I’ve been experimenting with a new cookbook recently, Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice, which follows through on its promise of “simple Chinese home cooking” with some fantastic dishes. My favorite so far, in part because it’s ridiculously easy to make, is a salad of “smacked cucumbers” in a combination of soy sauce, brown rice vinegar, and chili oil with a little bit of sugar and some finely chopped garlic. It only takes about ten minutes to make, and that’s mostly because you’re waiting for the salt you through on the cucumber to draw out some water. (I’ve had to adjust Dunlop’s formula, though—halving the amount of chili oil and bumping up the vinegar a touch—because otherwise my mouth would be on fire.) Put this next to a plate of rice, and it’s pretty much a fantastic light dinner on its own.
I had the pleasure of meeting Fuchsia Dunlop when she was in New York City recently to promote the book, after I’d just reread her memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, where she writes about falling in love with Chinese cuisine as a student in Chengdu in the mid-1990s, a pre-Internet era when being halfway around the world really did effectively cut you off from your old surroundings. Soon, she was setting aside the journalism career she’d begun to establish—and which had in its way brought her to China—in order to study cooking and write about what she was learning. “I always wanted to do something about food, though,” she said. “If I hadn’t been an academic, I have no doubt I’d have gone to work in a restaurant at 16.”
25 February 2013 | cooking |
I got a new cookbook for the holidays—Nigel Slater’s Tender—and I’ve spent the last week or so poring over the gorgeous photography and Slater’s stories about how he began growing vegetables in his backyard in London. One of the easiest recipes I found during my initial reading was for a salad of boiled potatoes with cucumber slices, in a Dijon dressing (with a bit of cider vinegar, olive oil, and crushed juniper berries). So I tried it last night, and it came out really well! It’s very simple to make, maybe a half hour from start to finish, and the end results were delicious.
I think the next time I make this dish, I’ll probably do a few slight adjustments: I used the high end of the recommended range of potatoes to boil, and that was probably more appropriate for a party of four, rather than just for me and my wife, so I’ll bring that down a notch. And I suspect I could’ve added a little bit more black pepper to the dressing as I was mixing it; I gave the grinder a fair number of twists, but the dressing feels like it could stand a few more. I’m also vaguely curious about what swapping out the juniper berries with crushed garlic cloves might do in terms of flavor, but I won’t be getting around to that for a while. (For one thing, I’ve got all these juniper berries left…)
This salad was so easy to prepare, though, that it encourages me to dive even further into Tender, and its fruit-themed sequel Ripe for additional healthy recipes. The winter’s a great time of the year, after all, to be experimenting with potatoes and other root vegetables…
9 January 2013 | cooking |