High on Home Cooking: Celebrate 4/20 With the High Times Cannabis Cookbook

Photo by Sara Remington, courtesy Chronicle Books
Ganja spanakopita from the Cannabis Cookbook.

Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York's best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we'll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.

The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook
By Elise McDonough and the editors of High Times Magazine, 160 pages, Chronicle Books, $18.95

In a week punctuated by Passover Seders, Easter brunches, and all the feasty, family-fraught gluttony spring can muster, we're here to make sure you don't forget that Sunday brings another venerable celebration: 4/20. In honor of this hazy holiday, we're de-shelving a 2012 book of reefer recipes that will both get you blitzed and taste good.

In typical High Times fashion, the book is a culinary journey and a trip through the annals of American counter-cultural history, with tales and recipes from folks who pushed marijuana culture and cooking forward in our great nation.

So you'll find Brownie Mary's pot brownie recipe, Willie Nelson's Texas chili, and Eddie Huang's Cheeto fried chicken, along with instructions for making THC-infused butter, oil, and other cooking fats, other recipes both sweet and savory, broken up by course, all laced with stories to distract your stoner mind from actually cooking.

We chat with McDonough on cannabinoid chemistry, working with the flavor of grass, and how to eat responsibly.

What must people understand to make great, get-you-high food with weed?
The most important thing to understand is that the cannabis plant, as it just grows from the ground, is not psychoactive at all. So in order for it to become psychoactive, it must be heated or dried; that's why when you harvest the bud, you hang it up to dry, and a chemical reaction occurs, converting the THC-A, into the THC that gets you high.

So what I tell people about eating cannabis, but it also really applies to cooking, is that you have to go low and slow. So when you're cooking, you heat it on very low heat, and you heat it for a long time, usually at least an hour to make sure you have everything activated. And then when you're eating it, you want to start with a very low dose and go slowly by waiting several hours before eating any more. That will prevent you from eating too much, which can be a very unpleasant experience.

And in terms of flavor, and incorporating the pot taste into dishes?
Cannabis has a very grassy taste because of the chlorophyll that's in the plant. So if you have the means, hash is a very luxurious ingredient that imparts a really nice flavor. I love the flavor of hash, it works so well in many different recipes. If you don't have access to hash, and you're using ground cannabis shake, or trimmed weed you can kind of mask the grassy flavor by combining it with peanut butter or chocolate, and that's why you see so many chocolate edibles, because those flavors work so well together. On the savory side, I think cannabis tastes really good in a pesto or salad dressing or something that has a lot of other herbaceous flavors.

What seasonal ingredients do you love using in your early-spring cooking?
We did the 420 farmer's market risotto, which is a really nice spring recipe that would be appropriately timed for this part of the year. Another thing I like to do is, when we do get the plants in the ground, and they start growing, by about mid-June, you start to get those nice fresh leaves, and I like to juice with those leaves. It's not psychoactive, but you can put it in with your vegetable juices and it's really, really good for you. It has a lot of medicinal benefits without the psychoactivity. It's great in so many different forms.

What is one of the oldest recipes in the book and where did it come from?
It's not a recipe in the book, but I just wrote an article online about mahjoun, and this was a very traditional food eaten in the Middle East and throughout the Mediterranean, and a lot of people who were traveling the hippie trail back in the 1960s and 1970s got to try it and brought it back to America.

So it's basically like an energy ball, which is something people make now that's similar. So it's like this ball that's formed out of pulverized fruit and chopped nuts and all sorts of dried spices and cannabis butter. It's really delicious; I had a version that this lady is recreating and selling in the Bay Area, and she got the recipe from her brother who traveled extensively in Morocco in the 1960s and 1970s. That was something that was covered in High Times, actually the first food article about eating pot ever published in High Times, and that was in 1978 I think, it was this article called "Eat it," and it was about this sailor who traveled all around and got to try some mahjoun when he was in the Mediterranean, and he said it was so good, he had such a psychedelic experience, he missed his boat back.

That sounds a lot like the heady ganja gooballs you see the ladies selling at festivals.
Yeah! It's sort of a prototypical ganja gooball. Then, in the 1950s, you had Alice B. Toklas, and the phrase "Alice B. Toklas brownies" was kind of the way that pot food was reintroduced into popular culture. Alice B. Toklas was Gertrude Stein's lover, and she published a cookbook, and she had a recipe for -- they called it a brownie, but it was really something more like a mahjoun. So that kind of evolved into the gooball, and then today you see all these energy balls around, too.

What's your favorite/best savory recipe?
I really like pesto. I think that's just a great way to use cannabis, and it tastes great, and it's just one of my favorite things, and it keeps well in the fridge, and you can just kind of add it to things, and it makes a great condiment. That's actually a great way to use cannabis; you can just kind of put a dollop of it here and there. I also like salad dressings, and different hummuses, and dips and salsas. You mix a bit of hash into the salsa, and it's just really, really nice.

That does sound nice; add a little extra something special to the dish, but it's not like you eat it and within an hour you're dead on the floor.
Yeah, that's what you want to avoid, and that's a great thing that's happening now in the world of edibles is that lab testing has really revolutionized everything. Now you can really have a predictable experience; I know so many people who are hardcore smokers who had that one brownie that one time, and it was just way too strong, and after that they swore off edibles. But now, it's like you know what you're going to get, in most cases, and that's allowed a lot more people to be able to try it.

Any forecasts for where edibles are headed, now that they're legal in some places?
I honestly think that in the next 10 years, once the laws change, and if we can continue to get it legalized in as many states as we can, you're going to see more people embrace the food angle of it, especially people who would never want to smoke anything. When you can take a chocolate that eases your PMS, it's going to become incredibly popular everywhere. So I would just encourage people to try it, and make sure to start with a low dose if you've never done it before; start with 10 milligrams, and make sure you eat it on a full stomach, and wait at least two hours to feel the effects. And if you do eat too much, just know that you're going to be fine. You're probably going to sleep for a long time, and just relax and take deep breaths, and don't panic.

For more from Elise McDonough, find her on Instagram: @EliseMcD420

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