Tag Archives: recipes

Book Review: Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery & Cafe, by Ana Sortun & Maura Kilpatrick

SoframizMy wife lived in Syria and traveled in neighboring nations during her graduate work with a focus in Middle East studies. She really misses the food of that region, so I knew I needed to pick up Soframiz: Vibrant Middle East Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Cafe by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick. After flipping threw it, she concluded that it was heavy on the sweet side and didn’t really highlight the staples of the region. While I can’t speak to the authenticity, it is a book from a US café and two white American women who admittedly present nontraditional recipes inspired by the Middle East. Much of what makes these recipes Middle Eastern must be purchased. It appears that the authors do not provide recipes for basics because they don’t even make them, which is why they provide sources (brands and websites) they recommend. All this makes me wonder why one would need this cookbook for any reason other than attempting to replicate something one tried at their café. I found only four recipes I’ll use from this book (Monk Salad, Pita Bread, Yufka Dough, and Za’atar Bread), all of which are rather basic and easily manipulated to preference.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Book Review: All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China, by Carolyn Phillips

All Under HeavenAll Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China by Carolyn Phillips is the most comprehensive cookbook of Chinese cuisine I’ve ever seen, and I’ve looked through many in both the US and China. There are certainly others that go into greater detail on a specific type of cuisine (e.g., I have one just for dumplings), but this is the first that covers such a broad range of local cuisines with such depth and intentionality. If you only have one Chinese cookbook, this is indeed the one to have.

Phillips divides the cuisines into five regions with several subcategories:

  1. The North & Manchurian Northeast
    1. Shandong
    2. Beijing
    3. Tianjin
    4. Hebei
    5. The Northeast
  2. The Yangtze River & Its Environs
    1. Huai Yang
    2. Jiangsu
    3. Shangjai
    4. Zhejiang
    5. Northern Fujian
    6. Anhui
    7. Henan
    8. Jiangxi
  3. The Coastal Southeast
    1. The Kakka
    2. Chaozhou
    3. Southern Fujian
    4. Taiwan
    5. Taiwan’s Military Families
    6. Hainan
    7. Guangdon and Southern Guangxi
    8. Pearl River Delta
    9. Macau
    10. Hong Kong
  4. The Central Highlands
    1. Sichuan
    2. Hunan
    3. Yunnan
    4. Guizhou
    5. Northern Guangxi
  5. The Arid Lands
    1. Shaanxi
    2. Shanxi
    3. Gansu
    4. The Northwest
    5. Inner Mongolia
    6. Tibet

Each section begins with a couple pages about the region and a short paragraph or two on each subcategory, followed by a plethora of recipes organized by appetizers & small plates, soups, entrées, side dishes, starches & street food, sweets, and beverages. Therefore, the recipes are not organized according to subcategories, though each recipe is labeled accordingly. Over 300 recipes are provided, and I can personally vouch for the authenticity of many. This is a rather large tome (514 pages and 8.3 x 1.9 x 10.2 inches!), and there are, of course, decisions to be made as to the inclusion and exclusion of certain regional dishes. Given the wide variety found herein, including both simple and complex, as well as the aforementioned street food, it is obvious that this is not merely a set of recipes of fine Chinese restaurants. So, I am not quite sure why Phillips would leave out something as nationally recognized as Yangzhou fried rice or the Tibetan dietary staple of barley with yak milk, but the recipes that are provided are indeed authentic to their regions. Perhaps “fried rice is fried rice is fried rice” to some, so a simpler recipe found in the book would perceivably suffice, and it is not likely that many will find yak milk at their local grocers nor online; thus the recipes may have been chosen based on both authenticity and accessibility, for which I have no complaints. Again, it is a treasure as is!

The last 120 pages (The Fundamentals) include basic recipes and techniques for things found throughout the book, especially for those who wish to make rather than purchase certain ingredients and/or specific preparations thereof. A glossary and buying guide is organized alphabetically according it English name or transliteration with both their Chinese character and pinyin translations—both helpful and important when shopping in ethnic stores, as one should! Finally, included are recommended menus for each region according to mealtime and number of people served.

The book itself is beautifully and simply designed with black and red text (very Chinese) and hand-sketched pictures indicative of traditional art and cookbooks—none of the gorgeous photography of cookbooks I normally review, but beautiful all the same. Those who can read Chinese may find an intentional comedic moment or two therein.

I highly recommend this book to those looking for a wide variety of China’s distinct and authentic cuisines, as well as those who only eat at Chinese-American fast food restaurants and don’t know what they’re missing by buying cookbooks that cater to those tastes! I imagine this will quickly become a staple work in culinary endeavors.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: The Chili Cookbook, by Robb Walsh, photos by Eva Kolenko

The Chili CookbookChili, chilli, chile… What is it, from where did it come, and how do I make it? What do Mexicans, Spaniards, Greeks, Hungarians, Austrians, Americans, and others the world over have in common? Robb Walsh answers these questions and more in The Chili Cookbook. Just in time to begin experimenting with different recipes for the chili cook-off among my wife’s colleagues, I found this book to be enlightening and inspiring. But it’s the cultural connections made therein that really intrigued me. It shouldn’t be that surprising to find similar dishes on opposite ends of the world when using some of the same ingredients, but it’s still pretty cool when you think about some of them (is goulash chili?!). And the ways immigrants have shaped food culture in the United States… It never ceases to amaze me how many Americans fail to appreciate how non-American “American food” really is! (Who knew that “Texas hot dogs, Texas hots, or Texas Wieners” were created by a Greek dude in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and aren’t Texan at all?!)

Along with what are typically considered both traditional and modern chili recipes, Walsh includes many recipes from around the world that may or may not be chili in the eyes of the reader, but deserve inclusion nonetheless. There are also a number of necessities for the chili aficionado: tortillas, roasting tips, spice mixes, sauces, et al. The only downside I’ve found with this book is it leaving me wanting more of the beautiful photography it already contains by Eva Kolenko (there are photographs of only select recipes). Granted, many of these are going to look the same (but with great difference in texture and flavor!), it’d still be nice to see the final product of each.

This is a beautiful cookbook that I’m glad to have in my growing collection.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking, by Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton, photos by Eric Wolfinger

DonabeI could live in a donabe (Japanese for “clay pot”), the vessel from which I’ve had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. When I discovered Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking was soon to be released, it took me back to my favorite noodle joint: Menkui Tei (NYC). Sure, virtually anything cooked in a donabe can be just as easily done so in another vessel, but there’s something special about these clay pots that brings flavor and comfort together in a way nothing else can—and they’re just so beautiful, even in their simplest form!

In this book, chefs Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton bring together years of love and passion for traditional Japanese cuisine using varied styles of donabe with the inclusion of modern touches (apparent even in the front cover, where dishes surround a donabe sitting on top of a single, butane burner). Naoko begins by introducing the reader to the traditional clay pot and a specific family of artisans in Iga, Japan, from whom she imports pots and sells them globally. Photographer Eric Wolfinger provides an appetizing aesthetic for both Japanese culture and cuisine, documenting the making of a donabe and the finished product of every recipe in the book, among many other stills.

For those interested in Japanese clay pot cooking, Donabe provides styles, methods, and recipes for classics, rice, soups and stews, steaming, tangine-style (similar to a ceramic Moroccan pot), smoking, and all the necessary extras (dashi, sauces, and condiments). For those not so interested, the introduction to the history and culture thereof may pique that interest. And, of course, there are loads of recipes that can be used and adapted for one’s own kitchen, as well as a full glossary for those unfamiliar with terms used in Japanese cooking.

Until I live in a place with a gas stove, investing in a couple artisanal pots will have to remain a daydream. But until then, I’ll continue to work with what I have…and maybe get a portable butane burner…and maybe one donabe…and maybe some more earthenware… Oh, who am I kidding? I just need to move to Japan!

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: Tacos: Recipes and Provocations, by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman

TacosIn the famous words of George Tekei, “Oh, my!” Tacos: Recipes and Provocations is not your mother’s cookbook. This racy, mouthwatering, intriguing collaborative journey through food and culture by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothamn is what I want all my future food books to imitate. Yes, simple recipe books have their place on my shelves, but none of them make me want to prepare and eat the fruit of their bullet points as does this delectable literature and makes-me-want-to-eat-the-page photography. More, please?

For those hoping for a book of Mexican dishes, we are reminded that “[Tacos] is not a sweeping study of Mexican culinary traditions. It is only about tacos—a reference point most of us share, a familiar food that we can use to explore unfamiliar flavors and challenging ideas” (15). Of course, there are things one needs to know in the making of a taco, which is why there are sections on ingredients, sauces, and the all-important tortilla. High end pastry chef turned taco aficionado Alex Stupak explains, “I’ve had three defining moments as a cook: the first time I got to touch a black truffle; the first time I made a stable foam; and the first time I tasted a freshly made tortilla at La Parrilla” (10). This reminds me of my time living in Belize and eating freshly made, white corn tortillas with caldo (soup). Until you’ve had one of these perfect tortillas, you’ll simply never understand. This is not Taco Bell. This is good.

If you want to dive head first into tacos, or if you want to want to like tacos, this book will do it for you. Seriously, I think I’m making tortillas tonight.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.