[Here, a young Vietnamese cook, hired by a famous writer, speaks to himself:] “Quinces are ripe when they are the yellow of canary wings in midflight….But even then quinces remain a fruit, hard and obstinate – useless, GertrudeStein, until they are simmered, coddled for hours above a low, steady flame. Add honey and water and watch their dry, bone-colored flesh soak up the heat, coating itself in an opulent orange, not of the sunrises that you never see but of the insides of tree-ripened papayas, a color you can taste. To answer your question, GertrudeStein, love is not a bowl of quinces yellowing in a blue and white china bowl, seen but untouched.”
— The Book of Salt, by Monique Truong
The journey began with Afghanistan two years ago; Every nation on the planet gets its day in Sarah Commerford’s kitchen
Four years ago, Sarah’s life was ordinary the way Julie Powell’s life was ordinary before she undertook the challenge of cooking her way through Julia Child’s culinary bible.
Sarah had a similar “ah-hah” moment – what if she could cook her way around the world without ever leaving her tidy, charming Holliston home? Today, 191 countries later,* she nears the end of her epic kitchen journey.
As much as I admire Julie Powell’s fearless undertaking, her writing left me completely underwhelmed. Powell’s life and childhood simply did not warrant the space she devoted to them. I stopped reading – bored and frustrated – long before the halfway mark. (Except for her hilarious recounting of the supper with Amanda.)
There’s her exceptional blog that charts her progress as she ricocheted her way from Azerbaijan to Armenia to Africa (this was an A-to-Z adventure). But there’s no pending book deal. Nora Ephron hasn’t optioned her story. And one can only assume that Amanda Hesser was too busy with Food52 to invite herself to dinner.
Sarah keeps the focus on the food. She instinctively knows when, and how much, to insert herself. Her lack of formal training, or access to the incredible ethnic and import shops found in the Cambridge/Watertown area, makes her achievement that much more extraordinary. Especially in the face of squirrel, alligator, ostrich, and wild boar – none of which she ever prepared before her blog.
In honor of Sarah Commerford’s perseverance, I’m devoting the next few postings to her. She would insist that she’s no big deal. But believe me, she is and she deserves your attention.
* The z’s still remain.
“Doubles, Barra with Channa and Cucumber Chutney” from Trinidad and Tobago
This is a sort of sandwich with homemade bread, chickpeas, cucumber-lime-habanero-cilantro chutney, and tamarind hot sauce. Sarah ranks it among the top five dishes of her project and calls it “incredible….Partly because it’s unique, delicious and captures the smells and flavors of this beautiful West Indian country.”
I’ve outlined a few ingredients and preparation steps to whet your appetite.
The barra dough is shaped into 36 small balls and fried in canola oil. The recipe calls for all-purpose flour, saffron powder, and ground geera (cumin, preferably roasted).
The channa calls for chick peas or garbanzo beans, ground coriander, chive and turmeric powder (among other ingredients), which are mixed and boiled.
The Cucumber Chutney includes cilantro, chives, scotch-bonnet (habanero) pepper, and fresh lime juice.
The Tamarind Hot Sauce includes hot peppers, vinegar, fruit juice and tamarind pods, which must be peeled and deseeded. These are tricky and sticky to work with, but delicious, Sarah says.
After all that, you layer the chutney on the chickpeas, then top with hot sauce: West Indian awesomeness.
Find the complete recipe Here, with photos illustrating the various steps.
Next post in the series: In the kitchen with Sarah C.