Lushly photographed on coated stock, ruinously priced, and as
heavy as a KitchenAid mixer--you know what I'm talking about:
coffee-table cookbooks. You tell yourself this will be the
last one, truly, and yet there you are again, plunking down
$50 and change for a cookbook that will never see the inside of
Why is that? It's because they're irresistible, that's
why. Sometimes we forget that food is, among other things, a
dream and a memory. It's inspiration, not just fuel. We may
not be able to wander the streets of Phnom Penh any time we feel
like it, but we can visit in our imaginations. As a cookbook
reviewer, I rarely get to test these exotic, impractical
confections--the ingredients are too hard to get, or the techniques
too demanding (light a charcoal fire topped with green ash twigs!),
or the price too stratospheric. But this year has brought in
a few remarkable samples of the genre, and I wanted to give them
their moment in the sun.
Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi
A remarkable, almost silent slideshow. Hundreds of
full-sized photographs, bled off the page, of austere, pristine
Nordic ingredients. Noma is just one upscale Copenhagen
restaurant, but its chef has penned a tribute to an often
underappreciated part of the culinary world.
Ethnicity: pan-Nordic (Icelandic,
Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish). Recipe
style: back-to-nature with high artifice
(maltodextrin! Pacojet! xanthan gum!) with European
measurements (weights, in grams). Hardest-to-find
ingredients: reindeer loin, Hay Ash, rose hip
vinegar, rowan shoots, buckthorn
juice.Sample recipe: White currants
and gelled cucumber juice, sweet cicely and hazelnut milk.
Oaxaca al Gusto:
An Infinite Gastronomy by Diana Kennedy.
Grande dame of Mexican cooking Diana Kennedy continues to keep
it real with a book entirely devoted to the cooking of
Oaxaca. Kennedy has a terse recipe style, which makes the
meticulous and uncompromising recipes seem more doable but demands
the hand of a confident and experienced cook.
Ethnicity: regional Mexican.
Recipe style: very authentic, lots of
ingredients in each recipe, American standard measurement (volumes,
in oz./c./tbsp.). Fairly accessible, all things considered.
Hardest-to-find ingredients: yerbasanta
leaf, avocado leaves, pulque (a sort of milky tequila), palm buds.
Sample recipe: Wild Greens in
Food by David Thompson
David Thompson's books are labors of love. He genuinely
wants to share the complex, storied depths of Thai cuisine, and his
recipes are among the most carefully translated I have seen in
ethnic cookbooks. While his earlier, authoritative Thai Food
was dauntingly dense, Thai Street Food is colorful, riotous, and
Thai.Recipe style: Discursive
and detailed with lots of sensory signposts, European (weights, in
grams) and American (volumes, in oz./c./tbsp.) measurements.
Hardest-to-find ingredients: jasmine
flowers, lime paste (made from cockleshells), betel leaves.
Sample recipe: Sour orange curry of