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You probably already know that we love a savory breakfast, but did you also know that we love Anna Jones just as much? The leading British vegetarian author stopped by while she was in New York City to chat about her just-released book, The Modern Cook's Year, and she made us breakfast. As luck would have it, her idea of the perfect morning meal perfectly aligns with ours.
There's always something fresh and exciting in the food world. The test kitchen team gets inspired by trying new techniques, tasting different combinations, and being introduced to new ingredients. Anna Jones managed all that and more during her visit. The Modern Cook's Year had already caught the eye of editor at large, Shira Bocar. It's a lively guide to cooking by the seasons—all six of them. Wait, six? Anna quickly explained that the book reflects how she cooks during the year and what's available to a home cook. The run-up to Christmas is very different to eating in January and February, for example. And cooking in March, before spring produce has reached stores, is so different to cooking in May once fresh asparagus, peas, and rhubarb are everywhere. (Then Editorial Director Sarah Carey and Anna went off on a tangent and talked rhubarb, because both are huge fans.)
We asked Anna for her take on savory breakfasts: "Breakfast can be so formulaic," she said. "In our house I often make pancakes on a Saturday or Sunday but I'm trying to get some vegetables and a bit of freshness into breakfast—that's what this recipe is about." Plus, she's "obsessed with any kind of coconut-lime-chili sambal situation." (Sambal is an Indonesian chili sauce. The most famous version is sambal olek.)
Anna used a mortar and pestle to make the sambal and I asked if she always used them or if she was also a food processor person: "I'm a both person, definitely. At home on a Wednesday night, I'm a food processor person," she said laughing.
Anna explained she uses creamed coconut in the sambal. It's an ingredient none of us were familiar with. Shira wondered why Anna uses it when there are "about 5,000 possible coconut products" to choose from. "It's pretty cheap, pretty accessible, and it keeps well," she replied. She prefers to use creamed coconut to coconut milk or cream, as she hates having half in the fridge to use up (or forget)—plus, she likes the texture. The test kitchen team was psyched—Anna grated some creamed coconut so everyone could taste it. Deputy Editor Greg Lofts asked Anna what she looked for when buying creamed coconut. Her advice: Buy one without stabilizers or sugar, and try it grated on top of a curry, or in this sambal!
The next thing we learned from Anna was even more revelatory. As she prepped a bunch of lacinato kale, she stripped the stalk away from the leaves and proceeded to finely chop the stems. Shira remarked that the norm in the States is to discard kale stems, but Anna explained that she likes the texture the stems bring to the kale but she wouldn't use them if they were old or woody. Anna's next book goes beyond kale stems to look at sustainability and food waste and eating healthily.
"So guys," Anna declared laughing again, "I'm just going to show you how to fry an egg." But as we all discussed, frying an egg is a very personal thing. Anna's recipe calls for the egg to be fried in coconut oil with toasted mustard seeds, so it's not your average fried egg. It did have those delicious, crispy edges because Anna thought they made a good contrast with the other textures in the dish, especially the smooth sambal. Anna plated the finished fried egg with the kale and coconut sambal and Sarah brought out the finishing touch: chapatis she had bought that morning. The Indian flatbreads were useful for scooping up kale and sambal. Anna plated it beautifully—which is not surprising, as she styles all the photographs in her books and previously worked as a food stylist for Jamie Oliver. There were all kinds of appreciative noises as the team devoured the sambal, kale, and egg. We all agreed that breakfast is the most important—and delicious—meal of the day.