LONDON — I often think of recipes as being like stories.
They’re both collections of steps or phrases that need putting together to make whole. And they’re both so much more than the sum of their parts.
Recipes, like stories, also say so much about the time, place and person they’re from. In coming to life, something is revealed, remembered. Once shared, recipes, like stories, pass from one person to the next, changing and evolving in the process. The core, however, remains the same.
If that’s an overly poetic way of looking at recipes, there is another — and far more prosaic — way I look at them: as formulas, sums that need to be in balance. There are many reasons my friend and occasional Times contributor Samin Nosrat’s “Salt Fat Acid Heat” was such a huge success, but one was her ability to distill everything a dish needs to taste good into just four words. If we want balanced deliciousness, she showed us, we need salt + fat + acid + heat. So simple. So genius.
For the past 18 months or so, my home cooking has similarly followed a sort of formula. It looks like this: Something fresh, bought locally that day + a flavor bomb from the pantry + whatever else needs eating in the fridge = breakfast, lunch or supper.
The first part of that equation could be anything that takes your fancy. These are the things you treat yourself to: some beautiful eggs, maybe, or a piece of fresh fish, a couple of frameworthy heirloom tomatoes or an artichoke that looks so much like a flower you would happily put it in a vase. If we are melding our formula and story analogies, this is protagonist on the journey.
These fresh-faced characters come home and meet the stalwarts, also known as the pantry flavor bombs. They can be intense, so a little goes a long way: a teaspoon of fish sauce or capers, a tablespoon or two of tamarind paste, a clove of black garlic, a drop of hot sauce, a pinch or more of the various spices on the shelf.
The third part of the formula is whatever is already in the fridge or kitchen that needs using up. These ingredients might be incidental to the main recipe — or story — but are no less important. They are the half-eaten bag of spinach in which the leaves are wilting slightly, the shallot that could do with using up, the lime in the fruit bowl, the two-day-old bread that needs toasting. In their supporting role, they can be switched around and substituted without too much fuss: Use any leafy green instead of the spinach, for example, a red onion instead of the shallot, a lemon instead of lime, a potato wedge instead of the toast.
And that’s this month’s recipe, this month’s story, this month’s formula. Something farm-fresh (the eggs) + a couple of flavor bombs (the fish sauce and tamarind paste) + the ingredients that needed eating up (the spinach, the shallots, the lime) = breakfast, lunch or supper.
My equation may not be pithy or genius — I did need a paragraph to explain each of its parts — but, as a way to eat for our times, I can thoroughly recommend it.
Turmeric Fried Eggs With Tamarind and Pickled Shallots
Total time: 15 minutes
Makes: 2 to 4 servings
For the pickled shallots:
- 1 shallot, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
- 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
- Kosher salt
For the tamarind dressing:
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (30 grams) tamarind concentrate
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
For the spinach and eggs:
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 6 packed cups (200 grams) baby spinach
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 4 large eggs
- 1 fresh green chile (such as a serrano or small jalapeño), thinly sliced into rounds, seeds and all
- Prepare the pickled shallots: Add the shallot, lime juice and a pinch of salt to a small bowl; use your fingers to gently massage everything together. Set aside to pickle lightly.
- Make the tamarind dressing: Add all the ingredients to a bowl, along with 1 1/2 tablespoons water. Whisk to combine and dissolve the sugar. Set aside.
- Prepare the spinach: Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high. Once hot, add the garlic and cook for 90 seconds, stirring, until fragrant and lightly golden, then stir in the spinach (in batches, by the handful) and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and wipe out the pan.
- Prepare the eggs: Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and the turmeric to the same pan; stir to combine and heat over medium-high. Once hot but not smoking, crack in the eggs and quickly sprinkle the whites with the sliced chile.
- Season the eggs all over with a good pinch of salt and use spatula to separate the whites so that the eggs are not joined together. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes, spooning some of the oil over the whites. You want the whites to be crispy at the edges and the yolk to be runny. (You can cook it for longer, if you like your eggs more cooked.)
- When eggs are cooked to taste, use a spatula to transfer them to the plate with the spinach, drizzling with any extra turmeric oil left in the pan. Top with the pickled shallots and a spoonful of the tamarind dressing, serving any remaining alongside.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.