I’m so pleased to introduce a new guest contributor, Rhonda from Dubbo in New South Wales. Rhonda and I met online through a mutual friend who passed on the urls for my blogs.
Turns out we know one another much better than we first thought. We both adore almost everything about cooking and have several face-to-face friends in common. Plus, Poor John and I were there when Rhonda’s son and daughter-in-law (a friend of mine) celebrated their marriage. No doubt we all shook hands that night.
Rhonda and I hope to catch up for lunch in Canberra in September, but in the meantime you can read about her cooking efforts. She writes so beautifully and with such an engaging sense of humour that I hope she’ll be tempted to contribute again—SOON!
P.S. Guest contributions are always welcome. If you’re interested, leave a comment and I’ll send you my email address.
Sacred food: cooking for spiritual nourishment, 256pp.
by Elisabeth Luard
MQ Publications, London, 2001
Cooking on page 23 (a dyslexic 32)
I love cooking and food. I love trying new food and new recipes. I’ve been cooking since I was 4 years old, and collecting cookbooks for nearly that long, too. I have a few hundred of them. I also collect and read books that are about food.
I first discovered Elisabeth Luard’s writing when I bought her European peasant cookery, published in 1986. It’s a wonderful read and I enjoyed learning a great deal about the history of European food. So when I came across a copy of her Sacred food a couple of years ago in a secondhand bookshop, I snapped it up. The blurb on the cover says ‘Sacred food celebrates the power of food to nourish us body and soul, and the vital role it plays in our religious ceremonies and secular celebrations.’ It sounded like my kind of book.
Sadly, I still haven’t read much of it, although it has been sitting in the ‘to read’ pile beside my bed (a pile that grows larger, faster than it reduces, and is threatening to topple over and smother me in my sleep).
Peggy’s post about a meatball recipe in another of Elisabeth Luard’s cookbooks reminded me about it. When Peggy asked me if I’d cook something from page 32 and write about it as a guest on her blog, I was thrilled to say yes. But sadly, there are no recipes on page 32 or 132, 232, 64 or any combination of 32 that I could think of until I looked at page 23. So, that’s where our recipe comes from.
Pitlai—Ayurvedic vegetables with dal
3 tablespoons ghee
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
3–4 medium carrots, scraped and diced
3–4 smallish zucchini, wiped and thinly sliced
1 handful green beans, cut into short lengths
4 tablespoons shelled peas
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sesame or other seed oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
1 eggplant, diced
6 medium sized tomatoes, skinned and diced
2 cups/ 450g red lentils, cooked to a puree
Melt the ghee, or butter, in a roomy saucepan and add the curry powder. Stir briefly, and then add the diced carrots and zucchini. Turn the heat to low and toss with the butter for a few minutes. Add the green beans and peas, salt and just enough water to submerge the vegetables. Cover and leave to simmer while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a small skillet or frying pan. Sprinkle in the turmeric and cumin and let them feel the heat for a second. Add the cauliflower and stir-fry for a couple of minutes—just enough for the cauliflower to drink the oil. Push the cauliflower aside and add the remaining oil. When it’s sizzling, drop in the diced eggplant. Toss till lightly browned and then add the tomatoes. Bubble up and combine with the cauliflower. The mixture should be soupy—if not, add a little water. Simmer for about 10 minutes before mixing with the other vegetables, which should be perfectly tender by now. Mix in the cooked lentils and simmer for a couple more minutes to blend the flavors.
Serve with plain, boiled rice and chapattis for scooping.
How it played it out
There are two recipes on page 23. ‘Shondal—Indian chickpea salad’ and ‘Pitlai—Ayurvedic vegetables with dal’. As autumn and cooler evenings have arrived, I decided on the vegetables. The introduction to this recipe says ‘This aromatic curry combines all the qualities necessary for an Ayurvedic meal: stimulating, tranquilizing and fortifying. The Ayurvedic diet should balance the six tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent; and six qualities: hot, cold, dry, oily, heavy and light.” The recipe already had a lot to live up to.
My first disappointment was with the fact that the recipe calls for a tablespoon of Madras curry powder. Curry powder? Surely no serious student of Indian food uses curry powder, but rather a mixture of freshly ground spices! But, trying to stay true to the recipe (and living in a country town in western NSW where access to Indian ingredients is rather limited), I bought a tin of Clive of India Madras Curry Powder at the local supermarket.
There was a lot of vegetable preparation to be done, so the Kitchen Hand who is also my husband was employed to help me. The two pots and one pan were sorted, and away we went. The cooking was all fairly straightforward and relatively simple.
Although I’m glad I looked at the amounts of cauliflower, eggplant and tomatoes and decided that a ‘small skillet or frying pan’ was definitely not going to do the job. The mixture threatened to overwhelm my fairly large frying pan once I had to ‘push the cauliflower aside’ and add the eggplant. In fact, I ended up removing some of the cauliflower in order to get the eggplant browned.
The recipe resulted in a very large pot of vegetable curry, which would certainly feed more than the 4 to 6 that the recipe states. Fortunately, I know that vegetable curries freeze well, so there’ll be a couple of nights in the coming weeks that I won’t have to cook. Bonus!
And the taste? Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, there are no onions, or any garlic in this recipe. It also gives no indication of the usual substitute for these, which is asafoetida powder (an ingredient which smells powerfully like axle grease, but works very well as a substitute for the onions and garlic that high caste Hindus don’t eat!). So, when we tasted and found it rather bland, I heated a little oil, and added 1/4 teaspoon of asafoetida and about 2 tablespoons of black mustard seeds, and then stirred it into the curry.
The book won the 2001 Gourmand World Cookbook Award and the 2001 Glenfiddich Food Writers Award, so I expected something special from the recipe. Alas, I was a little disappointed.
Our verdict is that it was pleasant, satisfying, but definitely not the best vegetable curry I have made. So, it will be back to the tried and true favourites instead. And we’re still trying to decide whether we felt both stimulated and tranquilized.