It is distinguished by cilantro being the star attraction.  There is no spice to it, but you can adjust as desired.

It serves well with tortilla chips, but toasted pita or garlic bread is better.  Double up on the salt or add a splash of soy sauce and it makes an excellent marinade / topping for flank steak as well.

Prepare and mix the following in a large bowl:

3 bunches cilantro, finely chopped (stems are fine)

1.5 finely chopped tomatoes (I prefer Campari tomatoes, and 18 of them seems to be the right number)

1 head garlic, minced (yes, a full head, as in the whole thing. you can cheat and use the jarred garlic or garlic paste as well – just don’t use garlic powder)

1 bunch green onion, thinly sliced (use the entire length, all the way to the root)

¼ cup red wine vinegar (pay an extra dollar for the good stuff)

¼ cup olive oil

4 tbsp chili paste (Thai chili with crushed red pepper flakes works very well)

1 tbsp kosher salt

1 tbsp fresh black pepper

Note: this tastes best fresh, but if you decide to chill it give it some time to warm up on the counter before serving.  The olive oil will be clumpy right out of the refrigerator and it needs 15-20 minutes to smooth out.

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