I’ve been on a Tortallan high these past few weeks, especially after my bout with Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce. As part of my review, I took pictures of quotes I wanted to use and passages I wanted to get back to again just to re-read.
Unsurprisingly enough, most of those pictures involved descriptions of food. I blame Varice for this.
“You should get to know different flavors, alone and mixed,” Varice told him soberly. “We can be brought low by a common poison if we don’t know when something wrong is added to our food and drink. Our Gifts won’t warn us unless, of course, you know your poisons.”
The lovely addition of Varice in Tempests was a splendid move on Pierce’s part. Between Ozorne’s ambition and Arram’s destiny for greatness (as he’s been constantly told by the crocodile god), Varice is one gifted student who has no such desire to become great, powerful, or famous. And yet she’s very intelligent and no ordinary “kitchen witch.”
She’s also a great addition to the narrative because she brings so much perspective on food. Like, seriously, so much food.
As drums pounded and trumpets blared in the arena, a slave selected different fruits and set the on plates, then added small cups of sauce. Varice giggled when she saw that Arram regarded the serving process with mistrust. “You dunk a bite of fruit in a cup, silly. It makes the taste more sophisticated.” She speared a grape on a thin-bladed knife and looked at the three small cups. “This is tamarind syrup, this one is cherry, and this, I am sure, is lime with…” She dipped her grape and tucked it into her mouth before the syrup could drip into her dress. “Mmm, cinnamon,” she said with approval.
That description alone already made me salivate and crave fruits with dipping sauce. Actually I could really just use tamarind juice right about now.
Anyway, the point is, the whole book had a lot of different recipes I wanted to try. Near the beginning of the book, I’d actually found a mention of pastries I wanted to make, like “tassen”, which, after some digging, I found out was a shortened, creative rewriting of “hamantaschen,” which is a Jewish pastry. Now, I’d tried store-bought hamantaschen, but wasn’t actually a fan of the dry texture, so I might hold off on actually making those when I’ve found a decent recipe that I like. That said, there were still a lot of things I could have done for this book that epitomized the Carthaki culture.
The breakfast that waited there helped. While Varice and Arram used pancakes with pistachios to scoop up eggs, Cosmas fed Preet whatever she expressed a wish for in between sips of tea.
One thing I noticed about the food in Tamora Pierce’s Tempests and Slaughter is that they do eat a lot of stew.
“In the meantime, if you have not read it already, you may wish to look at Strange Things in My Stew by Farmer Cooper of Tortall. It was written three hundred years ago and is out of fashion, but there are things in it you will not find in the modern texts.”
Which eventually brought me to this sentence.
“Stop frowning,” Ozorne told Arram as they dove into their beef tajine.
And, of course I had to look up what beef tajine was, because, ya know, I needed an idea for dinner and this sounded like a good thing to look up.
When I found a Moroccan version of the dish, I just HAD to make it, cilantro and all.
Tajine is apparently a common dish in Morocco, and named after the tajine pot it is cooked in. Now, I don’t have a tajine, but I imagine it’s a pot you can slow-cook meats in. I also don’t have an earthenware cooking pot big enough for the dish I wanted to make…but I made do, because, hell, what is cooking if not improvising, right?
The recipe and prep times were pretty straightforward. A lot of the waiting actually comes from having to simmer the entire stew until the meat is nice and tender and the potatoes and carrots are soft and easily eaten in a bite. Yum.
One of the only things I had been tentative about adding was the cilantro. I’m not a big fan of cilantro, and I’ve seen a lot of recipes use too much of it in a dish to the point where the cilantro overpowers just about everything else (I’m talking about YOU, guacamole). So when the recipe called for 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, I almost decided not to use it entirely.
Which would have been a big mistake. The cilantro actually augmented the flavors and worked well with the spices involved. In the end, it was so. damn. good. It’s no wonder they eat so much of it in Carthak.
I’d make beef tajine again in a heartbeat.
Again, for the full recipe, check out The Wicked Noodle. I didn’t stray very far from this, to be honest! The only thing I did alter was the carrot and potato ratio. I used one large carrot and an assortment of baby potatoes. Everything else was a mixture of following the recipe and tasting for flavor.
With all this said and done, time for lunch!
3 thoughts on “Food and Fandom: A Little Taste of Carthak”
This looks amazing! I love making recipes inspired by books! My favorite one that I have done was the November Cakes from The Scorpio Races. Also, weird fact, some people of European descent have an aversion to cilantro as they have a mutation in their olfactory (smelling) cells. I have not been tested for it yet but I am pretty sure that I have it. But I must commend you for trying the dish with cilantro! You are a stronger person then I am!
And if you want to read more about the gene mutation: https://www.nature.com/news/soapy-taste-of-coriander-linked-to-genetic-variants-1.11398
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Ooh, I’m going to have to check out The Scorpio Races, I’ve only read one Stiefvater book so far!
And yeah, I found that I normally don’t like cilantro, and a bunch of my family can pick up the strong flavor to the point of distaste, so I think it’s heredity for us too. This is one of the few dishes I’ve had that I didn’t mind the cilantro in, so that’s good at least!