Ben and Heather Kulp’s 6-week challenge to cook exclusively from Extending the Table Cookbook.
By Ben and Heather Kulp
We made a ceremony of it. The first night of our new challenge, to eat out of Extending the Table exclusively for six weeks, we put our little guy to bed, poured ourselves a glass of Menno Tea (it tastes just like Grandmother’s iced tea!), and cracked open the cookbook. As with our More with Less challenge, we wanted to start by getting a sense of how the cookbook was laid out, what was included along with the recipes, and what ingredients we may need to stock to maximize the number of recipes we can make.
Amid the many beautiful stories, photos, and instructions for when and how the recipes are often eaten, we noticed one thing: we wanted to eat it all!
Soon, though, we realized a limiting factor about Extending the Table that wasn’t present with the potatoes-and-milk recipes in More with Less; we had lots of experience eating food from other countries, but we have far less experience cooking global food. Though they sounded amazing, we had no idea how to measure our success with new (to us) recipes like Tuna Omelet or Beef Wat or Chin Chin.
So, we decided to start our challenge with the familiar.
This week, we cooked dishes from countries that either one or both of us had visited. Since we had tasted the local flavors of that particular country (or at least the region of that country we visited), we figured we would have a good sense about whether or not our end product was authentic.
Our first dish was Cuban-Style Black Beans (p. 165), actually designated as from Puerto Rico. A few years ago, we spent a wonderful week in Puerto Rico celebrating Ben’s mother’s birthday. The simple beans and rice took us back to the easy days of vacation in the El Yunque rainforest.
A quick dish for a busy evening was Tico Tortilla Skillet (p. 188 in the first edition). Ben put it together in 20 minutes so we could trade off eating and putting our son to bed.
The first hot day of the year prompted us to crave salad. Accompanying our simple spinach and almonds was the Greek Salad Dressing (p. 121), which reminded Heather of a mountain town she visited in Greece. Overlooking the ocean, the town enjoyed salty breezes and brined fish, often accompanied by a lemony dressing like the one in Extending the Table.
Heather had a few friends over on Saturday to participate in a clothing, accessories, and book swap. She made them Guacamole (p. 267), with fresh avocado and the first herbs of the season. It reminded her of the few weeks she spent in Mexico building houses. Every morning, noon, and evening, her group would receive handmade tortillas, rice, beans, and guacamole for a meal. And with the intensity of the daily work, it was a comfort to have the same meal three times a day.
After a few “safe” dishes, we decided to branch out. Heather picked a recipe that looked a little more complicated, used ingredients we rarely use (mung beans!), and involved a cooking process we use even less frequently (frying!). The Samosas’ (p. 282) aromatic spice blend—cardamom, curry, coriander, cumin—invigorated our Saturday night air.
We were so pleased with the Kenyan pastries’ effect on our evening, until Heather began to cook them.
She must have worked the dough too long and filled the pastries too full, because beans and onions spilled out every which way, no matter how much she pinched the dough together. Moreover, she hadn’t paid attention to the instruction to cool the filling before putting it in the dough, so every time she dipped into the bean pot, she pulled her hand back with a start. Anyone ever touched a hot raisin?
Finally, Heather didn’t pay close enough attention to the measurements for the beans. The recipe calls for 1¼ cup cooked beans, but she assumed it was 1¼ cup uncooked beans. After she had fried all the dough, she still had 2+ cups of bean filling. Guess what Ben will have for lunch the next few days!
While the samosas were a mess, they were indeed tasty and they taught us a few things that we’ll take with us on the rest of our Extending journey. First, if there are directions, read them closely—and understand them before you attempt to deviate! Second, the familiar may be comfortable (and we certainly enjoyed some excellent Turkish, Puerto Rican, and Costa Rican comfort foods), but the unfamiliar forces us outside our boundaries. Just like our son, who learned to turn over this week and now wants to explore the entire length of our apartment, we need to stretch beyond our safety blankets if we want to experience the world. The “success” of recipes, just like the success of rolling over for the first time, is not about how fancy or how skillful you are. Success is about trying it out, enjoying the process, and appreciating the new perspective taking such a risk gives you.
Maybe next week, we’ll try the Wat.
Ben and Heather Kulp