Kitchen Notes: Building flavour and a warm salad


I think of flavours in terms of tones, going from earthy and sweet to sour and light, and various grades in between. And I like my food to have a range of tones of flavours, be multidimensional. I know it may seem strange to talk of food in such terms, but somehow it makes sense. A garnish of certain fresh herbs on a meaty stew or curry.  A squeeze of lemon or lime or a drizzle of brightly-flavoured extra virgin oil on pasta or salad lift that dish to more interesting heights. I also often use fresh chillies to give that uplift. I mix raw and cooked, grains and brightly flavoured vegetables, add the afore mentioned flourishes in order to achieve these tastes. They rock my boat, they just do it for me.


2013 in my Kitchen: Bread & Turkey

My bread

Two things have left the strongest mark on my cooking in 2013: bread and Turkey.

Bread took me by surprise. I didn’t think it was my kind of thing. Too laborious, I thought, and like many, I was wrong. I found in it a rhythm of life that I didn’t even know existed, let alone that I fitted into it. It only goes to show that you never know what you’re going to find and love, even when you think you know yourself pretty well. I look forward to whatever lies ahead.


Kitchen Notes: Mujaddara with an Indian soul


I messed with a classic. And I would do it again. The results in this case justify the means. I used Indian techniques on an Arab dish, mujaddara. Cumin and coriander seeds were popped in olive oil, and joined by the sliced onion. They were given a lot of time together, about 40 minutes. First on the high heat to remove their moisture, after which they fried gently in the oil that they released back into the pan. The onions became deliciously caramelised and sweet, and hauntingly fragrant with spices. Lower notes of cumin and cinnamon uplifted by the flowery citrusy coriander. Insanely delicious. I leave it on a plate to mix in with the lentils and rice later.


Authentic, or not? Sri Lankan, or not?

When would you say that a new recipe creation belongs to a particular cuisine? How would you define it? Or to widen the topic of this discussion a little further, when would you call a recipe authentic? Or inauthentic?

Sri Lankan-style chickpea saladBeing someone interested in exploring different world cuisines and cooking different national dishes, I encounter these questions often. When I was writing the previous post on Sri-Lankan-style chickpea salad, I was wondering which categories to assign it to, whether to label it Sri Lankan, or not?  The dish was inspired by a Sri Lankan style of cooking (albeit cooking of vegetables), I used Sri Lankan spices and flavours. But I still felt unsure, and called it Sri-Lankan style. Perhaps partly because I wasn’t sure about how Sri Lankan my addition of coriander leaf is.

Curly kale

Let’s consider another example, the kale aloo recipe, my version of the classic Indian Punjabi dish aloo palak. Except that I used kale. Here, I felt somehow more confident. The spicing was completely Indian/Punjabi, and the technique. It was just that I’d used kale, which was available to me at the time and seasonal, rather than spinach.

Also, when I made the Sri Lankan fish curry with salmon, which can’t be a traditional ingredient, I confidently labelled it Sri Lankan, because Jasmine cooked it, and it was her recipe. And she is Sri Lankan.

Am I being nervous and insecure just because I don’t belong to these nations? A dish can’t be called Sri Lankan/Punjabi only when made by a Sri Lankan/Punjabi? Surely that can’t be right?

Creativity is an integral part of cooking, and Indian and Sri Lankan cooks use spices and ingredients in many wonderful and diverse ways. Spicing differs from cook to cook, and dishes differ from cook to cook. Cooking with a Punjabi friend opened my eyes to it; her spontaneity, her creativity taught me to relax when cooking with spices. These cooks also pride themselves on being different, original within their national style of cooking. And when they go abroad, they use the ingredients they’ve got at hand. Like the salmon in fish curry. So I’m inclined to think that kale in my aloo doesn’t stop it from being Punjabi, and perhaps my chickpea salad is Sri Lankan after all, as long as I’ve used the ingredients, flavours and techniques pertinent to that national/regional style of cooking.

What do you think? When would you say a dish belongs to a cuisine? And then what do you think makes a dish authentic? I’m really interested to read about your thoughts on this matter.

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