Thursday, 14 January 2010

Cook the Books - A Taste for Adventure

I've been so looking forward to another year of Cook the Books - our online book club where we go beyond talking about the books, to cook dishes inspired by them. The current round is being hosted by Rachel, the Crispy Cook, and the deadline is January 22nd, so please visit Cook the Books after that date to see the roundup of reading-inspired dishes from around the blogosphere.

I don't know how other people feel, but I sometimes find it very difficult to start cooking again after a holiday. I feel a bit flat, a bit fed up and not very inspired. I know I want to eat something different, but it's all a bit meh and I can't be bothered.

Our current book, A Taste for Adventure by Anik See, was just the thing to get me out of my post-Christmas doldrums and back into foody experimentation. It was also a great excuse to use these cute sticky flags that I was given for Christmas. Aren't the little animals adorable? No more old envelopes marking pages in cookbooks for me!

Anik's spirit of adventure is totally alien to a nervous traveller like me. When I travel I need to know where I am sleeping at night, it needs to involve an actual bed and preferably indoor plumbing, and I need at least a vague idea of where I will be the following day. The idea of setting off into a country where I don't speak the language, armed with a bicycle and tent terrifies me. But her writing makes it sound bizarrely appealing.

I suspect there is the slightest element of rose-coloured glassery in these stories. Surely no one is so blessed as to encounter exclusively charming, delightful, hospitable people who offer delicious, nutritious food at the drop of a hat? Some people don't even get that at family Christmas dinners! But even with that slight scepticism, I found this book enticing. The people she meets, the food she tastes, the things she sees are all fascinating - and certainly not experiences you'd encounter travelling my way.

I had a great deal of difficulty deciding what to cook, inspired by A Taste for Adventure. So many of the dishes sounded so good! I loved the account of the Patagonian barbecue, as prepared by holidaying butchers, but the thick layer of snow on the lawn made barbecuing not very practical. The Indonesian Gado Gado is an old favourite, but I have recently blogged about it. Recipe after recipe begged me to try them. So at some stage, I intend to try making khachapuri, lahmacun, ali nazik kebabi and fesenjun with chelo. But not yet.

I decided that - as Singapore is the only country represented in the book that I have visited - I would make something from the opening chapter, on Malaysia and Singapore. When we were in Singapore, just for one night, almost exactly a year ago, we stayed in Little India. Anik says "I begin in Little India, where I lose myself in the back alleys for a couple of hours. I walk past piles and piles of spices: of vicious yellow turmeric; of tiny, fragrant pods of cardamom; of curiously shaped fenugreek" and it was exactly that that drew me - the bustle and fragrance and chaos and mess, right in the middle of clean, air-conditioned Singaporean order.

I made two dishes - murtabak and Jagjit's dalcha.

I watched a couple of youtube videos trying to figure out the wrist flick needed for the roti dough and murtabak. And although I tried, it was totally beyond me, so I ended up cheating and using a rolling pin. Despite that, they were very good! I think if I make them again, I'll add a little salt or fish sauce to the beef filling - the spices were very nice, but it just needed to be a little saltier for my palate.

Jagjit's dalcha was also a big success. I don't usually put coconut milk in dhal, but it made a really delicious change. I felt that it needed just a touch more acid to make it really sing, perhaps the tamarind I was using wasn't as concentrated or something, and a squeeze of lime juice made it just perfect. I looked at the quantities, wondering what sort of bird-like people Anik had in mind when she said the recipe served 4, but it was so filling that even with our prodigious appetites that was about right. And in the way of curries, the leftovers reheated deliciously for another meal.

ETA - and now with bonus fesenjun. I had read elsewhere that traditionally, the Iranian pomegranate stew fesenjun was made with pheasant, now more commonly with chicken. Well I had an oven-ready pheasant in the freezer, so decided to have a go. Delicious! Strangely, the walnut and onion flavour reminded me of the old Cranks nutloaf recipe that my aunt makes. Delicious, but odd for a game dish! I served it with pilau rice (brown basmati cooked with a shallot, cinnamon, cardamom and saffron, finished with some dried cranberries) and a tomato salad.


NKP said...

Wonderful! I enjoyed the book too, and also had the same "rose coloured glasses" suspicions.
But otherwise quite enjoyed travelling in my armchair with the author.
I had my eye on this dish too, great pick!

kat said...

I'm like you about traveling. All those random meetings & lucky chances sound so good but I like a plan

Inspired by eRecipeCards said...

I am running out of time, and need to get to cooking soon...

You set a high standard, these look and sound great

Loved the book, ready to start cooking from it!

Simona Carini said...

Reading about someone's way of traveling leads naturally to a comparison with our own. It sounds like your choices from the book were a big success. The sticky flags are really cute.

Arlene Delloro said...

A wonderful post. I am more of a curmudgeon when I review something, so could appreciate your delicacy in mentioning the suspicion that Lee was wearing her rose-colored glasses. It was a stretch for me to believe that all that food was proferred and so little money changed hands. Enough of that--your contribution, which totally foreign to my palate, looks marvelous. I visited Singapore in the late 90's, but was sick as a dog and barely saw any of it.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Natashya - it's definitely worth making! Give it a go!

Kat - the one night we've driven into town without a plan we ended up eating greasy fish & chips in an utterly soul-less motel. Plan is good!

AYOTG - thank you!

Simona - aren't they sweet? So much nicer than post-its.

Arlene - thank you! Our flight was delayed overnight, so we only had one night, not two. One day I will go back for laksa!

William Dunigan said...

Greetings to one and all: In that most precious name. That name which is above every name, the name: "Jesus"

There's tremendous power in that name. I'd suppose we'll never fully realize all that can truly be accomplished, by us simply calling out that name in true faith.

There's an old, old, gospel song that goes like this: Faith in the Father, faith in the Son, faith in the Holy Spirit, great victories are won. Demons will tremble and sinners will awake, faith in Jehovah will anything shake.

For you who have never come into this realization, if you're reading this, just give him a welcome into your heart and life. You will both feel and see an awesome difference. You will have also purchased the ticket to heaven (by accepting, therefore making him welcome to come into your life. You will also sup from His cup that contains living water. (As did the woman at the well of Bethesda.) John 4:10

(I have had three Christian oriented adventure stories published so far, and am now working on my fourth book. All three Can be found, at the best prices, by going to Google.Com and inserting my name: William
Dunigan) Thank you.

http://Off to visit the prophet Elijah

Alicia Foodycat said...

William - never spam my blog again.

Dharm said...

I have to object! Murtabak is MALAYSIAN and not Singaporean!! Malaysians think all food in Singapore was stolen from us and we are probably right! Regardless, I am SO impressed that you made Murtabak. Way to go!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Dharm - calm down Mr National Pride - the first chapter is on Malaysia AND Singapore and she attributes both of those dishes to Malaysia.

Rachel said...

Another interesting culinary adventure, Foodycat. So glad you enjoyed the book!

mscrankypants said...

Geez, Mr William Spammer could have at least admired your roti.

I got all sentimental that the cleaner at the last workplace is Fijian and she used to bring in her version of roti occasionally, ie not often enough -- so soft but flaky and worth elbowing my workmates out of the way for. Yours looks divine.

Deb in Hawaii said...

Great review and post--I had many of the same feelings about the book. Great pick--it sounded so good in the book. I still have not decided on mine yet!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Rachel - thank you for hosting!

Cranky - I know, right? Bring me the word of the lord but at least acknowledge the food!

Deb - looking forward to something good from you, as always!

HH said...

Sounds wonderful FC! I love roti and have made it with Indian people and I think we started off with the rolling pin and then flicked it around a bit, so rolling pin is fine!

Claudia said...

I want those little book markers. Great post, I loved the food in both Malaysia and Singapore, but don't fix it enough myself.

Alicia Foodycat said...

HH - the Indians seem to make it slightly differently to the Malaysians. The Indian one looks thicker.

Claudia - the book markers are sweet, aren't they?

Joanne said...

I am definitely a nervous traveler as well! I need to have everything planned out and double checked before I leave the comfort of my own home.

These dishes look delicious! I'm so glad you liked the book.


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