Following her culinary wanderlust

Marie SimmonsAuthor Marie Simmons has won both James Beard and IACP Awards during her storied career, and her recipes and food articles have appeared in hundreds of magazines. For more than 18 years she wrote the Cooking For Health monthly column for Bon Appétit magazine and was a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and the Contra Costa Times. Additionally, Marie has written or co-written more than 20 cookbooks. She has recently released Whole World Vegetarian, which follows her culinary wanderlust, bringing together a collection of bold, imaginative dishes and seamlessly adapting them to contemporary tables. ( Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book.) Marie has graciously provided us an expert from the cookbook’s introduction:

It all began as my Saturday “play dates” cooking Italian family favorites with my Nana. Ravioli as soft as pillows; dried fruit filled sugar cookies to keep the canning pot filled–Nana’s idea of an ample cookie jar; ripe garden tomatoes simmering a silken sauce to nap Nana’s tender meatballs.

But it wasn’t until college that I discovered Atlantic Avenue–in Brooklyn New York–a world of belly dancers, colorful carpets, exotic aromas,  melt in your mouth falafel, barrels of inky briny olives, creamy tangy feta and freshly made soft chewy pita, that I realized my true calling.

It was time for me to travel and eat. And, so my decades long journey began: I devoured the classic pasta dishes of Rome. Savored the pizza in Naples. Bit into arancini as big as oranges and stuffed with peas and cheese at the famous market in Palermo, Sicily. Dug into Breton crepes stuffed with apples and cheese in Brittany.  Nibbled on tapas made with warm cheese topped with tomato-pimenton sauce at bars in Barcelona. Savored grilled vegetables on the beach at seaside taverna on a Greek island.

I traveled and ate off of food carts in Bangkok, Chang Mei, New Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. I ate couscous with raisins and golden onions in Casablanca, lamb tagine-a stew like dish made in a ceramic baking dish with a tall pointed lid Marrakesh, and dug into an exotic , sweet flakey pigeon pie – called bisteeya in Fes. In Tunisia I sunk my teeth into a square of filo-like pastry triangles-called brik– with a soft cooked egg in the center that dripped down my chin when I took a bite. It was heaven.

In  Asian my passion moved to learning to make Japanese sushi rice and sushi rolls filled with soft avocado, pickled ginger and shiso leaves, plump bamboo steamed shiitake and vegetable filled dumplings  with minced vegetables, Waiting for trains to leave the station, we slurped  steaming bowls of miso soup, with poached eggs floating on top at the immaculate kiosks found on every train platform from Kyoto to Tokyo.

Mexico and South America was an even wider world of flavors to savor. Tiny avocado eaten-under a magnificent avocado tree– with a simple squirt of lime and a shower of coarse salt to begin. An unusual Peruvian cold mashed potato dish, more like mashed potato salad, layered with egg salad, mashed avocado and a spicy sweet yellow pepper called aji amarillo. And from Mexico, tender tamales and tortillas wrapped around creamy beans and corn. Discovering how to make a delicious version of “Mexican lasagna” called sopa secca, an economical dish of day old tortillas layered with a chile laced tomato sauce and a surfeit of oozing Mexican cheese. Mexico did not disappoint my wandering fork.

But I even ate off food carts in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon, where I now live. Here Juanita introduced me to delicate El Salvadoran pupusa seved with a tangy raw cabbage slaw. And another-this one from Mexico and run by two adorable University of Oregon students,  introduced me to an innovative vegetarian torta, layered on a roll from the Mexican bakery with beans, fried eggs, mashed avocado and  cactus salad

Over the years I couldn’t help noticing the most delicious and innovative recipes I’ve encountered over the years were indeed vegetarian. Could this be a  coincidence? I think not.

Home cooks have always known intuitively that an agrarian based kitchen is a wise nutritional and economical way to nourish our bodies. Plus they-like my mother and grandmother-embraced a deep philosophical belief that eating from the earth is a healthier way to feed ourselves.

My repertoire of family recipes grew from my travels. My pantry of international ingredients has been compounded since those days of cooking in Nana’s kitchen. My treks from my college camps to Atlantic Avenue for the perfect black olive and soft fragrant round of pita slathered with creamy white feta cheese all those many years ago have just made me hungry for more.

Today I savor the memories and recreate the food. My treks consist mostly of bringing food to the tableI as I recreate these memories, and share, with you the food in  Whole World Vegetarian.    

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  • ldtrieb  on  June 16, 2016

    Can't wait to try some of these recipes out

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