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Cookbooks 7: Stephanie Alexander

7. Stephanie Alexander. Until recently Stephanie lived down the street from my mother. We all used to walk past Stephanie’s place very often. Unlike other front gardens in Hawthorn, with their demonstrations of jonquils, pittosporum pile-ups, and dense lavender hedges, her garden sported splendid specimens of broccoli, cauliflower, or pumpkin in raised ornate rows. We would drool from the other side of the wrought-iron gate. Furthermore, the vegetables were picture perfect, like some graphic from a New Yorker cover. Every leaf curled with designer exactitude. This infuriating achievement stood as mockery of my own vegetable patches, with their straggles of tomatoes, unpruned plumtrees and wayward broad bean bonanzas. Inspirational though, like the sight of Stephanie’s profuse allotments behind the fences of Collingwood Secondary College as I waited for the lights to change or the buses to move in peak hour traffic down Hoddle Street, pre-pandemic. Carol and Bridie gave me this book for Christmas in 2010. I cannot recall why it has turned into a concertina, whether it was left out in the rain or fell into the sinkwater, though Carol recalls that ‘Kitchen Garden Companion’ was in fact in the wrong place at the wrong time when the old washing machine sprung a leak.

Recipe. Soak 220 grams (she estimated 220, I’m just the scribe)of MOONG DAL for 15 minutes. Wash SPINACH and/or SILVERBEET leaves (150 grams) and cook covered until they soften, then chop. Simmer dal in 1 litre of WATER 20 minutes, skimming the scum with a wooden spoon. Fry in plenty of VEGETABLE OIL 1 finely chopped ONION, some chopped GINGER and a teaspoon of CUMIN SEEDS.  You can add a chopped GREEN PEPPER at this stage but we don’t as it’s one of our health hazards. Next is the instruction they don’t warn you about until you get to it: you need to be ready with 250 grams of diced waxy POTATOES here, which you will have kept in cold water. (Now he tells me!) Also, add some TURMERIC, 1 sliced CHILI, and chopped TOMATOES from a tin. That’s what Stephanie says, though why you can’t just use normal chopped tomatoes, is beyond me. After ten minutes or so throw everything else in and cook through until you’re happy. Happiness is in the order of about 15 minutes, according to Stephanie Alexander.


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