12 April 2008

Toil, Trouble and Hot Chilis (Or, What I Did With My Saturday Night)

Five Flavor Oil, Hot Chili Oil, Preserved Lemons, and Pickled Ginger.

We've been cooking from some older books that require one to make a number of ingredients before actually jumping into the core recipes of the book. Last week I picked up Paula Wolfert's classic Couscous and other Good Food From Morocco. I was eager to bust out tagines of lemon, chicken and olives only to read Paula's admonition against using anything but real preserved lemons. Preserving lemons still freaks me out a bit, even though my mum seemingly always had some in our cupboard when I was growing up (it's her book afterall—in print since 1973). I decided I had to preserve some lemons myself, but they need a month to set up in their briny home. Once the lid was on the lemons, my dreams of Moroccan night faded somewhat and I picked up another older book to pass the time while I waited for the lemons.

Ironically, I picked out the late Barbara Tropp's China Moon Cookbook. I had forgotten that China Moon is the ultimate example of a cookbook that makes you pay your dues before you get to play with its fun recipes. And the fun recipes in this case require you to make several oil infusions, a number of ground spice mixtures, a pickle and several other concoctions besides. I was up all night tending my boiling vats of oil, chilis and fermented black beans.

While China Moon isn't exactly an herbivorous book—in spite of the fact that Tropp started out as a vegetarian and only succumbed to omnivory when greatly outnumbered by carnivores in Taipei—it's pantry filling array of infusions and spices are great for any herbivore to have on hand. In fact, we're thinking of giving bottles of the hot chili oil away as gifts. Crap, there goes the surprise.

No comments: