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Cooking for your man

"To Reuben who married me before I learned to cook." Chairman Solomon

I have recently set myself another goal - to cook something, every other week, from one of my cooking gurus of my life. At the moment I am working my way through my mid-life gurus and have come to Charmaine Solomon. The words above were the dedication to her massive tome The Complete Asian Cookbook, so today, because of that rather touching dedication I would like to introduce you to a recipe that her husband actually wrote, rather than she.

The photograph above is of she and her husband, who was a jazz musician. The reason she couldn't cook was because, of course, before marriage she had a whole team of mothers, grandmothers and aunts, possibly servants too, to cook for her and then when she married initially they lived in a luxury hotel where her husband worked. No need to cook.

I think they then moved to Australia and then she really did have to cook for her man. Indeed I guess that's how many of we women learn to cook. Prior to marriage we first had food provided by mum, and then we cooked scratch food, like baked beans on toast, when we were living on our own or with friends. Then came love and a desire to please and impress, and so we learned to cook. Of course, we learnt stuff from our mothers, and in my case from watching my French hostesses, but we didn't really cook. We just observed. I don't remember cooking dinner for my family before leaving home. Why not? My mother was working and yet she did it all. Maybe I helped every now and then. I do remember the spaghetti bolognaise revolution and also showing them how to make vinaigrette when I returned from France, but other than being a sous chef - peeling the potatoes, etc. I don't actually remember cooking dinner.

So when I married I had to boost what I knew with cookbooks - hence Elizabeth David et al. I confess I had the advantage of being interested in cooking and in food in general, so I rapidly expanded my repertoire by cooking something new almost every night. I don't remember doing a lot of the ad hoc, cooking from leftovers that I do today though. Didn't I have any? Well maybe Shepherd's pie.

But back to Charmaine Solomon.

I won't go into all the ins and outs of how she eventually became Australia's own Asian cooking guru at a time when we really didn't know much about Asian food. Yes, I first learnt to cook Indian food with my little paperback Cooking the Indian Way, but Charmaine Solomon was the next and she really took it up a notch. I suspect she was more authentic than Atia Hosain and Sita Pasricha, but then they were writing at a time when most of the necessary ingredients would not have been available. It was definitely a step up from throwing a bit of curry powder into a stew though.

I confess I concentrated on the Indian and Sri Lankan sections of the book, but I did try to make something from every section in the book. Not enough I fear, and I should probably go back to it one day. I remember a perfectly delicious rending, which I cooked for my mother on one of her trips to Australia, and she thought it even nicer than an Indian curry.

Today though, because of that dedication, I am focussing on Chicken Everest a recipe that was made up by Reuben:

"Many years ago, Charmaine was at work one day and Reuben was minding the three young children. He took them on an excursion to the local shopping centre, promptly entered a cooking competition and then created this masterpiece on stage - the only fellow amongst a flurry of aproned women. Although not the winning recipe (it should have been!), the family decided it must go in Charmaine’s new book at the time: Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Cookbook.⁠" The Monday Morning Cooking Club

And it is indeed a masterpiece. It's not really Indian - or Chinese, or Burmese, or Indonesian - it's a fusion of all of those things. And it is absolutely delicious. It's one of the recipes I passed on to my children when they left home, and I think they make it still. They are coming here for the traditional Easter egg hunt at the weekend and I am planning on barbecue food. I was going to do another Charmaine Solomon recipe - tandoori chicken - which I shall write about some other time, but maybe I'll do this instead.

As you can see from the picture from her book above - one of the few recipes given that privilege - the recipe is for a whole roast chicken. However, I suspect that after my first go at this, I have subsequently applied the marinade to chicken pieces of varying size rather than to a whole bird. And I shall on Saturday. As in this version shown here. And as an aside let me give a thumbs down to this website - You Plate It -because there was absolutely no acknowledgement of the source of the recipe at all and it was presented as their own.

Others have cooked it and raved about it. It has almost become a classic. This version was made by the Monday Morning Cooking Club and published on Facebook - well the picture not the recipe. But they at least acknowledged where it came from. There was another website whose name I cannot remember now, but no picture and no acknowledgement of where it came from either.

Nish Kitchen also gave a version, which was served with Tzatziki as chicken bites. Interestingly she said it was adapted from a recipe in delicious. Magazine but there was no reference to the Solomons. But then maybe she did not know the original source.

And here is a picture. And yes, tzatziki would go well with it, after all it's a bit like a cucumber raita isn't it?

Yes Chicken Everest it will be. With tzatziki - because my cucumber plants are still producing the odd cucumber, even though the plants look pretty dead.

In later life Charmaine Solomon wrote Charmaine Solomon's Family Recipes, which I also have and which is full of family photos and stories. At least one of her daughters has followed her in making food a career. Perhaps this is one of the things I like about her books. Family is obviously important. Cooking for her man has benefitted not just her man, and her family, but all of us. Alas her husband died some time ago, but she still carries on. In an interview on The Hungry Australian website she was asked what was her proudest achievement. She replied:

"My family. I am proud of them not so much for what they have accomplished as for the kind of people they are."

Me too.


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