My mother Ruth Schachter (nee Nisse), age 88, is one live-wire.
She reminds me (and others) of the cute little old lady in the original “Ladykillers” starring Alec Guinness and a young, dashing Peter Sellers. White-haired and blue-eyed, that sweet, seemingly innocent, slightly scatter-brained octogenarian is far more savvy than she looks. ‘Nuff said.
Mum lives in Primrose Hill between Hampstead and Camden Town in north-west London (U.K., of course) and is a busy bee.
A former high-school biology teacher, she volunteers at the local primary school helping young ‘uns learn to read. She attends a group of “egg-head” (my words, not hers) seniors who take turns giving dissertations to each other on topics relating to history, politics etc. An example: my mother’s presentation on the Dreyfus case.
She takes classes in Italian once a week, something she’s been doing for about 20 years together with her friend of 50+ years, Angie. When asked recently by me if she is fluent in that language by now, her response came with a shy smile: “Well yes dear, but I enjoy it – and we always go for a nice lunch afterwards.” Lunch that usually includes a glass or two of wine.
Interspersed with all this is the occasional coaching she gives assorted young people in German and Russian, just two of the other five languages she reads, writes and speaks fluently.
A scientist with a master’s degree, she once explained cloning to my son-in-law Nathaniel Richman.
And wouldn’t you know it? My dear mum is also a fantastic cook, one of the reasons, I’m sure, that I became a food writer/broadcaster who has a passion for all things culinary.
So naturally, my mother and I share recipes, discuss food and enjoy eating out on my annual visits to the U.K.
In between, we have a tradition that I treasure. Even though I could likely read it electronically, mum sends me the Observer Food Monthly by snail mail every time it appears.
Reading it is something I relish for both its educational and entertainment value. The OFM’s food writer-in-chief Nigel Slater is one of my heroes. (If you haven’t read his beautiful memoir “Toast,” please do.) Photography in this glossy, info-packed mag is daring, innovative and gorgeous. The stories and columns are clever beyond belief. And there’s always a recipe or two that I make, usually with great success.
This year’s October issue was the annual round-up of awards for chefs, restaurants and innovation in food. As usual, it’s a keeper. As usual, the winner in the reader’s recipe category is superb. Here it is:
Chicken Pistachio Curry
This recipe from Maria Kuehn produces a delicate, delectable dish great served with mashed potatoes or, more traditionally, basmati rice. I streamlined and, in my opinion, improved the original by tweaking it slightly. To peel tomatoes, drop into boiling water briefly until skin loosens. The combo of chicken, pistachios, chiles, tomatoes and cream is divine. Yer welcome!
1/4 cup shelled pistachios
2 or 3 small fresh chiles (bird’s eye, Thai), seeded, chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger root
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fennel seeds
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp whipping (35%) cream
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
8 chicken thighs, skinned, boned and cut in chunks
Salt to taste
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 tsp garam masala
Half a bunch fresh coriander, chopped
Pour 1 cup of water into small saucepan; add pistachios. Bring to boil; boil 6 minutes. Drain. Rub to remove any skin. Add to mortar with chiles; pound with pestle until mixture forms paste.
In large skillet or saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric and fennel seeds; cook about 3 minutes. Add pistachio mixture; cook about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, stock, cream, cardamom and chicken; reduce heat to low and simmer 16 to 18 minutes. Add salt, lemon juice and garam masala. Transfer to warmed platter or large bowl; sprinkle with coriander.
Serve with mashed potaatoes or basmati rice.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.