Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin Cover
Cooking At Home On Rue Tatin,
Susan Herrmann Loomis
336 pages, A Few Photos, Hardcover Published by Morrow Cookbooks, $24.95

Reviewed for Good Cooking by Ellen London, December 2005

When thinking of French cuisine, dishes such as liver pate, coq au vin. and chocolate mousse are usually the first to spring to mind. These traditional dishes and others like them have made such an impression that many mistakenly assume that they are all that French cuisine has to offer. But just as every other culture has evolved with time, so have the French and their cuisine. In Cooking At Home On Rue Tatin, Susan Herrmann Loomis has compiled a collection of recipes inspired by French home cooks. In addition to the traditionally French dishes we have come to expect, recipes with American, middle eastern, and African influences are included.

The Good Cook decided to test two of these non-traditional recipes. The first was Chorba, a traditional Muslim soup used to break the fast during Ramadan. With France's large Muslim population It'should be no surprise that this culture has begun to influence French cuisine. The good cook is happy to report that the combination has produced delicious results. The tomato-based soup is given richness by the addition of lamb and is flavored with cinnamon, cilantro and mint. The resulting dish has an intense tomato flavor with bright overtones provided by the herbs and spices. For dessert we chose a dish with an American feel, an apple crisp. The simple dish included tangy apples and a traditional crumb topping, but was elevated to new heights by the truly French addition of caramel. The resulting dish, though deceptively simple, provided a flavor that cannot be rivaled by even the most elaborate of desserts.

8 to 10 servings

The ninth month of the Muslim year, called Ramadan, is given over to fasting. Our friends, Salah and Dalila Boufercha fast all day and then like their fellow believers worldwide, feast once the sun goes down. The first time we joined them for a Ramadan meal it was completely dark by 6 P.M., very early for dinner by French standards, unless you have been fasting all day. The aperitif was a cup of sweet cafe au lait with a plateful of date cakes called makroute.

"We drink cafe au lait to coat and protect the stomach," Dalila explained. "That way it doesn't suffer after being empty all day."

We then had bowls of chorba, this cilantro-, mint-, and cinnamon-scented vegetable and lamb soup. "Ramadan wouldn't be Ramadan without chorba," said Dalila. "I have such fond memories of sitting around the table when I was a girl in Algeria, and eating the chorba my grandmother and mother had made. We eat it every single night of Ramadan, but I make it at other times of the year too."

The traditional accompaniment for this is water, since alcohol is forbidden according to Islam. Otherwise, it goes well with a lovely rose from the Touraine.

olive cup oil (80 ml) extra virgin
14 ounces (400 g) Lamb shoulder or neck, trimmed of excess fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
4 medium onions, finely diced
2 large celery branches with leaves or 4 regular celery branches, trimmed and sliced paper-thin
1 good-sized bunch fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
One 14-ounce (425-m1) can peeled tomatoes, with their juice (or 3 to 4 fresh tomatoes, cored and diced)
5 tablespoons (2 ounces; 60 g) tomato paste
2 1/2 quarts (2.5 ls) hot water
1/2 cup (75 g) bulgur wheat
1 large bunch fresh mint, tied together with kitchen string

1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. When it is hot but not smoking, brown the meat on all sides. Add the onions and celery and stir, then reduce the heat slightly and cook, covered, until the onions are translucent and softened, stirring occasionally to be sure they don't stick, about 8 minutes.
2. Mince half the cilantro leaves and stems and add it to the pan, then sprinkle the cinnamon over the ingredients, season with the salt and pepper, and stir. Add the tomatoes, increase the heat slightly, and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, for about 5 minutes, then stir in the tomato paste and 2 cups (500 ml) of the hot water. Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes so the flavors blend, then add the remaining, 2 quarts (2 L) hot water. Bring to a simmer, then add the bulgur, stir, and then add the mint. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low so the soup is simmering, cover, and cook until the bulgur is tender through and all the flavors have blended nicely, about 30 minutes.
3. Just before serving, mince the remaining cilantro leaves. Remove and discard the mint, stir the cilantro into the soup, and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately.

ASTUCES: There are as many versions of chorba as there are cooks who make it. Dalila has several others as well, but this is the one she makes most often. Lamb neck is a little appreciated part of the animal, which is a shame because it gives wonderful flavor and texture. + This soup cooks for a relatively short time, so its flavor remains fresh and sparkling.

6 to 8 servings
Le crumble is quickly replacing the simple apple tart as one of the most popular desserts in the French repertoire. It consists simply of a pile of apples in a baking dish topped with a butter-sugar-flour mixture that bakes to a crisp golden brown. What makes it very French indeed, and richly flavored and delicious, is the caramelized butter and sugar on the bottom of the baking dish, and the creme fraiche that is served d'office, or obligatorily.

For the topping

1 1/4 cups (165 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons finely ground almonds
8 tablespoons (1 stick; 120g) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (150 g) vanilla sugar
3 tablespoons (45 g) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup (50 g) vanilla sugar
3 pounds (1.5 kg) apples such as Cox Orange Pippins, Winesop, Gravensteins, or Criterions, cored, peeled, and cut into thin
Creme fraiche for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
2. To make the topping, sift together the flour, cinnamon, and salt onto a piece of parchment paper. Add the ground almonds and mix well. In a medium bowl, mix the butter with the sugar until smooth and thoroughly combined. Using your fingers or a wooden spoon, mix in the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be lumpy and fairly soft, like cookie dough.
3. Pour the melted butter into a 8 x 12-inch (20 x 30cm) baking dish and spread it evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle the vanilla sugar evenly over the bottom of the dish. Heap the apples in the baking dish. Crumble the topping evenly over the apples.
4. Bake in the lower third of the oven until the topping is deep golden and the apples are tender through, about 55 minutes. Remove the crumble from the oven and let It'sit for at least 15 minutes, preferably 30, before serving, as it will be very hot. The crumble is delicious both warm and at room temperature. Whatever the temperature, be sure to serve the creme fraiche alongside.

ASTUCE: For the best caramelization, use an enameled baking dish rather than a glass baking dish.