I’m not a religious person except when it comes to the healing power of chicken soup. At the first sniffle of a new cold, I’m usually plopping a raw chicken into a pot with root vegetables and parsley and dill; or, more recently, doctoring homemade chicken broth with ginger, soy sauce, and chile paste. Last Thursday, though, I felt a cold coming on and instead of turning to the feathered gods wearing yarmulkes in a jacuzzi, I turned to a new god, one whose soup mastery revealed itself on Craig’s birthday with celery root and pears. That god is Alfred Portale and I’m now an official acolyte, studying his under-appreciated cookbook, Simple Pleasures, the way Madonna studies Kabbalah. It’s powerful stuff.
We all mistakes in the kitchen, even those of us who’ve been cooking ten years or longer. My mistakes are all documented here on the blog: The Pound Cake That Threw Up. The Fried Chicken That Wasn’t Crispy. The Blueberry Disaster.
In all of these cases, the food was salvageable. The pound cake went back into the oven, the chicken was edible if not exactly crunchy, and the blueberry innards tasted OK over ice cream. But last week I made a dinner so repulsive, so awful, it could only go one place: the garbage disposal. Here’s what happened.
Confession: if I lead a post with an image that isn’t the finished dish, that’s because the finished dish isn’t very pretty. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t very good. In this case, the dish comes from a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time, a book that my publisher published around the same time my book came out: Burma by Naomi Duguid. As much as I felt like I went on an adventure with my book, this book is The Amazing Race to my Double Dare. What’s so remarkable about Duguid’s work here is how immersive it is: the book isn’t just a cluster of recipes, it’s a beautifully assembled collection of stories, pictures and anecdotes about life in Burma.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, a musical can be built around the poetry of Ezra Pound.
Wait, that was a ridiculous line from last week’s Smash (as recapped, hilariously, by Rachel Shukert here). What I meant to say was: I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, it’s worth knowing how to make a curry. I’ve done it with chickpeas, I’ve done it with cauliflower, and today I’ll show you how to do it with a sweet potato.
Healthy dinners don’t fare very well if you refer to them as healthy dinners. You might know in your head that it’s a healthy dinner, but if you call it that, forget about it, everyone at the table’s going to groan.
So do what I do: package a healthy dinner inside a package everyone already knows. For example, make a vegetable curry. When you hear the word “curry” you think “oooh flavor, spice, heat, Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, toucha-toucha-toucha-touch me.” The best part is: once you have the basic technique down, you can apply it to a wide variety of vegetables. Let me show you what I mean.
The other day I was in Atwater Village driving past a large Indian grocery store called India Sweets and Spices. I decided to do a very sensible thing: I parked my car and went inside. In the front, there’s an actual restaurant where you get food from a counter and the food looked pretty good. Then, behind all that, is a large supermarket-sized store with aisles and aisles of food from India. In my mind, I was seeking out something very specific, something that I first encountered in Elberton, Georgia when I cooked with my friend Shirin’s Pakistani family; it’s also something I re-encountered in Georgia, a few years later, when I cooked with Cardamom Hill’s Asha Gomez for my cookbook. I’m talking about curry leaves.
Go ahead and imagine the most flavorful bite of food you can. What makes it so flavorful? Is it the amount of salt? The amount of heat? The amount of fat? The amount of acidity?
All of these factors come into play in this recipe for lamb curry from April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig. It’s undoubtedly the best curry I’ve ever had in my life; but it may also be the single most flavorful bite of food I can remember eating in a long, long time.
[Hey, this is Adam The Amateur Gourmet. I’m on vacation in Barcelona, Spain and while I’m gone I’ve asked some awesome people to fill in for me. Today’s post is from one of my favorite people in the world, my friend Patty Jang. I just love Patty–she’s an incredibly talented playwright (see her website), but also just a great human being. And this post will have you whimpering in pain for poor, dear Patty. Oh Patty, poor Patty, take it away!]
Don’t these peppers look so innocent? Dare I say, mild? Dried, empty husks, a pale imitation of their past glory? Let not their frail and papery appearance fool you as they fooled me, dear readers, for these chilies resulted in the most insanely painful cooking experience of my life.