My cooking life has been a weird one. Most people start out making things like burgers and mac and cheese; me, I started with braises and roasts and only now (almost ten years later) have I started getting comfortable making the stuff that most people make at the beginning of their cooking careers. Burgers are a good example. I had only cooked burgers once before in my life and it was in the oven. Never had I shaped a patty, plopped it on to a grill or into a cast iron skillet and lifted it on to a bun. And, true to form, even last week, when I finally did this thing that most cooks–most American cooks–do all the time, I didn’t just make normal burgers. I made lamb burgers and I served them with Greek salad.
Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem is so popular Julia Moskin of The New York Times did an article about “Jerusalem fever.” Do I have Jerusalem fever? Well, I’ve been cooking from it gradually, making that fattoush a few months ago, and that beet dip I posted about yesterday. The beet dip was for this week’s Clean Plate Club and the entree, also from Jerusalem, is the one you see above: eggplant stuffed with lamb and pine nuts.
What happens when a famous French chef offers up a recipe for chili? Here’s what happens: the birthday girl that you make it for (in this case, Diana) writes you an e-mail the next day that says, “Best chili I’ve ever had, hands down.”
Notice I’m not the one saying that. It’s not because I don’t agree, it’s that I’ve already done a post called The Best Chili of Your Life. That chili came from Michael Symon, a man who was born to make chili. This recipe comes from Daniel Boulud, a man who was born to serve foie gras-stuffed truffles at his Michelin-starred restaurant Daniel. Symon’s chili is all explosive flavor; Boulud’s chili has deep, layered flavor, flavor that doesn’t hit you over the head but sort of blooms in your mouth.
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.
To understand my Mexican food expertise, consider this: when I was younger, I took several cruises with my family that brought us to Mexico. Cozumel, mostly. Upon arriving in Mexico, my family would immediately trek to the center of town where my mom would shop for jewelry and my brother, dad and I would stand around impatiently. Then it was time for lunch and, without fail, we’d almost always go to the same authentic Mexican restaurant, The Hard Rock Cafe. I even had the Hard Rock Cozumel t-shirt to prove our devotion. Which is why, when it comes to Mexican food, I’m as gringo as they come.
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.
Have you ever made a roux? Like: really made a roux?
I’ve made a roux in quotes–a “roux”–whenever I’ve taken a roasted chicken out of its cast iron skillet, added some flour to the pan, cooked it for a minute or two and finished it up with a big glass of white wine. That makes for a thick, chickeny, winey sauce that’s very tasty. But after visiting New Orleans last year, and purchasing Donald Link’s indispensible cookbook “Real Cajun,” I’d been meaning to make a real Cajun roux. The kind that you have to develop for a while at the stove, the kind that you have to watch carefully, the kind that goes from a toast stage to a cardboard stage based on the smells its giving off. Which is why, last week, I made Donald Link’s Smothered Pork Roast Over Rice, a recipe he learned from his grandmother, and one that involves the creation of a peanut butter-colored roux.
At that same Jewish dinner where I made the chopped liver, I decided to try my hand at stuffed cabbage. Over Thanksgiving, my brother’s wife’s sister’s boyfriend’s grandmother (did you follow all that?), a Holocaust survivor named Anka, told me her recipe for stuffed cabbage. “The secret,” she let me know, “is raisins in the tomato sauce.” After that, stuffed cabbage was on my mind and when I started planning this dinner of Judaism I knew it would be my entree.