Thinking about what I cook


This little bit of introspection is brought to you by the fact that I’m reading an Indian slow-cooker cookbook, and feeling a little sad. I love Indian food. I really do. It’s one of my favorite cuisines, and it’s difficult for us to go out and get it, because restaurant Indian food is pretty high-carb and doesn’t play well with Mark’s diabetes.

The solution of course is to make it at home. Then you realize how much work it is. I guess for anyone who’s accustomed to cooking that way, that isn’t so bad. I certainly don’t mind occasionally making a complicated meal with a lot of steps and dishes. But with the number of unusual staples the cuisine needs, I would want to make it more frequently than every once in a while. There’s only so much space in my kitchen for half-finished staples.

Thing is, it feels like almost everything in the Indian repertoire is a lot of steps and dishes. Puree garlic and ginger. Precook spices. Slowly caramelize onions. Did you count the blender and two skillets you already needed? Then you get to the rest of the dish and it needs an hour or three on the cooktop, and that’s just for one dish. The slow cooker only minimizes that last step of the process, and even then there are often garnishing steps. Like I said, I don’t mind doing this sometimes, but that’s a lot for a weeknight dinner. 

As an aside, I love to cook, but I hate doing dishes. With a fiery passion born of ten years without a dishwasher. Let me tell you, as soon as they invent something that’s better than a dishwasher I will be the first person in line to buy one. I have jokingly threatened to hire a scullery maid.

So how do I usually cook? I live in southern California, and my cooking style is heavily influenced by that. The weather here is usually warm and our access to produce is ridiculously good. I use the best fresh ingredients I can get my hands on or can afford, raw or lightly cooked most of the time. And lots — LOTS — of fruits and veggies. That’s a taste thing. Why mess too much with good ingredients? It’s also a speed thing and a temperature thing. It’s too warm here most of the year to eat heavy dishes, or to overheat the house with a lot of stove or oven time. (The slow cooker makes this easier. I own three of varying sizes and use them constantly. I want a solar oven one of these days.)

In terms of cuisine style, my theme is mostly homestyle Californian.  Ninety percent of what I cook falls into a fusion of Cal-Mex/Baja, Italian thanks to my family heritage plus the lovely Mediterranean climate here, and Pacific Rim, mostly Japanese. Most of what I cook takes somewhere around an hour to an hour and a half to prep a full meal, though I also do occasional in-between prep where I’ll make things in advance one or two mornings a week. The staples that live in my pantry range from beans to tomatoes to bonito flakes. That’s another post, though.

Mostly I’m explaining this … well, partially to make myself feel better for realizing that I’m probably not going to make Indian food any time soon (except maybe kheema matar, we love that), and partially so you guys out there in Internet-land know where I’m coming from, and why I cook the way I do. What’s your cooking style?

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