The Indispensable Ingredient
I know you expect political rants from me, but sometimes weighty affairs just have to wait.* As some of you know, I’m an ardent fan of cooking shows and devour the Wednesday NY Times Dining Section as if it were a well-seasoned meatloaf. Therefore, I thought I might try my hand at gourmet glamour blogging by exploring trendy and exciting new ways to celebrate a commonplace item available in every kitchen. Who knows, this effort may grow into the next Larousse or Joy of Cooking. One can hope. So, anyway, here are some tips on using this all but magic ingredient.
To start off, it’s amazingly versatile, a complement to any meal and a must for many. Cooks everywhere, be they range royalty or tyro toast burners, can’t praise it enough. And it’s at the heart of myriad ethnic cuisines. Enough build-up. I’m talking about water, the new star of the kitchen!
You can use it not only to boil an egg, but also to clean up your pan and plate afterwards. It’s excellent for washing salads, fruits and even snap peas. Try it hot with Nesquick and enjoy a nice cup of near cocoa.
My grandmother, Matija, who was an ethnic crone, liked to cook fish in it. She would buy baccala (salt cod), and put it in a pot of water with garlic, onion, potato, olive oil and other ingredients. Then she would heat it slowly on a stove. After several hours, it was ready to eat. I recall as a youngster that it stunk up the house for days. I used to lock myself in the bathroom to get away from the smell. By the way, our bathroom had water available from several faucets. There was even a flush bowl of water that the dog used to drink from.
Many claim medicinal or even magical qualities for water. In the hills of Bosnia, not far from the alleged Catholic shrine of Medjugorje, there’s a stream that flows with what the locals call muska voda, or men’s water. It is said to instill male virility. The peasants learned this generations ago when the spaghetti they were boiling stood straight up in the pot.
One of my favorite uses for water is to freeze it into small cubes and then put them in a glass and pour whisky over them. This can be done year round, but tastes cooler on a hot summer day. On the other end of the thermometer, consider that hot water does wonders for JELL-O powder.
The French think it sinful to mix water with wine. In the Adriatic region, by contrast, there’s a summer custom of adding a bit of water, either in its liquid or solid form, to wine, creating a drink they call bevanda that a self-respecting Frenchie would quickly expectorate. Chaque pays à son guise.
However you want to use it, you’ll be happy to know that water is widely available (except in desert or drought areas) and relatively inexpensive. Many stores sell it in glass or plastic bottles. Both domestic and foreign bottled waters are popular with folks on the run, who carry them on their persons in little holsters designed for the purpose. Automobiles often have cup holders that can be used for water as well as gin and tonic.
Additionally, just about everybody has access to water right in their home, rental apartment, condo, coop or even vacation cabin. This water flows from faucets, typically located in kitchens and bathrooms. That makes it extra handy for cooking and washing. This may not be the case in poor countries.
For a wonderful assortment of recipes, I recommend “Cooking With Water” by Hy Drater, published by River Books and available at Amazon.
A word of caution: Though water is generally safe, it should be used judiciously. Too much and you’ll drown; too little and you’ll die of thirst.
Stay wet until next time, when The Karman Turn takes a gourmet gander at the longtime love-hate relationship between salt and pepper.
*Credit for that line goes to the writers of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.