As I told you in my previous post, since about a week I have been the happy owner of The Nordic Cookbook, a comprehensive ouvre I have fallen in love with.
The book boasts numerous merits which include but are not limited to its selection of simple recipes, its notes on the cultural background of dishes, plenty of observations by the author, minimalist food photographs, and photos of natural scenery, beautiful in that pale Nordic way that is almost an intellectual reflection.
Nothing is more sophisticated than simplicity, remember? Boiled potatoes, basic meatballs, notes on boiling and steaming vegetables, making porridge, frying the perfect egg. The author is a renowned chef and a food purist, which makes him really qualified to instruct in basics. In addition, is is always a good thing to go over basics, it’s like warm-up prior to a workout, or playing scales and chords prior to playing music.
I have always been bewildered by something I used to hear, not infrequently, among women my age when I was younger. It is that they couldn’t cook simple food but only complicated dishes. Funny, isn’t it? The complicated dishes are believed to somehow adding to the worth of the speaker, but to me this sounds as if saying “I don’t know how to dress well everyday, only on special occasions.”
But of course, complicated/festive dishes are usually crowd-pleasers, make use of rich and palatable ingredients such as meat, chocolate, cream, cheese, or sugar, and rely on time-honoured taste chords to work. The rich spices, sauces, dressings, or garnishes would surely cover up any potential problem in taste or texture, and would prevent the dish from being considered “bland”. Not exactly the same as everyday cooking, when one has to make do with whatever’s in the fridge, and can’t really be bothered with putting on shows, right?
Interest in complicated step-by-step recipes or videos is higher while it would take a really eccentric person to self-instruct themselves in basic things they’re sure they have, must have, totally mastered. The same with festive dressing. Sunday best, make up, a hairdo. Outfit may have been thought and bought as an ensemble. The same amount of care and preparation rarely goes into everyday dressing, which is why festive dressing is so very often proof of visible effort that is not exactly chic.
The many photographs of cooked dishes are really very bare-bones, no decorations, no fancy crockery or objects artfully scattered around to enhance the colour scheme of the dishes. Rather, the dishes are arranged in groups and photographed from above in a way reminiscent of the current cooking fad of deconstructing. For an example of a picture of plates of porridge and gruel, see here. The message I get is this – cooking is about the ingredients, it is about essence, substance, and integrity, not about embellishments. Really, pictures like these make all the food porn one is so accustomed to see, look impossible, tiresome and tasteless.
Now I will offer you a text sample from this wonderful book. It is an excerpt introducing cabbage recipes. I love cabbage, it is frugal, tasty, local, healthy, full of fiber, and with zero sugar content, which makes it perfect to pair with meat or groats. However, in Bulgaria at least, cabbage is associated with something lowly, rustic, tasteless, smelly and coarse. Few restaurants offer raw shredded cabbage salad as it is too cheap. Those that do often drown it in sunflower oil and vinegar. Others pair it with way too much sweet vinaigrette intended obviously to make up for its blandness. Cooked cabbage is usually treated with shocking disrespect, and turned into a lifeless mass sadly lying around the pork it usually accompanies. I love my cabbage only with salt and a bit of sesame tahini or raw sunflower seeds, or delicately stewed so that it remains crunchy. So imagine my surprise and amusement when I read this short piece of pure cabbage poetry in The Nordic Cookbook:
Cabbage redolent of cool summer mornings! I wish I had thought of that,