23 October 2009

Components make up the whole

"roasted yucca til it was crisp w lots a garlic, and folded it in2 the hummus of the day. yucca hummus y'all."

Boss man posted that on Sacred Chow's facebook yesterday. He let me try the roasted yucca. Damned if it didn't knock me off my feet, and launch me to the heavens! I'm a huge fan of yucca, mind you. It's one of those things that I could happily use in everything I make, and still not get tired of. The rest of the planet agrees with me. Cassava is so widely eaten that I can't really think of a country (with farmable land) off-hand where it's difficult to come by. It's seen in cuisines from South America, to Africa, to Asia (China and India and the islands in the south Pacific being huge fans of it) and any other place where money is a little tight from time to time.

But this isn't about the wonders of yucca. It's about flavouring things just so.

Your dish will only be as strong as the weakest component in it. This is why you see chefs seeking out the finest ingredients that their budgets can allow. They know that if one ingredient's quality is less than that of the surrounding ingredients, the end product will be compromised significantly. This goes double for flavour. If the components of the dish are highly tantalising and tempting, then you'll most likely wind up with a fantastic end product.

For example, there are many times when I'm about to make smashed potatoes with loads of coconut cream and garlic, but I stop myself, because the oven roasted potatoes are so delicious that I can't stop myself from eating half the tray before moving forward. For this reason, I've made mashed potatoes all of two or three times tops, and when I do, there isn't very much of it.

I'm so not joking when I say that potatoes are much beloved in my home. First I boil them off in the pressure cooker, because I can have them easier to handle in about 5 minutes (after reaching pressure, of course) as opposed to going through the grunt work of peeling and dicing the little monsters, only to smash them later. The hell with that. If I have a limited amount of time in the kitchen, you can bet your buttons that I'd sooner spend it having a glass of wine than doing make-work that's going to be for naught in any case.

But I digress, as you do.

The point is that the reason that my cooking is good goes beyond and above the fact that the final product is great; it's because the journey (to me) is really as important as the destination. It's why I can be so creative. While I'm cooking, there are multiple places where I can stop, even with simple dishes, like an aromatic vegetable sautee. You start off with popping the spices in oil, then add in your peppers, carrots, onions, garlic, what have you. Once they get tender, you can actually just stop, and use that as something (maybe to toss with pasta or rice, or in between a thick, crusty baguette, or add some water and make a soup, or add some beans and make a stew, or ...). If you choose, you can cook down some tomato in there, and stop at that point as well (add beans, make a daal, add leftover potatoes and other cooked veg with a bit of water for a veg stew, use the cooked tomato & aromatics as a spicy bruschetta thing ...). Then, if you have any, you stir in some beans (washed and drained), vegetables (in bite sized pieces), and a bit of salt and pepper, and cook the veg or beans with the aromatics and tomatoes for about five minutes. You could stop there and use the beans and/or veg with the aromatics and the rest as a sort of curry that you serve over rice, or add water to make a soup or stew, or throw in some cooked grain (barley, brown rice, large couscous), let it simmer for a few minutes, and have at.

See what I'm saying? At any point, you can stop, keep going, or take multiple diversions. That's the soul of good cooking. So there was boss man, in the kitchen, roasting up that cassava, and boiling up the chick peas. As I mentioned he let me taste the roast cassava. So divine. Then I tried a bit of the plain hummus. ALSO divine.

Then he blended them together.

Oh yes.

The whole was far superior to the sum of its parts, but the individual parts were quite tantalising on their own, thank you very much. I would have been quite content to eat that roasted yucca all by itself. Who doesn't like yucca that hasn't been fried, but tastes like it has (nothing at Sacred Chow is ever fried, ever, for any reason)? Who wouldn't want to just bury himself or herself in that mound of creamy dreamy hummus? ("What do you eat hummus with?" "A spoon!") Now that they're combined, you get little crunchy treasures that are enveloped in that creamy robe of protein.

Think of that the next time you're in the kitchen, and really take to heart how important it is to be intimately involved in every step of the way. Then get lazy can call for delivery.