Interview with Ed Smith | Crave
Intro: Welcome to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book with Suzy Chase. She’s just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table, talking to cookbook authors.
Ed Smith: Hello, I’m Ed Smith. I am a cook and a food writer, and this is my third cookbook. It’s called Crave: Recipes Arranged by Flavour to Suit Your Mood and Appetite.
Suzy Chase: You dedicated this cookbook to anyone who is currently thinking about their next meal, but can’t decide in which direction to turn. Most of us ponder what we’re going to eat next by what’s in our fridge or pantry, but you’ve realized the ingredients are the building blocks, not the answer. I’d love for you to share your philosophy around our next meal.
Ed Smith: Crave is organized by six flavor profiles, which we can go into in a minute, but I think I did that because I do spend all of my time thinking about what I’m going to eat next. I think when you do that, if you are a hungry person, your mind can get flooded with ideas, with inspiration from over the internet, things you read, things you see on TV. It’s just really easy, I think, to get in a muddle and also what I call menu paralysis, that you just don’t know what to cook next. You end up cooking the same five or six things over and over and over again.
Ed Smith: I just realized that whilst I do often base my food on the ingredients that I see in front of me that are in peak in the season at that time, or walk into a butcher’s or a green grocers, where I live in London, there’s loads of really inspiring places, actually, the times that I’m most successful in what I decide to cook, actually it’s because I’ve cooked something that suited the flavor that I was craving at the time. Does that make sense?
Suzy Chase: Totally, totally.
Ed Smith: It may make more sense if I tell what the six different flavors are.
Suzy Chase: Yes, would you do that?
Ed Smith: All right. I felt that they were fresh and fragrant, tart and sour, chili and heat, spiced and curried, rich and savory, and cheesy and creamy.
Suzy Chase: Somewhere I think I read or I heard you say that you crave the fresh and fragrant profile most. Talk to me about that one.
Ed Smith: About the craving in particular or my craving for it? I think-
Suzy Chase: Well, describe the profile first and then what’s appealing, because I think I’m a rich and savory and a cheesy and creamy gal.
Ed Smith: Fresh and fragrant is green verdant things, so leaves, things that crunch, that are cooling. It’s fresh cheeses, ricotta and feta, it’s vegetables that are crunchy. It’s things that often don’t take much cooking to get to the plate, salads and assemblies and platters and stuff that made you feel good when you eat it. It’s often not really taking the ingredients much beyond their raw state, because I think that’s the freshness, isn’t it? Herbs used in abundance, not just as a little garnishes, herbs like a salad leaf, citrus, all that sort of stuff. I want those things when I want to feel good, I want to feel light, I want to feel happy. I might already be feeling happy or I might be in a grump, but I just know that a fresh and fragrant meal is going to pull me out of it.
Ed Smith: In the cookbook, some things are literal salads, there’s just a ham hock, tarragon, radish and asparagus salad, but also slow-cooked courgettes but with fresh cheese and run through loads of white beans with loads of oil and some fresh herbs. Just nice things, and I think that I do crave that a lot because it covers so much of what I’ve said, it’s whether it is already hot and I’m feeling happy, or whether I’m feeling in a grump and I want to feel lighter and happier.
Suzy Chase: Yeah. You talked about in the book how it’s important to eat food that feels appropriate to what’s going on outside.
Ed Smith: Yeah. I think maybe the genesis for this book, or at least one of the things that started me thinking about, is that I’d written a seasonal cookbook and there are lots of seasonal cookbooks and they’re all great and I do think that we often can eat really well if we concentrate on the food that’s at its peak at the certain time of the year and be inspired by that, but I also think that seasonal cooking means cooking according to the season and what you feel like cooking, which goes to that point about fresh and fragrant and things being assemblies and salads. If it’s really hot, you don’t want to spend all your time in the kitchen, slaving over a hot stove. You want to just cut a few things up and sit around the table.
Ed Smith: That’s sort of started and then I realized that, and certainly in the UK, the seasons are really mixed actually. We’re so used to talking about four seasons, but right now I’m sitting here is the end of June, and normally that’s when Wimbledon’s about to start, it might be some years that it’s a bit wet, but it is warm and strawberries are coming through and all these lovely things and you’re really starting to think that summer’s here. But having had a mini heat wave for a week, we’re suddenly in literally autumn, autumnal weather, and the things I’ve been craving today and the things that I want to eat right now are not summery things. They’re bean stews and various meats and vegetable gratins and stuff, and that is not what you’d see in the summer section of a seasonal cookbook. That got me thinking that weather is perhaps more important than season, in terms of what you crave, everything flows from there.
Suzy Chase: At the end of two of the flavor profiles, you have a page called A Quick Fix, which is so brilliant. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Ed Smith: I think, off of my head, are rich and savory and cheesy and creamy. I think that I had the little Quick Fix section at the end, because I guess maybe that started with the cheesy and creamy section as I was writing that, because ultimately for me the best way to get fixed if you’re craving cheese is to have a piece of really good cheese and you can’t write a recipe for that. I think I started with that and then just simply grilled cheese. How better can you get a fix for things like that? They’re just little ideas that everyone knows about already, but sometimes if you’re reading a cookbook, there are lots of things you already know, but sometimes you want to have your memory jogged.
Ed Smith: That was kind of the same with the savory section. Some things that hit the spot very quickly with the savory might be anchovies on toast with lots of butter or a really good cup of miso soup made with an instant dashi and a blob of miso. It’s sometimes useful in a cookbook, I think, to state the obvious, because not everything has to be new. Fortunately, people buy cookbooks to read them as well as put on their coffee table, and it’s good to have your memory jogged and to feel like you’re on the right track as well.
Suzy Chase: There are recipes in this cookbook that I’ve never seen before, like scrag and root and miso broth, and pork belly butter beans and deli olives, and your linguine with lemon and sriracha. Talk a little bit about your process for developing a recipe.
Ed Smith: I don’t think there’s many things that are in cookbooks or that anyone cooks that someone hasn’t cooked before, so I wouldn’t say that I’ve done something for the first time. In my cookbook and the way that I write recipes for magazines and my cookbooks and everything else that goes in between is that I am a good curator of recipes and ideas and traditions and cuisines and flavors, so that for cookbooks, I make, I hope, a useful resource that isn’t pretending to only give you stuff you’ve never had before been. Bun cha, a Vietnamese salad with pork patties, my thing is that it’s definitely my recipe for that patty, but I’m not laying claimed to bun cha, that’s Vietnam. But there are some things in there, which I think are my ideas, and I guess that pork belly is a slow braised pork belly with just some white beans, really not difficult, loads of people have done it before, and then the twist is for marinaded olives. I think if you just chop that up, you make yourself a quick and easy sauce over the top. That’s all that is, it’s just a simple dish.
Ed Smith: The sriracha spaghetti with lemon is really pretty similar to, I’m going to say this wrong, aglio e olio, an Italian pasta dish with just olive oil, garlic that’s very, very gently cooked down into it and some chili flakes, but I just added quite a large squirt of sriracha, which is Southeast Asian chili sauce. People love sriracha, people love noodle dishes, as in spaghetti, good squeeze of lemon. Then I added a pangrattato on the top, which is normally a breadcrumb thing that’s fried with garlic and other stuff. But again, if you add chili flakes and sriracha to that, then suddenly you’ve got a tangy, chili, hot thing that’s just going to suit your chili and heat craving.
Suzy Chase: You’re a bit of a recipe maestro.
Ed Smith: You think?
Suzy Chase: I would never think of putting sriracha in linguini.
Ed Smith: Thank you. I think there’s a rich history of cultures making very, very simple but delicious dishes with either a spaghetti or an Italian style pasta or noodles from China, Japan and elsewhere. Nigella, she does a Marmite pasta, I think, and that’s kind of like a twist on Chinese sesame noodle situation. It’s kind of the savory coating gloss, a very, very simple thing and adding a bit of Marmite. I think in my mind, I had the sriracha as a similar condiment, that it makes a very quick, easy thing.
Suzy Chase: Speaking of Nigella, you talk about the word crave, which is usually associated with sweet and fatty decadence. I had her on the podcast a few episodes ago and she was talking about her distaste for the term guilty pleasure. In her latest cookbook, she has a whole chapter called pleasures because she says the term guilty pleasures warps your sense of what you’re seeking in food. Then there’s comfort eating, which is a whole other episode. But you mentioned that the research suggests that many crave healthy rather than guilty food when they need comfort.
Ed Smith: One of the subject areas that’s got a huge amount of stuff written about it is comfort food. That is something that I think has two connotations that I write about often, is the idea that people seek comfort in a tub of ice cream, that’s that classic movie thing, isn’t it? You break up with your partner and you just sink into the sofa with a tub of ice cream. Also, comfort food tends to be written about in the UK and US press as roast chicken or chicken soup, things that are wholesome and savory. In fact, both of those things, the seeking solace in ice cream or seeking solace in savory things, it’s just a tiny fraction of what people really want as comfort.
Ed Smith: Quite often, more often than you’d think people that are either feeling like they are hungry or they’re unhappy or they’re ill or they are in a bad mood, many, many people realize that the thing that is going to get them out of that slump is not a guilty pleasure. Something that’s fresh, something that makes you feel good and makes you feel happy and that makes you bounce out of that slump. Comfort food is different things to different people, quite frequently, this different thing, it takes you back to your happy place. Often, for many, not everyone, that’s your childhood and obviously people’s heritages. We have reduced comfort food in media to a tiny fraction of what it really is.
Suzy Chase: Yeah, it’s so funny because I grew up in Kansas with little or no pasta, and so I never crave pasta and people think I’m crazy.
Ed Smith: Do you have a different kind of carb that you attach your cravings to? When you really want something, is it potatoes, is it rice, is it-
Suzy Chase: Yeah, I think it would be potato.
Ed Smith: Yeah. Corn?
Suzy Chase: Corn, potato and steak.
Ed Smith: Right. I mean, that’s good. Is that something you go back to when you do want something for comfort?
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Ed Smith: Home food, home cooked food, food from the childhood.
Suzy Chase: What do you go back to in your childhood?
Ed Smith: Probably is a roast dinner, which is such a British thing to say, isn’t it? Mum cooked everything from scratch. We had a really good upbringing in terms of learning how to cook and to cook nice things. By no means were her meals, or even the best meals, roast dinners, but I think something about a roast chicken with all the veg on a cold wet Sunday, that does sort of bring things back.
Suzy Chase: For lunch, I made your recipe for chopped kale, dill and chick pea salad with smoked trout, on page 32. Can you describe this dish?
Ed Smith: That’s in the fresh and fragrant section. The fragrance comes from lots and lots and lots of dill, a little bit of citrus. The freshness comes from both the taste and also the cold, chilled texture of cucumber in that dish is dressed with yogurt and dill, lots of chopped salad that’s been chopped and salted, and a bit of citrus so that it breaks down the kale. There are chickpeas in there that are just cooked and there are chickpeas in there that have been baked, so they’re crispy. There’s loads of textures going on. Then it’s finished with some flaked smoked trout. That all comes together with the freshness of the kale, the cucumbers, the yogurt dressing, dill, smoked fish, just to make it interesting,
Suzy Chase: It was a lovely summer lunch, and yes, I love trout so much.
Ed Smith: It’s lovely, isn’t it? I think it’s really good. I think that is a good lunch dish and one that isn’t wildly difficult to put together, hopefully the ingredients are pretty accessible. If you did have a craving for fresh and fragrant at 9:00 in the morning and either you had most of those ingredients in the fridge or store cupboard or you could pop out to the shop and get it, then you could hopefully satisfy that craving pretty quickly.
Suzy Chase: Now to my segment called Last Night’s Dinner, where I ask you what you had last night for dinner.
Ed Smith: Do you know what? I feel both happy and a little bit cringingly embarrassed to say that I genuinely had the sriracha and lemon spaghetti last night. I had just driven for about five hours back from a different part of the country, dropped my wife off in the middle of London who went to a work event and then drove my son a little bit further, unpacked the car, did all these things. Suddenly, it was 9:30 at night and obviously we hadn’t got any food at home except, as always, bagged spaghetti, some garlic, some old bread, some sriracha. It hit the spot absolutely because I was tired and I was ready for some pasta, but more importantly, I think probably having been driving for five hours in the rain, pretty ready to have a little bit more excitement in my day, it was just what I needed.
Suzy Chase: I’m excited because I’m making it tomorrow night.
Ed Smith: Are you? Oh great.
Suzy Chase: I have clams that I need to make and I think they’re alive in my fridge so I need to make them tonight, but tomorrow I’m making that linguine and I can’t wait.
Ed Smith: I really hope you like it. My dad actually called me the weekend to say that he’d made it, he rarely cooks. He said he thought I’d put too much the chili sauce in, but I reminded him that the tablespoon was a genuine measurement, not just the biggest spoon you can find in the kitchen for that. Also, I suspect that he might well have a different tolerance to heat than me. Hopefully you like it, depending on all those factors.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media?
Ed Smith: Rocket & Squash, @rocketandsquash, as in I was going to say the salad leaf, but you call it arugula I think, don’t you?
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Ed Smith: The rocket as in a space rocket, and squash, which is also the name of my blog, rocketandsquash.com, that’s me. I write all over the place for lots of magazines and newspapers, but I suppose most active these days on Instagram and a little bit on my blog.
Suzy Chase: Well, this has been an enlightening conversation. Thanks so much, Ed, for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Ed Smith: My pleasure, thanks so much for having me.
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