Every relationship has rules. For example, in some relationships the person who makes dinner doesn’t have to do the dishes. In others, the person who cleans the bathroom doesn’t have to take out the garbage. In my relationship with Craig, there’s one overriding rule that must be obeyed or everything will crumble to pieces. That rule is: “Adam, don’t buy any more cookbooks.”
My cookbook shelf is positively bursting with cookbooks. 60% are cookbooks I purchased before meeting Craig, but the other 40% are books that are sent to me by eager publicists who, much like my publicist when my book came out, want maximum exposure for their books. I can’t say no: my policy is, I’ll accept the book (assuming it’s a book I think I’ll be interested in) and if I like it I’ll write about it. But the truth is, if it’s a text-based book there’s no way I’m reading it before the year 2020–I’m a slow reader and for me to spend time reading a book, I have to really, really, really want to read it. If it’s a cookbook, I’ll flip through it when it arrives and if I like something in it I’ll cook it and if it comes out well, I’ll blog about it. Obviously, that doesn’t happen too often because how many posts can you recall from recent memory that I cooked from a new cookbook? I can only recall one, and that wasn’t even a cookbook: it was a promotion for an upcoming cookbook.
All of that’s to say, I’m not allowed to buy cookbooks. “You don’t need any more cookbooks,” Craig will say when I’m tempted. “Where will you put it anyway? There’s no room.”
He makes very good points. And I’ve been good, I’ve followed the rule pretty dutifully for the past year. Only, over the past few months, I slowly fell for a book I flipped through again and again in the bookstore. Finally, after months of flipping, I decided to break the sacred rule. I bought it. I took it home. I hid it under the mattress. Craig didn’t know, he still doesn’t know. Thank God he doesn’t read my blog (well he does occasionally.) What book was it that made me break my pact? You must click to find out….(unless you’re reading this in some kind of reader, in which case the answer is right below this sentence….)
The book is “Roast Chicken and Other Stories” by Simon Hopkinson and according to the blurb on the cover, it is: “The most useful cookbook of all time.”
I’m not sure if I think that’s true. (I’m actually getting kind of sick of hyperbole in food media; I’m guilty of it too. “The best burger in the US!” “The Top 10 Restaurants Outside of New York!” “The Most Important Sandwich in the History of Mankind”–be wary of hyperbole, you food media readers!) But the book drew me in with its elegant design, its short, straight-forward chapters, its lovely illustrations and, most importantly, the crisply calming voice of its narrator, a voice which lulls you into a world you might not normally visit, a world of brains and kidneys and liver.
The book is divided by ingredients, alphabetically, and though I kept the book on my nightstand (outside of Craig’s purview) for a good while, I only flipped through it casually, never cooking from it; thinking of it more as a goodnight companion rather than an actual cookbook. That is until two days ago when I decided I wanted to finally cook from it. What summery dish could I make that’d be light and yet satisfying, easy but not too easy, and preferably vegetarian (having consumed too much meat at lunch)?
The answer: Spiced Eggplant Salad. The recipe comes from a food writing legend, and a friend of Hopkinson’s, Elizabeth David who, apparently, declared this eggplant salad to be one of her favorite dishes. I can see why: it’s made of cheap, readily available ingredients, and yet it has all the flair and sophistication of a more refined dish.
When I served it to Craig, he said: “This is delicious. Where did you get the recipe?”
“I made it up,” I told him. I figured a white lie is better than the truth, a truth that’d ruin us forever.
Spiced Eggplant Salad
[From "Roast Chicken and Other Stories"]
2 large eggplants
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
8 ripe tomatoes, skinned and coarsely chopped (I used canned and they worked fine!)
1 heaped tsp. ground cumin
1 heaped tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. cayenne
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbs. currants (I used dried, I think that’s what he means)
2 heaped Tbs. chopped fresh mint
2 heaped Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes; place in a colander and sprinkle with 2 tsp. salt. Mix together with your hands and leave to drain for 30 to 40 minutes.
2. Heat 1/4 cp of olive oil in a pan and fry the onions until golden. Add the tomatoes and spices. Stew for 5 to 10 minutes, then stir in the garlic and take off the heat. (Hopkinson says: “I often find that adding the garlic too early on in any cooking process causes its flavor to disappear completely.” I agree!)
3. Stir in the currants.
4. Blot the eggplant dry with paper towels and then fry in the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in your largest frying pan (get the oil hot first–smoking hot) and cook until it’s golden on all sides and cooked through. (I did this in two batches, so as not to crowd the pan.) Add the eggplant to the tomato mixture and add the fresh herbs. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
Hopkinson suggests, and I concur, serving this “salad” (which is more like a stew, methinks) with plain yogurt spruced up with chopped mint and a little Tabasco. Here’s the finished product:
It’s a superb summer dish and a perfect dish to eat alone, especially when your cookbook is discovered and you’re thrown out of the house. Here’s hoping Craig doesn’t read this post!
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- The Food Section