We all could use a little dinner inspiration — even Ali Slagle, who dreams of dinner. In “Dinner Is Served,” she asks colleagues about one night when they somehow transformed ingredients into dinner with all this life going on.
This month’s installment: Gabrielle Davenport and her sister Danielle are building BEM | books & more, one of the few Black food bookstores in the country. What started as an online store recently opened as a pop-up at Brooklyn’s BRIC, and will hopefully be a permanent storefront by the end of the year. Running a bookstore, by the way, isn’t even the full-time job of either one of the Davenport sisters. Here’s how Gabrielle managed dinner one recent night.
On this particular night, my sister and I were prepping for an interview and it was on video and my house isn’t really set up for an evening time interview, like, oh my god, the lighting — how is this gonna work? [Editor’s note: Davenport also works as a curator and producer for the performing arts.] So I was like, what can I make that will be quick and delicious and filling, and the answer was curry with roti. It was the perfect little bite pocket before we got on this interview.
I’m very much a curry person. If I can have some vegetables and a delicious spiced sauce and some rice, I’m very happy. I also have a lot of dietary restrictions so it’s a thing that I can almost always eat at a restaurant or at home.
I’m always going through different curry recipes. My mom would always make Jamaican chicken curry. What I make now is more Southeast Asian-inspired, but I’m not really following a recipe anymore.
I had all the ingredients here already. I’ve been on a very serious yellow split pea kick recently. They’re just kind of delicious — I love the texture. I did not have enough yellow split peas or green lentils to make something by themselves so I boiled them together. Obviously, they take different amounts of time to cook so it required more attention perhaps than my curries normally do. I also added some ginger that looked like it needed a home, a lot of good warming spices, coconut milk and oil, and onion and garlic.
In my curries there’s always a lot of cumin and turmeric and any other spices are just flexes. A little bit of chile powder sometimes. I don’t think I put ground ginger in this one, but I often do. And I will always put a lot of black pepper on top.
On this particular evening, I didn’t have time to make rice. I needed something as a little stress relief moment and doing something more tactical was helpful, so I made roti, which is a rare occurrence.
I was making a lot of bread of all kinds a couple of years ago, but my sister and I both say now that we own a Black food bookstore we don’t have time to eat or read — or not as much as we would like to.
The roti recipe was from a blog but I made some substitutions. I used cassava flour, which is a gluten-free flour, and tapioca starch, which after some research I was assured is not the same thing as arrowroot starch, so I did have to get tapioca starch at the store in anticipation of making roti. The cassava made a pliable dough that didn’t crack very easily, so the roti were really good. Pleasantly surprised. My technique isn’t where I’d like it to be — I haven’t been able to get them to puff up like they’re supposed to — but the flavor was good and I was happy with them on that level. I also coated them in ghee when they were finishing and it was just so delicious, but I like to experiment in the kitchen and if it doesn’t come together exactly right, I’ll definitely still eat it.
Because I was so time-crunched, I did not add cilantro, but I normally do. In a pinch, I’ll just do some Maldon flaky salt for fun but on that particular evening, I was down to the wire so it was just directly into the roti and into my mouth. No intermediate steps. And no vegetables.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Ali Slagle is a recipe developer, stylist, and — most important of all — home cook. She’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times and Washington Post, and her cookbook is called I Dream of Dinner (So You Don’t Have To): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes.
Daniela Jordan-Villaveces is a creative director and illustrator. She was born in Bogotá and raised between Colombia, the Netherlands, and the U.S. She currently lives in sunny Los Angeles with her husband, their son, Lou, two kittens, and a pup.