LONDON — I often think of recipes as being like stories.
They’re both collections of steps or phrases that need putting together to make whole. And they’re both so much more than the sum of their parts.
Recipes, like stories, also say so much about the time, place and person they’re from. In coming to life, something is revealed, remembered. Once shared, recipes, like stories, pass from one person to the next, changing and evolving in the process. The core, however, remains the same.
If that’s an overly poetic way of looking at recipes, there is another — and far more prosaic — way I look at them: as formulas, sums that need to be in balance. There are many reasons my friend and occasional Times contributor Samin Nosrat’s “Salt Fat Acid Heat” was such a huge success, but one was her ability to distill everything a dish needs to taste good into just four words. If we want balanced deliciousness, Samin showed us, we need salt + fat + acid + heat. So simple. So genius.
For the past 18 months or so, my home cooking has similarly followed a sort of formula. It looks like this: Something fresh, bought locally that day + a flavor bomb from the pantry + whatever else needs eating in the fridge = breakfast, lunch or supper.
The first part of that equation could be anything that takes your fancy. These are the things you treat yourself to: some beautiful eggs, maybe, or a piece of fresh fish, a couple of frameworthy heirloom tomatoes or an artichoke that looks so much like a flower you would happily put it in a vase. If we are melding our formula and story analogies, this is protagonist on the journey.
These fresh-faced characters come home and meet the stalwarts, also known as the pantry flavor bombs. They can be intense, so a little goes a long way: a teaspoon of fish sauce or capers, a tablespoon or two of tamarind paste, a clove of black garlic, a drop of hot sauce, a pinch or more of the various spices on the shelf.
The third part of the formula is whatever is already in the fridge or kitchen that needs using up. These ingredients might be incidental to the main recipe — or story — but are no less important. They are the half-eaten bag of spinach in which the leaves are wilting slightly, the shallot that could do with using up, the lime in the fruit bowl, the two-day-old bread that needs toasting. In their supporting role, they can be switched around and substituted without too much fuss: Use any leafy green instead of the spinach, for example, a red onion instead of the shallot, a lemon instead of lime, a potato wedge instead of the toast.
And that’s this month’s recipe, this month’s story, this month’s formula. Something farm-fresh (the eggs) + a couple of flavor bombs (the fish sauce and tamarind paste) + the ingredients that needed eating up (the spinach, the shallots, the lime) = breakfast, lunch or supper.
My equation may not be pithy or genius — I did need a paragraph to explain each of its parts — but, as a way to eat for our times, I can thoroughly recommend it.
And to Drink …
Conventional wisdom has it that wine with eggs is a difficult proposition. I’ve never felt that way, perhaps because my experiences have been governed by ritual more than precision. When I was younger, I used to celebrate arriving in France with an omelet and a glass of Beaujolais. I loved the combination, even if expert advice would warn against it. Similarly, the usual match for egg dishes at brunch would be Champagne or sparkling wine, which is a better bet, the experts say, than Beaujolais. The moral is, don’t worry, drink what you like. With this dish, I like sparkling wine — Champagne, cava or dry crémants would be great with the sweet pungency of the tamarind sauce. I’d also like dry white wines, especially sauvignon blanc or grüner veltliner. My fallback would be coffee. ERIC ASIMOV