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Posts Tagged ‘carrots’

Two Vegetarian Indian Dishes

Readers who are familiar with my blog know that I don’t write only about my successes. If I try a recipe and it doesn’t work, I say so, and go on to consider jaffrey vegetarianwhy it didn’t: Was it my fault or the recipe’s? And what can I learn from the experience? Today’s post is about two such non-successes. Unfortunately, these are recipes from an author I respect and a book of hers with which I’ve previously had very good results: Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India.

It happened that I would be dining alone one recent evening, Beloved Spouse being out for a business dinner, so I could indulge my predilection for chicken. To liven things up a little, I thought I’d accompany my two broiled chicken thighs with a simple Indian vegetable dish and precede them with an Indian appetizer. Here’s how that worked.
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Everyday Carrots and Peas

This recipe looked like an attractive way to spice up humble vegetables. The cooking time seemed extremely brief for carrots, but I wanted to give the recipe a chance. So I defrosted half a cup of good tiny peas, cut a raw carrot into half-inch dice, and proceeded to measure out one-quarter of the indicated seasonings.

The instructions then were to heat olive oil (an approved alternative to ghee) in a frying pan. Sizzle some cumin seeds in the hot oil. Add the peas and carrots, and stir-fry them for 3 minutes. Stir in turmeric, red chile powder, freshly ground coriander, and salt. Lower the heat add a little water, cover the pan and cook “for 3-4 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.”

That last bit was the killer, as I feared it would be. After 4 minutes, the pan was dry, the peas were looking worried, and the carrots were still rock-hard. I kept adding small amounts of water, but it took almost 10 more minutes before the carrots were pierceable with a fork. And by then the peas were pretty mushy.
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The dish wasn’t a disaster: The peas and carrots were edible, and tasty enough in themselves. But neither vegetable had a proper texture – one still too firm, the other too soft – and the spices were barely discernible. Maybe they’d have been more prominent in a shorter cooking time, but then I would have had raw carrots. Maybe I should have used a very young, tender carrot, instead of the mature one that I had, but the recipe didn’t specify age – and even so, carrots don’t cook fast.

If I ever try this recipe again – and I might, because I do like the concept – I’ll probably parboil the carrots and double the spices.
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Simple Hard-boiled Egg Curry

This experiment was a total failure. Simple the recipe definitely is, and the book’s photo is quite intriguing:

eggs-in-book

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The only spices involved in the preparation are turmeric, red chile powder, salt, and black pepper – not what I’d thought of as enough to consider a curry. But Jaffrey says the dish is “beloved in the Telangana region of Andrha Pradish,” so who was I to cavil?

Once hard-boiled and peeled, the eggs are to have deep longitudinal slits cut in them – presumably to let the spices sink in. Ghee or butter is heated in a small frying pan; the spices are stirred in; then the eggs, which are to be rolled around “for about a minute, or until they are golden.” Serve right away.

Well, here are my eggs after two minutes:

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Not as who should say golden, eh? And here they are after 10 minutes of dutiful rolling around:

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Pitiful. At that point I thought I’d better take them off the heat before they turned to leather. When I cut them open, none of the color had seeped in through the slits, nor had any of the spice flavors. Just plain HB eggs, with a toughened outer skin. I ate them for my appetizer anyway, but they weren’t worth even the minor effort they took.

I wonder if the color of the eggs in the book’s picture was due to Photoshop. Either that, or there had to be some drastic errors in copyediting or proofreading the recipe. Those could also apply to the timing given for the peas and carrots, as well as the spice quantities indicated in both recipes. Improbable, but what else could it be? There was the possibility that my spices were too old and had lost their power. But that wasn’t it: When checked afterward, they were fully as aromatic as they ought to be.

Leaving aside why these recipes didn’t work, the lesson I need to learn from this experience is to put more faith my own culinary instincts. (Soft cheers in the background from Tom, who has been telling me this forever.) I knew carrots need longer cooking; I’d been surprised by the tiny quantities of spices called for; and I couldn’t see how flavors could permeate eggs in one minute. I should summon the courage to make my own changes in cases like this. As in every other field, just because something is in print doesn’t mean it’s right.

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A Foretaste of Spain

Tom and I are away for three weeks on a birding trip around Spain with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours.

spain trip map

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While officially it’s purely a birding trip, for us it’s just as much a food and wine trip. The VENT leaders are usually as good at choosing restaurants as they are at 61jYp3TZ27L__AA160_finding birds, so we look forward to some interesting meals.

Anticipating the adventure a bit, and also to get us into the proper mood for Iberian-style eating, I made a modest tapas dinner the other day, using three recipes from Penelope Casas’ book Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain.

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The main item was Fried Squid, Spanish-Style. Casas calls this “a classic on the tapas circuit,” a dish likely to be available almost anywhere in Spain. If so, hooray! – because these were excellent. The squid had to be cut in rings, dried thoroughly, dusted with flour, dipped in egg, deep-fried for less than three minutes, and dressed with sea salt and lemon juice. They were beautifully tender and fresh-tasting.

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Alongside, I’d made an Onion Tortilla. Normally, I make tortilla española, that luscious, thick, soft, eggy cake of fried potatoes and onions. This one had no potato but lots of minced sweet Spanish onions, which made it lighter but also delicious. Even easier to make: Soften onions in olive oil; cool them; mix them into beaten eggs, milk, salt, and pepper; then cook the whole mixture very slowly in a pan until it just sets. It’s good hot, warm, or cool.

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For a bright contrast with those two dishes, I made a little Cumin-flavored Carrot Salad – which Casas says is a specialty of a well-known bar in Cadiz. I simmered whole carrots in chicken broth and water until almost done; let them cool and sliced them; dressed them in wine vinegar, oregano, cumin, paprika, and salt, and left them to marinate all afternoon. Bracing!

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The three together made a very pleasant week-night supper. I have great hopes for our eating in Spain. I won’t be posting here again until well into May, but then I hope I’ll have some good dishes to write about from the trip. ¡Hasta la vista!

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For a dinner party for eight this week, I needed a vegetable dish that would be (a) autumnal, (b) good alongside a roasted capon, and (c) easy to finish, so I could concentrate on my barely adequate poultry carving ability and get all the filled plates to the table promptly. Roasted root vegetables turned out to be an ideal dish for the occasion.

Preparation of the vegetables does take a fair amount of work, most of it peeling and chopping, but it can all be done well in advance. Even the roasting can be done early in the day: If anything, the dish is even better when reheated in the oven. And it’s good to have a number of people to feed: The more diners there are, the greater the variety of vegetables you can include.

Here’s the mixture I used this time. Clockwise from the top, butternut squash, white sweet potatoes, garlic, carrots, mushrooms, cipolline onions, red Bliss potatoes, and parsnips. (Turnips are another common choice, but I’m not overly fond of them.)

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Though mushrooms aren’t a root vegetable, I like to add them for textural contrast, as well as flavor. When all the roots have become meltingly tender, the ‘shrooms remain a little al dente. Other times I’ve tossed in green beans, broccoli, or asparagus.

My faithful knife man and I started work in the morning of the dinner party – I peeling all the veg and he reducing them to more-or-less one-inch chunks. I put them in my largest roasting pan and tossed them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped fresh rosemary, and salt.

cut-up veg

Recipes I’ve sometimes tried for the dish say to spread the vegetables in a single layer in the roasting pan. I’ve found that isn’t necessary. In fact, in a 450° oven, it’s too easy to dry them out and turn them into leather that way. (Those recipes also say to use extra-virgin olive oil, which I feel is wasted in long-cooked dishes.) I just stir my vegetables around every 15 minutes or so as they cook. In that close contact, they render quite a bit of liquid at first, which I think helps keep them tender and blend their flavors, and it all evaporates by the time they’re done.

The denser the batch, the longer it takes to cook, of course. Mine this time took about 1½ hours. When it was done, I let it cool and set it aside, covered, in a cool place. In the evening I stirred a little more olive oil into the vegetables and heated them through, uncovered, in a 375° oven.

roasted

As always, they were excellent. Their natural sugars had caramelized just enough, and the flavors had had time to harmonize beautifully. This is a dish that naturally combines the pleasures of comfort food with an almost haute cuisine subtlety. When I offered seconds on the main course, I had more takers for the vegetables than the capon.

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Just before we left on our Texas birding trip, Tom and I did another of what we call our cookathons with our friend Hope. These involve many advance days of ethnicity decision, recipe selection, shopping list creation, and ingredient purchasing. On the day itself, Hope arrives at 3 p.m. and we all start cooking. With luck, we manage to sit to dinner around 7, fairly well exhausted from the kitchen work but anticipating a splendid meal.

India was our selected cuisine this time, and the recipes came from three cookbooks: Vineet Bhatia’s Rasoi: New Indian Kitchen, Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking, and the same author’s Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking.

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Here’s the menu we chose.

Crispy Prawns with Red Onion, Cumin, and Turmeric Khichdi
Masala Crab Cakes
Goat Curry
Vegetables Braised in Yogurt and Spices, Patna Style
Pink Lentils with Garlic Butter
Cucumber and Yogurt Salad
Basmati Rice

Shrimps, crab, goat, veg: That didn’t sound too complex. But we sort of forgot how very labor-intensive Indian food is to prepare. From 3 to 5 pm, with only a little time out for a glass of prosecco, the three of us did nothing but chop and grind things. The kitchen counters were totally covered with little dishes of red and white onions, garlic, ginger, green chilies, coriander seeds and leaves, curry leaves, cumin seeds both plain and toasted, and measured amounts of other spices. Only after two hours of that could we start actually cooking.

I won’t give you the play-by-play, because it got very complicated – starting one dish, moving to another while the first simmered, on to a third, back to the first, and so on: Tinker to Evers to Chance for another two hours and more. (Also washing pots and bowls as needed to reuse them.) I’ll just tell you about the principal dishes as we – ultimately – ate them.

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Crispy Prawns with Red Onion, Cumin, and Turmeric Khichdi

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This, from the Rasoi cookbook, was a lovely shrimp preparation, unlike anything Indian I’d ever had before. Because of the amount of work it took, there’s no question this is really a restaurant dish, but we all loved it. The shrimp are dipped in a batter of egg, cornstarch, chopped coriander leaf, and cayenne, and then deep-fried. They’re placed on a cushion of khichdi, which is made as follows.

Heat oil and butter in a pan, sauté cumin seeds, garlic, ginger, chili, and red onion. Add turmeric and basmati rice. In a minute, add vegetable stock and cook until the rice is almost done. Finish with yogurt, butter, salt, and chopped coriander leaf.

We set ring molds on three plates and spooned the khichdi into them. To our pleased surprise, when we removed the rings the rice stayed in neat little cylinders. We topped them with the fried shrimp, added a pool of green coriander chutney (it was supposed to be piped in a decorative ring around the plate, but hey!) and sat to our first food of the evening. It was well worth the wait. The combination of flavors was astonishingly good. And rich. The khichdi was particularly luscious. I think I’ll make that again to serve just on its own.

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Masala Crab Cakes

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The crab cakes, also from Rasoi, were also lovely. To assemble them we had to sauté black mustard seeds in oil, add chopped curry leaves and chopped onion; sauté some more; add chopped garlic, ginger, and green chilies; sauté some more; stir in a paste of cayenne, turmeric, and water; add crab meat and sauté some more; stir in grated parboiled potato, and season with chaat masala.

All that could be done a little while in advance. When ready to serve, we had only (!) to form the mixture into cakes, dip them in egg, coat them with breadcrumbs, and deep-fry them. The mixture was very soft, and we wondered if the cakes would just fall apart in the deep fryer. But no, they behaved very well, coming out as crisp, golden brown 3½-inch balls.

We’d made two cakes apiece, because the recipe seemed to call for so little crab – less than 1½ ounces per cake. But they so were rich and crabby that, knowing how much food there was still to come, we ate only one apiece. We served three chutneys on the side: tamarind, hot mango, and papaya-orange. Store-bought, not fresh made: we had to cut ourselves some slack. All the chutneys went well with the cakes. (The other cakes, reheated, were fine the next day.)

The chaat masala flavoring was new to me, and a welcome discovery. It’s an intriguing mixture of black salt, green-mango powder, cumin, mint, asafoetida, cayenne, nutmeg, black pepper, and regular salt. It’s used in many dishes, and I understand it’s also good just sprinkled on apple slices. I’m going to try that soon.

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Goat Curry

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Ghosht Kari, a recipe from Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking, is an old standby of mine. I’d only ever made it with lamb before, though in India, goat is the meat of choice for this dish. We first browned pieces of goat in oil, removed them and browned onions in the same pan; added garlic and ginger; then cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne; returned the meat to the pan and added a puree of yogurt, tomatoes, garlic, and ginger; added hot water, covered the pan and let it all simmer together, adding chunked potatoes partway through the cooking.

While the lamb version of this curry was always done in two hours, we had to cook the goat quite a lot longer before it got tender. Then the dish needed to rest for a few hours before being reheated and served, sprinkled with ground roasted cumin seeds and chopped coriander leaves.

It was a little disappointing – possibly because the first two dishes were so spectacular, and possibly because we’d made a marketing error here and not gotten the goat from our ever-reliable butcher Ottomanelli’s: It had too much bone and too little flavor. The dish was nice enough, but not as spicy-hot as it had been in the past. We relied on the various chutneys to make it more interesting.

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Vegetables Braised in Yogurt and Spices, Patna Style

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We were trying Patna Korma, a recipe from Sahni’s vegetarian and grain cookbook, for the first time. The vegetables are eggplant, zucchini, carrots, and green beans. The braising medium is yogurt, tomato puree, ground almonds, fried onions, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and black pepper. When the dish is done, it’s sprinkled with garam masala and chopped coriander leaf.

The recipe was supposed to develop a “delicate velvety” sauce, with a “complex but subtle” spicing. Alas, it came out tasting much like the sauce of the goat curry, along with which we served the vegetables, and therefore not the interesting contrast we had hoped for. Also, the instructions for cutting up the vegetables didn’t work. The carrot pieces were too thick to soften even after extra cooking time, while the eggplant and zucchini pieces were ready to fall apart before then. The green beans were the best part of the dish.

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Side dishes: Rice, Dal, and Raita

Alongside the curry and vegetables, we had plain boiled basmati rice, a dal of pink lentils dressed with melted butter and sliced garlic, and a raita of Greek yogurt with slivers of cucumber and tomato.

The latter two are dishes I almost always serve in an Indian meal, but they didn’t contribute much this time. My lentils, which had been sitting in the pantry for some time, must’ve been too old, because they had little flavor, and neither of the two main dishes was so spicy-hot for us to need the usually welcome coolness provided by raita.

However, I learned a great way to handle basmati rice. Indian cookbooks always call for elaborate preparation of this prized rice from the foothills of the Himalayas. Typically you’re told to rinse it in water nine times, soak and drain it, parboil and drain it again, finally steam it carefully over very low heat. Happily, Hope told us that she always cooks basmati as if it were pasta – just dumps the dry rice into boiling water and cooks until it’s al dente. So we did that, and it was perfectly fine.

With this whole meal, we drank Trimbach Gewürztraminer, a wine whose own spicy flavor stands up well to the multiple flavors of Indian dishes. And afterwards, we tamped everything down with – surprise! – a grappa.

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One day a week, at my local Greenmarket, the wild-mushroom man appears.

His tiny stand starts in spring with the first morels and proceeds through the summer and fall with chanterelles, black trumpets, ovoli, porcini, sweet clubs, maitake, chicken of the woods, blewits, lobster mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, and any others his woodland prospecting turns up. I’m addicted to these little treasures.

This summer there’s been an abundance of chanterelles – enough to interest me in some preparations more elaborate than a simple braise. My recipe for this week is from Elizabeth Schneider’s Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini. It’s actually called Chanterelles Braised with Corn, Summer Squash and Carrot, but the appearance of the finished dish led me to dub it Chanterelles with Confetti Vegetables. You’ll see why.

Chanterelles are as pretty to look at as they are maddening to clean. Their dimpling curves and the veiny gills on their undersides are like magnets for fragments of the forest floor (and tiny bugs). I thank my stars that sainted knife-wielding husband Tom has also appointed himself the mushroom cleaner in our house. He had a big batch to work on for this recipe:

The “confetti” part of the dish consists of ¼-inch dice of zucchini and onion, 1/8-inch dice of carrot, and corn kernels cut from the cob. Tom saintfully did all this dicing for me too.

What first intrigued me about the recipe is the broth you make for it. As each vegetable is prepared, you put into a bowl the mushroom trimmings, the carrot peel, the onion peel, some sliced onion, a whole sliced zucchini, the tender inner husks of the corn, all the corn silk (!), and the corn cob, chunked up. You sauté this mess in butter and oil until browned and season it with crushed coriander seed, salt, pepper, and tarragon. At this point it looks like something to put down the garbage disposal in the kitchen sink:

Nevertheless, you persevere, making an act of faith in your author and her recipe. You add wine and water, simmer for 20 minutes, and strain the result. Somewhat to my surprise, it made a nice, mild, tasty broth – totally unlike anything that comes from a vegetable bouillon cube.

From that point the recipe is simple. Start sautéeing the chanterelles and onion in butter and oil, add the carrot and shortly afterward the corn, then some of the broth; when that has evaporated, add more broth and simmer uncovered until the vegetables are tender and the liquid somewhat thickened. Finish the dish with lemon juice, softened butter, and chopped chives.

The finished product is not as attractive to look at as its raw ingredients were, but that’s the only disappointment. It was tastier than it looks. Each mouthful contained tiny bursts of the flavors of each vegetable, led by the star of the production, the chanterelles. The two of us finished well over half of the portion meant to serve four. The sweetness of the vegetables matched nicely with a broiled tilefish fillet and an unusual white wine from the Tuscan Maremma, made from Vermentino and Malvasia grapes.

A few days later, having guests to dinner, I used the leftover vegetables, pulsed in a food processor, as a stuffing for braised quails. It was excellent!

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It’s sad when an old friend lets you down. This week, still in my older-books mode, I went looking for recipes in Jack Scott’s The Complete Book of Pasta. I bought it when it came out in 1968, five years before Marcella Hazan appeared on the culinary scene and started a great change in Italian cooking in American homes. Scott’s was a wonderful book to us then. (Tom simply drooled over its centerfold, shown below.) It gave us some recipes that have been favorites ever since. But many other Italian cookbooks have joined my collection since then, so I hadn’t gone back to it for anything new in years. Alas, it was not a good idea.

First I tried linguine allegre – translated as lively linguine with anchovies. It’s actually a mongrel sort of sauce. You sauté anchovies, celery, red bell pepper, capers, olives, basil, parsley, and garlic in butter and olive oil. Stir this mixture into a simple tomato sauce and simmer it all for 40 minutes. Now, all those flavors are good, but having so many of them cook together for so long blurred their distinctions and didn’t produce any synergy. As opposed to the Spanish recipes I wrote about two weeks ago, in this case the whole seemed like less than the sum of its parts.

An oddity was a direction to cook the linguine with less than the usual amount of salt in the water because of the saltiness of the anchovies. I think you’d need a fantastically sensitive palate for that to make a difference.

Well, I said to myself, even Homer nods. Let’s try another one.

Tagliolini freschi con carote, or fresh noodles with carrots, caught my eye because carrots aren’t often a featured companion to pasta. In fact, that name ignores two other principal ingredients: sliced mushrooms and julienne strips of prosciutto, quickly sautéed in butter and oil with the diced, precooked carrots. It sounded as if it’d be very nice on homemade egg noodles.

It was nice enough, but there wasn’t anywhere near enough of it. The recipe called for 6 mushrooms, 4 carrots, and 8 slices of prosciutto. The only liquid was ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water, added to the sauté pan at the end. This was supposed to be enough to dress 1½ pounds of fresh egg noodles. Fortunately, I doubted that, so I cooked only half as much pasta. Even so, there were still a lot of nearly naked noodles on the plates, with hardly any flavor of the other ingredients.

The recipe also called for grated parmigiano to be passed at the table, but trying a little on one forkful seemed only to emphasize the dryness of the dish. It did need salt and pepper, which weren’t mentioned in the recipe at all. Overall, another disappointment.

I almost feel guilty to think that this book, which gave me so much pleasure in the past, now seems to be so unrewarding. But a lot has happened since 1968. Many trips to Italy have exposed me to wonderful regional pasta preparations. I’ve published 60 of my own pasta recipes in my two cookbooks and enjoyed many more from books by other people that have appeared over the years. There’s far more access to excellent Italian ingredients and more knowledge of how to bring out the best in them. So dishes that were once new and exciting now have a lot of powerful palatal competition. I guess, as the philosopher Zeno didn’t quite say, you can never dip a ladle into the same tomato sauce twice.

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Is Sunday the last day of the old week or the first day of the new? I’m calling it the first, though I might do another new recipe later this week.

Today was Coquilles St. Jacques à la Fondue d’Endives, from a paperback Bistro book that sister-in-law Judy turned me onto. An attractive book that we haven’t used much, though it seems to be a bit arithmetically challenged: To serve 4, the recipe called for 12 sea scallops, which were at the end to be placed 5 to a plate. Oh well, I sometimes have troubles with my checkbook, so who am I to complain? Very nice dish, and very rich: Belgian endive sautéed in butter, scallops sautéed in butter, a sauce of lemon juice, butter (getting a theme here?) and crème fraiche. The sweetness of the scallops and the bitterness of the endive matched well, especially with all that b u t t e r.

The sauce was almost a beurre blanc, but easier to make. No shallots, no reduction of the acid ingredient. Just bring lemon juice to a boil, whisk in pieces of butter, and then add a nice dollop of crème fraiche. Also nicer than I expected was the endive treatment. This is a vegetable we rarely cook, but I can see doing it that way as accompaniment to a grilled meat, maybe – if it didn’t cost a fortune, which today’s pair of endives sort of did. It’s not being a good winter for vegetables, and the ones available are ghastly expensive. But one must eat, non?

The anniversary re-issue. My copy of the original volume fell apart from hard, loving use.

We had the dish as a main course with a rice pilaf from Julia I, after an appetizer of fried oysters on a bed of frisée, with a brilliant little tartare sauce of Tom’s creation, involving capers, cornichon, and pickled ginger, all of which we happened to have in the fridge. These très riche scallops would be better, I think, in smaller quantities as a fish course in an elaborate dinner. We drank a French Sauvignon blanc with it – one of my least favorite white wines, but good with the dish. Which, by the way, the book says is from a Parisian bistro called Chez Diane near the Jardin de Luxembourg.

A few days later: I did one more new recipe this week.  A carrot soup, originally published in a 1976 Terence Conran vegetable book, which I found in the soup volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. I wanted something simple for a winter’s day, and this was certainly that. Sauté thinly sliced carrot and chopped onion in butter until soft; add stock, salt, sugar, and a bit of rice; simmer 20 minutes, then puree.

I like carrots, and I used hefty, well-grown ones, so I hoped the soup would be okay even if it didn’t come out greater than the sum of its parts. Which it didn’t – should’ve known the Brits don’t really believe in flavor!  It wasn’t bad; just lackluster. You could hardly tell it came from carrots.  Helped immensely by some extra salt (recipe called for only “a pinch” for a pound of carrots and a quart of stock) and a spoonful of crème fraiche stirred into each bowl.

It was a sketchily written recipe. When I write recipes (I’ve published more than 500), I try to anticipate what people might not think of for themselves. But this one said nothing about cooking covered or uncovered, so if anyone had tried to sauté the carrots uncovered, they’d have become shrapnel before ever softening (mine took 30 minutes covered, with a fair amount of tending). Also, the final simmering with only the amount of liquid called for and no lid on the pan would’ve thickened the puree to a paste, and burned it on the bottom, without frequent stirring. Recipe writers shouldn’t assume so much knowledgeability in readers.

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