By SUSAN ERICSON
Get out your aprons, Cinnamon Snail fans: Adam Sobel, four-time winner of the Vendy award for food trucks has penned a collection of recipes and stories that will keep you chained to your stoves.
While awaiting the truck’s expected return to the Red Bank Farmers Market, Snail-starved disciples wondering what just goes into the making of “Mexican Hot Chocolate Glazed Twists” can now take a shot at it themselves.
Sobel shares his secrets in an often-funny, non-preachy way, with chapter after delectable chapter of addictive recipes in “Street Vegan,” all while eschewing animal products.
From the front porch of Sobel’s Red Bank home, you can see that the chef and truckmeister practices what he’s been preaching. The yard is full of blueberry bushes, espaliered apple and pear trees and boxed-in garden plots. Does he use any of this homegrown produce in his professional kitchen? No. It’s all for home use only, he tells PieHole.
He’s home, filling his hours with yoga, because he failed in his efforts to renew a permit to sell on the streets of New York, where Snail obsessives and newbies once formed long lines.
In “Street Vegan,” Sobel tells the story of his transformation from a meat-eater to vegan chef – it involves a “really cute girl from Jersey” named Joey, who is now his wife and mother of his two home-schooled children. In deciding to become a vegan himself, he learned, he writes, that it wasn’t, as he’d feared, “another dogma to follow,” but a kind of “liberation.”
“You are sort of forced into checking out new cuisines, cooking methods and ingredients from all over the world on your mission to seek out nourishing, interesting and satisfying flavors,” he writes.
That quest led Sobel to create such chewy, gooey, sticky-fingered delights as “Roasted Chestnut Cake Donuts with Chamomile Glaze” and “Lavender Pear Fritters with Meyer Lemon Glaze,” both detailed in the book, where rustically elegant often unexpected flavor pairings make tired old recipes new again. Sobel adds bourbon to mustard greens and suddenly, healthy eating takes on new meaning.
The book offers guidance on where to find some of the more unique ingredients – such as galangal, a rhizome or ginger-like root used in Thai cooking – as well as recipes running the gamut from soup to “Macadamia-White Chocolate Twinkies” containing 30 different ingredients. Sobel is fearless in his use of spice and classic vegan ingredients, mixing ethnic styles like Thai and Korean with garden-variety Western recipes.
There’s personal perspective, too. A story about Sobel’s parents and his Eastern European Jewish roots in Brooklyn accompany a recipe for “Truffled Potato and Fried Onion Pierogies with Horseradish Mustard Cream.” It is a mouthwatering, savory dish that picks apart the traditional pierogie, spins it around and delivers something entirely different yet familiar and comforting.
Sauces that help take tofu and seitan from bland to out-of-this-world are in there, as is a recipe for “Habanero Apricot Glaze,” a fairly simple “sweet and spicy gingery sauce” that Sobel says “is like duck sauce on PCP… great for pan-fried dumplings, spring rolls or other dippable appetizers and snacks.”
Sobel tends to be a little superstitious about his business. Asked what’s in store for him now, and whether a bricks-and-mortar restaurant might be in the works, he demurred. “I can’t tell you, but it’s cool,” he said, adding that his years of working in kitchens have left him capable of whatever needs to be done.
“I did every kind of position from line cook to waiter,” he said. “I’ve worn all the hats. There is no more complicated food business than the Cinnamon Snail.”
Meantime, the Snail is expected back at the Red Bank Farmers’ Market, perhaps as early as Sunday.