I’m reading Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked. I haven’t read any of his books other than the Omnivore’s Dilemma, but from the first page, I felt like I was spending time with an old friend. If you haven’t read anything by Pollan, do. He will teach you things that will change your life and make you laugh while doing so. In Cooked, Pollan learns how to cook. (Duh.) He divides the book into sections about cooking with fire, water, earth and air.
As he learns about cooking with each element, I feel like I’m learning a little alongside him. Learning about what exactly happens when you are salting or browning a piece of meat. Pollan is takes concepts that I kind of know, or often do, and explains them clearly. For example:
If you begin by sauteing a mince of diced onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil (and perhaps some garlic, fennel, or parsley), you’ve made a soffritto, the signature of an Italian dish. However, a “sofrito”-when spelled with one “f” and one “t”- is a dice of onions, garlic, and tomato in place of celery, and identifies the dish as Spanish. (Cajun cooking begins with a dice of nions, garlic, and bell pepper- “the holy trinity.”) If a recipe calls for a base of diced spring onions, garlic, and ginger, you’ve left the West entirely and made what is sometimes called an “Asian mirepoix,” the foundation of many dishes in the Far east… Even if we’re unfamiliar with these terms or techniques, the aroma of these chopped up plant bases instantly tells us where in the world we are, culinarily speaking. (Pollan, 127)
So while walking home today I was thinking about how to use up the ingredients we have in the house and still eat something exciting. Onions, carrots, potatoes, noodles….. Not exciting. I wasn’t getting anywhere until I came back to that onion. I’ve been been reading about the onion for days. The onion is the base for most flavor profiles around the world. So instead of thinking about what the end product was going to look like, a pile of roast veggies, or a soup, I thought about what kind of flavor I could make with my onion. A woody stub of ginger and some garlic that were hiding in the bottom of the fruit bowl brought me to asian, which reminded me that we have Pak Choy in the garden of winter greens that Zach has been cultivating. Bam! Instead of settling on a random pile of ingredients that need to be eaten, I had an awesome stir fry. It just took thinking about it from a different angle, which is what Mr. Michael Pollan helped me do tonight.
A good book keeps me thinking even when I’m not reading it. It improves real life. And this good book made dinner better. That’s a winner!