Upcoming Korean cooking class in Oxford

For my readers in and around Oxfordshire I just wanted to give you a heads-up (i.e., blatantly advertise!) that I’ll be teaching a Korean cookery class on April 12th at Sophie’s Cookery School. This is a wonderful ‘pop-up’ school run by Sophie Grigson and her team offering classes on everything from baking to Vietnamese cookery. I hope to see some of you there!

Persian herbed rice and fish stuffed with herbs, pomegranate molasses and walnuts

Persian herbed rice and fish stuffed with herbs, pomegranate and walnuts

A wonderful recent article in the New York Times on the traditional dishes served on Persian/Iranian New Year’s Day, called Nowruz and falling this Tuesday 21st March, reminded me of the first time I made Persian food. I thought there was a mistake in the recipe for ghormeh sabzi, sometimes called Iran’s ‘national dish’, as the idea of adding entire bunches of parsley and cilantro (coriander) to a stew seemed rather extreme. After all, much as I love these herbs, I’m more used to thinking of them as garnishes rather than the main ingredient. But I’ve learnt since that first foray that in Persian cuisine herbs are treated like any other vegetable. Which is perhaps also why I simply had to try the recipes associated with the aforementioned article, especially the fish stuffed with herbs, pomegranate molasses and walnuts! Incidentally, Persian New Year is celebrated not just in Iran but through much of Central Asia, from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, and even by the Parsis of the Indian Subcontinent.

Peruvian-style beef skewers (anticuchos) with aji amarillo sauce

Peruvian-style anticucho with aji amarillo sauce

Peruvian-style anticucho with aji amarillo sauce

I suspect that without the discovery of the New World the rest of the planet would still be subsisting on grass. From tomatoes to chile peppers and potatoes to chocolate, not to mention quinoa, South America, and the Andean region in particular, has had a disproportionately important and enriching influence on our diet. But it hasn’t been an entirely one-way street. The conquistadors who brought (stole?) these culinary riches back to Europe and disseminated them to Asia and elsewhere, also contributed a few things like garlic and beef that are now commonly used in that part of the world. And, more recently and perhaps less balefully, Peruvian cuisine has been influenced by repeated bouts of immigration from countries such as Japan, specifically Okinawa, and China, giving rise to distinctive cuisines known as nikkei and chifa, respectively. Indeed, Japanese of Peruvian descent are one of the most successful and influential ethnic groups in modern Peru (Fujumori, a former president of Peru, is the most (in)famous example of such a nikkeijin).

Japanese-style turnip and persimmon pickle

Japanese-style turnip and persimmon pickle

Growing up in Mumbai I always thought Indians were unique in their obsession with pickles. Every meal features at least one type, and not infrequently 3 or 4 different kinds. Certainly, the regional varieties are astounding, so much so that there is an entire hit TV show dedicated to them. But it turns out that plenty of other cuisines take their pickles just as seriously. And no wonder. Pickling has long been one of the ways in which food is preserved. This is especially true in Japan where fermented and pickled foods take center stage. The latter are collectively known as tsukemono (漬け物), literally “pickled things”. Tsukemono can involve everything from daikon to ginger, and carrots to squid. As for the pickling itself, rice vinegar and sugar play key roles, but rice bran (for a type of tsukemono known as nukazuke), miso (misozuke) and sake lees (kasuzuke) are also commonly used.

Sea bass, spinach and eggplant ravioli

Sea bass, spinach and eggplant ravioli

If I had it my way I’d probably spend all day in my kitchen and never go to work. Sadly, though, my employer would no doubt frown upon my giving lectures via Skype from the comfort of my home! There is, however, a silver lining: the proverbial water-cooler conversations with my colleague Martino. But instead of trading football scores we discuss food as Martino is just as infatuated with cooking as I am. Not surprising since he’s Italian and has a mom who cooks professionally back in Italy. That makes him exceptionally knowledgeable about Italian cuisine and I’ve learnt loads from him. And so it was the last time we bumped into each other, when he mentioned a fish ravioli he’d made the previous night. Fish in ravioli? I was intrigued and knew then and there what I was going to make that weekend!