Saturday, September 22, 2012

A salty-crunchy surprise kick

In lived religion discussions I always emphasize that religious devotés (individually, in families, etc.) don't just unthinkingly assimilate an entire creed and suite of practices, but pick and choose, add and substitute to make the religion their own.

Most of my students think this is hunky dory. Some wonder if anything goes, however, a few ask if ordinary folks really have the resources to make good choices, and others wonder if this isn't the death of all traditions by a thousand cuts - what lets anything stay stable enough to be a tradition? If this bricolage really is something which deserves to be honored as "religious creativity," it can't be mere corner-cutting and self-indulgence, but formed by a serious effort (I'm partial to the word "faithful" here, but others don't like it as much) to live the tradition.

Analogs to all of those questions came to me in an unexpected place today when I was looking at the "Ratings & Reviews" of an online recipe for a lemon rice and eggplant-chickpea curry. It had an impressive 5-star rating from its reviewers. But, it would appear, almost none of the reviewers had actually followed the recipe! Here are some of the top ten reviews: (See if you can reconstruct the recipe from them!)

This was a super easy dish to make and took no time at all. I did not add the curry paste (not a curry person) and it tasted awesome. First time I have ever made eggplant and was happy with the result. 

This was yummy. My boyfriend, a big-time carnivore, was a little surprised when he asked me what kind of meat was in it, and I said, "none." I left out the eggplant because he is not a fan, and only added 1 1/2 tbsp of curry paste. I substitute the Basmati rice for Jasmine, because that's what I had in the pantry. I would definitely make it again, next time with chicken or perhaps even lamb, and I would add the full 2 tbsp of curry paste. 

Quick, easy to make and best of all delish! I have made this twice now and like adding more curry paste but then I am a big curry fan. I would recommend those new to curry to stick to the recipe as is. The cashews add a nice crunch and a touch of sweetness. 

Amazing! (I added another heaping teaspoon of curry and skipped the cashews) 

Made this last night for the first time. I skipped the rice part and just made the main part and it was absolutely delicious! I can't wait to eat the leftovers for lunch today. It would probably be great with chicken too if wanting to add a meat. I didn't have cashews, so used roasted peanuts and it gave the dish a nice salty-crunchy surprise kick. 

 the highlight of this dish has to be the rice. the vegetable topping is also great, reminds me a bit of ratatouille. ive already prepared this dish a few times, making various substitutions along the way, for example i replaced the eggplant with zucchini, chick peas with black beans. it always turns out great!

It always turned out great, but in what sense did these people actually prepare the same dish? The fact that they posted reviews of it suggests they thought they did. Enough to rate it and recommend it, in any case. My quandary. Do I cook "it" tonight? Do I join the community of those who have made the recipe their own, a community which honors the individual cook's exigencies, quirks and commitments, and teaches us how, when and why to make adjustments ourselves? I'd feel a fuddy-duddy for actually including chickpeas, eggplant, curry and rice!

One big challenge for lived religion understandings is explaining why traditions don't just entropically explode or subside or dissolve. One set of explanations involves authority, welcome and unwelcome, desired and feared, externalized and internalized, sometimes mystified as "custom." But a second is suggested here, a community which models a creative faithfulness, providing resources for and - perhaps - setting bounds to it. Enough to call it a tradition, in any case?

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