Thursday, March 12, 2009

Women and Cooking

So all around the world there is this holiday called International Women’s Day, but much like other international things like the Kyoto Accords or the United Nations, it’s not too popular in the United States. However, here it is a big deal. I heard that it’s the one day of the year when men are supposed to do housework and cooking—the things usually reserved for the women of this country. So I was pumped. Me, get to cook? Yes!

Peace Corps has this wonderful cookbook that they give volunteers with a ton of recipes you can make with mostly local products. I am amazed by how often I read this book. It’s not even a book you read. I mean it’s a cookbook. But nearly every other day I find myself drooling over recipes I want to try. Bean soup, homemade tacos, mock sweet potato casserole, pesto… Before I was always one of those experimenting cooks that never followed a recipe, but here the recipes are so easy and handy. I can’t wait to try more of them out when I move out on my own or negotiate cooking my own meals a few times a week.

In combination with the Peace Corps cookbook, I had my parents send me the ultimate cooking tome: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. This book is AMAZING. It doesn’t have actual recipes (except historical ones, like the first recorded recipe for an omlette), but it does contain everything you ever wanted to know about the science of cooking. How are the proteins different in the whites and the yolks of eggs? What happens when you curdle milk? How do you make tofu? And everything, everything else. Combined with this book and the Peace Corps cookbook, I set out to make an awesome Women’s Day meal for my family.

The meal I chose to cook was gnocci (which I’ve cooked once before here; it’s pasta made from potato dough) was semi-homemade tomato sauce. Below (inspired to post my recipes by my buddy Ken ) is the recipe.

• Vegetable broth (To make broth: Boil a few carrots, onions, garlic, and whatever other vegetables you have on hand in a good bit of water. Well not boil per se, but simmer close to boiling. For hours. Until they are pretty much eviscerated. I added some salt and pepper to this too. Let a lot of the water evaporate off to intensify the flavor some.)
• Tomato paste
• Tomatoes (fresh better, but I used pickled ones)
• 3 carrots
• 2 onions
• 8 cloves of garlic (my host mom seems to like garlic a lot, although she never cooks with it)
• Pepper
• Salt
• Sugar
• Italian seasonings (from ‘merica, but best if you can find some local herbs)
• Baking soda (to reduce the acidity from the pickled tomatoes)
Mince the garlic, carrots, and onions. Saute them in a pan with a little oil.
Peel the tomatoes. Smash them. Add this to the vegetables.
Add some amount of paste to the pot and mix well.
Add some amount of vegetable broth to this.
Bring to a boil and quickly reduce to a simmer.
Add pepper, salt, sugar, and seasoning to taste.
Add baking soda when you realize its way too acidic.
Simmer for a long time while you make the gnocci.

• Potatoes
• Egg
• Salt
• Flour
Peel some potatoes.
Boil them until they are soft enough to mash.
Drain the water and mash them.
Add like two eggs. One egg maybe. I added one egg and a yolk for fun.
Add some salt, maybe a teaspoon or so. Tablespoon? A spoonful.
Add flour until it’s a good dough consistency. Here my two cooking references are at odds with each other. The Peace Corps cookbook has a high ratio of flour to potato, while On Food and Cooking recommends a low ratio. I find that the higher one was necessary, but the less flour, the lighter the pasta will be.
Knead dough.
Roll out the dough and cut into squares or something. Fold the squares up to make dumplings.
Drop these dumplings in a pot of boiling water. When they float up they are done.

Pretty simple. It did take a while to make, but it’s not that difficult. And it was soooo delicious. It was hard for me to not eat all of it and save some for my family members that weren’t home. Everyone seemed to really like the sauce and the gnocci. At one point during the cooking, my host mom asked why I just didn’t go buy the pasta instead of boiling, mashing, kneading the potatoes etc., and I still don’t know how to say the whole point of the dish is the potato pasta in Russian, so I would just shrug and say they are important. I would have like some cheese somewhere in the dish, I’m thinking inside the dumplings, but I don’t know where to get good cheese in my town. I’m also on a gnocci kick now, and would like to try steaming the dumplings to see if they turn out any different from when I boil them.

In addition to this, I also gave my host mom a photo album of pictures from her birthday celebration last month and I gave my host sister some photos and some cash. I tried to clean the house with them, but they wanted to do that themselves. They said they couldn’t just sit around all day not doing anything. Later on in the day we had some guests come and that was fun. I showed some children my new juggling skills, we toasted to women, ate some ploaf, drink some chai. The normal gosti activities. All in all, it was a great day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, Michael, from Martha at the Stevenson Center. You write wonderful stories and cook too! Sending best wishes from Central Illinois; it is finally feeling like Spring here. Keep the faith and the patience.