There is a significant difference between what you want to eat when you’re high and what you want to eat in order to get high. This is the conflict of the weed cookbook, a genre that aims to hook both stoners and home cooks alike by treating the friendly herb as more than just a psychoactive drug. And while the vape contingent might argue that theirs is a more efficient way to ingest weed without the health risks of smoking, the marriage of the home cooking movement and weed culture is inevitable, and full of possibility.
Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Cannabis is an ambitious attempt to bring together the weed brownie set and the dinner party set, medical mary jane proponents and recreational smokers, the anxious and the epicurious—all through the magic of cannabis-infused oils and butters. The book was successfully crowdfunded last year and published this fall by the people at The Stoner’s Cookbook, a recipe hub for the cannabis inclined. This is the team’s second cookbook (the first was an e-book filled with more basic recipes) and with it, they hope to educate readers on this “beneficial herb with pleasant effects,” and to inspire them to bring it joyfully into their home kitchens.
I’ve eaten edibles before—there was a shortsighted and traumatic brownie-meets-Megabus experience in 2012, and a handful of cheerier times since then—but I never made them at home, because I heard that making cannabis-infused oil stinks up your whole house and because I’m lazy. I’ve certainly never gone the savory route. This is perhaps a common experience: Edibles sound like a good idea, until you factor in logistics (and legality). But Matt Gray, CEO of The Stoner’s Cookbook, has high aspirations for the practice. As he told me over the phone, the authors wanted the book to be classy, to “elevate” cannabis’s culinary reputation. Gray wants it to be accessible enough to grace the front table at your local Barnes & Noble. As we signed off, he mentioned something about “how this book can help millions of people around the world.” Gray’s comment may sound like the sort of stoned idealism that precedes a greying deadhead’s muttering “peace and love, man,” but also: Who’s to say he’s wrong? Who’s to say that edibles won’t eliminate pain and lead to peace? Who’s to say that a brownie can’t solve our problems, or at least a small slice of them?
certainly imagine it on display at an independent Colorado bookstore, if not Barnes & Noble. Its cover checks off all the boxes of an on-trend, coffee table-ready cookbook: The letters are large, dramatic, and few; the lighting is also dramatic, highlighting a seemingly hand-hewn chef’s knife and a scarily large nug of “cannabis” (the authors’ preferred term for what the rest of us know simply as “weed”). The subtitle—“Mastering the art of cooking with cannabis,” hovering in grey just above the knife—references Julia Child’s seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the American ur-text of French cuisine. Child was our first home cooking celebrity, and her recipes and instruction in French Cooking have become general household knowledge; she changed the way our country cooks. For their own attempt at timelessness, The Stoner’s Cookbook team enlisted two experienced and 420-friendly chefs—Portland’s Laurie Wolf, who owns the artisan medical edibles company Laurie & MaryJane, and Colorado’s Melissa Parks, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis and former head chef at edibles company Bakked—to develop recipes, and brought on seasoned cookbook writer Michael Ruhlman to fine-tune the cannabis extraction instructions and act as a consultant. Herb aims to be the French Cooking of weed, the beginning of a new moment in American food culture. After my first flip-through I was underwhelmed but still excited, ready to eat some drugs.
I resolved to make two recipes: one savory, one sweet. I began with a baked (get it?) pasta with artichoke pesto, which sounded comforting and exciting and like something I’d want to eat if I were high. The pesto itself felt new: Herb’s recipe has you blitz canned artichokes with parsley, garlic, lemon, and nuts, then add in a long pour of olive oil and a few teaspoons of cannabis-infused olive oil—“canna-olive oil.” It’s a nice way to make canned artichokes taste fresh and bright, and it’s also a handy alternative to traditional pesto; I’ll use it again (sans weed). You toss it with cooked pasta, top the result with a breadcrumb-herb mixture and wait for it to bake.
Even so, until I pulled the pasta out of the oven, I was a little annoyed by the idea of weed cookery. To make canna-olive oil, you must first “decarboxylate” your cannabis by breaking it into bits and toasting it in a low oven for 40 minutes; this converts THCA into THC, the thing that gets you high, and develops its flavor, just as toasting spices does. Then you grind it and cook it with olive oil on the lowest heat you can find for three hours. Cannabutter takes five hours of low cooking, then an overnight rest. Not to mention that each oil recipe calls for an ounce of weed, which might run you $300, making the ingredient more expensive than caviar. This is too much for me. I am not that dedicated to edibles; I enjoy smoking, and it only takes me a few seconds to do. After I held my pan of fully-baked pasta, though, my first reaction was a squeal, and then a shriek: “I CAN’T BELIEVE THERE’S WEED IN THIS!”
The pasta came out bright and lemony, with a crunch that crumbled and plenty of green. I wished there had been more oil in the pesto, and that there had been oil in the crumb topping, and that the recipe had told me to cook the pasta to al dente, or just-underdone, which you usually want to do in baked pasta recipes since the noodles continue to cook in the oven. (These are the sorts of small omissions that make Herb annoying to a persnickety cookbook reader like myself, and unhelpful to a novice cook who risks ending up with mushy pasta.)
After an hour or so I felt that fuzzy balloon-like feeling in my arms and then in my chest, the high moving towards my head rather than ringing from it as it does when I light up the ol’ pipe. Everything was funny, sure, but my emotions were also deeper and sharper: delight more piercing, sadness more swift. Later on in my recipe testing I would cry with more urgency than I had in weeks, but it passed painlessly, like a sun shower.