This week’s book review from Kristina makes an avid traveler like me want to head straight to the closet, grab a bag and toss some stuff in it and head somewhere. And then eat non-stop. I’m loving all these reviews and can tell I’ll need to make a curry today.
I don’t know why, but each autumn I decide I want to try cooking new foods at home. This year, it’s curry. It goes back to a conversation I had about curries with an Indian colleague. He said, “For starters, it isn’t something you just sprinkle powder over. It’s something done up with individual spices, and takes a long time to cook to develop the flavors.” The powder sprinkling part was a reference to Italian menu items of “pollo al curry” and the likes. I, of course, don’t order curry dishes in Italian restaurants, but it made me get out there and start looking for ways to learn how to cook curries at home. This of course spun off into a “What else can I make at home that I always look for in restaurants, or that I dream of planning my vacations around?” and that’s how I got to this week’s book reviews. My non-European cookbook round up. I should launch into a million qualifications of this list, because I do really care that you don’t think I’m a troglodyte. The most important qualification is that I don’t pretend to know how to make food like a native with the help of these books. I’ve had many bases for comparison, though lacking the palate of a native, I can only say that I’m happy with the alternatives that these books offer me for my home kitchen. Of course my non-European collection doesn’t stop here. But these are a few I’m really liking now.
I Love Curry by Anjum Anand (2010 Quadrille Books, photography by Jonathan Gregson) First thing I did when I got this was look through it twice marveling at the photography. It is beautifully styled and photographed. It is varied. Divided up by main ingredient (poultry, fish, meat, etc), there’s something for everyone. One of the most discouraging things about non-European cookbooks is that they often require loads of ingredients I can’t easily find in Italy and they seem complicated. This book has enough recipes that do not require specialty shops and process is clear and simple. Sunday has become curry night in my home because of this book. It’s a great resource for anyone who doesn’t need a tome, just a solid collection of curry recipes which are approachable and render fabulous results.
Miss Masala: Real Indian cooking for busy living by Mallika Basu (2010 Collins UK no photography). This book is exactly what the title says. Written by the author of Quick Indian Cooking blog, this book is the adaptation of her website. Remember what I said about lots of ingredients and complicated process? Out the window with this book as well. Not just limited to curry, this has the range of Indian food at your finger tips, in a journal style format, almost like you’re reading someone’s notebook. I have used this to find recipes to accompany the curry main dishes in Anjum Anand’s book (above). It may seem cliche, but I really never realized how easy it was to make many of these dishes. Once the simplicity is revealed, it opens up a new horizon in the kitchen and on Mondays when I take my lunch to work I feel so proud of myself for being able to make and eat exactly what I want when I want it. This book is for the same type of person who would like I Love Curry, but with a broader collection of Indian recipes.
Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions by Elizabeth Andoh (2010 Ten Speed Press; photography by Leigh Beisch). In addition to Indian food, I always look for good sushi, tempura, and udon. But I feel lazy when I don’t try to break my routine, so as part of my “expand my cooking repertoire” research I wanted to learn more about Japanese cuisine and wanted to be able to make it at home. Kansha (which means ‘”appreciation”) was a revelation to me. Elizabeth Andoh is an expert on Japan and its culinary traditions. I learned so much about ingredients, technique, and Japanese cuisine, that I treasure this equally as a cookbook and a source of cultural information. Given the difficulty of finding many of the ingredients she uses here in Italy, it is a special occasion book for me. If you live in an area where Japanese ingredients are easier to find, it could very well become a regular source of recipes. This book is for vegans, vegetarians, and anyone looking for a good Japanese food book with thorough cultural, ingredients, and technique notes. The photography and styling are also wonderful.
Everyday Harumi: Simple Japanese Food for Family & Friends by Harumi Kurihara (2010 Conran Octopus; photography by Jason Lowe). Everyday Harumi is a beautifully photographed, easy to source, easy to make collection of Japanese recipes. This is Harumi’s third book, I believe, and it is exactly what I was looking for to add a few new dishes to my line up. The book starts out with the pantry essentials– none of which are so unique you’d not use them in other dishes, nor too hard to source. Harumi then provides recipes to make sauces from those ingredients which you can keep on hand. Part of Harumi’s success is her ability to break down the recipes into few simple steps. Maybe that’s just Japanese cooking, I don’t know! I do know that the recipes in this book are perfect when you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, preparing ingredients, or standing over the stove. If you can only afford one Japanese cookbook (modern cuisine, not traditional!), you should seriously consider this one, or another of Harumi’s titles.
Thai Street Food by David Thompson (2010 Ten Speed Press; photography by Earl Carter) My fascination with the Australian food scene introduced me to David Thompson’s work many years ago. His first book, Thai Food, is a 650+ page true to the letter collection of recipes, and history of Thai food. I believe Thompson’s goal with Thai Street Food was to make the recipes much easier than those in Thai Food so that we could all try our hand at it. He succeeds in content. Few are the recipes with one or more hard to find ingredients. Technique is simple, albeit sometimes requiring many stages to pull the recipe together. Earl Carter is one of the best photographers out there and his photography is what I really love most about the book. The photographs are great scene-setters, and remind me of the few days I spent around Bangkok a few years ago. In my opinion, because I do like evocative images, this book is worth it for the photography alone. Where it gets complicated is the book’s size and weight. It is HUGE. This makes it a coffee-table only book for those of you who do not have a lot of kitchen space to open a cookbook. Of course, if you do what I do, which is trot back and forth between the kitchen counter and the dining room table, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume: Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean by Silvena Rowe (2010 Hutchinson; photography by Jonathan Lovekin) I bet you thought I only craved Asian food at home. Surprise! I crave everything. Silvena Rowe’s book is one of the few I have of this cuisine type. There are a few reasons I like it. First just reading the header notes and stories make me want to hop on a plane and go explore Turkey, Syria, Greece. Second, though Italy is considered Mediterranean, the flavors are so different from what I might usually find here, that I love to break the ‘monotony’ (not said in a bad way!) Third, the recipes are short and easy. There are quite a few very good vegetarian dishes in here including falafel recipes with various ingredients, vegetarian kofte (like meatballs…with or without the meat), dips, and filled pastry dough. I like this really for the vegetarian options it gives me, but also love the lamb. There are a few desserts, but nothing that jumped out at me– I do not know enough about Eastern Mediterranean cuisine to know if that is generally the case (not big on sweets), but the small number of sweets doesn’t take away at all from the rest of the book which is much more than satisfying.