Monday, May 20, 2013


Cooking is a great love of mine, but I usually only cook dishes that fall into one of two categories:

1. The recipe was cooked for me or given to me by someone I know, or
2. The recipe is from a book that was bought for me

Many of my favorite recipes are known by the people who taught them to me - I cook three recipes known as Jen's Recipe, three from Ariel, one each from Kristen and Kathryn, my Bolognese sauce is from my Mother, and I have two dishes that are my own invention, one inspired directly by a technique I learnt from Kevin.

I have a growing collection of beloved dishes that come from cookbooks given to me for birthdays and Christmas by the fabulous Vivian and Natalie and with any book vouchers I buy enormous multicolored tomes from Australian Cooking Legends from which I gather delicious dishes.

When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus

My star recipes are family recipes however. I cook my Grandmere's Creole pilau, Ariel, Tegan and I cooked an entire feast around a family couscous recipe from Jaye's family and I have learnt two Korean soup recipes from my aunt Helena, although none of her Mongolian or Russian recipes yet!

Today I went into the Korean store to buy kimchi, tofu, toasted seaweed and dried anchovies for the two delicious Korean soups. Tyanjan chike and the kimchi soup, for which I don't know the Korean name, were described to me by my uncle as "the soups you had on Sunday nights" in Korea. I loved them the moment I tasted them, they were spicy and fishy and they made my heart warm with pleasure.

As I put the ingredients on the counter the lady serving me told me approvingly that I was buying the favorite food of Koreans, and it was with a quiet delight that I could tell her I was cooking tyanjan chike. She, in turn, looked pleased that others loved the dishes she loved. I walked out of that shop with a smile, bearing the happiness of a cook who finds a recipe honors many things to the people who cook it and eat it.

The first giant cookbook I owned was Culinaria Italia, bought for me by Kristen, and for one family dinner I picked out two recipes and went to the now sadly closed Antonios in Mt Lawley to get the ingredients. As I gave my list of ingredients to my friends behind the counter, the mother exclaimed with delight that I was cooking frico con patate and jota, and I was thrilled at the instant recognition.

When Jaye very kindly gave me the couscous de familie recipe from her husband's Algerian French family, she told me the most wonderful anecdote. The matriarch cooked this recipe for all family gatherings, and whenever she was asked for the recipe, she would give it, but leave out one or two essential ingredients or techniques so her dish was always the best. Because Jaye was taking the recipe back to Australia and would not compete at family dinners, Jaye got the full recipe.

Once she had told me that story I knew why my grandmere's pilau was not working for me after six months of cooking it every fortnight trying to get it right. Like Jaye's mother-in-law, Grandmere cooked pilau for family occasions, and it was the dish that we all adored, so I suspected she had left out some spices. I made some educated guesses from what I knew from my own cooking and how my mother put together her spices, and I adjusted the spice mix. For three blessed weeks I cooked pilau as good as my Grandmere! And just in time for a family Christening too, at which one of the Aunts tasted it, took me aside and told me "Never tell your Grandmere this, but you have cooked the pilau as well as she does."

I was walking on air. Until Christmas a few months later, when Grandmere unveiled a pilau with a new spice mix that was even better than the family favorite. And I was left with the old pilau, as my Grandmere's new pilau delighted our taste buds and put me firmly back in my place. Matriarchs don't get to be matriarchs without being able to show people who is boss!

My newest recipes are Persian recipes, from a book given to me for my thirtieth by my sisters Ozy and Ely. The year before they had come out to Australia and in the course of the holiday they had cooked me three dishes from which I learnt the extraordinary combination of citrus, herbs, spiced rice and light stews that made up the Persian cuisine, some of the most delicious tastes I had experienced in home cooking.

There are still a few ingredients like pomegranate syrup which even the Persians here can't get; I ask every Persian I meet if they have been able to find it. After two years I finally have freshly grown saffron in my kitchen and I have started cooking Persian dishes, hoping to have a few of them in my repertoire very soon.

And then today I read about The Gaza Kitchen and all my experimental cooking genes danced a little faster in me. The dishes look as challenging in combination as the Persian cooking, as heart-warmingly chilli hot as the Korean soups and they are family recipes like Grandmere's pilau. They appeal to everything that I like in cooking, and I think I am going to enjoy trying them out.

1 comment:

Jbird said...

What a delilish read. I found myself smiling about how those recipes handed down through generations, like secrets of lemonade in scones. "It never was quite the way grandma made it". Then you discover why. ah ha! You delivered something that is seldom discussed between women through the generations. You speak the unspoken. What an inspiration you are. You give back interest in cooking. Thank you. xox