New cookbook on cannabis cuisine spices up kitchen

By Peter Szymczak

The legalization of recreational marijuana in Oregon means cooks have a potent new herb to add to their spice cupboard. 

One whiff of a properly dried and cured marijuana bud is all it requires to know this herb can contribute powerful aromatic and flavor elements to food — but that’s not all. Its ancillary function is to heighten the eater’s mental state, elevating the overall gastronomic experience in much the same way wine affects the spirit.

“Just like producing exceptional grapes for wine or hops for beer, getting a flavorful, consumable crop out of your [marijuana] plants takes ample amounts of time, patience, and craft,” Laurie Wolf writes in the introduction to her new cookbook, “Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Cannabis.”

Similar in name and purpose to the seminal “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, this new cookbook is a primer on the mother recipes and techniques for foods featuring marijuana as the magical ingredient.

“I definitely see the audience changing now,” Wolf said. “My hope is that this cookbook will allow those who have somewhat sophisticated palates to incorporate cannabis into their entertaining.”

A native New Yorker who moved to Oregon in the early 2000s, Wolf writes regularly about cannabis culture for the Denver Post, High Times, Oregon Leaf and Cannabis Now. Her previous culinary works include “Food Lovers’ Guide to Portland, Oregon” and “The Portland, Oregon Chef’s Table.”

Wolf co-authored this book with fellow chef Melissa Parks. Their recipes include stoner standards like macaroni and cheese, brownies and nachos, but taken as a collection, their book brings marijuana into the mainstream by offering an all-American selection of homestyle, melting pot classics — from hummus to bruschetta, butternut squash soup to a medley of entrées and desserts.

As a cooking ingredient, marijuana can add an overpowering flavor and effect, so the two main challenges for Wolf and Parks were 1) spicing, creating dishes without an unpleasant cannabis taste, and 2) dosing, establishing a serving size “enough for occasional cannabis users to feel significant psychoactivity.”

Novices to cooking with cannabis should read and fully absorb the introductory section. It details the time-consuming task of making cannabis-infused oils (three-plus hours of cooking time) and cannabutter (more than five hours). It’s a laborious process, but crucial to the success of all recipes that follow.

Before you can make the cannabis-infused oil or butter, however, you have to go shopping at your local marijuana dispensary. Wolf and Parks’ recipes call for an ounce of herb (approximately 28 grams), but since a recreational buyer can legally purchase only 7 grams per day, you’ll need to make four daily trips to the herbarium — and the herb available today may not be in stock tomorrow due to supply issues.

Further complicating the process, marijuana encompasses a wide variety of “strains” that vary greatly in aroma and psychoactive effect. It’s like having to choose from 20 different types of parsley. Experimentation and sampling are really the only methods for finding the herb strain with properties you find appealing.

After you procure the herb and are ready to start cooking, the first step is toasting the marijuana buds in an oven. This process, called “decarboxylation,” activates the herb’s psychoactive chemicals and tempers the pungent terpenes, or oils — similar to what aeration does for harsh tannins in wine, or the way toasting spices in Indian cuisine creates a richer, sweeter level of aromas and flavors.

Whether making cannaoil or cannabutter, it’s important to keep in mind that fat equals flavor, and fat is also what binds the psychoactive and flavor properties of the herb. So, if there was ever a time to splurge on premium butter or olive oil, this is it. What’s a few dollars more when you’ve already spent a few hundred dollars on the marijuana itself? (Depending on the dispensary, an ounce of herb costs in the neighborhood of $300.) As far as ingredients go, marijuana is not as expensive as saffron, truffles or caviar, but it’s costly.

After testing several recipes in the cookbook, I gained a newfound appreciation for marijuana as an herb. Each strain has its own aroma and taste, which plays a part in creating the flavor of the dish, just like sage or tarragon.

The gourmet possibilities of cannabis are sky high.

Moderation when mixing wine and weed

“I have a strong opinion about not mixing wine or any alcohol with marijuana,” said Wolf. In her experience, the inebriating effect of alcohol doesn’t jibe well with the psychoactive properties of marijuana, and can result in a “bad stomach and weird highs.”

Wolf admits, however, that she is not a regular consumer of alcohol. “If somebody hands me a glass of whatever, I’ll try it, but usually my response is ‘Yuck!’ ”

New cannabis consumers should begin with small doses until they find their optimal tolerance level, the same as when drinking wine or other alcoholic beverages.

A few more important words of caution from the authors:

“Given the delayed nature of the high with most edibles, one could unknowingly ingest cannabis only to have the effects hit them at a later time (for instance, while driving a car). It should also go without saying that you should never feed cannabis-infused products to guests without their consent or knowledge. Don’t offer cannabis cuisine to someone who is pregnant or ingest it if you are pregnant yourself. Under no circumstances should one provide medicated foods to a child unless by order of a physician. Nobody under the age of 18 should undertake the recipes in this book or ingest the edibles surveyed in this book. Even just enjoying cannabis yourself, as an adult, don’t do strange activities or things you have not done before.”

Holiday Cookbook Social

The Portland Culinary Alliance and Imperial Restaurant will host the third-annual Holiday Cookbook Social from 1–3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 6, in the Hotel Lucia’s Pettygrove Room in downtown Portland (410 S.W. Broadway). 

Laurie Wolf and 20 other acclaimed chefs and authors from the Northwest will gather to sign and discuss their books in time for the holiday gift-giving season. This free event will feature complimentary bites from most authors, and wine will be available for purchase.


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