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9 cookbooks that will take you on a culinary journey

Go on culinary journey when you read a cookbook. Picture: Daria Shevtsova/Pexels

Go on culinary journey when you read a cookbook. Picture: Daria Shevtsova/Pexels

Published Jan 31, 2021


By Jen Rose Smith

Here are 9 cookbooks you should read that will take you on a culinary journey:

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"Coconut & Sambal" by Lara Lee

Picture: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Though Australia-born Lee grew up on Indonesian staples, a bottle of the chilli sauce sambal was always close at hand, she was an adult avid for new flavours when she began to explore the vast archipelago.

That union of discovery and down-home familiarity enlivens her colourful Indonesian cookbook, which skims the country's astonishing culinary wealth.

A family recipe for Timorese fish soup is followed, a few pages later, by a Jakarta-style meatball soup that Lee learned from the city's celebrated street food vendors.

The chapter dedicated to sambal is a trove of fiery sauces and relishes.

"Summer Kitchens: Recipes and Reminiscences from Every Corner of Ukraine," by Olia Hercules

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Beside Hercules's childhood home in Ukraine stood a one-room litnya kuhnia, a breezy "summer kitchen" where the season's work of pickling and preserving took place.

Now based in London, Hercules uses Ukraine's litnya kuhnia as a portal to the country's underrecognized gastronomic treasures (including borscht, a soup currently seeking UNESCO recognition).

Homey dishes abound: Hercules writes that her mom's boiled varenyky - Ukrainian dumplings - would be her choice for a final meal on earth.

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Indeed, the book's versions stuffed with kraut, caramelised onions, beans and potatoes are worthy picks even if you're planning to stick around.

"Red Sands," by Caroline Eden

Picture: Quadrille.

Sharp, place-hungry prose invites readers to the desert cafes and city kitchens of Central Asia, in a vivid book leavened with accessible recipes.

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As a prescription for lockdown blues, Edinburgh, Scotland-based Eden offers bread pudding aromatic with crushed cardamom, homage to Tashkent, long called "the city of bread."

A lyrical detour to a Kazakh dive bar features Eden's rules for heavy drinking: "You should be in good health, not stressed, and certainly not argumentative or maudlin," she writes.

If you somehow tick all those boxes in 2021, go for it with an included recipe for vodka cocktails topped with bracingly sour sea buckthorn juice.

"The British Baking Book: The History of British Baking, Savory and Sweet," by Regula Ysewijn

Home bakers captivated by the treacle and tarts of "The Great British Bake Off" will find traditional favourites in this exacting book from Dutch food writer Regula Ysewijn.

A devoted Anglophile since childhood, Ysewijn brings an outsider's zeal and historian's eye to her careful recipes.

Currant-studded Chelsea buns sparkle under a sugary crust, and mincemeat filling peeps from the slashed tops of Eccles cakes.

Ysewijn, who also released a volume of "Downton Abbey"-inspired recipes last year, is a host of "Bake Off Vlaanderen," the Dutch version of GBBO.

"Chaat: Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India," by Maneet Chauhan and Jody Eddy

Picture: Clarkson Potter Publishers.

On days-long childhood train trips across India, Chauhan spent time between stations dreaming of chaat, snack foods sold by rail-side vendors for a few rupees.

The Indian American chef, a judge on the televised cooking competition "Chopped," returned to the rails to research this book with co-author Eddy, the pair munching on delicacies as they explored by third-class carriage.

Every train station, Chauhan writes, has its speciality chaat.

In New Delhi, she tasted lentil fritters topped with handfuls of grated radish; travellers arriving in Goa's Vasco da Gama train station are proffered tender omelettes in coconut-rich tomato gravy.

"Bitter Honey: Recipes and Stories from the Island of Sardinia," by Letitia Clark

"To cook like a Sardinian, you have to eat like a Sardinian," Clark writes, evoking an island idyll of unhurried family lunches culminating in a pennichella - a little nap.

Begin with a smear of pâte di bottarga, fish roe whipped with anchovies and tuna, then sip broth fortified by pasta and potatoes.

The book recounts, in part, the British writer's romance with a Sardinian chef, with whom she forages for wild asparagus and prepares family recipes.

The relationship is over, Clark notes in the introduction; she closes the book with a liqueur recipe divulged by her ex-boyfriend's venerable great aunt, who has sworn off men for good. Limoncello is her thing now. "Liqueurs, after all, don't let you down," she writes.

"Comida Mexicana: Snacks, Tacos, Tortas, Tamales and Desserts," by Rosa Cienfuegos

Picture: Smith Street Books.

Graphic silhouettes of luchadores - Mexican wrestlers - caper across the supersaturated pages of Rosa Cienfuegos's ode to her native Mexico City.

From mayo-slathered ears of corn to bulbous torta sandwiches, many of Australia-based Cienfuegos's recipes evoke the late-night roadside fare beloved after an evening of drinking.

Lard-rich tamales are a pandemic-ready project, well worth the time it takes to swaddle dough into corn husk wrappers.

"Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore," by Darra Goldstein

Food scholar Darra Goldstein seeks, in this lovingly researched book of Russian cuisine, "the benefits of austerity, rather than its limitations."

Whether brined or distilled, fermented or cured, her recipes prove the point.

Dandelion blossom syrup transforms ubiquitous weeds into a mahogany-coloured floral elixir; the baked, cultured milk called varenets is a two-ingredient wonder.

In between are Goldstein's engaging tales of eating and cooking across decades, including encounters with Soviet-era austerity and extraordinary personal hospitality.

"Falastin: A Cookbook," by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley

Picture: Ten Speed Press.

Recipes in this big-hearted volume weave through the history, people and fraught landscape of the homeland of Palestinian-born Tamimi, co-author of the smash-hit cookbook "Jerusalem."

Page through the stories, then put on an apron: The book is full of cheffy tips for playing around with even the most traditional dishes.

Butternut squash adds a nutty sweetness to the eggplant spread m'tabbal, for example, while Tamimi turns the street-food chickpea snack balilah into a warm salad topped with Aleppo pepper.

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