The first Dahl I knew wrote books you probably read and loved, too. The BFG. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Matilda. I wasn’t sure what to think when I spotted a pink and blue cookbook by his granddaughter, Sophie Dahl. I quickly flipped through the pages, learned she was a model, and wondered what a book on her cooking life could offer.
Her book, “Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights: Recipes for Every Season, Mood and Appetite,” is organized by seasons, and she begins with her (and my) favorite: Autumn. Before each section of recipes for breakfasts, lunches, and suppers, she begins with a long vignette from her life. She was a voluptuous model in a world of very thin ones. That’s where she’s coming from, but that isn’t really what this book is about. Through her career and her life, Dahl loves food and she enjoys cooking, which she learned from her grandmother, Gee-Gee. By the end of Autumn, I already liked her. She’s charming and someone I’d like to be friends with. Her philosophy about her kitchen is something I can get behind.
“This kitchen is a gentle relaxed one, where a punishing, guilt-inducing attitude towards food will not be tolerated… It’s the kitchen of my grandparents, but with some Bowie thrown in. It is lingering breakfasts, it is friends with babies on their knees, it is good-bye on a Sunday with the promise of more. This kitchen is where life occurs; jumbled, messy, and delicious. It is lovely.”
As for her recipes, they are mostly simple and some are what you would call comfort food. I bookmarked many of them, and the one I’m showing you today is the last in her collection of autumn suppers, a recipe for her salmon with baked onions. Small onions are baked in cream and a layer of Gruyère cheese without apology until they are browned and bubbling. They’re served with a fat fillet of wild salmon, which makes for a generous and apt dinner for the month of November. She suggests to serve it with a simple green salad, and arugula did the job of balancing out the meal.
Her book, with its sweet illustrations and approach to food, earns a spot on my bookshelf. I can’t wait to try the squid salad with grilled peppers and cilantro dressing, her buttermilk chicken with smashed sweet potatoes, and her fish soup, to name a few. It’s been years since I’ve read the books of Roald Dahl. His books taught me what the word “twit” meant and buoyed my young imagination, and now I’m glad I found another Dahl, who can teach me a couple of things to do in my kitchen.
pan-seared salmon with baked onions
This is a lovely dinner for the cooler months when you want something substantial, warm, and delicious. Light cream can be hard to find around here, so I used heavy cream. If you can’t find the cream called for in a recipe, use a cream with a higher fat content to follow the recipe with very similar results.
4 small yellow onions
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) grated Gruyère or Parmesan cheese
2 fat skinless fillets of wild salmon (about 6 ounces each)
Heat the oven to 350ºF.
Peel the onions and trim off the ends. Boil them in a medium pot of boiling water until tender, 20 minutes. Drain the onions and halve them when they’re cool enough to handle.
Split the onions between two ramekins or another shallow heatproof dish. Pour 1/4 cup of heavy cream over each set of onions, and divide the cheese between both ramekins. Season with salt and pepper and place onions in the oven to bake until bubbling and browned, 25 to 30 minutes.
After the onions have been cooking for 15 minutes, season the salmon with salt and pepper. Brush each fillet with olive oil and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over each one. Bring a skillet to medium-high heat and sear the salmon for about 5 minutes on each side. The fish should flake when forked and look opaque. Serve salmon and onions with a simple arugula salad.
Serves 2. Adapted from “Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights” by Sophie Dahl.