I'm not sure when it happened, but there was a certain period in the late 1990s when I began to religiously read Mark Bittman's Minimalist cooking column in the Times. I had already been cooking avidly by then, but the column opened up new horizons. I can't even begin to count the number of times I read the column and tried the recipe -- that same day. His approach was liberating, since it demanded little more than what you already had in your kitchen. Bittman explained the approach in his final column:
I refused to buy into the notion that there was a “correct” way to prepare a given dish; rather, I tried to understand its spirit and duplicate that, no matter where I was cooking. For months I lived with a hot plate and a combination convection-microwave oven. When I needed to roast something I borrowed a friend’s kitchen. For years after that I cooked in others’ kitchens more than my own; the column never missed a beat. Thus I have no patience for “I’d love to cook but I have a lousy kitchen.”
For guys especially, this was liberating. They didn't have to cook like their mother -- or anyone else for that matter, though you could cook your way around the world. Again, Bittman:
To me the question was not, “Would I cook this as a native would?” but rather, “How would a native cook this if he had my ingredients, my kitchen, my background?” It’s obviously a different dish. But as Jacques Pépin once said to me, you never cook a recipe the same way twice, even if you try. I never maintained that my way of cooking was the “best” way to cook, only that it’s a practical way to cook. (I’m lazy, I’m rushed, and I’m not all that skillful, and many people share those qualities.)
So thanks, Mark, for all your help. I even ended up using a recipe of yours tonight, but took it in my own direction, combining soup, lentils and brown rice. It riffed off your ideas but in the end it was mine. Which is how I think you'd like it.
For those who are interested, here are his top-25 favorites.
- Samuel Fromartz