Isn’t it nice when people offer to lend you their cookbooks?
Really? I don’t think so. In fact, I can’t stand it.
‘Oh, you’ll love this. Take it with you! There’s a pork ragu in there I know you’ll go berserk for.’
I accept the proffered tome with a brittle smile and the usual pleasantries (‘No, I couldn’t. Are you sure? Oh well, If you insist...’) — all the while thinking, ‘Oh. Great.’
You see, it’s not that the cookbooks people try to lend me are no good — well, not usually. It’s that they’re too good. I get too attached, you see. It causes me very real psychological trauma to have to return them. Particularly — and this is almost always the case — if they are out of print, or otherwise tricky to get hold of.
Usually I have a fairly firm grip on my financially crippling cookbook addiction; I know to avoid certain bookstores or websites when I’m not flush. I give myself over to a new cookbook only when I have the means to purchase it. But when someone lends me a book willy nilly, out if the blue, I am without my armour. (Not to be confused with my armoire, which is also very handy in a scuffle.)
At first, I’ll just leave the book somewhere I won’t have to look at it — under the bed, say — with the intention of returning it to the owner, unread, accompanied by a glowing review: ‘It changed my life. Really, I’ll never cook stroganoff any other way.’
But my curiosity always gets the better of me. It whispers to my subconscious, telling its silken lies: ‘Just a quick skim — no strings attached. You don’t have to commit. We can just go our separate ways tomorrow. I’ll still respect you in the morning...’
I never learn. I always do it, thinking, ‘Just a quick skim...’ And there’s always that one recipe, isn’t there? You know, The One. With Your Name On It. It seems it was created Just For You. And that’s it. Down the rabbit hole I go — hook, line and sinker.
That’s how the Guinea Pig finds me: in bed, clutching the book, white-knuckled, eyes glazed, slack-jawed and quite unconcerned about the thin stream of drool making its way down my chin.
On that note, I’d like to introduce you to my latest obsession: Clarissa’s Comfort Food. It was lent to me by a very dear friend, handed over with the words: ‘Do try the kedgeree — you won’t be sorry.’ And what do you know? I wasn’t.
This dish has the kind of ingredient combination I can’t turn away from: eggs, lentils, rice, salmon, a bit of spice, friend onions, coriander, toasted almonds... I feel a bit of a bore to admit I’m mad about anything to do with legumes, but it’s true. I get far more excited about a bowl of dressed up lentils and brown rice than I do about roast lamb. If that says anything about me, I haven’t the faintest idea what it could be.
You may remember the author, Clarissa Dickson Wright, from that show ‘Two Fat Ladies’. She was one of them, and by God, if this book doesn’t prove that you should take cooking advice from a fat cook over a skinny chef any day, then nothing does. I am dying to try her onion, aniseed and tomato soup, and something called ‘Fuzdah’s eggs’ (involving boiled eggs, coconut milk, mango and spices — sounds weird but the recipe had me salivating) — she’s got some quite out-of-the-ordinary ones, as well as a host of gorgeously rich traditionals like cottage pie, fish pie, cheese soufflé, fish cakes (made with store-bought gnocchi, thank you), salads, stews and pies.
I’d never heard of kedgeree before, which isn’t saying especially much as I’m not that knowledgeable about food, but what a delightful discovery it was. Apparently it’s very British, and usually made with haddock, though Clarissa does it with salmon when no one’s looking.
When the time came to return the book to my friend, I found my hand would not let go, and there was a spot of polite yanking before it was restored to its owner. So I had to go out and procure my own copy... As if there was ever going to be any other outcome.
All I can say is, do try the kedgeree. You won’t be sorry.
1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cardamom seeds
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 dried red chilli
4 tbsp ghee or clarified butter [I just used butter]
1 onion, ½ chopped, ½ slivered
500g long-grain rice
500g brown lentils
500g cooked salmon, flaked
4 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and cut into quarters
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp slivered almonds
Coriander, to garnish
1. Pound the spices and chilli together. Put them in a saucepan with 1.2 litres water and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and keep the water.
2. In a large saucepan, melt the ghee or butter and fry the chopped onion until coloured. Add the rice and lentils and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes. Add the strained spice water and the salt and simmer until all the moisture has been absorbed and all is cooked and tender. Stir in the cooked fish carefully, along with the hard-boiled eggs.
3. Heat the oil in a separate pan and fry the onion slivers until brown and crisp, then drain well on kitchen paper. Sauté the almonds quickly in the same pan.
4. Turn the kedgeree onto a serving dish and scatter the onions and almonds on top. Garnish with coriander.
[To bulk out the recipe you can add cauliflower or potatoes.]