Have you noticed how many good cookbooks are out this year? It feels like a bumper crop, an absolute bounty of fascinating, good-looking, delicious books, and I can't get enough. I have a backlog of cookbooks I have been itching to tell you about and thought about bundling them all into one post, but that felt like I'd be shorting both you and the books, so I'm going to take my time and tell you about my favorites, one by one.
First up is Liana Krissoff's Vegetarian for a New Generation, which is the loveliest vegetarian cookbook to cross my doorstep in quite some time. Liana, as you may recall, is a onetime author of mine (I acquired and edited Canning for a New Generation). Her next book in the "series", Whole Grains for a New Generation, was nominated for an IACP award last year. And in April of this year, the third book in the series was published. Incidentally, all the recipes in Vegetarian for a New Generation happen to be gluten-free, not because of a particular motivation on Liana's part, but because she realized halfway through the writing process that the recipes she'd worked on up until that point were naturally so, so she kept up the momentum with the entire collection.
Liana's talent as a cookbook author lies not only in her uncanny ability to find and create interesting, delicious and - yes - new recipes in a field that has been mined many, many times over, but also in her writing, which is wry and funny, understated and just so sharp. I like to take to my bed with Liana's cookbooks and hunker down just to read the headnotes, which never fail to delight. Liana's a very smart writer: well-informed, helpful, realistic. Her aim is to hand-hold without condescension, to explain clearly, to motivate, to whet your appetite. She succeeds on every level.
I especially love that I can always count on Liana to open my eyes to new ways of eating. Only she could get me enthusiastic about a bowlful of Indian poha (flattened rice) fried with onions, spices, eggs, chiles and greens for breakfast. Her "fun" smoothies are actually fun: have you ever had a green pea smoothie? Her sense of adventure in eating is fearless and addicting. She waxes rhapsodic about preserved garlic and Indian chaat mix, and puts delicious twists in everything from roasted potatoes (with butter and tamari!) to roasted eggplant (stuffed with a spicy coconut filling!). But even though Liana's tastes are eclectic, her recipes always feel simple and comforting. She writes so beautifully for home cooks because she truly is one herself.
We made Liana's chipotle potato tacos for dinner the other night: imagine a panful of crisped-up potato chunks, spiced with chopped chipotles in adobo, cumin and oregano, then piled into corn tortillas (Berliners, we bought ours at Chaparro in Kreuzberg) and topped with cubed cherry tomatoes, fresh cilantro and crumbled feta. It was, as Liana promised, the pinnacle of comfort food and almost painfully delicious. We were too busy eating to take a photo.
I made her slow-fried sweet potatoes a few days earlier. The technique, popularized by Joël Robuchon, is an old one, I'm assuming for regular French fries. But Liana uses sweet potatoes and holds your hand in the process, especially valuable for fry-phobics like me. Her headnote is cookbook-gold:
The fries turned out just as Liana said they would: crisp on the outside, meltingly tender on the outside, greaseless and wonderful. We made a meal out of them along with both ketchup and aïoli for dunking and a big green salad to balance things out.
And now it's on for the rest of the book. I bought romaine lettuce yesterday so I can make her recipe for stir-fried lettuce with chiles, rice stick noodles and sprouts (the irony is not lost on me that the recipe is actually meant for wilting lettuce languishing in your fridge, not a fresh bag); I can't wait to try all three of the kohlrabi recipes in the book (shaved, with lemon and mustard; cubed, with yogurt-tahini sauce and sesame and cumin seeds; cooked, with raisins and paprika) and Liana's recipe for Mexican salsa de semillas, discovered at a taqueria in Los Angeles, sounds nothing short of addictive:
"Crunchy and nutty, smoky, full of deep chile flavor but not very spicy, a crumbly paste of oil-seared and ground up dried chiles, toasty seeds, and nuts. Make a nice big batch, keep it in the freezer, and you'll find dozens of uses for it. Two favorites so far are as a topping for perfect black bean soup (page 216) and tossed into a hot pan with dark sautéed mushrooms (page 205) destined for tacos—spoon in another fresh salsa, like the creamy and crisp tomato and avocado one on page 71, for a meal you won't forget."
No, I don't imagine I would. Much like the rest of the book, which has instantly shot to the top of my favorite cookbooks. What an absolute home run.
Liana Krissoff's Slow-Fried Sweet Potato Fries
Serves 4 to 6 as a side
4 sweet potatoes
About 4 cups (1 liter) canola or other neutral vegetable oil
Salt and seasonings
1. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set a cooling rack upside down on top so that the wire rungs are in contact with the paper.
2. Cut the sweet ootatoes into French-fry-size pieces, about 3-6 mm thick. (Liana peels her, I don't.) Put them in a wide, heavy pot and add enough oil just to cover them. Set the pot over medium heat. When the oil starts to bubble gently all over the surface, lower to the heat to medium-low—it will continue to bubble—and cook for 45 minutes, occasionally nudging the fries gently with tongs. The sweet potatoes should be very limp and soft. Raise the heat to medium or medium-high, so the oil bubbles more vigorously, and cook until the fries are golden brown and stiffer. This can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on your stove. Keep in mind that the fries will crisp up more after they're pulled from the oil.
3. Transfer the fries to the prepared rack. While they're hot, season them with salt or and other seasonings and eat. (Liana's genius seasoning ideas include her own kale furikake or shichimi togarashi mixes in the book.)