Week 2: Ingredients Vs. Technique?

No Microwave needed.

This week was easier than I expected. I had only one reason to eat out and avoiding was was very simple. I just didn’t go. I have a monthly business meeting that is always preceded by dinner at a local restaurant. I will need to attend the dinner on occasion because a lot of the business to be decided later in the evening is first discussed at dinner. This was not the case this month so I just emailed my regrets. No-one said a word about my absence. I know my conspicuous absence at restaurants will become an issue at some point but this week it was not an issue.

Why mention Ingredients Vs. Techniques? This weeks menu consisted of Oatmeal, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Salads, Greek Chicken, Pasta Shells stuffed with Rocotta Cheese and Spicy Sausage. But the star dish of the week was Dolmathes (or Dalmades along with several other spellings). Grape leaves stuffed with ground meat, rice and spices.

Dolmathes are made by mixing ground meat, (traditionally lamb but beef is often used as a substitute) rice and spices and rolling the mixture up in grape leaves. Like a little grape leaf burrito. The rolled leaves are placed in a small stockpot and simmered in water or broth until the rice is cooked and swells making nice tight little Dolmathes. Served with Tzatziki. A yogurt sauce flavored with cucumber, dill, lemon and other herbs.

Stuffed grape leaves are now considered a delicacy and are served as an appetizer in Mediterranean Restaurants but in our culinary past they were the food of starvation and poverty throughout the Mediterranean and Central Asia.. The sign of deprivation and want. You only need to eat the leaves when the grapes are gone. But starvation is a great motivator and drove cooks to fine new sources of food and the techniques needed to edible or palatable and even wonderful.

I contend that technique is more important than ingredients. Some cooks may disagree, but great ingredients with terrible techniques will at best give you a mediocre meal. Great technique will however elevate any dish the base ingredients have to offer.

Take for example two classic French dishes. Coq Au Vin and Boeuf Bourguignon. Now often thought of as a staple of fancy French cuisine, they are in fact the result of developing techniques to make the best of a tough old rooster or a grizzled bull or oxen that had too many years at the plow.

Good ingredients are important but they are trumped by great techniques. If you choose to follow me on this years journey I hope you take the opportunity to expand your range of techniques as we delve into the esoterica of fire and steel that great cooks of the past have entrusted to us.

Stats for the week. One meal not eaten out saved about $18 and down two more pounds.

See you next week.

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