Sometimes I run on auto-pilot when I start cooking. Even if it's a recipe I've never made before, sometimes I just gather the ingredients and engage in the chopping, skinning, dicing, scooping, measuring, mixing, saute-ing or baking without pausing to examine the melange of ingredients I'm assembling and manipulating. Sometimes I forget to be mindful of what I'm eating until I'm halfway through it and wondering exactly what it is that is causing this or that taste to stand above the rest.
Then, some other times, I pay very close attention to every detail, somehow just knowing that I will want to remember this later. Sometimes I sniff or taste the ingredients as I add them, savoring my self-education and the opportunity to reflect on why this flavor goes with this one or why that scent is so enticing (or nauseating).
Sometimes, just as I stir in the last ingredient, a small handful of dried mint, and its scent wafts upwards into my increasingly sensitive and observant nostrils, I remember that one of the first ingredients was cinnamon and I think to myself:
"Really? Cinnamon and mint? Is this a good idea? Is dinner going to taste and smell like I just gargled with Scope and then popped a piece of Big Red in my mouth?"
Tonight I made Vegetable Biryani from La Dolce Vegan. It was almost nothing like my other recipe. It was far faster, since it cooks on the stovetop, not in the oven. It was a little more integrated and a little creamier - my Moosewood recipe doesn't have red lentils and the rice is cooked separately, and then a little rice-vegetable-rice Oreo situation occurs in the construction. There is also no mint in my other recipe. I had really mixed feelings about adding it, but in the end, I wanted to be faithful to the recipe.
Although mint and cinnamon co-existing in this recipe still strikes me as bizarre, and although I still have a little trouble smelling mint as I draw the forkful of savory Biryani to my mouth, it was actually quite outstanding. I will absolutely make this again, but I will add a little more variety (and nutrition) to the table by serving a side dish or two.