Cultural Collisions in the Kitchen

I try to avoid treading on anyone’s toes when it comes to fiercely guarded cultural and culinary traditions, but when you’re trying not to waste food during lock-down, some strange combinations can result. If I was a famous chef there’d be people with pitchforks and firebrands at my door, or writing angry letters to newspapers, at least.

The last dollop of pesto added to koftas which in turn were made from the leftovers from a Mexican hogget barbacoa. The Cajun-style chicken rice which I made, slavishly following one of my own recipes before remembering I was cooking for two, not a crowd. Some of that ended up in a distinctly multi-cultural stir-fry. It makes putting chorizo in paella look like a minor misdemeanour.

I’d argue that when we’re cooking in the time of coronavirus, these are not food crimes. Well, the kofta kebabs were a bit iffy, but that was a flaw in execution, not in concept. I turned them into rissoles. Sue me. Britain is a polyglot nation, recipes aren’t set in stone, they evolve as we adapt them to our circumstances. Jack Monroe‘s most popular recipe, she says, is a curry which includes tinned peaches. 

And although I love traditional British dishes (shepherd’s pie, cottage pie, Welsh cawl, pan haggerty, Scotch broth, take your pick), sometimes I want to liven things up so I’ll put North African spices in the shepherd’s pie or give the cottage pie an Asian twist

The dayglo delight of Rogan Josh Cottage Pie

We waste a lot of food as a nation. I’m not advocating the re-use of leftovers to the point where you’re making salmonella sandwiches, but I do think we’re duty-bound to make the most of what we have.

Sometimes that means finding inventive ways to use the tail-end of a joint or a bowl of (safely cooled) cooked rice. Sometimes it’s putting together new combinations of store cupboard ingredients, although at the moment it’s hard not to roll your eyes when you see yet another recipe for chickpeas and beans. All that roughage. One thing we’re unlikely to suffer during lock-down is constipation.

Wind is another matter and that’s probably enough hot air from me for one day, so please allow me to draw your attention to a few recipes from some of my favourite food writers, all people with pure hearts and purer recipes …

22 thoughts on “Cultural Collisions in the Kitchen

  1. All of which look great. But in fact of course, when staring at the leftovers in the fridge, a recipe is the last thing you need. A vivid imagination and a gung-ho attitude count for more. As you have demonstrated. It all sounds good!

    • Thanks, Margaret. I think sometimes my husband wishes my imagination was a touch less vivid but he’s very tolerant. And sometimes it’s good to get a jolt of inspiration from someone else. Have a good weekend. Lx

  2. Such a smart post! Salmonella sandwiches 😂😂😂 I do feel like sometimes I’m trying to win the fusion challenge. But duty bound? I am not sure. I think it’s just an intelligent approach to cooking, and it nurtures creativity as well, which all cooks should have, whether during a pandemic or not.

    • Perhaps a poor choice of words: ‘duty bound’ sounds a bit puritanical and joyless, which I hope I’m not. I meant that we have a responsibility not to waste food, but agree that imagination and using your noddle is the right approach.

  3. Hope you are all well.

    Your latest post very much brought to mind Michael Oakeshott’s essay Rationalism in Politics where he argues that technocracy can be dangerous as it doesn’t know exactly what it’s doing and it’s dependence on traditional knowledge and what’s on hand, available and possible.

    He illustrates his argument with cooking — which I understand he loved to do but people found ‘experimental’ — and how you have to make do with what is at hand, improvise, be respectful of the traditions that they arose from but not be a slave to them but most importantly, no one can cook with just a recipe.

    To get that recipe to work relies on a huge amount of tacit knowledge that the cook has already acquired and takes for granted.

    Fusion can work but it depends on the imagination and foreknowledge of the chef.

    Sometimes you just have to wing it! I don’t see that any culinary crimes were committed in your kitchen.


    • Thanks, Jeff, what an interesting corollary, I’d like to read that. I broadly agree, although I think anyone who can read can cook from a recipe, if it’s properly written. That still presupposes that you know how to shop for food, turn on an oven, use a knife, shell an egg … so maybe he’s right all down the line. 🙂

  4. I love this one Linda! And I agree, use what you have up to a point… 😀These look delicious! I’ve rediscovered things I love like Egg Salad, Cheese Toast… simple but tasty things!

  5. All of this is as it should be. I become impatient with some of the cultural sensitivity around food, especially the “This is my spice/technique/etc. and you can’t use it.'” variety. As long as I’m not representing myself as a purveyor of the definitive, authentic version of something, then why not?

    It seems to me that all of us are trying to create dishes that satisfy stomach and sprit. Some days that means making sure you include specific ingredients in your increasingly parlous shopping trips. But those trips, at least over here in Boston, are no longer casual – they’re strategic and tactical, and often something on our list isn’t available. Okay, what do we do – we improvise! And we draw on our experience and knowledge. And I think we – and the world – are better for it. Good post, and thanks for the links.


    • Thank you, Ken. Yes, I turned the very last of the lamb, with its stock, into a harira. Morocco via Mexico. I had to sub some of the ingredients but it still turned out to be the best I’ve ever made. Necessity is the mother etc etc. Take care. Lx

  6. I’m honored to be mentioned in such august company, Linda! By funny coincidence, I made asparagus lasagne just last Sunday for our midday dinner. And yes, I fully agree about not throwing out food if you can help it. A little part of my dies every time I have to… Although I am quite partial to legumes. 😉

    • It’s such a good recipe, Frank, I’m waiting until we have enough home-grown to re-make it. Thanks! And I love pulses too, it’s just that I’m overdosing on chickpea recipes on this side of the pond at the moment. I still panicked when I realised I’d run out the other day. 😀

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