The Oldways Table: Essays and Recipes

June 13 2007 - 9:52 AM

I notice sometimes that I come across simple and nutritious recipes and my response is – well that’s a no-brainer – I’ll make that for dinner. The Oldways cookbook is a whole book of recipes that we all take for granted. In the rush to use our gadgetry and the most complicated fusion of flavors and ingredients we forget that simple really is better. Instead of masking flavors leave them alone. Let the ingredients have enough room to combine their flavors on their own. These are terms that contradict traditional French cooking but align with how the Japanese eat.

Oldways is a culinary think tank and the nice thing is that they advocate this return to simplicity. It’s really not such a contrarian point of view. From Gordon Ramsay to inflatable water slide the advice from your fish monger… think simple. A fresh cut of _____ some seasoning and you’re in business. Why all the processing? Why all the sauces? I still am uncertain why we use bleached sugar and bleached flour… I can see it for layer cakes but really, do we need it? In an era where we’re not waiting for the ketchup to come out of the bottle we obviously can’t wait for the sugar in the raw to dissolve?

The cookbook covers lots of ground and interspersed between recipes, like Oysters on the halfshell with cracked pepper and lemon juice, are terrific essays that cover topics with a scientific basis to those that are more “in the moment” of enjoyment. From our evolution and how dairy came to be to different olive oils and how to use them, Oldways covers the origins of food with personal narratives on cooking like galley-cooking during an Alaskan sailing trip.

Covering beans in their simple, basic terms helps us understand how prepping changes flavor, why that happens and it underscores that beans bring a flavor that you don’t necessarily need to change. The recipes that follow reinforce that.

To put it simply: these are simple recipes for the basic ingredients you take for granted.