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Beyond the Bagel — Happy Toast

This simple breakfast recipe has a secret ingredient, which might just make the perfect summer pairing of tomatoes and basil even more delicious.

Nutritional yeast is, without question, the best thing to come out of the two years I spent as a vegan. Soy milk, not so much.

To the uninitiated, nutritional yeast admittedly sounds suspect. Yeast may be the building block of the majority of the foods we hold most dear (bread, cheese, wine etc.), but does it really sound like something we want to sprinkle on our food — especially with the word “nutritional” tacked on?

In fact, it is. The savory, slightly nutty deactivated yeast, which resembles muted gold flecks, comes packed with protein, amino acids and B vitamins (making it a vegan’s best friend). It is delicious sprinkled in soup or over salads, and as a topping for popcorn. It is also, as a friend taught me in college, the basis for happy toast — an open-face sandwich layered with butter (or Earth Balance for those abstaining from dairy), fresh basil and tomato and a hearty sprinkling of nutritional yeast.

Happy toast is a breakfast to savor at the height of summer when the basil is sultry and fragrant and tomatoes are at their drippiest. That combination alone is enough to make you happy, but the real secret is the nutritional yeast, which provides a savory, more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts richness to the dish. My husband, who cannot quite stomach eating something called nutritional yeast, renamed them “happy flakes.” And so happy toast was officially born.

A simple recipe, happy toast is no more challenging than the that are currently on offer for far too much money at fancy restaurants around the country. But directions for the construction of really good happy toast are quite precise.

Author Leah Koenig with her new cookbook. Image by Liza Schoenfein

The bread should be buttered seconds after it pops from the toaster, so the butter melts on contact. The nutritional yeast should then be dusted into the puddle of butter, making a savory — almost creamy — base. After that, the fresh basil is layered on so it stays in place, followed by a pile of glistening tomato slices. To finish, the tops of the tomatoes are hit with a little kosher salt (also known as a tomato’s best friend) and fresh pepper.

For the non-vegans among us, slapping a fried egg or two on top of the whole mess is heartily encouraged. But truly, it is not necessary. There is something about the clean elemental quality of as-is happy toast that heightens its appeal.

Admittedly, there is nothing much “Jewish” about happy toast — but I like to think that my two Jewish vegetarian heroes, Mollie Katzen (of Moosewood fame) and the late Fania Lewando (the Yiddish-speaking, 20th-century vegetarian restaurant proprietress and cookbook author) would approve.

Happy Toast

Serves 1

2 slices multigrain bread
2 teaspoons butter or Earth Balance spread
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
6 basil leaves
4 ripe tomato slices (or equivalent cherry tomato slices)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1) Toast the bread in a toaster until lightly browned. Immediately spread 1 teaspoon of butter on each slice of toast, then sprinkle half of the nutritional yeast on each piece.

2) Layer three basil leaves, then two slices of tomato, on each piece of toast. Sprinkle the tops of the tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Leah Koenig is a contributing editor at the Forward and author of “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” Chronicle Books (2015).

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