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You might think some computer virus had ridiculously scrambled the words of my title above. But no: That’s the name of a new-to-me Thai dish that I made this week. I found the recipe in The Original Thai Cookbook, by Jennifer Brennan. A 1981 paperback, with much interesting historical, cultural, and culinary information about Thailand, it bills itself as “the first, complete, authentic, Thai cookbook published in America.”

The recipe’s English title is Fried Pork and Long Beans. I’d have given it a name with a different emphasis, because (a) it’s not what we in the West mean by frying but stir-frying, (b) it uses as much shrimp as pork, and (c) the beans are definitely the largest component. So, Stir-fried Green Beans with Pork and Shrimp. By any name, it’s a good dish and very easy to make.
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Acknowledging the limited availability of Chinese “long beans” in American markets, the recipe promptly allows using conventional green beans, which I did. And, as is truly essential for the speed of stir-frying, I measured, prepped, and set out all my ingredients before beginning to cook. In addition to the shrimp, beans, and pork, here’s garlic, nam pla (Thailand’s ubiquitous fish sauce), granulated sugar, freshly ground black pepper, and cooking oil.
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Into the hot, oiled wok went first the garlic, just long enough to color; next the pork, for a few minutes to sear and seal.
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At that point I had to make a change in the recipe’s stir-frying sequence. The shrimp were to have gone in next, for one minute, and finally the long beans, for only two minutes. I knew that wouldn’t be enough time for my green beans to soften, so I tossed them in with the browning pork and gave them three more minutes together before adding the shrimp.
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Even my shrimp took more than one minute to lose their translucency. No size was specified for them, so possibly mine were larger than anticipated by the recipe. However, they still didn’t take long, and I was soon able to stir in the fish sauce, sugar, and pepper to finish the dish. I must admit, the green beans were still almost raw – very firm and squeaky – but that really wasn’t too bad.  In fact, it may have been ethnically authentic. They made a nice textural contrast with the other ingredients.
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What really completed the dish was the nam pla. On its own, this liquid from salted and fermented anchovies, much like the garum of ancient Rome, is extremely pungent – not to say stinky. But mixing with other ingredients here moderated its intensity and delivered a pleasing dose of umami, giving the dish a deliciously different set of flavors from my more customary Western cooking style. I must try it in other Thai recipes.

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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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Good news for Tom and me! After 18 years in hardcover and paperback, our book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen has finally appeared in digital format for the Amazon Kindle. (With Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Apples iTunes versions soon to follow, we hope.)

To celebrate the occasion, I decided to make several recipes from the autumn section of the book for a dinner party that we had already scheduled for the first day of fall. The main course would be Roasted Veal Shanks. There’s a small personal irony there, because the prelude to the digital book’s recipe for that dish has a silly typo, a minor error that is like a dagger through the heart of an author. The section called “About Veal Shanks” now appears as “About Veal Thanks.” Thanks to you for that, Grove Atlantic Press!

Well, the dish is lovely, anyway. I made two other dishes from TSOTIK (as we call it) to precede that main course, and as accompaniments to it, two more.

For cocktail snacks I made Frollini al Finocchio, tiny biscuits flavored with ham, cheese, and fennel seeds. They’re easy to make, very tasty, and very enjoyable light accompaniments to an aperitif of white wine or sparkling wine. Also, they have the virtue of keeping well for weeks in a tin.

The pasta course was Spaghetti alla Ciociara, a sprightly recipe that showcases the season’s best bell peppers. It’s basically a colorful sauté of red, green, and yellow peppers, along with some tomato and black olives. The pasta is finished in the vegetably sauce, and grated pecorino romano cheese is stirred in at the end. Because of the acidity of the peppers, white wine matches best with it, though you won’t be punished if you prefer red.

Veal shanks always make a good company dish; you don’t have to deal with the problem of “rare vs. well-done” meat preferences. In Italy, one of the favorite ways to treat them is to roast them whole, but that’s a bit awkward to manage in a home kitchen, given how big American veal shanks are, so Tom and I worked out a method of roasting smaller cuts of the shank (the size used for osso buco) that provides all the flavor of the whole roasted joint and the additional pleasure of access to the marrow.

When the veal pieces are half roasted, I take them out of the pan, add a mixture of chopped vegetables and herbs to the pan juices, replace the meat, pour on white wine, and finish the roasting. That procedure makes a delicious pan gravy. The entire dish can be made in advance and reheated in the oven at serving time. You can see the whole recipe here.

To accompany the veal, I made Parmesan Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans with Green Sauce. The potatoes are another dish that can be prepared well in advance. They’re boiled in broth; mashed with milk, egg, and grated parmigiano; transferred to a gratin pan with more parmigiano; and gratineed either immediately or hours later. The beans – we were able to get our favorite flat beans, sometimes called Romano beans – do need to be done at the last minute. They’re boiled, drained, and tossed with a zesty hot dressing made with olive oil, wine vinegar, a little minced garlic, and a lot of minced parsley.

The veal and its luscious marrow called for medium-bodied red wines, which we went on to finish with a small selection of cheeses – for which of course we don’t have recipes. Dessert – not from TSOTIK – was a simple plum crunch with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. We think the best meals end simply: Despite the Great American Sweet Tooth, if your dessert is the high point of a dinner, something went seriously wrong.

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A magazine on Spanish gastronomy put me on track to create a wonderful version of a very old dish this week – paella valenciana tradicional.

I’d eaten paellas before, even cooked a few, but always the elaborate version of this famous saffron rice dish, with multiple kinds of shellfish, plus chicken, sausages, pimientos, and green peas. It’s a beautiful, baroque presentation, requiring a hefty amount of work, plus a large number of diners to do it justice.

In the magazine, Spain Gourmetour, I was reading an article on that country’s many rice varieties, some of which have been awarded Protected Designation of Origin status by the EU, and learned that, in Spain, restaurants offering the traditional version of paella now are (or soon will be) required to apply for a quality certificate attesting that they make it with PDO Valencia rice, as well as other required ingredients.

I’d never paid much attention to the kind of rice in the paellas I’d consumed, but this information intrigued me. I found recipes for this traditional paella in two of my cookbooks, The Foods and Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas and The Cuisines of Spain by Teresa Barrenechea. The recipes were very unlike what I’d known. No seafood or sausages. Chicken, yes, though rabbit is the preferred meat, plus fresh snails if available. No peas: instead flat green beans and large white lima beans. And both books contained paeans to the glories of Spanish rice.

While still a carefully composed dish, this kind of paella seemed more easily manageable than the spectacular seafood version: even possible to make in a quantity small enough for two persons. I decided to try it, only skipping the snails, since fresh are never available here and most of the canned ones taste – well, canned.

The first and crucial step was to acquire real Valencia rice. I found Bomba, one of the PDO varieties, at Despaña, a local Spanish specialty food shop. Unusual, and quite different from other rices I’ve used: it’s very short-grained; rounder and stubbier than even the Italian short-grain rices familiar to me from risottos.

Left, Spanish Bomba; right, Italian Carnaroli

My books’ recipes were on a large scale, but I figured I could resize them for a dinner for two. So I did – taking some of the steps from each of the recipes and rewriting the procedure for myself. Actually, thinking through and writing up my version of the recipe was almost more work than making the eventual dish! Here’s how I made it:

1. The night before, soaked dried lima beans, then the next morning cooked them until barely tender in water with some olive oil.

2. Made a broth from a big chicken bouillon cube, water, bay leaf, onion, parsley, black pepper, saffron, and sweet paprika.

3. Browned two chicken legs in olive oil in a 10-inch round shallow pan. Set them aside and added garlic and tomato to the pan. (One book gave me a neat little trick for tomatoes: halve them and rub the faces against the largest holes of a box grater – thus peeling and crushing them in one simple action.) Cooked that a little while, added the Bomba rice, and cooked it 5 minutes.

I did that much of the dish an hour or so in advance. No problem.

4. When ready to proceed, I reheated the rice mixture, adding some of the beans’ cooking water to remoisten it. I stirred in the heated-up seasoned broth, the white beans, and some raw flat green beans.

5. After everything had gotten acquainted for a few minutes, I buried the chicken pieces in the rice mixture and put the pan in a moderate oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

6. Before serving, I took the paella out of the oven, covered it with foil, and let it contemplate itself for 10 minutes.

The paella was just lovely. But placid, in a way – a homey, comforting dish of protein, rice, and two veg. The saffron provided a warm golden color but wasn’t an unduly strong presence, mostly an enrichment of all the other flavors. Tom and I have never enjoyed lima beans as much as we did in this dish, where they seemed to absorb delicate flavors from their environment.

When the dish was set on the table, there seemed to be a lot of rice for only two persons. It was in fact more than we could finish – but we got through most of it, because the rice itself was utterly delicious. (I enjoyed the leftovers for lunch the next day.) I’m definitely a convert now, though I’m not sure whether to credit the rice variety alone or the whole ensemble of flavors in the dish. Soon I’m planning to use Bomba in some more familiar rice recipe to see if I’ve acquired a new addiction!

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Some simple classics are too good to try to improve on. The bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich. Pizza margherita. And salade niçoise. I’ve been making the same version of salade niçoise every summer for more than 40 years, since publication of the first volume in the Time-Life Foods of the World series, The Cooking of Provincial France, with author/consultant credits to M.F.K. Fisher, Michael Field, and Julia Child.

Sure, you can make a tasty summer vegetable salad with anything you like: peppers, radishes, cucumbers, onions, corn, beets, artichokes, broccoli . . . . I have no problem with those, as long as you use a good vinaigrette dressing. But I don’t call those salade niçoise. When I want that lovely dish, I go for the basics: tuna, tomatoes, potato salad, green beans, hardboiled eggs, anchovies, olives, and lettuce. What more does anyone need?!

The key for me is to use the best ingredients available. Those tomatoes are an heirloom variety from my greenmarket. The potatoes and flat Roman beans are also fresh from the greenmarket. The tuna is ventresca. By the way, if you don’t happen to know this Spanish or Italian import, it’s well worth looking for. Ventresca is the Rolls Royce of tunafish. It’s belly flesh – velvety textured, richly flavored, always packed in olive oil.

There are purists who say a true niçoise should have no cooked vegetables at all, which would rule out my potatoes and green beans. But I stoutly stick up for those two vegetables. I’ve even been known to use potato salad made with mayonnaise, which isn’t canonical (but good).

However, this week I faithfully followed the book’s recipe. I first sliced and then boiled the potatoes (usually I do it the other way around), tossed the slices very gently with some chicken stock, left them to absorb it, tossed them again with dry mustard and salt dissolved in wine vinegar, let that be absorbed, and finished the potatoes with extra virgin olive oil and parsley.

I boiled the green beans until just barely done and also boiled the eggs (evidently acceptable even to purists because though cooked they aren’t vegetables). Then I just assembled them on a base of Bibb lettuce, with the tomatoes, the ventresca, Moroccan oil-cured black olives, rinsed salt-packed anchovies, and a mildly mustardy vinaigrette.

For Tom and me, with a crusty baguette and a good bottle of wine (a lovely white Ravello from Marisa Cuomo, a fine small estate on the Amalfi coast), that was paradise enow.

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I’m not a big fan of California cuisine. I feel that too often it throws together too many not-really-compatible ingredients, so the flavors clash rather than cooperate. But I keep looking into it and hoping for the best.

An attraction for me of Christine Hanna’s book The Winemaker Cooks was the restrained exuberance of many of its California dishes. Last fall I did a highly appreciative post on its Prosciutto-Roasted Fennel recipe, which has become a favorite of mine. Accordingly, with vegetables on my mind this week, I went browsing through her pages again, and came up with recipes for three staple vegetables – green beans, zucchini, and parsnips – that called for combinations of flavors that, while interesting and unusual, didn’t seem over the top.

Given the season, all the vegetables and their accompaniments were available in the market, so I bought a batch to work my way through on successive nights:

Pretty, aren’t they? They gave me great hopes they would taste as good as they looked.

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I started with the recipe for Sautéed Romano Beans with Shallots, Pine Nuts, and Mint.

These big flat beans, though often clunky and coarse looking, are always more flavorful than regular green beans. I freeze a lot of them for eating all winter long. Because this recipe starts with parboiling the beans, I thought it might be a nice way to dress up defrosted beans too, so I was particularly interested in trying it. You sauté chopped shallots and garlic in olive oil, add the partially cooked beans and cook until they’re tender, then finish them with toasted pine nuts, chopped mint, salt, and pepper.

They were good. Not transcendent, but good. Mainly, they were just good green beans, but the shallots and garlic provided a little bass note of richness, the pine nuts added a tenor crunch, and the mint sang a bright soprano accompaniment. It’s an attractive dish, too – could be nice for a dinner party.

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Encouraged, the next evening I went on to make Fragrant Zucchini with Mustard Seeds.

This one, described as an exotic twist on sautéed zucchini, didn’t work so well. Closely considered, the recipe’s basic approach is absurd. Six servings’ worth of zucchini, cut in one-inch chunks, to be sautéed in only one tablespoon of olive oil and done in five minutes? No way! Even for super-crunchy, almost raw zucchini, that wouldn’t be enough oil or time. The mere two portions I was making needed more oil and took much longer. But that was easy enough to adjust, and I fear the main fault was mine.

The “exotic” part of the recipe (the part that originally interested me) was the first step – cooking whole mustard seeds in the oil before adding minced garlic and those zucchini chunks. My black mustard seeds had been around for too long a time, and they just didn’t have any pungency left. So what I had was plain sautéed zucchini decorated with little black dots:

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Oh, well; can’t win ‘em all. Next day I tried the third recipe: Roasted Parsnips with Shallots and Sage.

Again I had to struggle with the instructions. Whereas with yesterday’s recipe the ingredient list called for six “small” zucchini (a size that could be anybody’s guess, given the huge range of sizes zucchini come in), this recipe specified a weight for the parsnips. That was good, but then it said to quarter them lengthwise. Since parsnips also come in a great range of sizes, that means the thickness of the widest parts could vary greatly.

Also, parsnips are a hard, dense vegetable, and the recipe’s roasting time – 20 minutes covered and 20 uncovered, at 350° – seemed rather short. But my parsnips, fresh and first of the season at the Greenmarket, were almost tiny, so I thought they might be done in that time. So I only halved them lengthwise, quartering just a few of the biggest parts, and cut them into two-inch pieces as instructed.

I tossed the pieces along with several whole shallots in olive oil, chopped fresh sage, salt and pepper, and put them in the oven. Forty minutes later they were still hard as rocks. Fifteen more minutes later, with the heat boosted to 400°, they were at best leathery, and beginning to dry out.

We did eat some of them, chewing industriously. The flavors would have been fine if the texture wasn’t so tough. The rest of them are sitting in my refrigerator, waiting to be chopped small, cooked longer, and made into a cream soup.

I really should have known better. I often roast mixed winter vegetables, but I always do them in a 450° oven for about an hour, with more generous olive oil; and with parsnips in much smaller pieces.

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Oh, California!  I’m afraid I’m just not good at your kind of cooking. I may have to give up on you.

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No matter what the fusion cuisine people may say, my trouble with Asian cooking is that I’m not good at incorporating an oriental recipe into an otherwise-occidental meal. Therefore, I always end up “doing Asian” much more elaborately than I intended.

To wit: The other day I was browsing Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking, by Julie Sahni, hoping for just one interesting little preparation. As usual, one thing led to another. Here’s what I made for dinner the next night:

Spicy Mushrooms with Ginger and Chilies
Bengali Green Beans and Potatoes Smothered in Mustard Oil
Tomato Pilaf
Fresh Corn Breads

That’s a lot of cooking. It all started with that mushroom recipe, which I had made before and liked a lot. The headnote recommended them wrapped in bread as an appetizer or accompanied by a tomato pilaf. The book’s breads section provided an intriguing flatbread recipe made with pureed fresh corn kernels and said it was lovely with the green bean preparation. Three new dishes there, and it’s the height of local corn season: I couldn’t resist.

The Mushrooms

For Khombi Tarkari, mushrooms are snuggled up in a sauté pan with onions, ginger, garlic, hot green chilies, turmeric, roasted cumin seeds, and lemon juice. Tom, my chili handler, was uncharacteristically intimidated by the fierceness of our newly purchased chilies when raw, so we used less of them than the recipe called for. But cooking tamed them mightily, and they didn’t overpower the mushrooms. Altogether, these ingredients indeed made a spicy dish, good warm or at room temperature.

The Green Beans and Potatoes

I probably wouldn’t have tried Bangla Aloo Sem on my own, since I don’t keep mustard oil in my pantry. But the recipe said vegetable oil and dry mustard powder would be OK, so I made it. Cut in similar-sized pieces, the beans and potato are first sautéed in oil flavored with black mustard seeds, turmeric, garlic, and dried red chilies. Then they get the dry mustard and a little water, are cooked covered until tender, and are uncovered briefly to evaporate excess liquid. They were delicious, though you had to be careful not to get a forkful with lurking pieces of the truly fierce Arbol peppers.

The Tomato Pilaf

Most of Sahni’s pilafs are made with previously cooked rice. That was new to me, but I’ve noted it for days when I’ve cooked too much rice for another purpose. Tamatar Bhat is a very simple pilaf, with the rice stirred into a puree of tomatoes sautéed with chopped onion and crushed coriander seeds. The cooking time seemed long for already-cooked rice, and indeed the dish came out rather porridgy looking. But it tasted fine, though mild.

The Corn Breads

Bhutte ki Roti was, of the four, the recipe I had been most intrigued by. The flatbreads are made with pureed fresh corn kernels, a little salt, a little oil, and enough whole wheat and white flour to hold it all together. They’re rolled very thin and cooked quickly on a very hot cast-iron griddle. Alas, mine needed a lot more flour than the recipe had suggested, and they came out looking rather sickly. Also, they didn’t taste much of corn, even though we (Tom is also the griddle cook of the family) had finished them by holding each one with tongs directly over a high flame, which was supposed to intensify the roasted corn flavor. By that point, they had a nicely rustic look, but not the intensity of flavor I’d hoped for.

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So, after making all this, we sat to supper with the four dishes on the table at once and amused ourselves by tasting them in different combinations.

They went amazingly well with each other and with the lovely Hugel Alsace Gewurztraminer we drank with them. The two mild-flavored dishes, the pilaf and the breads, were excellent foils for the two spicy dishes. The spicing of the mushrooms was different from the spicing of the beans and potatoes, but all the vegetables harmonized rather than competing.

For both Tom and me, the star was the Bengali green beans. They were both sufficiently familiar and sufficiently different from any way we’d ever cooked green beans. These, I could actually imagine fusing into an occidental menu. All in all, this was a rich and satisfying combination of flavors, even for normally dedicated meat eaters.

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OK, I know your questions. What in the world are swimpses? And what does Fats Waller have to do with it?

Don’t blame me: Blame M.F.K. Fisher. This recipe is from her 1968 book With Bold Knife and Fork. In a chapter on the pleasures of rice, she speaks of Fats Waller singing “a slyly libidinous song about seafood,” with the lyrics “Swimpses and rice/Are very nice!” Swimpses, I learned, is New Orleans dialect for shrimp.

I’d really like to hear Fats singing that song, but Google couldn’t even find a mention of it for me. Anyone know of it?

The redoubtable Ms. Fisher goes on to say she developed this recipe after overhearing a bunch of fishermen “in a mean bar” trading recipes for swimpses while drinking boilermakers. (How often has anything like that happened to you?) She liked one recipe so much she created her own version. It’s a wickedly simple-sounding preparation, involving only shrimp, butter, paprika, sherry and rice. Not even any salt or pepper. It is indeed simple, and what it chiefly wants is butter. A heart-clogging amount of it.

For a dinner dish for two, I melted a whole stick of butter (that’s 800 calories!) in a sauté pan, threw in half a pound of shrimp and a tablespoon of Hungarian sweet paprika, stirred them over brisk heat just until the “swimpses” turned opaque, and mixed in ¼ cup of dry sherry. With only two seasonings in the whole dish, I figured the quality of the sherry is important. I used Lustau’s Papirusa Manzanilla, a delicate, fully dry variety. Manzanillas are all described as having a scent of the sea, which seemed a good choice to flavor swimpses.

As soon as the alcohol had evaporated, I poured the entire contents of the pan over two cups of cooked rice and tossed it all together.

This dish was rich beyond belief, and sinfully delicious. The rice just sucked in all the butter. The shrimp lolled in it luxuriously, all rosy from the paprika and lightly scented with the tang of the sherry. The flavors called to mind the near-stultifying New Orleans cooking we’d experienced in a couple of unforgettable meals at Galatoire’s, in the French Quarter. Now we understand how restaurant chefs achieve their extraordinary effects – boatloads of butter!  For a weekday meal at home, we couldn’t come near finishing our portions of this “slyly libidinous” dish – though it’s hard to imagine how much libido could survive all that butter: Maybe “wantonly lubricious” is a better description.

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Side dish: Green Beans sous faux vide

Knowing we’d be wanting a plain green vegetable with our swimpses and rice, I’d acquired some green beans. Normally, if they are of decent quality, for a meal like this I simply boil them. But I’d just read an online review of an unusual new book called Ideas in Food, by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, in which they apparently suggest boiling vegetables inside a ziplock plastic bag to achieve restaurants’ sous vide effect. The reviewer was wowed by the result when she tried it, saying her green beans “retained a bright, undissipated flavor” that she’d never encountered before. Well, I thought, since last week I found I could raise bread dough effectively in a plastic bag, why not try cooking my green beans in one? This might be the beginning of a whole new chapter of my culinary life. Here are the bagged beans, afloat in a pot of boiling water:

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I was dubious about one aspect of this technique. How can you tell when the beans are done, since you can’t easily pull one out and test it? I had to take a straining scoop and dip out the whole bag, try to unzip it without getting scalded, test a bean, re-zip the bag without getting scalded, and drop it back into the boiling water. Four times I did this, before the beans were done. They take a long time to cook this way.

Tasted at last, they were flavorful enough, but we didn’t find them so far superior to green beans cooked in open water that I’m willing to spend a fussy 45 minutes on them. So much for my new culinary life: There’s one advanced technique I can contentedly live without.

The quantity of butter in the shrimp, on the other hand, might shorten my old life dramatically, if indulged in often. Delicious as it was, this is clearly a dish to enjoy infrequently.

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Whenever I feel like cooking Spanish, I almost always turn to recipes by Penelope Casas. This week I did a dinner of two new-to-me dishes and one old favorite from her book The Foods and Wines of Spain. The new recipes are Cordero Estofado, smothered lamb, and its recommended accompaniment, Judias Verdes “Barcena, green beans and cured ham.

As I read through any recipe for the first time, I’m tasting it on my mind’s tongue, adding up the anticipated effect of each ingredient. With Casas, when I’ve made the dish I usually find the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – and that’s a terrific quality in a recipe. So quite a few of my book’s pages have penciled markings of “Good” or “Excellent!” (Incidentally, I’ve never met the woman and have no connection with her publications: This is pure disinterested praise.)

The lamb recipe makes an excellent, easy winter dish. Brown a batch of boneless lamb chunks in olive oil; add and soften a lot of chopped onion; mix in a lot of unpeeled garlic cloves, a bay leaf, paprika, salt and pepper, and a modest amount of red wine vinegar – the only liquid. Cover and cook gently until the meat is tender.

The green bean recipe is also delicious, as well as fairly dressy. Briefly blanch beans, then crisp them a bit in olive oil; add and sauté chopped onion, garlic, and Serrano ham; then cover and let them all get acquainted for about 10 minutes. Another “greater than the sum of its parts” preparation. The only change I’d make next time is to cut back on the amount of ham called for, unless I was serving it alongside a meatless main dish.

Our first course that evening was my old favorite, Casas’s Tortilla Española. (My book opens to that page by itself, I’ve made the recipe so often.) This is the simplest form of the Spanish tortilla – just heaps of thin-sliced baking potatoes and onions slowly softened in olive oil, then steeped in beaten eggs, put back in the skillet and cooked into a luscious cake. In this case the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts – no kidding.

Altogether, this was an exceedingly onion-y meal. I’d never make these dishes with anything but large Spanish onions. They don’t have the pungency of smaller yellow onions, yet they’re not as excessively sweet as Vidalias and their ilk. So I can enjoy great quantities of them without having a forcible reminder of it on my breath the next morning.

We completed the Iberian theme of the dinner by drinking a young Ribera del Duero red wine. Here are Tom’s thoughts on the wine:

Initially and by itself a bit overwooded and a trifle too acidic, with the lamb it came into fine balance alongside the sweetness of the onions, which masked the sweetness of the oak, and the slight bite of the vinegar, which called out the softness of the wine’s fruit – a very interesting case of food-and-wine interaction.

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