There are nights when I absolutely turn up in the kitchen. I’ll make multiple vegetable dishes at once, meticulously plate everything like my imaginary chef job is on the line, and stink-eye my boyfriend until he tells me how lucky he is to have found such a domestic goddess. And then there are the other nights when we eat “kid dinners,” such as vegan chicken nuggets and store-bought fries thrown in the air fryer and served with a glob of ketchup.
When I landed on the recipe for Salt and Pepper Tater Tots in Hetty Lui McKinnon’s new cookbook, Tenderheart, I knew I had discovered the best of both worlds: The dish is quick to make and a little fancy. I am a loyal McKinnon stan girl because her recipes almost always always fall in the center of this Venn diagram. From wilty, stir-fried lettuce to sticky gochujang brussels sprouts, her latest cookbook is no different—packed with genius ideas that coax maximum flavor out of minimal ingredients.
But those tater tots? Crisped in the oven, stir-fried with aromatics, and coated in a spiced seasoning. I was instantly sold. A quick pan-fry with Thai chile and scallions had kissed the potatoes with sweet-spicy oil. And the seasoning—starring bitey white pepper and ground ginger, earthy Chinese five spice, and a one-two-punch from salt and sugar—clung to the greasy tots, like cinnamon on a still-hot churro.
How to make Salt and Pepper Tater Tots:
Roast a bag (about 32-oz.) of tater tots in a 425°F oven or air fryer until they’re crisp all over.
Heat a wok or a large skillet over medium-high heat and add a splash of neutral oil. Stir-fry 1 diced Thai red chile (or Serrano pepper) and a few finely chopped scallions until they’re sizzled and fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Add the tots to the pan and toss for a couple of minutes until they’re coated in the aromatic oil.
Combine 2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. each sugar and white pepper, ½ tsp. Chinese five-spice powder, and ¼ tsp. ground ginger. Sprinkle over the tots and toss to coat. Scatter with extra chopped scallions and/or cilantro.
Once you’ve got the gist of it, swap tater tots for roasted potatoes or frozen French fries. Do future you a solid and double the salt and pepper mix. Store it in an airtight container in the pantry and reach for it whenever you need to season tofu, roasted vegetables, or fluffy scrambled eggs.
Adapted from Tenderheart: A Cookbook About Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds © 2022 by Hetty Lui McKinnon. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.