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travelling light: madhur jaffrey (part i in a series)

this is my version of the desert-island scenario, a bit less dire and a lot more plausible (however much i get sucked into these lost dvds), particularly since i speak from experience. what cookbooks are essential enough to lug across an ocean? which are worth their weight (and i mean this quite literally)? which will i turn to, again and again, for instruction and inspiration?

when i moved to italy over two years ago (and re-moved a year ago), i had to restrain my hoarding/collecting/pack rat impulses and leave most of my food library in the states. i was already in the habit of considering my acquisitions very carefully, as it never seemed that id be sticking around one place for too long – and also because i hatehatehate packing and moving like you dont even know.

ultimately, i realized that, while i cant just go completely food lit- and cookbook-free for a few years, i would have to make some tough decisions. Specifically, while i love my grapes of ralph, it had to go in the inessential pile. same goes for the elizabeth david (who just cant compare with MFK.) and then, is it really necessary to have more than one volume of steingarten or thorne on my streamlined shelf? i seem to be surviving okay without IMHBSIA (not nearly as good as TMWAE) and serious pig (pot on the fire has always just suited my purposes better). and while i wish i had the french laundry cookbook (or bouchon for that matter) out here, the shit is heavy. (my old reliable – and constant companion for maybe six or seven years now (even if i seem to be confident enough in the kitchen these days to not refer to it as much) – is comparable in size, but weighs probably a third less. big-ups to bittman, who must have known this book would be going the distance.)

this series is devoted to the books that made it to my shelf-away-from-home. i dont cook out of these all that often. in fact, i consider it sufficient that i use these books just once while i live over here (though usually i find that they get pulled off and flipped through much more frequently than that). it just makes me feel better to have them within arms reach.

an invitation to indian cooking is the only madhur jaffrey book i own, and i could probably count the number of times ive cooked from it on one hand. which is a darn shame, since it turns out some really memorable dishes. generally, my version of indian food involves hauling out all the spices ive stuffed willy-nilly into various drawers, crushing arbirtrary amounts in the braun grinder (officially – and sadly – retired as of two days ago, when i perservered in grinding almonds using the incompatible european wall current without a transformer, despite the acrid smell of combusting parts), and throwing it all together with ginger, garlic and yogurt. which means, usually, that while it tastes pretty good to my non-indian palate, it all usually tastes the same. and through this (non)method, id never really fully registered the nuances and differences amongst all these spices, and id dismissed some (cumin, for instance) just because i didnt know how to get them to play nice with the other ingredients in my pan. thankfully, jaffreys here to show me that there is indeed rhyme and reason. this is my new favorite way to eat green beans:

aromatic and tantalizingly sour (i was generous with the lime juice I substituted for the lemon), these beans make me wish i had made a little more. (id also like to take a moment here to pat myself on the back for improvising a new grinder out of one end of my dowel rolling pin and my favorite mug. who needs a mortar and pestle?)

green beans with ginger
(adapted from madhur jaffreys an invitation to indian cooking)
serves 4

1 lbs green beans
ginger, a 2 inch-by-1 inch piece, peeled and chopped
6 tbsp vegetable oil
tsp ground turmeric
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
3 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp lime juice
salt

wash and trim green beans. slice on the bias into 2-inch segments and set aside. put ginger into a blender with a few tablespoons of water and puree into a paste. heat oil in a skillet on medium heat, add ginger paste and turmeric. fry, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. add garlic and cilantro and cook for another minute. then add green beans and continue cooking and stirring for another minute. add cumin, coriander and garam masala, lime juice, salt to taste and 3 tablespoons of water. cover and cook on low for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

and the reason why my grinders now out of commission:

orange polenta cake (from a recent issue of olive). the last time i made this, it rose much higher, but i think i had the oven on too low (only a third of the way between the big flame and little flame settings). however, im still enough of a novice baker to be thoroughly impressed that i manage to get anything out of my oven intact and respectable-looking.

which of your cookbooks/food books are worthy of being lugged across oceans and continents and back again?

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6 Responses to “114768255723466530”


  1. 1 asarwate May 15, 2006 at 10:33 am

    For Indian food, there’s a wonderful book (very hard to find in the US) called Modern Cookery by Thangam Philips. It’s a catering school textbook, essentially, and it provides nice simple recipes that you can then improvise on. My mom loves it.

    On your rec. I have the Bittman, which is falling apart a bit (damn the binding!) The Harold McGee is also a must-have for me. Other than that, I improvise and use the internets.

    I have some other books I like, but I feel they aren’t as necessary…

  2. 2 winnie May 15, 2006 at 11:06 am

    whoah. this is priceless information, anand! and because your mom loves it and because it’s obscure, i must have it.

    how often do you use the bittman? and yeah, part of its lightweightedness must have to do with the sub-par binding. my ‘appetizers’ section came loose a while back, and i have to be extra-careful to never leave the book open for too long to any particular page, lest it happen again.

    i neglected to mention that most of my regularly thumbed-through recipe collection is a folder of printouts, xeroxes and handwritten copies that i’ve been amassing since college. i’ve started converting the most successful or used ones to word docs on the ol’ laptop (though maybe i should put together a little DB for myself?).

    and just to say (since these are trivial things i like to think about): i’m not one for alphabetizing. i line up my books by cuisine (kinda sorta) and then arrange them in some sort of aesthetically pleasing way (by size, really).

  3. 3 foo May 15, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    How timely! Just last week, I purged four cookbooks and sent them off to better homes. There’s a few more rounds before I can really part with all the books that I rarely ever open. Sadly I only have about 6 linear feet of bookshelf in my apt (the rest of my shelves serve as the pantry, liquor cabinet, tv stand, etc etc).

  4. 4 winnie May 16, 2006 at 3:49 am

    what all did you toss, foo? (or more importantly, what did you keep?)

  5. 5 daisy May 16, 2006 at 7:02 pm

    bread by jeffrey hamelman as a bread textbook

    foster’s market by sara foster for those down-home recipes (like pimiento cheese spread)

    think like a chef by tom colicchio because i need directions on how to braise meat

    the best recipe by cooks illustrated. i actually hate cooks illustrated, but some of their recipes are really good.

    in the sweet kitchen by regan daley. i don’t like the title, but she’s got a great technique (and explains why she does what she does) for candying citrus peels and for my favorite cake from elementary school, wacky cake (she calls it something else, but it’s the same thing). she also has a flavor-pairing chart and lots of neat explanations of ingredients.

    desserts, chocolate desserts, and la patisserie de pierre herme by pierre herme (and sometimes dorie greenspan). great basics that you can adapt for anything you want to do. very modular recipes. and real macarons!

    there are too many more . . . i’ve only gotten rid of a cookbook when i’ve had a second copy or older edition.

    what i want next is chocolate obsession by michael recchiuti — i want a textbook on chocolates and make ’em again. i recently visited kee chocolatier in soho after hearing nothing but rave reviews, and after trying them, they’re really no better than what i can do (except her packaging is kind of neat). just think: bakery/gelaterie/coffee shop/chocolatier.

  6. 6 foo May 17, 2006 at 2:14 am

    intentionally kept:
    the best recipe cookbook
    the gourmet cookbook.
    vegetables every day (good for my csa box)

    There’s a few skinny chinese cookbooks which I need to keep in case I ever need them. Everything else is just biding time until I purge again, or until I move somewhere where I can have more space.

    The four I got rid of — ming tsai’s book, simple to spectacular, some title like “crossroads” with multi ethnic food, and almost vegetarian entertaining. but they went to my sister and cousin so i can steal them back.

    of course i have to keep susanna’s book even if I don’t cook from it.


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