A passion for travelling often comes with an equal passion for tasting food from various cultures. Luckily, cookbooks are cheaper than airplane tickets.
Today I have two cookbook recommendations that are both authentically set in culinary traditions different–one definitely more distinctly–from ours.
The population of the United States has never been so obese and thanks in part to that frosted-tipped, sunglasses on the back of his head Food Network host never as self-conscious of its popular food culture. Happily, we have Serious Eats to be, well, more serious about covering America’s burger joints, old-time pizza parlous, and, yes, diners.
Offline newspapers have collectively been notoriously awkward about establishing an online presence but I think a skeptical light also needs to be turned on websites when they produce a book. Why is this more valuable than the free content?
In this case I think restricting time and space are the two advantages for Ed Levine’s (the site’s publisher) Serious Eat’s Comprehensive Guide. Serious Eats regularly puts out great content but reading the whole site would overwhelm anyone. Buying the book gives a full picture of casual, American food in 2011.
We used the guide to eating around the Bay area when we were in San Francisco and were thrilled with the advice. Our only request: If this is going to be a truly useful travel companion it needs to be issued in a size and shape that is more luggable.
The book’s fifty recipes are all written and tested by Cook’s Illustrated alum J. Kenji Alt-Lopez who now writes the Food Lab column on Serious Eats. Reubens from scratch, bacon banh mi, and Kansas City bbq ribs have all caught my attention as recipes to try.
Absolute labels like “nothing could be more different” are always on shaky ground so let’s just say that Mourad Lahlou’s Mourad: New Moroccan is really different compared to Serious Eats’ trip back and forth across the heartland.
I guess the common connection is that Lahlou runs a Michelin-starred restaurant, Aziza, in San Francisco but his book balances on exotic flavours and opulent photography. (My review copy was provided by the publisher, Thomas Allen & Son Ltd.)
Last weekend I had a great time taking the basteeya recipe (Mourad considers this the standard-bearing dish for his style of Moroccan cooking) for a test spin. It does a good job of representing ingredients used in a traditional manner (like almonds to balance and extend the chicken filling) and introduces interesting techniques like making a super-thick sauce with cooked eggs.
Among the 170 recipes others that I would like to make are the Squid and Napa Cabbage with Thai-Style Harissa Sauce; Confit Chicken Wings with Brussels Sprouts and Apple Puree; and Parsnip Risotto.
Both books deserve high praise for their use of weight measurements. Mourad especially for being in metric and setting the gram portions inside the process instructions.
Through great photography and clear writing both of these volumes will make excellent kitchen companions. For much the same reason they’re also the kind of cookbooks that make excellent, travel-by-imagination, bed time reading.