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The second time around

I tried to find an appropriate quote for this post, but although I found quotes about 'the second time around' they were almost all saying that things were better the second time around.

Not always true, although as with everything, it probably depends on who you are talking to. In this case David and I.

This is last night's dinner. And yes, sorry, Ottolenghi again. It's my vegetarian option at the Sunday family dinner, Ottolenghi's (All the) herb dumplings with caramelised onions which I may well have mentioned before, so there's another 'second time around' variation. And if that's the case, then probably boring. Not better.

I first made this for some vegetarian friends which, I think, is when I talked about it. Because it was wonderful - even the non vegetarians at the table, who had a perfectly good carnivorous main, tucked into these. We gave it five stars for its originality, and surprising unctuous yet fresh taste. So when my vegetarian granddaughter was coming to the family spaghetti and meatballs dinner, I decided to cook her these - enjoyed by all, but, of course, there were leftovers. She gave them four stars by the way.

David, however was not quite as blown away as he was the first time. Now is this because this time there was not the surprise of the taste, no shock of the new? Somehow the taste is Middle-Eastern which I suppose comes from the crushed cardamom pods and saffron in the onions, and the cumin and turmeric in the herb dumplings. Why Middle-Eastern though? I mean all of those spices are equally Indian, and yet it definitely has a Middle-Eastern taste. Maybe the element of surprise, which, of course, cannot be repeated, eliminates that one star. I also felt the lack of surprise, but for me it was other elements that perhaps took it down half a star.

For me there were two things, possibly three. The first was perhaps prompted by a comment from David that it was oily. Well it wasn't oily - but it was certainly buttery. There is a lot of butter in the onions and maybe too much. I'm beginning to have doubts about the accuracy of my scales, so maybe that was the problem. Anyway I think next time - and there will be a next time, because this is still a four or four and a half star dish, next time I might go easier on the final addition of butter to the onions. I also think I added less lemon juice to the onions than last time. A mistake. They needed more. This photograph by the way is the 'real deal' in that it comes from the OTK book Shelf Love, and is made by professionals. But as you can see it's quite easy to make it look good..

And here's an aside. You caramelise the onions in the oven - mix them with some butter, olive oil, the cardamom and some garlic. Stir it all together, spread the onions out and bake for an hour or so until caramelised. This works. I shall never try the top of the stove method again. Much harder work and much less effective, although possibly jammier. Not that I have ever achieved the jam effect. You have to keep a much closer eye on them if you cook them on the cooktop. In the oven you just have to stir them every now and then.

But back to my second time around. Many dishes of course improve the second time around. Virtually any kind of stew benefits from sitting in the fridge for a while absorbing all those flavours. Just don't keep them in there too long, although you can keep them much longer than you might think.

Which brings me to the second aspect of our second time around meal, because they were reheated leftovers. Not the original dish, and should therefore have fitted into the absorption of flavours thing. Possibly is my verdict here, but I couldn't be sure about that. The dumplings themselves after all would possibly have lost some of their moisture. Maybe, maybe not.

The dumplings were not the only second time around part of the meal however, Note the bread. I'm not sure what you would call it - croutons, garlic bread? Yesterday morning I had hosted one of my book groups followed by lunch and there were leftover slices of bread. Slices, not an intact baguette, which would merely have been used as toast. There are of course several options but I decided that if I dipped them in some oil, garlic and herbs and then baked them in the oven, they would make a good accompaniment to the herb dumplings. And they did. Perfect. Well that's what I thought. David preferred leftover microwaved rice. He was still going on about oil. However, I was chuffed to find that Ottolenghi also thought that crusty bread was a good idea:

"To turn this into a complete meal, serve it with a summery salad and some crusty bread." Yotam Ottolenghi

And yes there was salad too. And it was a complete meal. But too many pieces of bread, so they are now in the freezer awaiting their third time around as - what? Cut into croutons, reheated and placed on top of onion soup, with cheese. just reheated?

A kind of footnote - three other related recipes - fewer than I thought there would be I have to say - unless you move into spinach as a major part of the herb mix, which the OTK team say you can indeed do:

"You can swap out the herbs for spinach, cooking it just enough to release any water. Make sure you then wring it well."

This takes you into new territory though, and easily demonstrates how dishes evolve - by changing just one ingredient you have something new - gnocchi verdi being just one example in this case. And then if you add a tomato sauce, rather than onions, or float them in a broth, you have taken yet another step. A different step again is to add other vegetables, such, in this case, peas and courgettes. So here are my three examples: Kale and herb dumplings in broth/Yotam Ottolenghi; Spinach, pea, courgette and herb dumplings in tomato sauce/Charlotte Puckette and Spinach and herb dumplings with cherry tomato sauce from Ixta Belgrade. (I have linked to this website (Leaf), because it was the only place I could find this recipe online - but there is absolutely no acknowledgement of Ixta Belfrage even though it is very definitely her recipe. Very bad form)

Back in the early days of cookbooks - well not really early - the mid twentieth century days are what I mean - you were just presented with a recipe without any suggestions as to how you could vary it. I find it really heartening that just about every cookbook - or internet - recipe these days will give you some way of either making do because you haven't got a particular ingredient, or varying it by doing something slightly different.

For example one thing I am thinking about with respect to Ottolenghi's recipe is to use mint which is a rather different taste to the herbs suggested in the original recipe - parsley, coriander, tarragon and dill. And even I went very light on the coriander, because I thought they might be tried by my son who hates coriander, and I also added a little watercress and lettuce. It's a heck of a lot of herbs - 300g in total - and unless you have a flourishing herb garden - therefore difficult to source without having a lot of expensive little packages. You need a garden or a market. But a wonderful encouragement to experiment.

So a second time around effort that might have been ever so mildly disappointing, but which, I think will lead to further experimentation and a third, fourth, fifth ... time around.

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