Quick Cookbook Twofer

02Jan14

You know how you end the year halfway through a book, and then finish it a few days later? That’s what happened with me and a few cookbooks, allowing me to put two in the 2014 read column without much effort. I’ve created a “For Science” category for 2014, to accommodate books like this, and other books I end up reading that don’t apply to any challenges.

So: mini-reviews!

fistfuloflentils

image fuond at barnesandnoble.com

Jennifer Abadi’s A Fistful of Lentils is a joyful experience in cookbook reading. If you don’t generally read cookbooks, you should know what some are very practical, and others are very literary, with stories about the foods, where they come from, how they’re grown, etc. Abadi’s is one of the latter, and it focuses on the recipes her Grandma Fritzi used to make. Sephardic Jewish cooking has some serious roots, and it was a real pleasure sitting down with this book and learn about them. All the little stories about how her family came to America, and how they thrived there, plus the detailed explanations of each dish and its ingredients, made me feel like I was having a conversation with the author (this would make a killer audio book).

The recipes themselves are fairly labor-intensive, but in that “Oooh, I want to try that” kind of way: call it a medium-difficulty cookbook, as the preparations are medium-complicated, and only a few of the ingredients could be classified as hard to get (if you live in a major metro area, no worries – one good Middle Eastern shop and you’re all set). Abadi includes a resource list in the back of the book for any hard-to-find items, which might be somewhat dated due to the passage of time, but you can Google any shop you’re interested in, to see if it’s still out there. There’s also a glossary of unfamiliar terms, and a set of menus for special occasions, including bar/bat mitzvahs and “meeting the parents” parties for the newly engaged. Definitely recommended for folks who like to get creative in the kitchen, and enjoy Middle Eastern food.

2_mango_and_mintfront_copy

Image located at PM Press

Nicky Garratt’s Mango & Mint is very similar to Abadi’s work, and even shares some geographic roots (the focus is on Arabian, Indian, and North African cooking), but differs in two major respects: first, everything in Mango & Mint is vegan (which is a plus for this reviewer). Second, the emphasis is on whole foods, and even includes a chapter called “Recycled” (nettles anyone?) to help you use up some of those random odds and ends. The recipes are interspersed with stories of Garrat’s childhood and coming of age, including his time with the UK Subs, and the book begins with a lengthy explanation of how and why he decided to follow a vegan diet.

The recipes are a little more labor-intensive, but definitely do-able for folks who like to be in the kitchen, and are serious about eating delicious vegan food. The “Ganging Up” chapter includes recipes for things you will use again and again as you cook your way through this book, and is an excellent place to start. The “Pickles and Chutney” section will appeal to people who enjoy canning and preserving, or want to experiment in those areas. And the rest of the chapters make it abundantly clear that “vegan” doesn’t have to mean “boring, tasteless slop.”

Writing about cookbooks on my lunch break makes me glad I ate first! Next time we talk, I’ll tell you all about the challenge I’ve decided to focus on in January. How has your reading year started?

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