One of the things I admire about my dad is that he speaks something like eight languages. Having been born in Poland, he grew up in a milieu that encouraged multilingualism simply because of its promximity to so many other countries. Later, he lived in Russia and adopted their tongue; then he moved to Canada where he acquired English; and subsequently opened a butcher shop* in a multicultural Montreal neighborhood where he picked up French, Italian and Greek.
Makes me feel rather limited with my paltry English, French and reading knowledge of German (but let’s not forget that I once memorized Beowulf in its entirety, in the original Old English). The feeling is compounded every time I glance down the hallways of the college where I teach and see students who hail from virtually every country on the planet. The ambient noise as you stroll from classroom to cafeteria could rival that at the original construction site at Babel any day.
Despite not being able to speak many other languages, I do enjoy picking up other vocabularies. In fact, one way to deal with a narrow linguistic repertoire is to drop key words and phrases from other lexicons into your daily conversation. Just say them with conviction, and everyone will think you know what they mean. For instance, I can vividly recall one fellow student in the PhD program when I was at U of T (let’s call him “A. Fected”) who’d constantly use words that sounded foreign, even though in retrospect, I’ve come to believe he had no idea what most of them meant.
Mr. Fected was over 6 feet tall, with greasy black hair that stood out in jagged points like an unruly cactus. His sweaters were always a tad too tight, the sleeves a tad too short, his ego a tad too inflated. He’d saunter around the department with his trademark houndstooth woolen scarf tossed across his shoulders like Cinerella’s cape, blathering to anyone in earshot (which usually meant the poor secretary, who was too polite to kick him out of her office).
“Ah, now you see, Ricki, that blouse of yours is very outré,” he’d pontificate, gesturing with long, bony fingers, the fingernails bitten jagged. “And did you read that excerpt from Foucault last week? Elicited a bit of schadenfreud, wouldn’t you say? Then again, we are all revelers manqué in professor Drivel’s class, aren’t we? Well, you know what they say! In vino veritas! Capiche? ”
Eventually, I learned to just smile beningnly and move along. It took me years to realize that he had no idea what he was talking about, either.
I’ve found that the world of food not only allows for, but encourages appropriating terms from other languages, many that contribute to the overall enjoyment and gratificaton of cooking. For instance, don’t you love making a roux? To me, it sounds like a nickname (à la George Carlin‘s “doesn’t even belong on the list”): Oh, my leetle Roux, you are so cute! I just want to pinch your leetle cheeks, my sweet Cabbage-Roux! Come live with me, my Roux, and be my love. . . ” etc. Or how about Jerry and George waxing enthusiastic over the word, “Salsa”? Myself, I’ve always liked the word muesli, even though I don’t eat the stuff. Brings to mind a very smart person deep in thought: “Let me just muesli on it for a bit.” Then there’s chiffonade; sounds like something you’d wear to a very fancy dinner party. And al dente is much more appealing than “slightly undercooked,” isn’t it?
I could go on. . . . (but lucky for you, I won’t).
Well, as of this week, pilaf has joined my list of favorite exotic culinary terms.
Used to be, the word pilaf brought to mind all things Parisian (or sang-froid, as the French themselves might say). It reminded me of the upper-crust Français, the ones who have servants bringing their food to the table when summoned by a little bell. Maybe because it evokes thoughts of Edith Piaf, but the word pilaf sounds to me so very, very French, doesn’t it? In reality, pilaf is nothing of the sort: it’s one of the homiest, most comforting and universally appealing dishes you could imagine. These days, pilafs are prepared with just about any array of ingredients and spices from countries all over the globe.
Last week, I cooked up a fabulous Moroccan-inspired millet and butternut squash pilaf from my friend Hallie’s new cookbook, The Pure Kitchen. Are you acquainted with Hallie and her blog, Daily Bites? At once formidable and adorable, Hallie is a powerhouse in a petite package. She cooks up beautiful, healthy, natural foods that will appeal to pretty much everyone. With the publication of her book, she’s stepped into the cookbook arena, and I think she’s poised to take that world by storm.
This recipe combines our quintessential autumn veggie, butternut squash, with a host of African spices and what I consider to be an underappreciated grain, millet. The only grain known to be alkalizing in the body (which is what you want for optimum balance and immunity), millet is neutral tasting and pairs well with almost anything, sweet or savory.
When I first mixed up the pilaf, I must admit I thought it might require more spice (we tend to like a lot of spice in the DDD household), but after cooking it up and having it for lunch, I found myself returning to the pot again and again for a little nosh, before I finally packed it up and froze the leftovers to prevent myself from consuming the entire batch. It was perfect, just the way it was. I’d say the combination of creamy, sweet squash with the firm bite of the millet, the salty brine of the olives and the intermittently sweet and chewy raisins offers up a lovely and irresistible mix–for lunch, a holiday side dish, or any time.
And really, there’s nothing to match eating flavorful, satisfying, healthy food–in any language. Capiche?
*If you haven’t read this before, yes, my dad owned a butcher shop, which means I grew up eating meat every day. And yes, I now eat a vegan diet. Irony, much? 😉
Moroccan Millet & Butternut Squash Pilaf (suitable for ACD Stage 3 and beyond*)
reprinted with permission from The Pure Kitchen
This hearty whole grain pilaf makes a flavorful side dish to a festive autumn or winter meal [or, in my case, accompanied by salad for a full lunch]. If butternut squash is unavailable, try using another sweet winter squash or sweet potatoes instead.
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt, or more, to taste
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (I used a red onion as that’s all I had on hand–worked just fine)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp (5 ml) brown mustard seeds
1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) curry powder
1 cup (200 g) millet, rinsed and drained
2-1/4 cups (300 ml) water (I used half water and half veg broth)
1/4 cup (60 ml) dried currants (for ACD, omit, or use homemade dried cranberries)
1/4 cup (60 ml) pitted green olives, chopped
1/4 cup (60 ml) finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 400F (200 C). On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash cubes with 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of the olive oil and 1/4 tsp (1 ml) salt. Roast for 20-30 minutes until tender and brown in spots.
Meanwhile, heat th remaining Tbsp (15 ml) oil in a medium ot over medium-low heat. Add the onion, garlic and mustard seeds. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the cumin, curry powder and millet. Stir for one minute. Add the water. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the water is absorbed and millet is fluffy, 25-30 minutes.
Using a fork, fluff up the millet and mix in the currants, olives and parsley. Gently stir in the squash and season the pilaf to taste with salt before serving. Makes 4 servings. May be frozen.
Four Years Ago: Home at Last [Dog Day]
© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs