Thought for Food Books

Savoury crocodile treat

Quentin Blake’s illustration of the Enormous Crocodile.

Quentin Blake’s illustration of the Enormous Crocodile.  


Filled with ‘succulent children (or equivalent...)’

If you know your Roald Dahl, you will know Quentin Blake. He is the much loved illustrator of Dahl’s children’s books. You can’t think of a character without some lively images popping up in your mind. Those are Blake’s enduring interpretations of Dahl’s little people.

We have some of those books at home, and Blake has been — like Dahl — quite a member of the family. You get the essence of the artist in his sketches, but I learnt some more about him when I flipped through the pages of Roald Dahl’s Cookbook, written by Felicity and Roald Dahl.

Dahl and his wife, Felicity or Liccy, were so fond of good food and feeding others that they decided to put together a food book — a beautiful collection of stories and recipes.

So, for the book, the Dahls asked Blake for a recipe.

Artichoke eyes

“His immediate reply was the extraordinary Savoury Crocodile,” writes Dahl, pointing out that it was clearly a reference to the first book of his that Blake illustrated, The Enormous Crocodile. “The children loved it,” writes Dahl about the dish.

I was intrigued. How did one prepare a Savoury Crocodile? Turned out it was a stuffed sandwich loaf, or a crocodile-shaped sandwich. Filled with “succulent children (or equivalent as available)”, Blake writes next to his step-by-step illustration for the dish. If you can’t find the former, make do with cheese spread, marmite and banana.

The croc colour comes from a greenish aubergine and spinach coating. Eyes come alive with artichoke bottoms, part of a boiled egg and olives as the pupils; the white of a hard-boiled egg are the teeth. Sausages are the legs, and little gherkins are the webbed toes. Small clumps of artichoke leaves are the crocodile’s ridges.

Like the dish, the book is a delight. Apart from a host of interesting recipes, it also throws light on Dahl. If it ever comes up in a quiz, do remember that the vegetable he loves to grow is the onion.

His recipe for onion rings and fried parsley is simple: Peel large onions and cut them into 1/8th-inch thick slices against the grain. Separate the rings. Lightly dust them with seasoned flour, shake off the surplus (“We do this inside a large polythene bag,” he writes). Deep fry the rings in hot oil till crispy and golden. Drain well and season with salt. For the fried parsley, take a large bunch of parsley, washed and dried. Fry in hot oil, a few sprigs at a time, taking care because the fat bubbles and spits. Fry for a few seconds till a deep green. Take out, drain and serve.

In one chapter, he tells us that all vegetables should be slightly undercooked so that the texture is maintained and the flavour preserved.

“For me the prince of them all is the young broad bean. A plateful of those, lightly painted with melted butter and sprinkled with a little salt, eaten all alone on a warm plate before the main course, is the ultimate joy,” he writes.

I had never seen broad beans in this light, but his opinion on roast turkey is something that I share.

“I loathe Christmas,” Dahl writes — and then gives many reasons for this: buying gifts has reached a “ridiculous” level, cards are a “racket” and so on.

Cold turkey

And, clearly, he has a problem with roast turkey.

“I don’t know what is drier and more flavourless than a roast turkey. Its only virtue seems to be that one bird goes a long way — so long, in fact, that the family is usually eating it cold or hashed up for the next week,” the author says.

The book does to me what Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda do to the very young. It gives me immense joy!

The writer, who grew up on ghee-doused urad dal and roti, now likes reading and writing about food as much as he enjoys cooking and eating. Well, almost.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 9:00:34 AM |

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