[ vegetarian improvisational peasant fusion cuisine for the 22nd century ]

Sunday, October 01, 2006

cooking can be god late september cooking class

Dear Friends,

A new shipment of the books from my official distributor (Madonna, my best friend's mom) in Tennessee arrived yesterday, delayed a bit perhaps because of Madonna's wedding celebration last week. Congratulations Madonna. May the heavens rain Kale upon us all.

The way my mind works means putting together this note is a bit like sifting through the rubble of last year's fun house -- what once seemed shiny and scary now strikes me as lifeless and decrepit. Which is to say, the only thing real about cooking is the firm life-ness of the vegetables and the particular alchemical relation, at that very moment, that arises around you, the food, and your intention -- that strange and delicate energy I hesitate to name, and when I do, I only know is as "The Love".

Which makes the following into an artifact, not a horoscope -- a history to learn from and not repeated. Keep the infinitude of each moment in mind, keep those odious comparisons and executionary expectations safely distant, and ye shall never hunger.

Garlic Rosemary Crostini

Before its recent popularity in small servings on large plates, crostini was part of an age-old and pancultural recycling movement in the kitchen. Alongside the tostada and bread pudding, it's a proven way of getting otherwise discerning eaters to gobble down stale bread.

Beautiful stale bread

A few cloves of garlic

Olive oil

A sprig of rosemary

Slice your bread. The staler it is, the thinner you want it. The result will be a light, crunchy, toast. Mince together the garlic and rosemary. Garlic peels easily after you've sliced off bunching end and smashed it with your knife (or hand). Heat a wide flat pan and pour in a couple tablespoons of oil. You don't need much but the whole notion of needs and wants have been long confused in our society anyhow. When the olive oil heats to fragrant and visions of provence and tuscany dance in your temporal lobes, throw in the minced spices. They will brown rapidly, releasing their essence into the oil and fragrance into your air. Now lay in the crostini, taking care that each slice rests flatly on the pan. Cook this way on medium heat, toasting the bread until the first hint of blackness appears (check every once in a while). Flip all the slices and cook a few more minutes. Before finishing toss them all around, soaking up any remaining oil and spices -- they should leave the pan flecked with garlic and rosemary.

Salt, pepper, top with whatever salsas or pate you have ready, and serve (not just offer, but serve).

Marinated Yellow Squash

Well, as long as you have a wide flat plan nicely lubricated with oil and garlic, you might want to pan-grill some vegetables. Most backwards in time to before deciding the bread was old and slice up some zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, or similar soft vegetable. Slice them relatively thin (around 1/8") and place the slices to marinate in a dish on the side. Marination is the culinary equivalent of watching television -- the slices lay catatonically in a solution beyond their control, absorbing the energy, message, and flavor of what you (unilaterally) choose to douse them in. Be careful with your power. I choose a light mixture of oil and vinegar, generally, and on the infamous day in question used olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and some onion slices.

As with television or any other kind of propaganda, the longer they are indoctrinated, the better. You can use diced onions, roughly chopped fresh herbs (sage, oregano, dill), orange juice, soy sauce, ginger, fresh chiles. If you can do it the night before (I know, I know) so much the better.

After the bread is done, leave the heat in the pan, add a spot more of oil if necessary, and saute the tranches much as you did the crostini. Remember to use simple words from foreign languages to impress your neighbors. When soft and brown and heading towards the blister on one side, flip to finish on the other. If you've cut them thin enough, you may not need/want (it's confusing, it is, isn't it) to flip them at all.

You can serve the slices whole, layered in strange patterns across an open-faced sandwich, or sliced into a backroad of diamonds to parade across your crostini.


If you're going to have a cross-cultural tower of vegetable goodness, you're going to need a salsa (or two, or three) to top the squash topping the bread. You're going to need some pico de gallo.

Onions (or green onions)

Tomatoes are the main event here and Onions ride shotgun. Which is to say, you can put 2:1 or 3:2, tomatoes to onions, and be safely within a palatable range. Add cilantro according to preference -- the better you cut it the more you can add. Keep your lemons at room temperature to maximize juice production, roll them around on the counter a bit, and get every last drop out with a fork. Remember that chiles are powerful...

Carrot Salsa

During the class I pointed out that you're going to need salsa long past the time you can find local fresh organic tomatoes. And rather than forcing the wide world to adapt to our petty desires (through the marvels of the petroleum economy and refrigerated trucking), you might want to adapt your recipes to the world. This salsa uses the same principles as the
pico de gallo, above, but employs local sweet carrots, available all winter long.

Grated carrots

Diced onions


Lemon (or a light hint of vinegar)


Toasted sesame seeds

Combine in the same proportions you would the tomato salsa, repeating to yourself, "carrots are the new tomato" until all the colors blend together.

A Wintry Salad

Once again, looking forward to a winter without lettuce descending upon acres and acres of kale, let's move to a mindset where the greens are a little darker. Instead of using typical lettuce or spinach, we can lightly steam some kale, beet greens, or chard, just until the color brightens and the texture softens. At that point we chill the the greens and mix them with whatever else we desired. Last Wednesday it was --

Brightly Wilted Chard
Quarter-moons of cucumber
Sesame seeds
Diced onion
Chopped tomato
Grated carrots

When mixing, take care to manage the texture between light and soft so it's easy to eat but not mushy. For a dressing I recommend an extended version of whatever marinade you used (above). Think of Beethoven reiterating and joking around with the theme. It's like that. During the class we had an impomptu and marvelous incarnation of a blackberry tahini dressing; a hint of applesauce (and mint?) in your dressings could add a sweet creaminess to an otherwise routine affair.

I'm going to put the brakes on here and get down to town to distribute these hot new books. Thanks so much for playing. Please let me know if you want another class or have any questions or suggestions.

ankur shah