There’s something primal and pure about the act of feeding another person. It’s a gift of life and of self, an art delivered directly from the soul of another person. It’s not just a shirt someone buys you or a card from a grocery store. It’s a part of that person brought to life in the form of nourishment that feeds you in body and mind. A dish is a symphony of notes that are played like the chords of a song, and each note is a decision made with thought and care. This gift of food makes a child grow and gives a sick person energy. It makes a person happy and full and feel satiated and cared for. The act of cooking for someone is simple but in a sense that’s why it becomes the most powerful. You don’t need to say a thing to offer another comfort. You just make a meal with care, just the way they like it.
Mom cooking always has a special secret, an added ingredient that no one else uses that gives it the note that you can’t put your finger on. My mom makes a chicken pasta salad that I have eaten since I was a baby and to this day it makes me feel fulfilled and ravenous. I relish it with fervor, almost as though it were going to run out and never exist again. If I make it myself, exactly to the recipe, it doesn’t taste remotely close. Pretty much not worth making. The Mom twist of the wrist is magic. Elusive and unquantifiable. If only there were a way to bottle the foods of moms forever. Although perhaps it’s only truly honored in your memory and experiences of the dish. If you could recreate it, would you really want to? It would remove the true meaning which is the most important ingredient of all.
As I learn to cook myself I love to collect my own “magic” habits, a certain spice that goes well here or there. I suppose I am learning to foster my voice. Here are a few of my favorite recipes. They’re by no means fancy or better than anything you would find it a cookbook, but they are yummy and made with love at the very least.
Sarah’s Korean Pancake, or “Padjan”
1 cup sweet rice flour
½ cup wheat flour
a bit of kimchi juice or any kind of chili sauce, preferably one that has ginger or garlic
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Plus anything below that interests you:
scallions – whole or in big pieces, with heads chopped off
chopped blanched shrimp – no shell, deveined
scallops or calamari or other seafood without shells
shredded red onion
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
Asian pear juice (fancy and optional)
Start by whisking together the flours, the eggs, and the kimchi juice. Add a tiny bit of water til the consistency is like a thick milk shake.
Heat the vegetable oil on high heat in a large frying pan (stone or cast-iron a plus). Place the vegetables in the pan and let cook for about 3-5 minutes. Then add the seafood.
Pour the batter over the entire area of the pan, covering as much of the vegetable shrimp mixture as you can. Turn the heat down to medium and leave to cook for about 7 minutes, til you can see that the bottom is browned and crispy.
Now’s the hard part. As best you can, flip the entire pancake over without breaking it. Once it’s over, let cook for another 7 minutes or until brown and crispy. You might have to turn up the heat to high towards the end for it to get the right crisp to it.
Combine all the ingredients for the sauce and serve with the pancake pre-cut into squares, like a pizza. Eat with chopsticks or your fingers, dip and enjoy.
Mom Bates’s Spaghetti Sauce
Enough for 4
½ lb ground beef or turkey
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
¼ red or yellow bell pepper, diced
2 cloves minced garlic
1 28 oz can San Marzano diced tomatoes, or 10 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
½ carrot, grated
1 tbsp tomato paste, if preferred for taste / texture
¼ cup red wine
2 tsps porcini mushroom powder
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
pinch of sugar
kosher salt & freshly cracked pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tsp chopped thyme
1 – 2 tsp of chopped basil / parsley to add to finished sauce
when sauce is nearly done, prepare your preferred spaghetti pasta & drain
serve with freshly grated parmigiano -reggiano cheese
In a heavy saucepan or dutch oven, lightly brown 1/2 lb (or more if you want it), minced turkey or ground beef in a tbsp of olive oil & add salt & pepper. Drain & set aside in a separate bowl.
Add the chopped onion into the pan w/ a tbsp of olive oil & saute until translucent. Next, add in the chopped celery & chopped bell pepper. Saute & stir up the brown bits. Stir in minced or pressed garlic, but do not let it brown. Add in the grated carrot and lightly sauté with the rest of the vegetables. The grated carrot adds a nice sweetness and helps thicken the sauce. Stir in the drained meat and cook for a bit.
Add in the big can of San Marzano diced or whole tomatoes with a good pinch of kosher salt. San Marzano or very ripe tomatoes are important to use for the taste. If wanted or needed, add in a tbsp of tomato paste – Italian is best. Careful. Too much can overwhelm. Add in the porcini mushroom powder for a nice bottom note. Stir in the red wine, a 1/4 tsp of red chili pepper flakes, a good pinch of sugar, 1 bay leaf & a bit of chopped thyme. Cover and let it simmer for about 30 – 45 minutes.
After the sauce has simmered and rounded in taste, If it’s too thick, you can add a bit of vegetable or chicken broth, or tomato water. If it’s too watery, take off the lid and continue to cook for another 10 minutes. Taste & adjust for salt / pepper & discard the bay leaf.
Stir in the rest of the minced herbs into the finished sauce, then serve over your pasta & garnish with freshly grated cheese. A green salad and a nice Italian red wine completes the simple meal.
This recipe can be doubled – freeze the rest of the sauce for another day.
Sarah’s Banana Egg Rolls
Actually, my friend Pa taught me how to do this. So it should really be called Pa’s Egg Rolls adapted by Sarah.
Spring roll skin from the grocery store. Get the pricier package that only has 8, and maybe get 2 packs because you can freeze 1. The more expensive ones are nice and thin. Don’t get the red and yellow Chinese looking package— those are for wontons and they’re way thicker.
Bananas – about 3
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Nutmeg
Asian Pear (optional)
1 bottle of Corn Oil
1 egg white
1 container vanilla bean ice cream
First pour oil into deep, wide sauce pan and keep it heated on medium. You will know it’s ready when you drop a piece of fruit in and the edges bubble. Don’t let it get too hot. (Sorry I don’t know the temperature.)
Put the egg white into a dish and keep handy.
Slice the bananas and the Asian pears into the size of short carrot sticks. Sprinkle them all with sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Take out one sheet of wonton wrapper. Keep a damp paper towel over the rest. Place the sheet in a diamond shape before you. Place a cluster of the banana mixture, about 3 1/2 pieces, in the very center.
Fold in the two corners so that they are snugly blanketed across the middle. Then bring up the bottom corner, and tuck it as snugly as you can over the upper edge of the cluster, and continue the roll upwards. All the while make sure that no extra rice paper pokes out the sides. If it does, back up and fold the edges further inwards.
When you have rolled it all the way to the top corner, swipe a little bit of egg white onto the tip, and seal it like an envelope.
Complete all your rolls before cooking.
When you’re ready, you can place as many rolls into the pan as will fit comfortably. They should cook for about 5 minutes, but keep an eye on them. They won’t look done in the pan, but when you take them out they continue cooking. So don’t overdo them.
When they’re lightly browned in pan, pull out with a slotted spoon and lay on a plate to drain over paper towels.
Serve with a spoonfull of vanilla bean ice cream over two egg rolls, and make sure they’re still warm.