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.
It’s inauguration day and also Martin Luther King Day and here I am sharing a French recipe. Before you label me a communist, I hope you know this is entirely coincidental. On Friday, I made dinner for a few friends and while thumbing through my cookbooks searching for an entree, the dish that really caught my eye was a recipe for Daube de Boeuf from Saveur Cooks Authentic French. Unlike Boeuf Bourguignon, Daube de Boeuf doesn’t ask you to render bacon or to cook pearl onions and mushrooms separately; here, you just brown beef in butter and olive oil, add your mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery), garlic, and a good, bold red wine. Two hours later you add dried porcinis and their soaking liquid and the rest takes care of itself.
Cooking out of season is a little more acceptable on the west coast, where seasons are peripheral. Yes, it got a little chilly out here in L.A. in January and February; I was wearing long sleeves in March, but life didn’t change the way life changes so dramatically when it gets cold back east.
So why not make beef stew in June? That was my philosophy when I unpacked Amanda Hesser’s mammoth New York Times Cookbook and discovered a recipe by that most fabulously ferocious food writer, Regina Schrambling, for Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew.
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.
I’ve known many people who want to be famous, but very few think about the kind of fame they want. For those of you who secretly crave fame, however big or small, may I suggest that you strive for food blogger fame? It’s a really good kind of fame. 99 out of 100 people have no idea who you are, and those that do know who you are like you for reasons that are based entirely on your work. The best part, though, is that people will want to cook for you. Isn’t that the best? I mean if you’re a famous novelist, what do you get? A free subscription to The New York Review of Books? Who wants that when you can have Kim Spurlock cook you dinner?