Recipe Continuums

I enjoy cooking. One of the advantages of cooking for myself alone is that I don’t have to take into account a house-mate’s inexplicable vagaries of taste and preferences. If something doesn’t turn out quite right I have only myself to blame and don’t have to hear any complaints.

I like to read recipes and try them out, but I rarely follow them exactly.

Hey, readers,let’s try a thought experiment. No, no, don’t begin to edge away — such experiments are good for your imaginative faculties and helps keep them limber and supple.

Okay, gird your mental loins and let’s go:

Imagine four circles, each of which contains a recipe. Three of the four circles are arranged as the vertices of an equilateral triangle, while the fourth circle is smack dab in the center of the triangle. Now imagine lines extending from each vertex-circle to the central one.

Riding on these lines are little tabs, one for each line, which can be easily slid back and forth, closer to and farther away from the circles, but which have enough friction to stay put when you have them positioned where you want them. Got that?

My mental image, as yours probably is as well, is rather starkly Euclidean — a bit too abstract. Let’s color the circles a nice shade of aubergine, with the recipes printed in cursive scarlet script. Each circle is bordered by woven garlands of oregano shoots. Now let’s make the lines tightly-stretched bristly sisal ropes, with the movable tabs shaped like Kalamata olives and cast in bronze.

The three outer circles contain respectively recipes for hummus, pesto, and baba ghanoush.

Now we need a pleasant background for this scene. Since the recipes contained within the three outer circles are of Levantine or Italian origin, let’s make the background a steeply-sloped mountainside with scattered groves of olive trees. Goats graze the aromatic shrubby plants which thinly dot the areas between the groves. One curious goat wanders over to the array of circles in front of us and tentatively nibbles on one of the ropes.

I say, “Scat! get out of here!” The goat looks at me insolently and wanders away as if it’s his own idea.

The arrangement of circles, ropes, and bronze olives are magically suspended before us in a vertical plane. We approach this unusual arrangement which seems to defy gravity. One of the three outer circles contains a recipe for hummus:

1 can garbanzo beans/chickpeas (15 oz), drained
1/2 cup fresh spinach or basil
3 oz, crumbled feta cheese or possibly Asiago
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cups red pepper flakes or a diced and fried Serrano pepper
1 teaspoon garlic roasted whole or sliced and fried

In a food processor combine, beans, tahini, spinach, garlic, olive
oil, and lemon juice. Blend well. Add cheese and red pepper flakes and
blend to a smooth and creamy dip.

The next outer circle contains a recipe for baba ghanouch:

1 large eggplant
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon tahini

Preheat oven to 425. With a fork, punch a bunch of holes in the
eggplant and place it on a baking sheet. Cook for about 45 minutes,
until the eggplant is all sunken in. Remove from the heat and let it
cool until you can peel it safely. Peel and put it in a food
processor. Add the salt, garlic, lemon juice, and tahini, and process
until it’s smooth.

The third outer circle contains a recipe for pesto:

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts, sunflower seeds, walnuts, or cashews
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in
a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and
they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before
adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food
processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor
with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until
blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

The central circle contains a variable composite of the three recipes, depending on where the bronze olive-shaped sliders are placed. Go ahead, here in this imaginary Mediterranean scene — reach out and slide the bronze olives to different positions on the ropes. Do this for a while and you will notice, if you are paying attention, that the closer a bronze slider is to one of the outer recipes, the more influence that recipe has on the composite central recipe. As an example, if the slider on the rope tied onto the baba ghanouch circle gets close to that circle the central recipe will have more eggplant in it. Garbonzo beans begin to predominate if the slider on the rope hooked to the hummus recipe is moved closer to that circle.

It’s quite fascinating to watch the central circle as you move the bronze olives along the ropes. The composite recipe changes fluidly, reflecting the positioning of the sliders.

Now allow the imagined mental scene to fade away. What we have imagined is a graphical representation of some quite complex mental processes, a series of decisions a cook with a knack for improvising might make.

Here’s what I came up with tonight:

The stuff in that jar is nameless and very tasty but I’ll probably never make another batch just like it. I kind of like the idea of eating a food which I’ll never taste again!

I’ve found that the squat jars which “Talk of Texas” okra pickles come in are the ideal size for a batch of any similar dip. I use such jars for tahini, too.

If you have a food processor or a blender try one of these recipes, or a composite. Every variation I’ve made has been delicious, either eaten with pita bread or used as a sandwich spread.

Now you can let your imagination relax after its exertions. Turn on the TV or pick up a book and let someone else do the imagining for you!




Filed under Food

4 responses to “Recipe Continuums

  1. bev

    Love all of those food and the ingredients. The eggplants, basil and other ingredients in my garden are getting just about to the right point to begin whipping up batches of your recipes – along with a nice batch of falafel. I used to grow a couple of varieties of chick peas in the garden back at my farm – not at that stage yet here, so must make do with canned. Enjoyed your imaginings of the background – and the goat that came to nibble on the rope. Only one note to add to that. Having had a large herd of dairy goats for about 25 years – to make things even more authentic, at least one or two caprine kids would have come sproinging out of nowhere to leap up and crash on the delectable dishes. Just sayin’. (-:

  2. May be I’ll put in some kids capering – it would liven up the scene!

    I’ve yet to try making falafel balls, though I’ve eaten them in Greek restaurants many a time.

    So you once grew chickpeas, eh? I’ll have to try a patch next year. Did you harvest any at the shelly immature stage or did you grow them strictly as dried beans?

    My big legume patch this year is black-eyed peas, which are a joy to watch as they develop. A predatory wasp frequents areas near the blossoms, evidently feeding on nectar-gathering insects. It’s a bug-eats-bug world out there!

  3. Leslie

    I enjoyed the colorful mental pictures around the recipes Larry, and I too like all the ingredients. I think I have three new recipes to add to my box, I look forward to mixing a bit of ts and matching a vit of that to see what I come up with. Thanks!

  4. bev

    Larry, the chickpeas were small, dark brown types, grown to be dried and used later. I should have experimented with cooking them a bit, then maybe chopping or mashing them to use as the main ingredient in vegetarian burgers. They had a much nuttier taste than the run-of-the-mill garbanzos.

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