Home About Recipes Articles Cookbooks Links Subscribe
Foraging for Flavors from Kitchens Next Door and Across the World, Culture and Recipes Brighten this Year's Cookbooks
By Sheryl Julian, Globe Staff
Wednesday, December 9, 1998
Page: E1
Section: Food

Life moves so fast it's hard to squeeze everything in -- even the nightly family supper. Perhaps that's why this year's cookbooks have a girl-next-door quality, offering volumes about familiar food or enticing dishes integral to faraway cultures. As the century rushes to a close, we seem drawn to slower times. In past years, this emotion translated into nostalgia for, say, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Today's writers are more sophisticated, better traveled, and less satisfied with the ordinary. Recipes might still carry a homespun quality, but they're intriguing in the kitchen, loaded with surprising flavors, yet true to their origins. These days, someone else's mother, who might live at the end of a dirt road in Turkey, Tunisia, or Thailand, is now invited to unravel family fare for our dinner table. The new cultural aspect to cookbooks is one of the most exciting elements of the modern kitchen. You can make a recipe using ingredients you've used all your life, yet the way they're prepared for the pot can teach you something new. An ingredient or technique adapted to classics in your own repertory is a gift. Finding a recipe that becomes a family ritual is worth the price of the book.

   The writer who practically invented cultural cookbook writing is Paula Wolfert. After 30 years, she remains the master. Her sixth book, Mediterranean Grains and Greens (HarperCollins, $27.50), covers grains from the earliest civilizations and greens that might have been collected by hunters and gatherers. Wolfert has a cult following among restaurateurs because she can sift through the markets in a foreign country and come up with the one ingredient chefs will fall on. In Grains and Greens, she offers Maras peppers from Turkey, which are delightfully smoky, and hot but not fiery, and the Spanish paprika "pimenton," made from peppers dried over wood fires. Her main ingredients include nettles, salsify greens, wild mustard, borage leaves, farro, couscous, barley couscous, bulgur, and rice.

    The list does seem to add up to an odd stew but, stoveside, Grains and Greens is fascinating. Even if you aren't foraging for greens before you begin, you do have to hunt for a superb specialty market or Middle Eastern store because her seasonings are what make this food exceptional. In her Spanish gratin of leafy greens and crispy potatoes with smoky paprika and whipped eggs, layers of sauteed greens go into the baking dish with sliced roast potatoes and an egg custard. Seasoned with the Spanish pimenton, the dish is beautiful -- mildly bitter, sweet, creamy, and smoky all at once. Her tabbouleh is mostly salad with only a little grain, seasoned with cinnamon, cumin, and Turkish red peppers. Mustard greens with black-eyed peas, rice, and ground lamb was an intriguing pilaf-style dish, simmered with tomato paste, red pepper paste, and hot pepper flakes. Arugula, cabbage, and spinach, a salad from Cyprus with cilantro and olives and plenty of lemon, is delightfully tart. Wherever you open this book, you'll find some exciting flavor or technique never written about before.

[Home] [About] [Recipes] [Articles] [Cookbooks] [Links] [Subscribe]
©1999—2006 Paula Wolfert