Thursday, March 31, 2016

Omani food, Nigella Lawson, book recommendations

The "love cake" from Meera Sodha's Made in India = dense, buttery confection of ground cashews, semolina, and spices
I had to turn in an essay for the class I’m taking right around the time the Piglet got interesting and since I couldn’t simultaneously finish the essay and stalk the Piglet, I let the Piglet drop.

If were paid to write this blog, I’d have been fired by now. Or, as Donald Trump might tweet: "She should be fired! Lightweight blog that no one reads anymore. SO SAD!"

cardamom fry breads
Are you following DT's Twitter feed? You should. His Twitter voice is fascinating.

Anyway, I’m not paid, no one can fire me, and I’m back.

I couldn't style Omani food better than they did in the book, so I didn't try.
A perfectly respectable book won the Piglet. Not the book I would have chosen, but Hot Bread Kitchen is a perfectly respectable book that I haven’t yet mustered the energy to cook from because, as the title suggests, it's mostly bread and I haven't been in a bread-making mood. Of the books I got to know during the tournament, I really liked Zahav, of course, and Meera Sodha's Made in India, but I ended up falling hardest for The Food of Oman by Felicia Campbell. Initially, I was just fascinated by the obscurity of the topic. Later, I was happily surprised by the workability and deliciousness of the recipes. I expected Omani fare to be standard Middle Eastern, but it’s not, as anyone with a solid grasp of geography might have guessed. Oman is closer to India than to Egypt and you can taste that in these dishes, which are spicy and rich with coconut milk.

So far, I’ve made Campbell's caramelized beef, which involves cooking cubed chuck steak in a pot with spices, onions, cilantro, and water and for hours until the strong flavors have become one with the super-tender meat. I served this with a big pot of coconut spinach and pillowy, slightly sweet, sopapilla-like cardamom fry breads.  I’ve made those fry breads twice more since then, that’s how much I liked them. Some pan-seared meat dumplings were delicious as well, a zesty beef and onion mixture encased in a sticky, chewy dough, like curry potstickers. Only the soupy Omani coconut curry chicken has disappointed.

Omani caramelized beef
The weather has turned fresh and springy over the last week and Omani food is dark and serious. On Monday, I tried to figure out what I wanted to cook next from Food of Oman. The answer was, nothing. It's all too heavy for this time of year. I flipped through Hot Bread Kitchen. Nothing. I thought about Mamushka. Not feeling that either. I wanted something else entirely. But what? I browsed my shelves and when I got to the Nigella Lawson section, I stopped. Nigella. It was time for some Nigella.

What a good call that was. You could live a long and happy food life cooking only from Nigella Lawson's oeuvre. She’s funny, smart, and charming. Her recipes are fabulous and easy. I’m now going to link you to four of them. You are most welcome.

Monday night, I made salmon with mirin from Nigella Express (her “fast” cookbook). You mix soy sauce, mirin, and brown sugar in equal parts, marinate your salmon fillets for a couple of minutes, fry two minutes on one side in a dry skillet, flip, pour over the marinade, cook two minutes more. Remove fish, add a splash of rice vinegar to the pan, pour sauce over fish. Divine. Owen uttered words that have never before crossed his lips. “Is there any more salmon?” 

That night I also served a lovely strawberry crumble that Nigella promised would render bland, watery supermarket strawberries palatable. It did. Recipe for the easy, irresistible crumble is found in Nigella Kitchen (her "catch-all" cookbook) and here

Tuesday night, I served so-called meatzza from Nigellisima (her Italian book), which is pizza, but with a crust of seasoned ground meat, not bread.
I hate the name, but that's the only downside to this simple dish. It's perfect for all you gluten-free, low-carb eaters and pretty damn great for the rest of us. Recipe here. Use a pound of ground beef, a 15-ounce can tomatoes, and 6 ounces mozzarella. She doesn’t specify the quantity of salt, which I resent in a ground meat recipe like this one as I had to cook several tiny meatballs to get the seasoning just right. A heaping 1 1/2 teaspoons of Diamond Crystal kosher salt did the trick.  

Finally, last night I served another killer Nigella dish, the broccoli-stilton soup from Nigella Express. I've made it before and written about it before, but I doubt anyone remembers. Ten minutes of "active" time to make this soup. Frozen broccoli! Love. Try it
Now, some books that have nothing to do with food:

I read this haunting and lovely novel by the author of Olive Kitteridge in two hours and so can you. So should you. It's about the secret childhood histories we carry around with us that no one in our adult lives can ever really understand. The details of the story are highly particular to narrator Lucy Barton’s troubled family of origin and yet almost made me cry in the ways (good ways) it reminded me of my own not-so-troubled family of origin. 

This book by a former colleague of mine is a thoughtful, big-hearted, and candid non-fiction portrait of life in a small Texas town. Karen Valby gets to know restless high school students who drive hours to the nearest movie theater and conservative older gentlemen who convene pre-dawn every day to drink coffee in the general store. There are towns like this all across America, but I sure don't live in one. I enjoyed getting out for a bit and meeting people I otherwise wouldn't. Highly recommend.

Peacekeeping deals with politics, intrigue, and Americans in Haiti. Mischa Berlinski is a superb writer and his novel started out strong. But page by page my interest seeped away. I got to page 265 and gave up with only a hundred pages to go. I just didn’t believe the story or care what happened anymore, and that’s a big shame because the book has a lot going for it. This review pinpoints the problems, I think. 

Now it's back to War and Peace (page 1022), Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, and easy Nigella dinners.  


  1. Yay! I am just glad you posted again! I would never fire you, and I am going to go to the library tonight to look for the Strout book.

  2. Glad you're back! It is good to put schoolwork first. I got Hot Bread Kitchen and have been having a smashing time, literally now that I think of it, because the first thing I made was corn tortillas. I just finished Bee Wilson's First Bite. Is it on your list for future reading?

  3. I was distraught! I thought you had given up on us. Glad to know you are just busy. I hope school is going well. Tell, sister! Well, this post was certainly worth waiting on. Recipes galore and book recommendations; it doesn't get any better than that. I must try the salmon! Did you fall out of your chair when Owen said that? Or did you just play it cool and let it pass? I agree, this time of year simple recipes that speak to spring are best. You were missed, Jennifer, but you are always worth the wait.

  4. Haunting and lovely are the perfect words to describe My Name is Lucy Barton. I listened to the audiobook (so I had 4 hours to savor the storyline) and I still cannot stop thinking about it. Your commentary is spot on!

  5. No one reads your blog? I read your blog, and would be sad if you stopped writing it.

  6. I read your blog! Please keep writing; I'm willing to wait for you. I love your cookbook reviews. Ordering Food of Oman now.

  7. I was also devastated when I realized you weren't blogging during the Piglet... I must have missed something that you are now taking a class? All to say, please, puh-lease blog more often!! I, too, loved My Name is Lucy Barton, but the read of the decade and maybe more is Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Women. Rush to get it. Original, pointed, honest, unforgettable. It is worth more than a single read, I promise.

  8. Please don't forget to mention whatever you make from Made in India! I got the cookbook from my husband (after some access hint dropping...) and love it so far. The coconut tamarind chicken curry is fantastic!

  9. The new Nigella, Simply Nigella, is wonderful. She wrote it during her breakup with Charles Saatchi and was very much cooking for her own pleasure. Everything is lovely, delicious, and works.

  10. Alas, no springy temperatures here. It was snowing as I was driving home from work today. So Omani recipes will be interleaved with international curries from 'Curry Cuisine,' another exceptional cookbook with sections by Corinne Trang, Judy Bastyra, Sri Owen, and others.

    Part of this weekend will also be spent with 'The Chickpea Flour Cookbook,' by Camilla Saulsbury. As with many of us, I know a number of people who are gluten free due to celiac disease, or by preference. The brownies are supposed to be great, irrespective of their gluten free status, without needing to futz about with multiple alternate flours and stabilizers. There are recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, going far beyond the expected socca. I've substituted besan for some portion of recipes' flour in the past, and use it roasted to thicken soups and stews, but most of these recipes will point to new uses for an ingredient that's always in my pantry. Even better if they're tasty, easy, and tick the gluten free box for potluck fare, etc.

  11. I never give Nigella a chance, for some reason. Any book a particular favorite? I own Feast, How to Eat, and How to be a Domestic Goddess.

  12. I love your blog for many reasons that include that I can forget all about it for a month and then spend a happy hour catching up with everything, please don't ever go all frequent on me - your intermittent pace is the only one I can cope with. I have read through all your piglet write ups today and have added a few to my wish list. Being English, cooking from nigella is compulsory, can't watch the TV programmes any more though, she has become a characature of herself. Keep up with the slow and steady entries!!

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