Surviving the barbecue: cheat sheet

Food politics
Surviving the barbecue: cheat sheet post image


Sindhi Gosht

Food & drink
Sindhi Gosht, Madhur Jaffrey

Sometimes, I like simple.

Those meals that are just thrown together with little effort and less thought, the ones that somehow transcend their parts and become something quite wonderful because of either the sheer quality of their ingredients or the application of a transformative cooking process.

This is one such dish – a deep, rich and brilliantly straightforward Asian dish, the sort of dish that everybody should have on standby for those lazy days when nothing much happens.

There are two stages.

A long marinade, and a long, slow cook.


Naturally Nourished, by Sarah Britton

Naturally Nourished, by Sarah Britton

I think I eat too much meat.

I’ve been trying to cut down recently, have a couple of days a week without any meat, and to eat more fish and seafood instead of just, well, red meat, that sort of thing.

My efforts have been moderately successful so far, but I’m hitting a definite limit in my repertoire of vegetarian meals. I’m becoming a little tired of this roasted butternut squash and chickpea stew, good as it is.

The truth is, I’m not terribly good at vegetarian food.

I like to eat vegetarian food, of course, but I’m not very good at making substantial vegetarian meals. It isn’t through want of trying, and I’ve picked up some excellent ideas and dishes from some superb cookbooks recently, but there’s always space for more inspiration, no?

And what is the point of the humble cookbook if not to inspire?

Some are better than others. Some work, some don’t.

Here’s one that does.

Sarah Britton is the writer and nutritionist behind the superb blog, My New Roots, and author of the successful cook book of the same name. She specialises in vegetarian food, and may prove to be my saviour.

Britton’s latest book, Naturally Nourished, is a rich collection of vegetarian food from soups and salads, though larger main courses, into side dishes and small plates, finishing up with some savoury and sweet snacks.

Most of these recipes are designed to be put together quickly and easily, and Britton pushes the concept of ‘rolling over’ recipes from day to day to make life easier.

It’s quite simple, really.

Batch cooking with organisation.

Day one – make a quinoa salad, but cook double, so that there’s enough left the second day to make something out of lentils and quinoa, but cook double lentils for the day after, etc, etc. Why anybody would want to cook any quinoa at all is beyond me, but you get the idea?

There are plenty of recipes here that could be adapted to that sort of approach, and there’s a lot of time to be saved by doing so.

It’s tasty stuff, too.

I like the idea of some soured cream and onion chickpea crisps … essentially posh roasted chickpeas, which have been a recent success with the kids in our house, especially when accidentally loaded with a little too much salt.

There’s a stuffed pumpkin recipe, labelled as ‘ceremonial’ that might have crept out of the pages of the Seventies cookbooks my mum and dad used to have, were it not for the decidedly on-trend filling of bulgur wheat, feta and figs.

There’s a mildly perplexing watermelon mojito ice lolly recipe, which looks stunning, mint leaves encases in watermelon red ice, but which on closer inspection omits a vital ingredient in anything purporting to be a mojito: rum.

I felt cheated.

All in all, a useful and interesting cookbook, well presented, superbly written and a treat to look at.

Saturne, Paris

Eating out
Saturne, Paris, France

Bread is important.

It’s the most fundamental of foods, loaded with symbolism, heavy with tradition, commanding its own rituals and reverence.

Often, you can take one look at the bread that a restaurant serves and work out precisely how good or bad your meal will be. If a kitchen cares not for the bread it serves, it may as well give up, because the game is lost.

I noticed this straight away at Saturne. It was hard not to. We had a table right next to a little bread station, a small alcove to house a thick chopping board, a knife, and a hulking pain de campagne, a great beast of a loaf, cracked and dark in crust, purposeful and elegant in crumb.

A waiter approached the loaf in the manner of a priest approaching an altar, taking the knife and turning the bread towards her. She paused for a long moment as if in prayer, knife balanced above crust, before tearing into the loaf in skillful, practiced sweeps, flipping the bread this way and that to produce substantial slices, to be loaded into linen lined baskets and delivered to tables with haste.

I could stop this here.

This is all you need to know about Saturne. That reverence, that care.

It’s a story for the ages. More…

Mountain Berries and Desert Spice, by Sumayya Usmani

Mountain Berries and Desert Spice, by Sumayya Usmani

One of my favourite cook books from last year was Sumayya Usmani’s brilliant Summers Under the Tamarind Tree, an intoxicating collection of Pakistani food.

I’ve cooked from it ever since, and my copy is stuffed with bookmarks to remind me what to do next.

Usmani’s new book, Mountain Berries and Desert Spice is its equal, showcasing the sweeter side of Pakistani cuisine.

Yes, I’m a fan, but not an immediate one.

Now, a full disclosure. I’m not a big dessert person. I often sit that course out entirely, and if I’m forced, there’s always cheese, or maybe whatever’s available without too much cream on it (in it, as an ingredient, is fine. On it is not). I’ll bake the odd cake now and then, and biscuits too, and I’ve been known to do the occasional sweet loaf, but dessert just isn’t my thing.

So, how am I going to square that with a real admiration for Mountain Berries and Desert Spice?