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 i’d be sticking around one place for too long and also because i hatehatehate packing and moving like you don’t even know.
ultimately, i realized that, while i can’t 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 can’t 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 don’t 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 arm’s reach.
an invitation to indian cooking is the only madhur jaffrey book i own, and i could probably count the number of times i’ve 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 i’ve 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, i’d never really fully registered the nuances and differences amongst all these spices, and i’d dismissed some (cumin, for instance) just because i didn’t know how to get them to play nice with the other ingredients in my pan. thankfully, jaffrey’s 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. (i’d 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 jaffrey’s an invitation to indian cooking)
1 ½ lbs green beans
ginger, a 2 inch-by-1 inch piece, peeled and chopped
6 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ 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
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 grinder’s 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, i’m 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?