Category Archives: Why Can't People Cook?

Thoughts about how simple it is to cook and why people can’t just do it. With recipes.

Why I Haven’t Written Lately, With a Recipe for James Beard’s Salade Orientale

So, it turns out that updating a blog regularly is like a full-time job. And considering how my full-time job has turned into two or three full-time jobs at the moment, the blog has fallen aside. Here’s just one thing I’ve been up to lately, extolling the culinary virtues of James Beard and his cookbooks. You might say that I’ve been impersonating James Beard. No, that’s not quite right. But I did film this segment of the new Cooking Channel‘s new series Food(ography). Hosted by none other than Mo Rocca, the topic of this episode was American cookbooks. And I was asked both to cook a recipe of Beard’s (I chose Salade Oriental from Beard on Food) and to discuss Beard’s significance in the context of other American cookbooks and food. Watch it now.

Here’s the recipe, verbatim, from Beard on Food:

“Salade Orientale is not just a salad but an elaborate one-dish meal. To serve eight, cook 1 1/2 to 2 cups rice until bitingly tender (not mushy). Drain and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss gently with 2 to 3 tablespoons oil, using two forks. Leave to cool. Meanwhile, cut 1 1/2 cups cooked shrimp into smallish pieces, leaving a few whole ones for garnish Combine with 1 cup crabmeat and, if you like, 1/2 to 1 cup mussels, which have been steamed with white wine and water (or used the canned mussels from France or Scandinavia). For an alternate seafood mixture, you might have bite-sized chunks of cooked lobster or lobster tails or raw bay scallops with either shrimp or mussels. To either seafood mixture add 1/2 cup finely cut celery, 1/2 cup finely chopped green or red onion, and 1/2 up peeled, seeded, and finely diced cucumber. Toss with the rice and a vinaigrette sauce made with 4 parts olive oil to 1 part wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon, 1 tablespoon prepared mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with the whole shrimp, and serve on greens. ”

Click here to order your copy of Beard’s personal, eccentric exploration of food.

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What’s for Dinner? Curried Pink-Eyed Pea Kati Rolls

Back in March, when Nate and I unexpectedly (and delightedly) hosted an Indian street foods cooking class in our apartment taught by Geetika Khanna, one of the marvels she revealed was the technique of making kati rolls. Originating in Calcutta, the kati roll is a sort of Indian burrito with egg and other fixin’s. The magic occurs when the roti, chapati, or paratha (you can use a flour tortilla, too) adheres perfectly to the egg frying in the pan and, voilà, makes for a delicious and nutritious wrap for whatever you have on hand.

Having just returned from Alabama yesterday with a bag full of fresh Alabama peas and beans (from Andy’s Farm Market and Landscaping Center), I set out for my first solo kati roll attempt. I shucked and stewed the fresh pink-eyed peas with onion, garlic, tomato, and a selection of Indian spices (toasted cumin, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, asofetida, and turmeric). Tender and sweet, the peas were done after less than 15 minutes of simmering. I made a quick Indian “salsa” with tomato, spring onion, nigella seeds, amchur powder, oil, and vinegar. And I heated up some leftover mujedrah for bulk. The fillings ready to go, it was time for the magic.

Kati (un)roll(ed), in order of layers: roti, fried egg, mujedrah, curried pink-eyed peas, tomato salsa, cilantro.

To make the kati roll wrap, Continue reading

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Recipe Box: What the Doctor Ordered—Chicken Soup (And Just in Time for Passover)

Chicken soup. I can’t get it out of my mind. Passover is coming. But more to the point, I’m home sick from work resting to prevent what I hope does not to turn out to be some full-blown flu. And all I can think of is a bowl of rich, flavorful chicken soup. If I could get off the couch, I would make some.

Among my friends, my chicken soup is legendary. And that’s even before there’s a light, fluffy matzo ball in it. I’m not sure why, exactly. What I do is simple: I pack the pot with a lot of vegetables and an old stewing hen—on second thought, maybe that’s the reason; more on the hen later—and then I let it simmer for about 3 hours, just like my mother did. I’m not shy with the vegetables, either. In professional cooking classes they’ll have you make a giant pot of stock with two carrots, a stalk of celery and an onion. That’s water, not soup. I work in pounds.

An old bird, tired of laying eggs, makes for the most flavorful chicken soup. Save your young, pale-skinned, buxom fryers and roasters for dry-heat cooking.

About the chicken. Young fryers or roasters just won’t do for a flavorful pot of soup. You want an old, tough, tired hen or even a rooster, age 3 or 4. A pullet—a yearling who has just started to lay eggs—will work in a pinch. A pullet was my mother’s preference because often she would find unborn eggs inside, like spherical yolks, and they would end up as a garnish for the soup. I supplement my old bird further with the necks and wing tips of other chickens I collect in the freezer and, to my partner’s horror, two or three chicken feet, nails clipped. The feet add flavor and viscosity to the soup. I buy them in a package of 8 or 12, chop off of the claws, and freeze them in little bundles of two or three so I can just dump them in the pot. All of these out-of-the-ordinary chicken soup chicken parts are available at a good butcher shop or in a Latin or Asian grocery store, or at a first-rate farmers market. If you haven’t looked, you might be surprised how easy they can be to find.

About the vegetables. Continue reading

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