Did you ever sing that song in chorus?”Oh we ain’t got a barrel of money, maybe we’re ragged and funny, but we’ll travel along, singin’ a song, side by side”? We did in eighth grade, and my friend Alexis unexpectedly sang “When they’ve all had their quarrels and farted”, instead of “parted”, and I almost died laughing… in the front row… in the middle of a concert. Bad news!
Anyway, it it is fun to belong to a family of cooks and Sunday was very amusing because my mother and I worked side by side: I made a recipe my mother had bookmarked, my mother made a recipe I had bookmarked. We swapped!
A Costco cod purchase. My mother: “Did you have something in mind for this, or shall I research a recipe?” Me: “I have eight bookmarked on the computer.” Some gorgey farmer’s market napa cabbage led her to Poached Fish with Napa Cabbage.
My mother is impressive when she cooks. She uses proper tools and cutting boards. She chops with precision. She measures things. When she doesn’t have an ingredient she needs for a recipe, she goes and gets it, instead of improvising with what she has on hand (which is why I used four cheese pasta sauce to make curry at Steve’s place on Saturday night). Crazy!
I’m glad she hunts down proper ingredients, because this recipe was hugely deliciousified by the addition of bean sprouts, an ingredient I do not use enough.
The crazy thing? The exotic Asian flavor is LOCAL! Awesome!
Watching my mother industriously at work in the kitchen, I decided to make a recipe she just “hadn’t felt like” making the day before, which she’d bookmarked in this gem of a cookbook:
Tomato chutney! I love chutney. Do other people love chutney? The ADHD person in me loves its ability to be simultaneously sweet, sour, spicy, and savory.
The artist in me (no. My only artistry is culinary.) set out my palate of ingredients in an attractive way on the cutting board.
Brown sug, a whole onion, golden raisins, dried apricot, lotsa ginger, cinnastick.
Everything else came from a can. You were supposed to use four pounds of fresh tomatoes but let’s be serious. It’s March. Plus I totally live for fire roasted tomatoes. Using canned tomatoes worked pretty well except they may have slightly less jell-ifying pectin in them, because the chutney looked a bit more like tomato sauce until I made a slurry with the tomato liquid and some cornstarch. Once I mixed that in, it thickened up nicely.
Quite honestly, in the raw form it looked entirely unimpressive and unappetizing. But you cook it for a good long time (the recipe calls for an hour and fifteen minutes, and I ended up doing it even longer!)
Whilst doing so, I supervised the toasting of the sesame seeds while my mother watched the news. Toasting sesame seeds is seriously nerve wracking. They are so tiny! They must be so easy to burn! Which is why I opened the toaster oven roughly every ten seconds during the process, and removed them the instant they started to brown. Any tips on how to make this process less anxious?
Anyway, chutney: DONE! And utterly succulent. Slow cooking improved its ugliness. Dried fruit got fat and hydrated and awesome. Onions got shrunken and soft. Broken down tomatoes and dried fruit gave it sweetness. Ginger, spices, and the cayenne that I somehow slipped in gave it pep!
Aaaaaaaand fish. Perfect meal for someone feeling depressed for the work week ahead and also not entirely healthy. It had wonderful nourishing brothyness, and was simultaneously comforting yet fresh (anyone who eats pho understands that those two things really can coexist.)
The fresh mint and the bean sprouts were essential flavor components, which goes to show ya that it is worth going out to get the ingredients. Well done, Ma!
And, yknow, my toasted sesame seeds were nice too :D
Rice also accompanied dinner. Ended up eating all the soup first, because the flavors and textures were so delicate that it seemed like it’d mess that up if I added rice.
Plus, plain rice is just so tummy soothing.
Though then I decided it would benefit with the addition of some chutney.
Earlier in the day, I made for the first time a dish adored by both my mother and I: za’atar bread!
Za’atar bread is something I learned about when I started to go to a church filled with Lebanese immigrants. I fell in love with their wonderfully smoky baba ghanouj and hummus; their transcendent donuts; and the wonderful woodsiness of the blend of thyme, sesame, and sumac known as za’atar. Za’atar bread at its most traditional is pita bread, scads of olive oil, and the za’atar spice blend.
I made it using simple ingredients that I already had on hand that were maybe marginally more nutritious (whole grains, holla). My current favorite (due to the fact that it’s 100% whole wheat, available to buy at Costco, and MASSIVE despite being suspiciously low in calories) flatbread:
I got this at Aphrodite Greek Imports, my local fave. Any Arabic or Greek place will likely have it. Check out the simple and delicious ingredient list:
Stuck my flatbreads on a tray. Brushed ‘em with olive oil. Sprinkled ‘em with za’atar. Baked til warm.
Sumac, you rock my world. The taste of this is so special I really can’t describe it. I can just recommend finding yourself some!