Colcannon at the Change of the Season · 4 September 2007
I’ve been mostly absent from the kitchen for several weeks due to the intense heat (and lack of air conditioning at home) but weather here is finally cooling down. Long after the sun had set and the warmth of the day seeped out of the walls of my house, I braved the kitchen to make Colcannon as a final look at Tipperary before moving on to the talk of the season, Carl’s R.I.P. challenge.
In the novel Tipperary, Charles wanders around Ireland and interacts with both the rich and the poor. He has quite a few gastronomic stories to share, but as always they’re couched in the terms of his constant exposition on love and Ireland.
He is considering the problem of land ownership, and trying to define the differences in the love for the land between the Anglo-Irish and the Irish when he recalls some funny stories about eating around the country.
The Anglo-Irish he claims, for all their wealth, set a very poor table, while the Irish may not have two coins to rub together, but always share the best they have and prepare their food with pride.
In selecting the second dish to prepare for this book, I chose something that would probably have been served to Charles at the table of one of the better off tenant farmers (the very poorest he describes as eating nothing but porridge and potatoes). The ingredients are simple and readily available.
I could imagine how this classic Irish recipe would be much more satisfying to Charles than the elaborate creations served to him by the great Anglo-Irish houses. It’s hearty and immensely satisfying. According to Irish Cultures and Customs, it’s also one of the traditional dishes served by the Irish on Halloween.
As Honeyed Words transitions into fall, and prepares to kick off participation in Carl’s R.I.P. Challenge which culminates on Halloween, I thought this festive recipe was doubly appropriate. I also thought it appropriate to the season that the head of kale reminded me of brains. The focus on the eerie and creepy is working its magic, and I'm starting to see the world with eyes expecting gothic symbols.
- 1 ¼ lbs kale or green cabbage (I used kale)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 ¼ pounds potatoes (I used red)
- 1 leek
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
Scrub and clean potatoes, being careful to remove all the eyes. Cut potatoes into 2 inch pieces.
Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt, cover pan, and bring the water to a boil.
When the potatoes are about half done, (about 15 minutes), strain off two thirds of the water. Replace lid and place on a gentle heat and allow potatoes to steam until they are cooked.
Place approximately ½ inch of salted water in a sautéing pan. Bring to a gentle boil.
Discard the dark outer leaves of the cabbage (if using cabbage). Cut the cabbage or kale into small pieces, across the grain of the head.
Place cabbage in the pan with the boiling water until soft. (I like my vegetables on the fresh side, and so I cooked these just barely to the point of softness in approximately 4 minutes. The longer you cook the cabbage or kale, the softer it will be).
Drain the cabbage or kale, then season with salt and pepper and a little of the butter.
Cut the white part of leek into small pieces. Take the pan used for the cabbage or kale and combine the leeks and the milk. Bring the mixture to a boil.
Pull the skins off the potatoes (I skipped this, I like potato skins), then beat the milk into the potatoes until they are fluffy.
Stir in the cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning.
Serve in a heated dish; make a well in the center and add the remaining butter.
Pesto Perfecto · 16 August 2007
For over a year, Jackson has been telling me about his pesto. It has achieved legendary status. Almost every time we eat at an Italian restaurant, he orders pesto, and invariably he weighs it against his enjoyment of the pesto that he makes. His family backs him up on claims of greatness. “Jackson,” they say “makes damn good pesto.” Despite these excellent credentials, I’d yet to experience the pesto for myself and couldn’t offer an opinion.
Then I decided that I was ready to reap the fruits of my gardening labor. I’d been reading The All-True Travels and Adventures of Liddie Newton, and the book’s description of the American Dream of getting a homestead and making a living from it. Liddie didn’t make it as a pioneer farmer, and I’m sure I wouldn’t either. But after reading Liddie’s story, I appreciated the dream of farming in a way that I hadn’t before despite my growing awareness about local sustainability.
Despite being a very minor plot point the one thing that really stuck with me from this book was the bleak picture of winter and the fear of crop failure that sent many settlers packing. So it was with joy that I noticed my very own first crop could be counted a success.
My basil plants were ready for their first plucking, and I decided to lay down the pesto gauntlet. The results are in. Jackson does indeed make damn good pesto. We paired it with some heirloom tomatoes fresh from the Farmer’s Market, topped with fresh mozzarella, purple basil, and olive oil. The fruits of my labors never tasted so good!.
No set recipe on this one, since all I did was help pick the basil, but I can give you the ingredient list.
- Basil and lots of it
- Pine nuts
- Garlic (lots of garlic)
- Olive oil
- Something I’m forgetting (let’s call it the secret ingredient for now)
- Serve over pasta (Trader Joe’s pesto filled tortellini used here)
The Melting Pot - Indian Food Meets California Culture · 13 July 2007
One of the many themes of The God of Small Things was the theme of losing one’s own culture due to Colonial influence. The book includes a heavy dose of Anglophile discussions and explorations on the effect of the English occupation of India. Though the Colonial era is gone, many countries are still struggling with their identity as independent countries, free from the rule of their colonial conquerors.
(<- Crepe) Though not always a Colonial effect, I’ve noticed that ethnic food is often diluted, or at least affected, by the country that it lands in. My sister’s boyfriend has a great story about eating “Mexican” food in Germany. His German business associates were thrilled to have a real-live Californian to critique their imported cuisine, so they marched him to the local Mexican restaurant. He ordered a burrito. What he was served was a pancake-like batter, folded over a filling of onion based vegetables, with a side of sauerkraut. As he tells it, the Germans looked expectantly at him, awaiting his reaction. “A crepe!,” he said. “You’ve served me a crepe and called it a burrito! Where are the rice and beans? The guacamole? The sour cream?” (Burrito ->)
Which, of course, is the California conception of Mexican food. And, since we live pretty close to the border, it’s not too far from the Mexican conception of Mexican food, but it’s still not quite the same.
For the foods from The God of Small Things, I decided to recreate the effects of transporting cuisine and make two Indian dishes, one based on traditional methods, and one that’s been Anglicized. To find my traditional recipe I scoured the web for sites runs by women who grew up in India, and were trying to preserve their culture. I found a wealth of them. Saroj’s Cookbook, Ruchi’s Kitchen, and Cusine Cuisine all have dozens of varied recipes.
I also found that the Indian food that I find at restaurants (Tikka Masala, Tandoori style barbecue, Aloo Gobi, etc.) is only a small regional sampling of the many traditional Indian recipes.
In yet another instance of my world knitting itself together, I found that the mung beans I bought a few weeks ago on a whim are a traditional India dal (or pulses) ingredient. I took this as a sign and decided to make a mung (moong) dal dish. In yet another instance of me being blown off track, the mung dal dish that looked too irresistible to resist called for yellow mung. I had green. Now I have yellow and green. (Yes, I know, when it comes to new and interesting ingredients, I have little willpower).
There is a great local Indian market in my area. I was tipped off to it by San Diego Foodstuffs a few months ago and I hadn’t had a good excuse to go check it out, until now. The market was a resale/wholesale combination and they sold most ingredients in bulk. I was overwhelmed by the spice selection. Not only did they have a huge aisle devoted entirely to spices, they were so potent you could literally smell a variety of spicy aromas through the packaging as you walked the aisles of the market.
I ended up with quite a haul of spices (pictured at top) and a basketful of other traditional Indian ingredients that will be making their way into my cooking in months to come. The thing that I love about Indian food is that it’s incredibly flavorful without being laden with fat or salt, relatively easy to prepare, and freezes well. Since I’m on a limited time budget, these are all things that I look for in my daily diet.
Though England and America may have affected Indian cooking, I can guarantee that India is now affecting my cooking as well. It’s a give and take relationship, just as Arundhati Roy described in her book, The God of Small Things. The focus of cultural influence continues to shift, and new cultures are constantly colliding with each other. The only constant in cultural co-mingling is the necessary adaptation that we all deal with every time we escape out of our own cultural bubble and experience something new.
Cozy Toasted Dal (Yellow Moong Dal):
Courtesy of Kate’s Global Kitchen and inspired by Bharti Kirchner. This makes a large batch of dal, and Kate provided instructions for how to prepare part of the batch for reheating.
- 2 cups yellow split mung beans
- 2 quarts water
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 whole serrano chile, or other fresh or dried hot chile (I used a fresh serrano)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
- 2 tablespoons mustard oil (equal parts vegetable oil and horseradish sauced may be substituted if you can’t find mustard oil)
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 tablespoons minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons minced serrano or jalapeño chile, with or without seeds (I omitted this)
- 1/2 teaspoon ajwain seeds (equal parts celery seeds and thyme may be substituted if you can’t find ajwain seeds)
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala (The garam masala I bought is a mixture of cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, star-anise, and other spices)
Toast the yellow mung beans in a hot, dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently(yes, really, otherwise they will burn) until light brown, about 8 minutes. Rinse and drain.
While beans are toasting, boil water in a large, heavy saucepan. (Beans will expand in volume so make sure to use a large enough pan to allow for this).
After water has come to a boil, add the mung beans, turmeric and whole chile. Simmer on low, uncovered, until the beans are tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Stir the beans occasionally to keep them from sticking to the pot.
When the beans are tender enough to be broken easily between your thumb and finger, stir in the salt, sugar, cumin and coriander. Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes for the flavors to blend, or turn off the flame now if reheating later.
At this point the mixture can be set aside and reheated before use. Or, for a mild taste, you can serve the dal as is, skipping the remaining step. (I tend to like my Indian food mild, but I braved the final step, omitting only the extra chilis and the citris juice).
Make sure the dal is fairly warm. Just before serving, prepare Mixture 3: Heat the mustard oil on medium-low heat until hot. Add the bay leaves, ginger, and minced chile.
Stir and cook until the ginger begins to brown. Stir in the ajwain seeds and garam masala and cook for a few seconds; do not let the ajwain seeds burn. Stir the mixture into the pot of mung beans. Remove the mixture from the heat, stir in the lime or lemon juice and serve hot in small bowls or cups, with lemon or lime wedges. (Remove bay leaves before serving.)
Dal will be slightly watery after cooking and will thicken as it cools.
Though not particularly photogenic, this dish was awesome. The flavors blend together so well they are complex, yet not overpowering. Without the double dose of chilies, I wouldn’t even call it spicy. I ate it warm with whole grain bread and will be eating leftovers with rice on Sunday night.