Just as the stand-up comedian Iliza Shlesinger was preparing to embark on a worldwide comedy tour in 2020, the pandemic hit. Suddenly she found herself stuck at home like everyone else, trying not to panic.
At least she knew she would eat well. Her husband, Noah Galuten, is a chef and writer who has collaborated on several successful cookbooks. Already he was well practiced in cooking wholesome meals with gusto for the two of them in their Los Angeles home. While waiting for normalcy to return, she suggested something they could do together in the meantime: start a YouTube cooking show. Galuten would share his recipes and strategies for cooking simple, healthy meals with minimal runs to the grocery store. Shlesinger would taste and crack jokes.
Out of that ongoing project grew a cookbook that shares its name: “The Don’t Panic Pantry Cookbook: Mostly Vegetarian Comfort Food That Happens to be Pretty Good for You” (Knopf, $35). In the introduction, Galuten shares his personal home cooking philosophy: Strive for balance, avoid too much of any one thing, skip refined sugar and heavily processed food as much as possible, cut down on meat and beef up on fiber. His recipes demonstrate how a well-stocked pantry makes it easier to maintain those goals.
Each is based on his go-to staples —heavy on pasta, beans, and lentils — and presented with multiple options for customizing. Some reflect his upbringing in California with “borderline hippie” parents. Others are inspired by concepts he helped develop for Bludso’s Bar & ‘Cue and various locations of Prime Pizza in L.A. Most come straight from his head and cabinets.
Sauerkraut shows up in a one-pot bean dish and a whole-meal bread made with quick pizza dough, broccoli, and smoked cheddar. Vegetable scraps get folded into fried rice and a frittata. Shoyu butter elevates pasta with canned clams.
All circle back to his original thesis: Learn a few basic building blocks for making food you want to eat, then expand on that. And if you’re not happy with how something turns out? “Don’t panic: Just do it again — it will come out better.”
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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