When we finally had access to our own kitchen in college, my roommates and I threw dinner parties every week. They were fantastical affairs, usually ending past midnight after hours of guitar music and dozens of people circling through our tiny living room or sprawled on the dumpster-rescued sofa. I had never before discovered the binding power of food in community.
Every month or so, when we could find ripe mangoes at Walmart shipped from Chile, my roommate who grew up in Ghana would hand us each an ingredient and we would start chopping. And mixing. And finally eating. We would finish the whole batch in less time it took us to chop.
This is a simple, slightly modified recipe from those sweet days. I make it during mango season almost weekly, and still usually finish it the same day.
A friend and mom of an adorable, curious one-year-old told me a few days ago that she would love to try my recipes, but they seem complicated and time-consuming.
A hearty YES, and I UNDERSTAND, to all the mothers, all the working women, anyone really who rolls out of bed and attempts to tackle the day with some sort of grace. We need a lot more simplicity in our lives.
So pies and souffles may be for special occasions, but we all need some quick go-to meals, and those are what seems to especially get screwed up in the altitude.
Take rice, for instance. At sea level, you throw a cup of water in with a cup of rice and a pinch of salt and set the timer. Sigh.
But here, at the top of the world, it’s TWO cups of water per cup of rice, and with certain rices you may even have to fry them first. What?
Brown rice is even more flabbergasting. THREE cups of water per cup of rice in a normal pot. And it takes about 40-50 minutes to cook! I experimented for years with my strangely crunchy final product before realizing that you can’t add salt to brown rice in the altitude until it is completely cooked. Why doesn’t it come with a warning label?
So in case you’ve experience any of my frustration and confusion, here’s my super-simple
recipe instructions for brown rice.
Sometimes, just to mess with your head, recipes work out great in the altitude. Without a single adjustment. Usually these recipes call for lots of oven top frying, wokking, sauteing, or deep-fat-frying.
I tried Rachael Ray’s Montalcino Chicken with Figs and Buttered Gnocchi with Pancetta and Nutmeg (she doesn’t exactly specialize in simple titles, I suppose), and was astounded. This is one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in my entire life.
Ok, so I tweaked it just a little. Fresh figs instead of dried, pancetta in the chicken instead of as a garnish–nothing major.
You must make this for supper.
One of the most fabulous things about living in a wild, exotic country like Bolivia is that you run across fabulous new things to cook with, like caigua.
This is caigua, or achojcha, a bland vegetable that tastes a little like zucchini (and you can also make this recipe with zucchini, or even okra), but caigua has a lovely hollow center perfect for stuffing. In fact, in the Andes, this veggie is sometimes known as “stuffing cucumber.”
Here is a fabulous authentic Bolivian recipe for Achojcha Rellena. My recipe is not at all authentic, but it is delicious. If you love Tex-Mex. Which you must.
Pies don’t take to much to adjust to high altitude, but bakers above 10,000 ft. will probably at some point be frustrated by burnt crusts, fruit fillings that don’t soften or gel, or (my favorite high altitude pie disaster) pecan pies that boil over like giddy volcanoes.
I love pies, especially fruit pies. And today, in good American fashion, I took a pie to my next-door neighbor.
I was trying to make peace with said neighbor after pounding on their door at 2 in the morning in my fuzzy bathrobe with glaring red hearts on it and yelling at her and her family and their 100 plus party guests to turn their music down so my daughter could sleep. I wasn’t sorry for telling them to turn their music down (and they later apologized profusely, after a few days of sleeping off their hangovers), but I was sorry that I hadn’t yelled at them in a nicer manner.
Thus, this pie:
I usually dive headfirst into disaster with a smile, which is why I chose, for my first entry, something I’ve never cooked before in my life–souffle.
Souffle is so gorgeous to look at, lovely to say, slipping off your tongue like the best French words do, but at altitude it can be…cantankerous (as un-lovely a word as the finished product). Souffles at 10,000 feet and above tend to shoot up like a geyser, only to plummet down into a soupy mess.
But I wanted to make a broccoli souffle, and here is what happened:
I was pleased. Continue reading