Fun, friendly and practical – this is a cartoon cookbook for everyone who loves to cook or can't cook but wants to know the basics or just likes the idea of cooking but doesn't know where to begin.
It's been a long time brewing. The idea first came to me some thirty years ago, while travelling all over Europe presenting a thirteen-part TV series based on my first cookbook, European Peasant Cookery. Filming in unfamiliar languages in tiny kitchens in out-of-the-way places, often without a shared language, proved a challenge to everyone – cooks, presenter, crew. All, however, became clear when I took to story-boarding each episode while we were filming. My cartoons were livelier and more technicolour than the usual frame-by-frame stick-figures and I was enjoying myself – so, it seemed, was everyone else.
Later, when travelling the world as a journalist writing on food and culture, I filled hundreds of sketchbooks with the visual notes that come to me easily from an earlier career as a botanical and bird artist. A watercolour-box small enough to sit on my fist and a sketchbook the size of a postcard allows me to communicate in kitchens and marketplaces with people who really know their stuff. Many of the dishes I've included will be familiar, others less so, and some are the simple little preparations – omelettes, mayonnaise – that make such a difference to home-cooking. Each storyboard – which is really what these cartoons are – is dictated by my own memories of people and places and each of the introductory images that set the scene for the recipes were first recorded in my sketchbooks. It's been a long time simmering and I'm delighted to have a chance to finally bring this to the table!
Ingredients for Lamb with Barley:
1 small shoulder of lamb
150g spelt or barley
1 whole garlic head
2 cans plum tomatoes
100g unsalted butter
Salt and ground white pepper (plenty)
Madame Annie Pacault, restaurateur of the village of Savoillans in the vallé du Toulourenc in Upper Provence, prepares this dish of slow-cooked lamb with garlic, grains and tomatoes in autumn and early winter, when the year's crop of lambs are well-grown and have put on their winter covering of fat. The grains absorb the fat as it melts, keeping the meat deliciously rich and soft. Annie prepares her dish with a shoulder of a well-grown mountain lamb that would elsewhere be classed as hogget – yearling mutton. The grain she prefers is épautre, a primitive hard-husked wheat that thrives in harsh conditions such as those of the uplands of the Luberon, though barley, preferably unpolished, is an acceptable alternative. The region provides summer pastures for transhumancing herds of sheep brought into the mountains from their winter quarters in the Alpilles, the hills north of Marseilles. The flocks are known for the excellence of little cheeses made with sheep's milk, tomes. Since the agneau a l’epautre is prepared to order, customers are provided with an hors d'oeuvre of sourdough bread from the baker next door, radishes with unsalted butter, a bowl of home-made tapenade (capers, anchovies, black olives, thyme) and bowl of lettuce-leaves dressed with olive oil, salt and a dash of wine-vinegar topped with the appropriate number of rounds of goat's cheese on toasted slices of baguette blistered under the grill. The local wine is rough and red and taken in equal volume of water from the well.
Ingredients for Gujerati Vegetable Curry:
1 small cauliflower
2 medium onions
2-3 tablespoons ghee (or vegetable oil)
1 level tablespoon cumin seeds
1 short stick cassia or cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
4-6 whole cloves
1 thick slice fresh ginger-root
1-2 green chillies, de-seeded
Salt and pepper
250g mung dhal
8-12 flatbreads - roti or chapatis
2-3 tablespoons toasted cashews
about 100g fresh white cheese
A one-pot vegetable stew eaten from the hand with a freshly-baked scooping bread (chapatti) is the standard midday meal in rural regions throughout India. Spicings vary, though cumin-seed, ginger-root and home-grown chilli is usual. Vegetables are seasonal and either home-grown or bought fresh daily in the market. Hindu vegetarian rules require abstinence from alcohol, a category that includes yeast-raised breads such as pitta and storable cheese. While chicken and fish are increasingly tolerated in many regions, the vegetarian tradition practised for religious reasons remains strong in Gujerat, Gandhi's home-territory, well-spring of the Mahatma's campaign of passive resistance to colonial rule. Rules of culinary engagement include the replacement of onion and garlic with asafoetida, a flavouring painstakingly derived from the root of the giant fennel, though this particular religious demand is not much followed in the villages of the Great Rann of Kutch, home to wolves and the last of Asia's desert lions as well as a resourceful population of cattle-herdermen, self-sufficient farming communities among whom where I gathered the recipe. Vegetable proportions are inexact, size of cooking-pot dictates numbers of participants (never take more than you should). The most important element, the scooping-breads, are prepared with pounded millet, an adaptable grain that thrives under desert conditions, patted out by hand and toasted on a bake-stone over a stick-fire.
Ingredients for Norwegian Gravlax:
Ik salmon fillet (skin on)
4 tablespoons sea-salt
1 tablespoon crushed white peppercorns
2 tablespoons sugar
Generous handful dill-fronds
Small glass aquavit or vodka
200ml sunflower or seed oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mild mustard
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon finely-chopped dill
The simplest and most ancient method of conserving summer’s plenty against the deprivations of winter in a region where both land and water freeze solid through half the year. The secret is in the name: ‘lax’ is salmon and ‘grav’ means buried, as in ‘grave’. Scandinavian hunters far from home on the icy shores of the Arctic were accustomed to digging a pit in the sandy shore and burying the catch at the end of summer for retrieval later. The Arctic shoreline freezes solid in winter, the original covering was pine needles rather than dill, and there was enough salt in the sand to keep the flesh pickled rather than rotted into inedibility. That said, there's certainly a taste for well-fermented fish in many non-Arctic cultures as well as throughout Scandinavia. It was wise, however, to remember where you'd buried your grave-salmon before the summer thaw set in. To carve, slice the flesh vertically in slender wedges rather than horizontal slivers as for smoked salmon (smoke is an addition to the original method in a damp climate, such as Scotland's). Don't let the skin go to waste: snip it into ribbons and crisp in its own fat on a hot dry pan – the flavour is exquisitely concentrated and the texture pleasantly chewy. Mustard sauce with dill is a relatively new Franco-German addition to the Scandinavian original – no matter, it's delicious. Serve all together with paper-thin Scandinavian crispbreads and Janssen's Temptation – matchsticked potatoes baked with cream and a layer of salt-cured Baltic anchovies (or not, as you please). The appropriate refreshment is a fistful of beer with an aquavit chaser.
...and please pass on the news to anyone you think might be interested. It's a steep learning curve, crowd-funding. But I like the anarchy of self-publishing - Dickens did it after all, and he was no slouch, sales-wise. Meanwhile I'll be posting images from my sketchbooks regularly on Instagram (the handle is elisabeth.luard). The contents of my sketchbooks - I have hundreds from over the years…
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