Really, this food turned out pretty great.
I honestly forgot the peanut salad, which Lakshmi sells big time with a story about her childhood. It sounds good: I’m inclined to make it in the future.
The devilled eggs were good, but I made them a little runny—that’s entirely me half-assing quantities of ingredients to make a half-order while trying to pay attention to other things.
I went ahead and made the short ribs. I substituted fresh tabasco and cayenne peppers for serranos in her recipes, which made a difference but I think not a huge one. It’s what I have in the garden, along with insane amounts of lemongrass.
The mix of things was ultimately excellent, which was a surprise—it was the kind of thing on Top Chef where you’d get spanked for doing too much or having too many flavor profiles on the plate with no reason. Basically the two salads—the plum and spinach salad and the labneh-herb salad—functioned as some salads do, as palate cleansers after the main meal. If I had been doing this as a strict progression, I think I would have done the shrimp curry first, the plum salad second, the short ribs third, and the labneh and fennel as a pre-dessert cleanser.
The shrimp curry was excellent. I appreciated the subtle way it basically pulled a chef using the recipe into Thai curries—on some level it was saying, “We’re going to make a Thai green curry only without the security blanket of a little jar of Thai green curry paste”. And much as a good friend of mine would say about various “curry powders” with South Asian cuisine, you’re so much better off making your own stuff.
The short ribs were really good—I expected them to be, but I was a bit surprised that three hours of room-temperature marination did as much work as it did to make the meat something you could basically have eaten by hand. Short ribs haven’t always been so kind to me in other preparations.
The plum-and-spinach salad, I think, is pretty much what I would demand if I were trying to satisfy body expectations—it was really tasty, honestly.
VERDICT: Sure, yes, I’ll not only keep this but use it more often. It makes me wonder if I have been guilty of underrating Padma Lakshmi the way others have (I’m also reading her memoir). But there is something I guess about her cosmopolitanism in the book itself that is forbidding—I’m beginning to realize that this is a subconscious reaction I’ve had to books that feel like they’re the fabulous adventures of fabulous people in more fabulous situations than I will myself have, despite the fact that I’m a second-league cosmopolitan who has travelled a fair amount and has all the tastes to go with it.