Today I met a stupendous baby in the grocery store: about a year old, all smiles, and shopping for pals as her mother shopped for food. The baby had a little jar of snacks with her that she proudly held up for me to admire. Her mom opened the jar and handed her one of whatever was in there (goldfish crackers, from the look of things), and when she put it in her mouth the taste of it thrilled her so that a jolt of pleasure seemed to pass from her rosebud mouth all the way down her round little legs to her toes. A small squeal of happiness followed.
When was the last time you tasted something so completely, and felt (or allowed) the pleasure of it to reverberate through your whole self?
In these early days of a new year, I am ferreting out all the restorative pleasures I can, looking for any little moment in the day to connect doing and being, inner life and physical body. Cooking and eating are so grounding in that way, for me: driven by appetite, using my hands, my brain, and the fruits of the earth and air and water, taking this food in to make it possible to keep on keeping on. Alleluia.
Of course I sometimes eat a frozen waffle, or burn the soup, or even burn the frozen waffle. Not every calorie is forged in the furnace of the gods. But it feels right to be making a little room, here in the January grace period for Big New Ideas, to appreciate that feeding ourselves has the potential to be more than merely fueling the flesh-and-bone taxi that our brains ride around in. I don’t know if we are what we eat, but I do know that we aren’t if we don’t.
New ingredients can wake up your senses, but so can novel ways of combining or deploying things that are very familiar. In the first offering here, dill–usually a garnish or accent–becomes an actual vegetable, its intensity mellowed by the mild taste and melting texture of cooked spinach. It comes from Madhur Jaffrey, who is reassuring to cook with because she very confidently tells you exactly what to do. “You may serve this with this, or this. It is all you need.” There are days when it is relaxing to be instructed in this way. The yogurt sauce may seem like too much to bother with, but it takes about a minute to assemble and rocks your 2011 tastebuds into the new year nicely.
The second recipe is for the emergency salad I concocted when I noticed that spinach cooks WAY DOWN, farther than a person expects–even when, every time he sees a leaf of it, that person’s husband likes to say “never underestimate the power of spinach to cook down.” There were 7 of us for dinner and I had hardly enough of anything to constitute a whole salad with which to supplement the small and very flavorful bowl of spinach, but when what little of each thing I had got together in the bowl it worked out fine–so fine that I thought I would tell you about it.
sautéed spinach with dill and onion
(zeytin yagli ispanak)
adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian
serves 4 (do not underestimate the power of spinach to cook down, my friends)
3/4 pound baby spinach leaves, or 10 oz frozen spinach, thawed, or a combination
2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c finely chopped fresh dill
1/2 c water
salt to taste
1/2 c plain yogurt
1/4 t salt
1 small garlic clove, mashed to a pulp
optionally, a grating of lemon zest
1/4 t paprika
Put the oil and butter in a large pan (spinach may cook down–see above–but it starts out demanding lots of space), and heat it up. Add the onion and garlic and sauté over a low to medium flame for about 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent. It should not brown. Add the spinach, dill and water and simmer gently, uncovered, for about ten minutes.
Make the yogurt sauce: combine the yogurt with the garlic, salt and optional lemon zest, and sprinkle the paprika on top. Serve the greens with a dollop of this on top.
1 heart of romaine lettuce
1/2 head of napa cabbage
1/2 an English or hothouse cucumber
1/2 c toasted almonds, chopped
2T toasted sesame oil
1T flax oil (you could use olive oil instead)
2 t tamari or shoyu
juice of half a lime (HA! you thought I was going to say lemon, but that would make a fine substitute)
red pepper flakes, if a little heat is desired, to taste
Slice the lettuce crosswise into 1/2″ or so pieces, and cabbage similarly, maybe a little thinner. Quarter the cucumber lengthwise and slice it up into 1/4″ pieces or thereabouts. Toss this in a salad bowl with the remaining ingredients, taste for any needed corrections in seasoning, and there you go.