Welcome to Kitchn's series A Week of Dinners, where we show you how our favorite cooks put dinner on the table.
Alison Roman is the creator of a chocolate chip cookie that sent Instagram into wild fervor last fall — a recipe with enough panache to show off, but so easy it gives Tollhouse cut-and-bakes some competition. "They're really, really good and they're simple. They're not crazy. There's nothing polarizing about them," Roman says about their virality.
The truth is that the cookies were not a happy accident. Roman has been a professional cook for 13 years now, and the thought and attention she puts into her work is substantial. "I want to help people feel empowered in the kitchen," she explains. "It brings me a lot of joy."
As a former Senior Food Editor at Bon Appétit (turned contributor) and new columnist for the New York Times, Roman is a force in the food world. She came out with her first cookbook, Dining In, last fall, and her second one is well under way. Somewhere between working on all of her various side projects and checking Instagram messages, she manages to make dinner for herself and her friends — usually unplanned, and sometimes involving popcorn and nutritional yeast.
I got to visit Roman in her new Brooklyn apartment, where we talked meal planning (or her lack thereof), the pantry ingredients she always has on hand for easy dinners, and the things she makes consistently for dinner (you guys, her steak salad recipe is so damn good).
A Week of Dinners from Alison Roman
Instead of laying out her meals by day, Roman has provided more of a template to the kind of dinners she enjoys. The one exception to that is the steak salad, which you can find in her cookbook (and now on Kitchn, too).
Cold Noodle Salads
I use the crunchy chili oil from my book and whisk it with tahini or peanut butter and lemon or lime juice, and then pour it over noodles with a ton of vegetables like cucumber, scallion, watercress, and celery. So, so good.
I am a big fan of steak salads, and this one, to be honest, is mostly steak with a little bit of salad. It's got steak (I like hangar, but any affordable cut like top sirloin or a thick flank would work), a garlicky salsa verde number that I use as the dressing, raw red onion, and tons of Parmesan cheese. It's perfect for a hot-weather-but-I-still-need-something-
Get the recipe: Hanger Steak with Dandelion, Arugula, and Grana Padano
I'm in the middle of cooking and recipe testing for my second book, so honestly by dinnertime I am so full that all I want is a bowl of popcorn with nutritional yeast, chili flakes, and lots of salt.
Shrimp or Clams Over Toast
I like to get seafood from the Union Square farmers market if I'm cooking just for myself. It can be really expensive, but it's kind of nice to just grab, like, four really nice prawns or a bag of little clams — whatever they have that's seasonal. I either sauté the seafood with garlic and sun-gold tomatoes and pour over toast or toss some pasta in there. It's seafood as self-care.
Vegetables with Seasoned Labneh and Lots of Crackers
I truly love the whole "snacks for dinner" thing, which includes vegetables (raw or leftover roasted), something fatty and creamy like labneh or sour cream seasoned with garlic and lemon, hunks of cheese like Parmesan, flatbreads or crackers, olives, pickles or kimchi, whatever. It's like a curated fridge clean-out situation.
Dinner Questions (and Beyond!) with Alison Roman
Do you meal plan for the week?
Never. Especially right now because I'm working on the second book. I'm recipe testing every day. So I guess I am meal planning in that I'm making a list of the things that I plan to cook for the week, but they're not necessarily things that I'm eating.
What kind of dinner recipes do you typically gravitate towards?
It depends on the kind of day that I'm having. If I've spent all day cooking and eating, then I'm going to have popcorn for dinner or a glass of wine and a salad —and by salad I just mean a bunch of greens from the farmers market.
The weather also dictates what I'm going to eat. When it's warm out, I'm not going to make a braise or a stew. Sometimes when it's cold out, I really want macaroni and cheese or chicken pot pie. I think everyone feels that way.
Since you don't meal plan, do you shop every day?
I shop almost every day, which is annoying. I use things like Fresh Direct for a lot of pantry items, but for things like meat and fish and produce, I like to pick it myself.
What are the pantry ingredients you always have on hand for dinner?
I always have canned tomatoes. I always have chickpeas and I always have vinegars. My spices are pretty well-stocked, but the only ones I consistently reach for are fennel seed, cumin, and ground turmeric.
Any new kitchen tools you're excited about?
I just bought my first nonstick skillet ever — an All-Clad. I bought it with the specific intention of making crispy rice. And maybe omelets. Omelets are just better in a nonstick. Just use a nonstick. Don't be a hero.
Favorite grocery store?
You're known for your cookie recipe, but what's your favorite cookie recipe?
Well, you might notice that there's only one cookie recipe in my book — it's because I don't really like cookies that much. But if I had to choose, I think one of the best recipes out there is the Korova sable recipe from Dorie Greenspan. I made them at my first restaurant job when I was 19. It's just classic. It's almost like an Oreo, but crunchier because it's thicker.
What inspires you in food right now?
I think that people starting to acknowledge that there's a lack of diversity of voices is really great. I think everybody's trying at least a little bit to be more inclusive of people of color and different genders and sexualities and backgrounds and ethnicities and socioeconomic class, and that's so important because for so long it was basically dominated by rich white men.
Any people in particular you think are doing a good job at this?
I think Julia Turshen's doing a great job at that. I think that the people at Eater do a good job. I think that Amanda Kludt is amazing. She's hyper-aware of the problems and she does a really smart job of addressing the issues. She also has a great newsletter.
What's next for you?
I'm working on my second cookbook, which is focused on having people over. There'll be a big snack chapter, lots of vegetables, sides and salads, small- and large-format meats, and obviously a dessert chapter.
That's taking up most of my time right now, in addition to the new New York Times column and a column I'm launching for the Bon Appétit Basically vertical later this year. I am trying to just focus on those big-ticket items, in addition to a few long-term projects for which I have just planted the seeds for. Stay tuned!
Interview edited for clarity.