Book excerpt: Helen Graves' "Live Fire"
One of my favorite print magazines evar is Pit, a UK quarterly on live-fire cooking. Every issue is a beautifully designed, whimsical, and varied look on one aspect or another of cooking (mostly cooking with fire, though recently, as in the current “Potato” issue, they have branched out to cover a broader range of topics).
Pit’s editor is Helen Graves, a recipe developer and editor from London, and many of the (wonderful) recipes the magazine contains are hers. Helen’s first cookbook, ‘Live Fire’, has just been released by Hardie Grant, and I have wrangled a few recipe excerpts to share with you, all of them bread-adjacent in one way or another. And all of them right on time for summer’s arrival yesterday.
The first is Blackened Leeks with Garlic Mayonnaise, Romesco, and Charred Sourdough, a dish that is based upon a dish served at Catalan leek/scallion-grilling festival (which I need to attend someday).
And then we have a trio of linked recipes, an easy grilled flatbread (Easy Barbecue Flatbreads) and a topping and a dip to pair them with (HG Mangal Bread and Dip). While the Mangal1 Bread recipe can be made with store-bought flatbreads, Helen recommends making them from scratch for best results using her recipe. The “HG Mangal Bread’ recipe is inspired by one served at London restaurant FM Mangal; in it, the bread is topped with a zesty spice rub and grilled a second time. And the dip is made by charring onion and garlic over a grill before adding a tangy, pomegranate-molasses based dressing.
Both the topping and the dip contain MSG, one of my favorite flavor enhancers, which is why I wanted to feature them here. (Pit dedicated an entire issue to the joys and wonders of MSG, guest-edited by Burmese food writer MiMi Aye.) MSG is not an ingredient normally associated with breads, but apparently it is a ‘kebab shop secret’ for cranking up the flavor of the flatbreads they serve.
As Helen points out, the idea that MSG is harmful to health has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked and is an idea rooted in racist tropes about ‘unclean’ Asian food. MSG—monosodium glutamate—is the sodium salt of an ubiquitous amino acid, glutamic acid, the same one responsible for the umami sensation produced by tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, and fish sauce (among many other foods). There is no scientific difference between MSG and glutamic acid—once dissolved in water, MSG separates into sodium and glutamic acid—and we all consume this chemical on a regular basis, even if we do not use it in purified form.
I hope you love these recipes, and that they inspire you to go out and get a copy of Helen’s wonderful book.
A ‘mangal’ is a Middle Eastern barbecue/charcoal grill.