From the family cookbook

For Mother’s Day, recipes my mom used to make.

By Adam Ried
May 9, 2010

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On Mother’s Day, the very day that mothers are meant to relax and be pampered, suggesting a project for them may strike some as sacrilege. With apologies, here I go anyhow: Moms, how about jotting down a few of your favorite recipes for your kids in a family cookbook? It certainly doesn’t have to be fancy . . . a three-ring binder, or even just a Word document on the computer will do. A few years down the road, it will surely be treasured. I speak from experience.

The recipes here, for curried chicken with a “rijsttafel routine,” come from a book of recipes my mother produced about 60 years ago. From when I was very young, I remember rijsttafel-routine dinner parties, and so does my brother, who did everything in his power to shanghai the nuts and raisins meant as condiments. Clearly this was a favorite, for at the end of her list, Mom notes “P.S. This makes a fine guest dinner – Drinks and a bowl of raw vegetables, curry and condiments, salad and French bread, and lemon sherbet or some such cooling thing for dessert.” The minty salad is my addition to the party. I hope mom would approve.

Mom’s Curried Chicken, circa 1950

Serves 4

With some minor adjustments in deference to modern times – such as replacing the stick of butter she used to brown the chicken with 2 teaspoons of canola oil – this recipe remains true to my mom’s vision.

1 chicken, about 3½ pounds, cut into 8 serving pieces, or 3½ pounds bone-in chicken thighs, rinsed, dried, and trimmed

Salt and pepper

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 medium apple, preferably Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, and chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon ground ginger

2tablespoons curry powder

1½ tablespoons flour

1½ cups chicken broth

Sprinkle chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large, straight-sided saute pan over medium-high heat. Place chicken pieces in pan skin side down (do not crowd; brown in 2 batches if necessary) and cook without moving them until the skin is crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces and cook, again without moving, until second side is golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer chicken, as it is done, to a large plate. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin. Pour or spoon all but 2 teaspoons of fat from the pan.

Return the pan to the burner, adjust the heat to medium, add the onion, celery, apple, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, sugar, ginger, curry powder, flour, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and the flour films the bottom of the pot, about 1 minute. Add the broth, increase heat to high, and use a wooden spoon to scrape bottom of pot until the film of browned flour dissolves into the liquid, about 1 minute. Add the chicken with accumulated juices (reserve the breasts to avoid overcooking them) increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to very low, cover pan, and simmer until the chicken is very tender, about 35 minutes, turning the chicken over and adding the breasts after 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve with hot rice and the Rijsttafel Routine condiments.

The Rijsttafel Routine for Curry

My mother interpreted rijsttafel as a variety of condiments accompanying a curry meal, writing that it is “a Dutch way of serving curry.” To elaborate just a bit, rijsttafel – Dutch for “rice table” – was a banquet popular with the Dutch in Indonesia during their colonial rule of that country. The center of the meal was a large platter of rice served with an array of aromatic dishes. Anyway, here are Mom’s garnishes, with no set amounts.

For the last item, the canned onions (remember, it was 1950), I would substitute some freshly fried sliced shallots. Simply heat about 3 tablespoons of canola oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until it ripples, add 5 or 6 thinly sliced shallots and cook, stirring, until they’re just turning golden and crisp, about 3½ minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the shallots to paper towels to drain before serving.

Mango chutney, mild and hot

Diced eggplant, fried in oil and highly seasoned

Chopped hard-boiled eggs, both yolks and whites

Grated orange zest

Finely chopped mild onion

Finely chopped green pepper

Cashews, almonds, or peanuts


Shredded coconut

Canned fried onions, warmed

Romaine Spears with Shallots and Mint Vinaigrette

Serves 4

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper

1/3cup chopped fresh mint

1½ tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/3cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 romaine lettuce hearts, quartered lengthwise

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

In a medium bowl, mix garlic, sugar, ¾ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, mint, vinegar, and lemon juice, and stir to mix. Vigorously whisk in the olive oil, and set aside.

Arrange the romaine spears on a serving platter, and scatter the sliced shallot over them. Stir the vinaigrette to reblend if necessary, pour evenly over the romaine, and serve at once.

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How I met my mother
My mother died when I was 7 years old. Certainly I never got to know her well, much less learn to cook at her knee. I do, however, have a strong sense of her tastes in food, and her personality, because I have read – and reread a hundred times – the informal cookbook that she compiled in the late 1940s and early 1950s as a gift for her future sister-in-law, my Aunt Olivia. In both the illustrations and the writing, Mom’s character shines, starting with the very first words in the (poorly typed) book: “Dear Olivia – As you will see, my typing is for the birds – but it is nevertheless better than my handwriting.” It may not be neat, but this book means the world to me.