Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Where did you rip off that recipe? It's delicious...

Eggplant, tomato and chickpea casserole. © Ryan Schierling
Thanks to the internet and the rise of the über food-conscious, there are nine trillion websites out there with the same recipes. Sure there are a lot of similar recipes, but I'm talking about different sites with the exact same recipes. This happens at both ends of the spectrum – classic, tried and true fundamentals and super-obscure exotic fare – but it mostly seems to be found when you're searching for a recipe baseline. 

For example, search for "Texas Potato Salad recipe." (I used Google for this query.) 

First hit is allrecipes.com's version of Texas Ranch Potato Salad, which lists no credit for an author. Seventh on the list is CDkitchen.com's version of Texas Ranch Potato Salad, which was apparently submitted by a Ms. Milton. These are the same recipes. Exactly the same recipes. 

Tastebook.com claims this recipe, bulletin-boarders on bbq bible thesmokering.com are offering it up ("My wife usually makes this... not sure where the recipe came from."), and it's passed off as "Memphis-style potato salad" on tasteofhome.com. All verbatim. The only place I know it didn't come from is the Hidden Valley Ranch website. I looked. Apparently, everyone's got their fingers in the Ranch potato salad, and really, this was just the first recipe that popped into my head to Google. I'm sure there are others out there if you've got the search engine wherewithal. 

I enjoyed myself as a waiter in the late 90's for a tiny cafe on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington state. After working there a year and helping out in the kitchen every morning, I was finally trusted to make the owner's brilliant soups per her specific instructions. But I never saw a hard-copy recipe. I later found out that she was ripping off – to the letter – Crescent Dragonwagon's wonderful "Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread Cookbook." 

Now, we've all poached a recipe here and there and called it ours in the company of unknowing friends. Every new thing is just a derivation of something a little older and a little less publicized. The copy-cook could (and should) get props for artistic liberties taken if things turn out well (and a proper flogging if things turn out poorly), but I really believe creative license should remain with the original recipe preparer, and given credit where credit is due. 

That said, where do you draw the line when you modify a recipe to fit your taste and or cooking style? Or, when you're bound by the restraints of what you've got in your refrigerator? What happens if you make something that far exceeds even the limitations of The Creator? 
This is not my recipe. It is from The New York Times Fitness & Nutrition section. I found it after I Googled "Eggplant tomato chickpea recipe" – because that's what I hand on hand – and came up with... wait for it... Eggplant, tomato and chickpea casserole. Sounds delicious, right? It's the stuff hippies dream of. 

Except instead of minced garlic, I roasted a head of garlic and added it to the sauce, whole sweet clove by whole sweet clove.  I omitted the basil and added ground cardamom, coriander and cumin to the recipe's cinnamon and pinch of sugar. When I sauteed the onions (and I doubled the onions), I threw in four minced jalapeño peppers, seeds and all. I made couscous with chicken stock and turmeric to serve the casserole with, and topped it with a big spoonful of whole-fat plain yogurt spiked with mint and lemon juice. Served with grilled flatbread. 

Bastardized. © Ryan Schierling
What I ended up with was a rich, Middle-eastern-inspired pottage served with a fluffy, vibrant yellow couscous and a bright, tangy yogurt finish. 

Is this now my recipe? Nope. Not even close. It is an homage. 

But it was wonderful, nonetheless. 

Thanks, New York Times.

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