I’ve been really inspired lately by a few books and shows in the food world. I can’t get them out of my head. Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem, Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown the episode in which he goes to Iran (Season 4, Episode 6) and the first episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix featuring Italian Chef, Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana fame. Each of these in their different mediums print and video go beyond just food and cooking; they explore a place, people and the living context of food.
Ottolenghi’s cookbook brings alive the vibrant culture and city of Jerusalem, from the food to the street cafes. Half the photos are not of recipes but of the inhabitants who bring the city to life, it is like a visual diary straddling food and the brilliant chaos of an old city that represents so much to so many people in the Middle East and beyond. As you flip through the pages you feel as if you are getting to know the people. In Parts Unknown, which airs on CNN, Anthony Bourdain makes no secret of his interest in the people and politics of Iran. He doesn’t shy away from controversial topics or questions. He uses the excuse of sumptuous food to bring you into the home of Iranians and delve deeply into the culture and what is going on there politically – even probing the tenuous relationship between the US and Iran. It’s an incredible window into a country and culture that is so complex and often misunderstood. The tensions are real and there is more than just a meal at stake. Chef’s Table created by David Gelb the director of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, does a remarkable job of creating a portrait of chef Massimo Bottura, one of the leading chefs in Italy by framing his life and success – as a great love story. It is one of the most original takes on a chef that I’ve seen in long time and the power of it stays with you, even longer than the beautifully lensed images. Because more interesting than success is what makes people successful…. And in this case it’s love. It doesn’t get more real than that.
It’s so exciting to see the possibility of telling a great story, of learning and being moved by stories of food, one of the pillars of culture. What these stories all have in common is a great lasting humanity, which in the age of overly produced competitive cooking shows, the Kardashians and the hype of the latest food fad is easy to forget and incredibly refreshing to remember.
SPROUTING BROCCOLI AND EDAMAME SALAD WITH CURRY LEAVES AND COCONUT – This recipe is from another one of my favorite Ottolenghi cookbooks Plenty More. I wanted to make this recipe because I was missing my time in India – a time of peace and reflection in my life. Any time I feel that longing I break out the mustard seeds, curry leaves and freshly grated coconut and these flavors bring me right back to the people I met there and that probing but blissful state of mind.
12 oz broccolini or purple sprouting broccoli
7 oz green beans or the thinner variety haricots verts
1 ½ cups shelled frozen edamame
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon to finish
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 ½ teaspoons black mustard seeds
30 fresh or frozen curry leaves
2 whole dried chiles
shaved rind of 1 lime, plus 1 ½ tablespoons lime juice
⅔ cup cilantro leaves
⅔ cup freshly grated coconut (I tried this method of opening a coconut, and I think it helped, but I ended up finishing the job with a hammer, which also worked!)
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add broccolini and green beans blanching for 3-4 minutes, the vegetables should be cooked but have some bite. Transfer vegetables to a colander, rinse with cold water, drain and pat dry.
Return the pot of water to a boil, add edamame and blanch for 2 minutes. Transfer edamame to colander, rinse with cold water, drain and pat dry.
Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, add onion and a pinch of salt, cook for 4 minutes or until soft. Add black mustard seeds, when they begin to pop add curry leaves, chiles and lime rind. Fry for 2 minutes and then pour over vegetables. Stir and set aside for 10 minutes.
Just before serving add lime juice, cilantro and coconut. Gently stir and serve.