Cookbooks: 4 posts

Menu for a Georgian Feast, with Three Cookbook Reviews

My trip to Georgia was a culinary epiphany.  This small country in the Caucasus has one of the world’s most interesting cuisines, full of vibrant combinations of herbs, nuts, pomegranate and spices. It’s also one of the healthiest, offering a wide repertoire of vegetable dishes and herb rich stews (such as chakhokhbili, the chicken tomato stew I shared recently). Among my other favorites are pkhali, vegetable salads in walnut sauce, khachapuri, flatbreads stuffed with cheese, lobio, beans cooked with coriander leaves and walnuts, mtsvadi, grilled meat, and khinkali, juicy, peppery meat dumplings. It is a kaleidoscope of flavors. And just like the Georgian language is related to no other tongue, Georgia’s cuisine is uniquely distinctive.

Three Cookbooks

This fall gives me and other Georgian food lovers a reason to be happy, because there are three new Georgian cookbooks on the market, and all three are excellent. The first one I bought was Supra: A Feast of Georgian Cooking by Tiko Tuskadze. As an introduction to Georgian cuisine, it’s the ideal book. It contains recipes for most of the classics, including five types of khachapuri, the cheese stuffed flatbread, six types of pkhali, a vegetable dish that’s between a salad and a paté, and a wide array of meat, fish and poultry dishes.  I also liked discovering several recipes for adjika (also spelled as ajika), herb and chili pastes that function both as condiments and seasoning sauces. Tuskadze’s red adjika (p.30) is a symphony of chili, parsley, basil, coriander and celery leaves, with a basso profondo note of fenugreek.

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Top 15 Cookbooks for Fall : From Venice to Sri Lanka

If like me, you haven’t accepted the end of summer and would like to carry a sunny note through fall, there are several means to achieve it. For instance, scents can help but so can flavors. One of the reasons I love cooking is that it allows me to blend two of my passions–and savor the results. This fall, cooking is even more exciting because 2017 has been a year with many excellent cookbook releases. I had difficulty picking just a couple, so I decided to show you my favorite 15 books, from which I’ve cooked already and which I recommend wholeheartedly. They will satisfy your hunger as well as your wanderlust.

Europe

Veneto: Recipes from an Italian Country Kitchen by Valeria Necchio

Venice is on the well-trodden tourist trail, but its food and that of its region isn’t. This is a shame, because Venetian dishes blend a full spectrum of flavors and ingredients like polenta, pine nuts, rosemary, raisins, shellfish, white wine, and saffron. Veneto is Valeria Necchio’s debut cookbook, and it’s exquisite. I don’t mean the photographs and styling, beautiful though they are. The recipes are the only thing I’m interested in. For a taste of real Venetian cooking, I suggest trying fried marinated pumpkin with onion, pine nuts and raisins, prawn and Prosecco risotto, stir-fried beans with basil and garlic, and ricotta pudding cake.

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Summers Under The Tamarind Tree and Grilled Spicy Chicken

Picking a favorite cuisine is not easy for me. I adore the lusty Ukrainian flavors of my childhood as well as the subtle interplay of nuances of Japanese cooking. Italian dishes, especially the Abruzzo specialties I learned as a teenager living in southern Italy, are the mainstay in my repertoire, food I turn to if I don’t know what else to cook. Persian delicacies like layered rices and stewed meats are what I make when I feel like playing with colors and flavors. And the cooking of the subcontinent, especially Pakistan and India, satisfies my perfumer’s sensibilities. Diverse though the cuisines are in different parts of the countries, they give me a chance to compose a dish as I would a fragrance by building accords and creating top, heart, and base notes.

Pakistani cuisine may be less known in comparison to Indian, but it boasts a splendid variety of dishes, from grilled meats to banana leaf steamed fish, from breads perfumed with saffron to rice garnished with dried fruit and nuts. It’s both a new and an old country. Formed in 1947, Pakistan bears the imprints of civilizations that succeeded each other, from the Indus Valley Civilization to the Greeks and the Mughals. As a place where different faiths met and different people traded, fought, loved and lived, it has a varied and rich food culture. Short of visiting a Pakistani family, one way to discover it is via Sumayya Usmani’s cookbook, Summers Under The Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan (public library).

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Saraban : Persian Spiced Hazelnuts

Saffron, pistachios, apricots, pomegranates, angelica seeds… When my inspiration for scent pairings starts to wane, I flip through my favorite Iranian books and think of the vibrant combinations of Persian cuisine. It’s one of the world’s most sophisticated, with complementary and contrasting flavors used in a single dish. There are rice pilafs steamed until every grain is separate and glossy and then embellished with saffron scented butter and rosewater. Poultry is cooked with fruit and sweet and sour sauces. Meat is grilled in a variety of ways and vegetables star in everything, from soups to jams. Even something as simple as a yogurt cucumber salad is served topped with a flourish of golden raisins, walnuts and herbs. Every mouthful is an adventure. Every taste is a surprise. It’s a cuisine custom-made for perfume lovers.

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If your perspective on Iran comes from the news, then you’re likely to associate it with the brutal events of the 1979 Islamic revolution, religious intolerance and reprehensible treatment of women. Persia, on the other hand, may connote the orientalist visions of roses and nightingales. As Greg and Lucy Malouf note in their marvelous book on Persian cuisine, Saraban: A Chef’s Journey Through Persia, “there is an element of truth and exaggeration in each version, but they are, of course, one and the same place… This duality, these contrasts, the opaqueness–once we arrived in Iran, we realised that they all contribute to a very real sense of mystery, and of reward.”

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