The Art of Cooking or Cookery is much more than preparing a meal. Sure there exist the step when food items have to be gathered into a cohesive final product whose purpose is to nourish the body, but before that can happen, before the chemical transformation resulting from an applied heat source, aging or acid; before any chopping, slicing or tossing, there exists precedence. Whether acquired through observation or learned through cookbooks, today’s ability to create a meal is based on thousands of years of trial and error performed mostly by women in their own rudimentary kitchens. Driven by the need for survival, they used locally available ingredients to developed recipes which were passed down through the generations, each one adding its own special touch or more readily available substitutions.
For the majority of humans, availability and resources still control their diet. In the last few decades, the introduction of factory produced ingredients to every corner of the world through Globalization, has had a disrupting effect on local cultural practices. As cheap and fast food invades the smallest and most remote villages, cultural identities are disappearing.
As a backlash to Globalization of the food industry, countless groups of concerned individuals have started movements in an effort not only to preserve cultural identities but to also improve the local health and wealth of both producers and consumers. The ‘Slow Food‘ movement and ‘Eat Local‘ are just a couple of examples of people getting together for this common cause against the big agricultural conglomerates trying to control what we eat.
I’m doing what I can in my little corner of the world in Dallas Texas. The availability of locally grown food in a city of this size is scarce, bad quality and expensive. There are several plans in the works to open farmer’s markets in the near future. In the meanwhile, grocery stores, both major and ethnic such as Central Market, Trader Joe’s, World Foods and H Mart are my sources for ingredients mostly shipped long distances and refrigerated.
In my ethnic kitchen, ingredients are transformed into combinations inspired by Hungarian, Romanian, Arabic, Persian, and East Asian influences. I Prepare meals with specialty items and spices that honor these cultures and preserve their uniqeness. Cooking is called an art but it is much more than that. It honors the past as it links it into the future.
Red Lentils (Dal)
Fry a medium chopped onion in a tbsp. of grape seed oil till lightly golden. Add 1 tsp. of turmeric and stir in. Add 2 cups of dry red lentils, 6 cups of water, 2 tbsp. of tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and simmer on low covered for 5 minutes. Check water level and add more if needed. Simmer longer until lentils look like a watery mush. Check for seasoning and add hot pepper flakes if you desire. Serve with rice or pita bread and fresh onions.