If you love a soft pretzel with its crusty exterior and chewy center but aren’t in the mood for a full-on, made-from-scratch version, here’s an easy option using fresh pizza dough from your favorite pizzeria. A few twists before a baking soda bath and then a stint in the oven until golden brown, these are great with a dollop of mustard or served with a favorite dip. Most recipes call for pretzel salt, but you can also opt for a good finishing salt such as Maldon or Sitka flake salt; for a twist, consider an everything bagel seasoning mix. Note: For a sweet version, omit salt, bake as directed and brush baked pretzels with melted butter and dip in vanilla sugar (scrape inside of a vanilla bean into granulated sugar), or a mix of ground cinnamon and sugar.
For the cauliflower dip, caramelized kimchi, a vinegar-based “wing” sauce such as Frank’s or Texas Pete and just enough cream cheese to add some body make for a perfect make-ahead vegetable dip that’s both satisfying and flavor-packed. For a heartier version, stir in some cooked pulled chicken or broccoli or mushrooms. Serve with soft pretzels, celery and carrots. Leftovers are excellent with scrambled eggs in soft corn tortillas for breakfast tacos. — Kim Sunée
Quick and easy soft pretzels
Makes 4 to 6 pretzels (double recipe, as needed)
Vegetable oil, for brushing baking sheet
1/2 cup baking soda
1 pound refrigerated pizza dough (from favorite pizzeria or store-bought)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Flake salt, such as Maldon or Sitka flake salt, or everything bagel seasoning
• Remove pizza dough from fridge. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush or spray a baking sheet with oil. Combine 8 cups water with baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt in a large pot set over medium-high heat; bring to a boil.
• Cut pizza dough into 4 or 6 equal-sized pieces, depending on how thick you prefer your pretzel. Roll each into a 20-to-24-inch long rope with an even diameter. Working with one rope at a time, form into a U shape, then cross/twist the ends, twice, to make a double twist, and bring ends toward you; use water to help press pieces together down to center of U and into a pretzel shape.
• Working in batches, use a slotted spoon or spider to lower each pretzel into boiling water. Cook, flipping once, until dough is slightly puffed, about 40 seconds per side. Remove pretzels with a slotted spoon and let excess water drain before transferring to prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pretzels. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle flake salt over. Bake until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes.
Kimchi cauliflower ‘hot wing’ dip
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 small heads cauliflower (about 2 1/2 pounds, cored and cut into very small florets)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup kimchi
1/2 cup hot sauce, such as Frank’s or Texas Pete (if not using kimchi, use up to 3/4 cup hot sauce)
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles or 1 jalapeño, finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
1 to 2 ounces crumbled blue cheese (optional)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
For serving: celery sticks, red bell pepper slices, soft pretzels, tortilla chips
• Heat oven to 375 degrees. Trim cauliflower and cut into very small florets (or blitz them in a food processor until coarsely crumbled). Toss with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
• Heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet (or regular skillet if using another dish for baking the dip after) over high heat. Add cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally, one minute. Add 1/2 cup water, cover and steam/cook over high heat 7 to 9 minutes, adding a bit more water as needed. Uncover skillet and add butter; reduce heat to medium-high. Drain kimchi and reserve any excess liquid. Chop kimchi and add to skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until kimchi begins to caramelize and cauliflower is fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Once cauliflower is fork tender, stir in hot sauce and any liquid drained from the kimchi, and green chiles, and simmer until sauce has reduced, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in cream cheese and sour cream. Taste and add more pepper or hot sauce as needed. Sprinkle with cheddar and blue cheese, if using, and bake until bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.