I have two very good magazines that I picked up randomly at grocery stores a long time ago in highschool. You know when you’re waiting at the check-out and you see these beautiful pictures and you browse, but rarely buy. Magazines are not cookbooks, so the amount of quality you get for your money is not as high, in general. Sometimes, however, maybe once in a blue moon, there are pictures that are just to die for. I do admit to having bought a magazine for the gorgeous picture of just one recipe on the front cover. I generally try to look through and make sure there are other recipes I’d want to try, to justify the purchase, but light versions of banana cream and custard pies are sometimes impossible to resist.
In these rushed decision purchases I’ve only ever bought Cooking Light. Other publications are aimed at mothers, and I’m just not attracted to “20 Minute Meatloaf: A World of Variation” and other such things. I haven’t bought a magazine in a long time, mostly because I don’t really go to big grocery stores anymore, but when I saw Cooking Light’s compilation of the best recipes of 2010 when I was home over Christmas (where are not so many small grocers or markets from which to buy my foodstuffs) I figured it was a safe bet. Surely a magazine that had given me some truly delicious recipes on other occasions would give a great “best of…” version. The recipes all looked fine…just fine, not great, but I held out on faith in a brand and added the magazine to my cart.
So this was the first recipe I tried – Spiced Potatoes and Green Beans. It resembled a lot of the Indian recipes I had been making lately, so I figured it would be great. I also love using new mexican chile, and I have some dried ones sitting in my cupboard waiting to be used. What an opportunity. Quelle chance (this is horrible French. Never use it…).
Unfortunately, no, this was not a stupendous recipe. If I published a magazine of all the recipes I’ve personally made in 2010 this recipe would not be included. I think the focus of Cooking Light has changed. Since this disappointment I’ve looked at other recent editions, and some published books including “The Best of Cooking Light” and been really upset at all the cheats they use. Like fat-free caramels to make an icing. “Healthy” is not what these caramels are. Yes, they’re “low fat” but I don’t want to put that in my body. They call for fat-free mayos and sour creams. These are pretty standard, and do get the fat content down, but my biggest complaint with the recipes is that they’re just not that adventurous. It seems like the editors are now catering to the same market as “Canadian Living” and “Chatelaine”, just making things a little less fatty. The “ethnic” ones aren’t particularly exciting, being rather North American-ized versions of the originals. In the magazines I’d bought years ago they’d had some great, authentic recipes along with stories of families with different cultural heritages making these traditional recipes in North America, celebrating different customs, and generally being entertaining. Still, it’s all about flavour, and I’ve got a few more recipes to try before I say, decidedly, that this isn’t a great publication anymore.
Anyway, here’s the recipe, in case you’re looking for a recipe that’s not spectacular, but not hard to make either.
1 New Mexican Chile (It didn’t say if it should be fresh or dried, but it’s impossible to find fresh ones, so I figured it had to mean dried. New Mexican Chilies are pretty mild, and in a pinch you could replace the one in this recipe with another large chili. Anaheim would be a good choice)
2 tbsp canola oil (maybe it was worse because I skimped on the oil. Really, potatoes fried in more oil get a better crust, but even then there wasn’t a lot of flavour – spice flavour – to season)
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 big onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander (I even ground fresh ones but they couldn’t save the recipe. I think next time I would toast these in a frying pan over medium heat until they’re aromatic, and THEN grind them)
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 pound potatoes, cut into small chunks (I even used yukon gold like they suggested. You can also use red. I don’t think it makes it any better. I think you need more spice for the amount of potato called-for. I weighed mine, so I know I had the called-for ratio)
1/2 cup water (now here’s where the recipe could be automatically improved. Try chicken or vegetable broth instead of water. The trend in restaurants would be to use duck fat, but that’s just ridiculous. No Indian would use duck fat. Ghee yes, duck fat, no…an Indian cook would laugh in your face…unless it was Vij in Vancouver, but there are many reasons I don’t care about ever eating at that restaurant)
3/4 tsp salt (I usually skimp on salt, but don’t skimp in this recipe. It’s already skimped-on)
8 oz asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces (the original recipe is for green beans but I know this didn’t make my recipe any worse)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
You need to process or blend the chile in a coffee grinder, blender or food processor, but again, the recipe doesn’t say if it becomes a paste (fresh chilies) or a powder (dried). Bad editing?
Then heat the oil over medium-high, and when hot, add the mustard seeds. 30 seconds later (I thought this was going to be a good recipe because they did the Madhur Jaffrey-style procedure or sauté-ing things for 30 seconds, or 1 minute, or very precise amounts of time per spice and per ingredient addition. Alas, no) add the onion. Stir for 2 minutes, then add the chile, garlic, cumin, coriander, ginger and turmeric. Stir for 30 seconds then add the potatoes. Stir to coat for 2 minutes, then add the water and salt. Bring the pot to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 8 minutes.
The potatoes should be tender. Then add the asparagus, re-cover, and cook for 5 minutes more. They shouldn’t be lifeless, the asparagus. Leave them just a little crisp, but at a point where you won’t have trouble chewing them. Then stir in the cilantro. If there’s excess liquid, remove the lid and boil it off to a consistency you can live with. There are many things you can live with. Fortunately, bland potatoes are one of them.