Cookbook authors Joan Nathan and Julia Turshen joined the Washington Post Food staff to answer questions from readers. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.
Q: I bought a bag of shredded red cabbage to put on fish tacos. I made the tacos, but totally forgot about the cabbage until after dinner. Now I have a bag of unopened, nicely shredded red cabbage and I have no idea what to do with it.
A: Sounds like a good excuse to make more fish tacos! You can also make a lovely, easy slaw. I also love tossing shredded cabbage with olive oil and salt and then roasting it at 425 degrees until it’s wilted and charred and serving it as a side dish, or folding it into an easy rice pilaf.
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Q: There are so many spring and summer recipes I want to try, but everything calls for pesto. I don’t remember what pesto even taste like because I’m allergic to the nuts used in it. What is a good substitute for pesto?
A: Can I suggest that you make a pesto using pumpkin seeds (a.k.a. pepitas) instead of nuts? You can make a simple one-to-one swap in whatever pesto recipe you come across. Pesto is one of those versatile, adaptable, swap-able recipes!
Q: I found whole nutmegs while cleaning my spice drawer, They look fine, but I know they’ve been around for four years, or maybe longer. Should I toss them?
A: Four years is about the max, assuming they’ve been stored without exposure to extremes of heat. Best way to tell would be to buy a whole nutmeg from a bulk bin setup, like at Whole Foods. Grate some of it, and grate some of yours. Compare the aroma of each; if it’s the same, I’m thinking yours is still good to go.
Bonnie S. Benwick
Q: I am attempting to re-season my cast iron pans using organic virgin coconut oil. I wipe the inside with a light layer, put in a cold oven and leave in for one hour after the oven reaches 425 degrees. I then leave them until they are cool to the touch. The pans are coming out with sticky residue. What am I doing wrong?
A: Next time, try these tweaks: Be sure to rub the oil into the pan as much as you can, then wipe thoroughly after you distribute that light layer, so the pan looks practically dry. The temperature you’re using seems high for an oil with a smoke point of 350, so reduce the oven heat to 325 degrees.
Q: I have to make a side dish or salad to go with the Thai entree our host is making for our supper club, and I’m thinking green papaya salad. I doubt that I can get a green papaya where I live, so I would appreciate any suggestions for a substitute.
A: While not the same thing exactly, I’ve had success substituting matchsticks of unripe mango and tart green apple for green papaya in salads. I once worked as a private chef in the middle of nowhere and was tasked with making a Thai menu, and the green apple salad was a huge hit.
A: I love the apple idea! I was also thinking that jicama could work well, although you may have as tough a time finding it as unripe papaya.
Q: Some of my Seder guests are vegans. Any suggestions for recipes for vegan Passover entrees and sides dishes? I am limited for the holiday and can’t use grains, rice, beans or leavened products.
A: Quinoa is great for vegans. I have a wonderful recipe for quinoa salad with squash and pecans in “King Solomon’s Table.” I like to make lots of salads for my Passover table, so vegans always have plenty of options. My book also has a delicious Georgian spinach salad with walnuts and cilantro as well as many eggplant dishes. I think of a vegan entree as a medley of delicious dishes instead of one roast meat.
Q: Could you recommend a cookbook or two that would be a good gift for a cook just starting out? She has basic experience in the kitchen making simple meals, but this will be the first time she’s living on her own and responsible for meals every day. I’ve got “The Joy of Cooking” on my list, but I remember receiving that as a newbie and being overwhelmed by the sheer number of tiny-font recipes, so I’d love to get her a book that won’t make meal planning seem so daunting.
A: My first answer every time we get this is question is “Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks” by Linda Carucci, which was updated last year. There are easy recipes and ways to think about planning menus, but more importantly there are very readable sections on how to salt foods properly and how to choose fish, etc. - lessons that really stick with you. Carucci is a wonderful instructor in person, so if you ever notice she is conducting one in your friend’s area, point her in that direction!
Q: I’m not Jewish, and have been invited to my first Seder. I have some idea of all the rules about what not to bring, but is there a nice hostess gift to take along that’s OK to bring into the house?
A: My favorite hostess gift in general is a bottle of really great olive oil – every home cook will appreciate it. And it’s totally welcome for Passover!