Today a guest-post from loyal reader and Asian food enthusiast Martha!
Sick of vegetarian recipes that act as if rich food is a mortal sin? Then read on! This my friend is the dish for you.
I bought this book in a charity shop, mostly because of it’s fabulous front cover and spiral binding and partly for the author’s name. Another Martha, yay!
The book is full of breathless prose about the wise, healthy and long-lived Himalayan peoples and the contribution their excellent diet makes to their longevity and spirituality. There is a fantastically patronising introduction from the author’s husband, Rudolph M Ballentine M.D., which describes the Brahmin woman’s “sacred duty” of preparing dinner “with a serene mind and a mantra on her lips”. But of course the authors learnt their Himalayan cooking from a man.
It’s hard to convey fully how earnest this book is. If I tell you that they thought about calling one dish “Vegetables in an exquisite creamy sauce” but decided instead to go with “Vegetables with Soy Powder Sauce” because they “wanted to remind you that this is a high protein dish”, you’ll have some idea. I also have memories of one recipe exhorting the reader to add tofu from time to time “as a special treat”* but I can’t find the quote right now. It may have been a worthiness-induced hallucination.
I don’t keep peas or yoghurt in the house not being over-fond of either, so this recipe engendered a trip to the corner shop. They didn’t have frozen peas but I did find hash browns on offer, so I know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow. I ended up buying canned ‘garden peas’ instead. When I opened them they smelled weirdly of asparagus. Is that normal? I don’t know. I’ve never had canned peas before.
I also bought a large beer. Books that describe tofu as a ‘special treat’ have that effect on me.
I managed to stick pretty faithfully to the recipe and this was the result. (With corner shop naan bread. Yes, I’m dirty).
I didn’t have a large onion so I used six small shallots. I didn’t know how much a large bunch of spinach was, so I used half a supermarket bagful. They don’t say how fine to cut up the spinach but whenever I’ve had sag dishes in restaurants it’s always pretty fine so I tried to emulate.
I don’t have a pressure cooker and my frying pan was full of bacon fat, so I made this in a wok.
I didn’t read the quantities before deciding to cook this dish, only the list of ingredients. Holy moly – 3tbsp is a lot of ghee! Also to someone who doesn’t eat much dairy, a whole cup of yoghurt in this much spinach is a lot of yoghurt. In fact, to me this dish was kind of ‘when milk attacks!’. I’m guessing for people who love their creamy things, this would be an awesome recipe , and as I mentioned it’s good for those who think vegetarianism shouldn’t mean self-denial.
It was mild but not bland and would make an excellent side dish, which in fairness is what appears to be intended. It is very filling. (In real life it’s not that virulent a shade of green, but nearly.)
Apparently in Himalayan culture “waste is abhorred” so I portioned up the significant quantities of leftovers and froze them. My usual curries tend to be full of tomatoes, peppers and raging chilli. Next time I shall have a little bit of this on the side to soothe the pain.
*I love tofu but cognac and truffles it ain’t.
Got an old recipe you’d like to try and then tell the internet about? Email us vintagecookbooktrials[AT]gmail[DOT]com