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April 18, 2022
Snacks Are Snacks, but They Can Also Be Dinner
Article_Lukas Volger

Lukas Volger returns with an exciting cookbook filled with meatless spreads, pickles, dips, salads, and plenty of crunchy things.

Meat-free cooking can be found in many forms of media, be it faux carnitas recipes hitting the endless scroll of Pinterest to thoughtful discourse ping-ponging around Twitter. For Lukas Volger, a prolific recipe developer, cookbook author, and guy who once wrote about farting in these very pages, the way to a mostly plant-based diet is through snacks—for dinner.

His new book, Snacks for Dinner: Small Bites, Full Plates, Can’t Lose, offers an exciting collection of recipes fit for an entertaining dinnertime, be it for guests or a solo affair. There’s a call to marinate oyster mushrooms in walnut oil and a suggestion to fold beer cheese into a batch of gougères. Volger invites readers to serve orange juice and club soda (along with Angostura bitters and apple cider vinegar) for a zippy brunch beverage. And there’s a surprise wedding for the author to boot! I reached out to find out how Volger can channel all this snacking into one fun conversation.

Where were you when you blurted out loud, “It’s snacks for dinner!”
It’s an expression that’s always been very colloquial to me. That said, I didn’t originally realize it could be a title. I was fixated on the modular aspect of this way of eating, how you can quickly assemble a few snacky homemade things with a few snacky store-bought things, and eaters can mix and match as they please, and how exciting it is for vegetable-oriented meals thanks to all the variety. But as many of my food friends pointed out, “modular” isn’t a particularly delicious-sounding word. So it really stumped me. I sent my proposal for the book over to my editor, Julie Will, without mentioning that “Snacks for Dinner” was intended as a placeholder, and guess what? She loved the title, so that was that. There’s a lesson here in embracing the obvious and learning how to recognize when you might be overthinking something.

What is a snacking granola, and how do I think about granola as a dinnertime item?
What’s key to the snackiness aspect is that you can easily eat it out of hand. It needs to cluster up nicely. Cereal has always been a pretty snacky thing for me—I’ve never liked it with milk—and perhaps this is why I’ve always found granolas that have a fine, confetti-like texture to be kind of annoying. But then to incorporate it into a dinner, you also have to lean into the savory side of it. And without all the sugar, it doesn’t cluster nearly so well, so you need to use some kind of binder, like egg white or aquafaba. This is the method behind the snacking granola I include in the book. In that recipe, I nix the oats in favor of lentils, which really makes it a nutrient-dense little snack. For me, this snacking granola as a dinner element checks an important texture box. It brings the crunch and snap to a meal and helps to highlight all the other contrasting textures at the table.

I’m thinking about asparagus a lot right now. How do you think about dressing cooked vegetables like this? It seems like you are leaning into acid as greater than fat.
Yes, that is something I tend to prefer! I hope this doesn’t upset anyone, but I find that the classic vinaigrette formula—4:1 oil to acid—to be too . . . oily? Something closer to a 1:1 ratio is often pretty perfect for my tastes, keeping the acid and other ingredients really vibrant and prominent. And in that recipe for the Orange-Mustard Marinated Asparagus, any more oil just dulls the other flavors.

The book could be called “Dips for Dinner,” because you have this strong (and correct) take. I love it. What is your dip strategy?
My take is that if you’re going to have dip for dinner, you should go all in with it. Meaning you can’t serve just one dip—there should be at least two and ideally three. I mean, dip for dinner and there’s just one dip? You’re really asking that one dip to pull a lot of weight. Readers may also notice that most of my dips skew simple, and that’s because, while dip is super make-ahead friendly, there’s also something thrilling about having a friend come by and thinking, “Why don’t I just whip up some dip real quick!” Fresh dip is underrated.

What are two dips we cannot miss?
The Toasted Walnut and Feta Dip is one of my favorites. It’s true to that simple ethos, where the food processor makes everything come together very quickly, but it has a distinctive flavor and is very rich, and everyone always loves it. The other one—and this might not fall quite as squarely in the simple category, because it requires a couple (not-difficult) steps—is the Mixed Mushroom Pâté. It’s a recipe I’ve been tinkering with for years, a vegan pâté that’s enriched with cashews and is luxurious in texture and flavor, and it’s a nice one to make in advance because the flavors improve over the course of a day or two.

You’ve been known for your oatmeal challenges, and I spotted an oatmeal arancini. Wow!
Yes, oatmeal, my legacy. For the past several Februarys, I’ve been sharing my daily oats on Instagram with a #28daysofoatmeal hashtag, with the challenge to come up with a new way of serving it each day. This has led to often having a lot of leftover oatmeal on hand, which thickens up considerably as it cools, similar to the way leftover risotto does. It wasn’t too much of a leap to look at those leftover oats and think, “Hmm, I bet I could wrap that around a dab of cheese and fry it up and it’d taste good . . .” And in the spirit of arancini, they’re very amenable to the little odd bits of leftovers that might be lingering in the fridge, and they serve to further highlight the savory potential of oats, too.

I’m a big fan of your magazine, Jarry. Are you planning to reboot it?
Thank you so much, that really means a lot! I don’t think we will be rebooting it. But while I was an indie media person from the start, helping to create Jarry so deepened my admiration for the world of niche, indie publications. The passion and purpose that fuels them is so exciting and also so important. They function as a platform for new and overlooked talent, work to create community, and push the needle in advancing conversations and ideas—and I think they’re a lot more influential than they often get credit for being, particularly in helping to shape what happens later on at bigger publications and in mainstream media.

THREE EXCITING RECIPES FROM SNACKS FOR DINNER:

Oatmeal Arancini
Got some leftover steel-cut oats? Make an arancini.

Toasted Walnut and Feta Dip
The perfect excuse to eat a whole block of cheese in one sitting. When it’s dinner, you’re set.

Orange-Mustard Marinated Asparagus
The key to interesting (and not mushy) asparagus is to marinate and cook it quickly.

Matt Rodbard

Matt Rodbard is the editor in chief of TASTE and author of Koreatown: A Cookbook, a New York Times best-seller, and Food IQ: 100 Questions, Answers, and Recipes to Raise Your Cooking Smarts.