Despite repeated resolutions to the contrary, I don’t really use cookbooks. I own a lot, and I read them all and often look at the pictures; apart from a select few, covered in cake mix and butter and blood and tomato, which I know and love and trust, I don’t really follow their recipes. I think I do, though. “That sounds nice”, I say to myself on the sofa, “I’ll try making it sometime.” When that time comes, of course, I don’t have the book to hand – and if I did, I wouldn’t have half the ingredients – so I cook from memory, which is to say I make it up. Only after months of cooking a dish do I look back at the book at realise that my recipe has become something entirely other, related to the original book only in the manner of folk songs or language – tangentially, driftingly.
If, sometimes, this can be limiting – it means that you rarely stray outside your own idiom and technical comfort zone – then it can also be liberating. It is certainly convenient; few cookbooks are actually easy and pleasant to use for their intended purpose. Anyway, here is a recipe I remain convinced comes from Diana Henry, despite her original (itself an imagined version of a never-tasted Turkish dish) containing, it turns out, coriander (don’t much care for it) and green olives (totally forgot about them). That, I suppose, is how cooking works. Conveniently, this goes extremely well with octopus.
GREEN CHILLI RELISH
15 green chillies (or a mix of red and green), thinly sliced
6 cloves of garlic, crushed with salt
about a tbsp caster sugar
a slosh of sweet white vinegar
a big handful each of mint and parsley, chopped across a couple of times, to encourage them to join in
Mix together everything except the herbs, scrunching a bit to dissolve the sugar. Add the herbs and toss and scrunch some more. WASH YOUR HANDS. An hour or so hanging around mellows things out, but much longer and it’ll go a bit manky.