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About the Author
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January 25—Long, thin whips of deep green puntarelle, a swarm of tiny yellow key limes, dried persimmons with downy skins, red-skinned hand-cracked walnuts, chickpea flour, sprouted mung beans, a friendly giant pomelo with twin glossy leaves attached, stubby bouquets of nameko mushrooms, little yellow pom-poms from snipped branches of acacia tree.
February 15—Fresh fenugreek, ruffled baby cabbage, parrot tulips and buttery freesia blossoms, rose petal jam, French radishes, the tiniest, pointiest green onions, and sprout-fed eggs.
March 22—Helleborus and daffodil, Tahitian pomelo, dried blood oranges, seascape strawberries, amaranth, nettles, fresh pressed olive oil, kumquats, and lazy clusters of fragrant lilacs ranging in hue from pale, dusty purple to electric violet.
Like many cooks, I keep journals. And when you look at mine, you notice cracked spines and paper that is no longer crisp, or clean, or bright. The corners are dull and dog-eared, the pages filled with my handwriting—black ink, the all-caps penmanship I suspect I inherited from my father. Scraps, scrawls, and sketches are taped to lined pages. Newspaper clippings, laser printouts, and magazine snippets commingle in an unruly mob of fonts. There are photos, stamps, receipts, lists, and sticky notes. I keep the journals for a number of reasons, but mostly so I don’t forget details—the pattern of an ancient Italian olive grove as seen on approach to the Bari airport, colorful pickles and tiny salads beautifully arranged as part of a bento lunch in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market, the markings on the craggy, hand-painted bowls piled high with fekka and chebakia pastries at a shop in Marrakech, or the impossibly small cherry tomatoes, no larger than blueberries, at Takashimaya in Tokyo. Closer to home, I note the comings and goings of ingredients in my own kitchen, the details of meals shared, and my favorite farmers’ market finds week by week.
As I turn the pages of these books, it’s clear that much of the food I cook is inspired by two things: where I live (Northern California), and where I’ve traveled. Food rooted in place—both near and far. This is a cookbook that attempts to explore both.
I’m forty years old now, which means I’ve lived long enough to settle in a bit. I’m generally happy, curious, and optimistic. I like to think people who know me would concur. My life in San Francisco is a series of rituals and routines. I collect fresh flowers every week. Walk most places I go. Have coffee on Saturday morning with friends. Brew beer with my brother-in-law, but not as often as I’d like. Northern California is where I try to stand still a bit, keep things simple, and watch things change around me. The markets evolve incrementally week after week—poppies giving way to peonies, donut peaches and Pandora leeks giving way to gypsy peppers, amethyst radishes, and purple wax beans. The pruned trees in Golden Gate Park go from twiggy and lifeless to lush, green, and full in a steady march through spring into summer and fall.
Home is good. That said, I started traveling, extensively, as soon as I found a job after college and could afford to. I spent the bulk of my bank account on a flight to Europe, a trip that showed me I could explore far-flung places on my own dollar, sparking a desire to see more of the world I was a part of. In an interview, Pico Iyer said, “It’s only by stepping out of your life and the world that you can see what you most deeply care about and find a home. . . . And home, in the end, is of course not just the place where you sleep. It’s the place where you stand.” Travel inspired my thinking, relationships, sensibility, sense of self, and, eventually, the way I approached cooking. I do my best to explore someplace new, or revisit a place I love, a couple of times a year.
Once you’re home from a trip, details tend to fall away. I noticed, long after I’ve forgotten the names of monuments, train stations, or boulevards of a city I’ve traveled to, the flavors would stay with me. Every place has its own always evolving culinary voice. And it’s not just ingredients and flavors, but also techniques, traditions, and vessels. In the broadest sense, these impressions and memories are what inspire new ideas in my own kitchen as well as spark the urge to re-create dishes or flavor combinations that made the deepest mark.
The book is divided into two major sections—Near and Far. The Near section focuses on recipes inspired by my life in San Francisco and Northern California. Far is divided into five chapters: Morocco, France, India, Italy, and Japan. These are places with rich, often ancient, culinary cultures—places I’ve spent a good amount of time, in many cases with extended or multiple trips over a span of years. I’ve also threaded a few of my favorite travel-friendly preparations into a section titled En Route.
At the start of each chapter, I list favorite ingredients traditionally used in the cuisine of that place (My Moroccan Pantry, My Japanese Pantry, and so on). They are the ingredients that resonate with me and speak to my cooking approach best—they aren’t intended to be comprehensive but are more a sketch of the ingredients I turn to most or am most enthusiastic about using within that palette. Many are used within the recipes here, but not necessarily all. They’re listed this way for quick brainstorming and inspiration in your own kitchen.
Within each chapter, recipes are organized starting with lunch, moving on to dinner, drinks, and treats. I tend to think of the next day’s breakfast at the end of the day, so those close out the chapters.
The recipes in this book are rooted in place and correspondingly organized. I tend to be drawn to places where natural foods are celebrated and traditional foodways are in practice. Much of that influence is woven into the recipes throughout. That said, it’s not the sort of cookbook that is going to drill down on the nutritional benefits of this pulse or that vegetable—although those considerations are a part of how I cook and certainly one aspect of what I think about as I approach a recipe. For those of you who have Super Natural Cooking or Super Natural Every Day on your shelf, consider this a companion volume. You’ll recognize the spirit of the previous volumes—real food and powerful vegetarian ingredients made into dishes that are worth making.
Perhaps some description of my approach will help illuminate how I came to include the recipes you see here. Everything starts with me trying to garner a sense of place, particularly when I’m traveling. On the culinary front, I attempt to gain a basic understanding of the traditional culture of the cuisine I’m immersed in, gather some historical context, get a handle on what ingredients are typically used and which cooking techniques are deployed, and understand what people are cooking and why. A good amount of wandering and meandering is part of my process, punctuated by stops at specific shops, restaurants, stalls, markets, and establishments I’ve earmarked ahead of time. Perhaps most importantly, I seek out my beat within other cultures (as well as my own). In Japan, I tend to focus on many of the macrobiotic and shojin-ryori (Zen Buddhist temple cuisine) preparations and ingredients. Or, related to India, I like to learn about what ingredients practitioners use for Ayurvedic treatments, or what they eat daily in an ashram or in a Jain temple or in the narrow street alleys of Chandni Chowk, Delhi’s ancient market. It’s from this vantage point that I begin to think about cooking and recipe development, and where I often find my own angle, voice, and technique.
You’ll see a mix of recipe types in this book. One recipe was inspired by Grace Young’s passion for cooking with a cast-iron wok, another after I saw a group of women breaking for lunch on a crowded Delhi sidewalk; there was a carrot salad I encountered in a snowy mountain monastery town, and another recipe idea sparked by a favorite Japanese spice blend, shichimi togarashi. There are recipes inspired by ingredients I’ve encountered, markets I’ve shopped, cooks I’ve chatted up, books I’ve read, and scribbles I’ve made in my journal; there are my takes on regional preparations and others based on snapshots I’ve taken with my camera.
Stylistically, I have some rules—although rule might be too strong a word: best practices could be a better term. I tend to work within a regional palette of ingredients. Meaning, you won’t see a whole lot of cross-cultural ingredient mixing within recipes or chapters. If I’m cooking with Japanese ingredients, I’ll likely use oil from that palette—perhaps sesame. The vinegar might be brown rice vinegar, the noodles buckwheat soba, and the seasoning shoyu or mirin. So I won’t often mix, say, shoyu with ras el hanout or use preserved lemons with miso. I also tend to do multiple dishes from one region and not serve, for example, a tagine alongside saag paneer.
Many of the recipes lend themselves easily to seasonal adaptations, so keep that in mind—if a recipe calls for asparagus, and it’s autumn, consider using broccoli or cauliflower.
Finally, a word about sourcing ingredients. It is understood in many cultures that food is powerful medicine, with whole or natural foods being the most beneficial, interesting, and delicious. Do your best to avoid genetically modified crops or those that have been sprayed intensively with pesticides, or grown in soil that has been fertilized with chemicals known to damage the environment as well as the health of the individuals harvesting your food. Seek out food and ingredients that are healthy, powerful, and full of beauty and vitality—the sort of food that lifts the spirit and sustains the body: food that hasn’t been stripped of its natural nutrients and beneficial properties. It matters and it is worth it.
pluots • kefir • almonds
I suspect the baked oatmeal recipe in my last book made it into more kitchens than any other recipe I’ve ever written. It’s still a regular here at home, in various guises, and this is a version worth celebrating. Made with crimson-fleshed Dapple Dandy pluots, it rides the line beautifully between the sweetness of the summer fruit and the tanginess of the kefir or buttermilk. Other stone fruit can be substituted.
Zest of 1 lemon
2 cups | 7 oz | 200 g rolled oats
1/2 cup | 2 oz | 60 g whole Marcona almonds
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup | 2 oz | 60 g maple syrup, plus more for serving
1 cup | 240 ml kefir or buttermilk
1 cup | 240 ml water 1 egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 pound | 455 g ripe pluots, quartered and pitted
A bit of cream, to serve
Preheat the oven to 375°F | 190°C with a rack in the top third of the oven. Generously butter the inside of an 8-inch | 20cm square baking dish (or equivalent), then sprinkle with lemon zest.
In a bowl, mix together the oats, almonds, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, kefir, water, egg, half of the butter, and the vanilla. Arrange the pluots in a single layer in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Cover the fruit with the oat mixture. Slowly drizzle the kefir mixture over the oats. Gently give the baking dish a couple of raps on the countertop to make sure the liquid moves through the oats.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and the oat mixture has set. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Drizzle the remaining melted butter on the top and serve. Finish with a bit more maple syrup if you want it a bit sweeter, and a thread of cream to bring it all together.
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I love this book. Strong concept, evocative photography, and delicious recipes — we use it all the time.