This week British author Diana Henry earned a James Beard award for her fantastic A Bird in the Hand. You can read my review here. It’s a book you want to possess.
Actually, you want all of her book and certainly this one, Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, from 2006. Like many European cookbook writers, Diana does go beyond her national borders. Brits are ubiquitous travelers and in just a few hours can fly to destinations that are far, far from London culinarily.
In this book, Diana goes full throttle exploring the ingredients and dishes of the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa. Perhaps it is that British climate, a bit cloudy and often wet, that inspires people like Diana to dine on the flavors created by heat and sunshine.
There are twelve chapters here, each devoted to a set of complementary ingredients. Here are some chapter examples to tempt you:
A Bowl of Fresh Herbs: parsley, cilantro, dill, basil, and mint
Plundering the Stores: almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and dried fruits
The Sweet and the Sour: honey and vinegar
Fruits of Longing: figs, quinces, pomegranates, and dates
Each chapter begins with a few pages discussing the origins, history, and culinary uses for the ingredients with a comparison of different cultures and cuisines. And the ingredients themselves are contrasted: when and why to use cardamom, saffron, cinnamon and paprika.
After that background come the recipes. Some are perfect translations of national recipes and some reflect Diana’s interpretations of the classics. Fear not. If Diana has “tuned” a recipe, you can be sure that it will afford you supreme flavor. And, of course, in Diana’s style the recipes have been written for British and American kitchens. Here’s a sampling of the ideas Diana presents:
Moroccan Chicken with Tomatoes and Saffron-Honey Jam
Harissa-Marinated Lamb with Spiced Mashed Vegetables and Cinnamon Onions
Lavender-Scented Chocolate Truffles
Chilled Avocado and Cilantro Soup
Salt-Baked Potatoes with Crème Fraiche and New Season’s Garlic
Arab-Adalusian Monkfish with Saffron, Honey and Vinegar
Raisin and Sherry Ice Cream
Cardamom-Baked Figs and Plums with Burnt Honey and Yogurt Pannacotta
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Marinated Feta and Black Olives
As I built this list of Diana’s ideas I realized something very important: I’ve never eaten anything like what is suggested her — with the exception of that Avocado and Cilantro Soup. I’ve never imagined these combinations, teaming with complex associations of flavors and spices. With Diana’s skills and reputation, I’m simply happily excited to have such a vast spread of new ideas before me. I am already thinking about that lamb with the cinnamon onions or the baked sweet potatoes with feta and olives.
This is an important book, another element of the culinary legacy of Diana Henry. If you never heard of her before, you have an exciting and most flavorful future before you.
It’s spring, officially, but on the same date, spring can be brightly different in different cities. Here in New York, the trees have blossomed and a few green leaves are poking out. Yet, it still seems cold in the daytime and you see winterish coats everywhere.
In Seattle, where my daughter happily resides alongside the rain, the daffodils are long gone, so are the tulips. Rhododendrons are in full bloom there. In New York City, we have buds.
Seattle is ahead in one other key category: asparagus. Fresh local asparagus abounds. Thin stems, to be sure, because Seattle has just set a record for rain, not sunny days. Last week, we saw mounds of asparagus at the farmers markets. And it’s Seattle: there is crab in abundance, too.
From 30 Years at Ballymaloe, here is an ever so slightly hot combination of crab and asparagus, blended with some Thai mayonnaise. Now, Thai mayonnaise made with fish sauce is surely not a staple of Irish cuisine. But Darina Allen, creator of the grand cooking school Ballymaloe, has become an international figure and her pantry has ingredients spanning the world.
Our picture above shows a slight change from the directions below. Our asparagus spears were thin, so we did not cut them in half. We had had arugula, we had, but it was consumed the night before in our salad. With or without arugula, or any other greens, this dish is just ideal for Sunday brunch.
Crab and Asparagus with Thai Mayonnaise on Sourdough
Yield: 4 servings
For the crab and asparagus topping:
8 asparagus spears
8 ounces crabmeat
4 slices of sourdough bread, slicked no more than ½ inch thick
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Handful of arugula leaves
For the Thai mayonnaise:
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
½ red chili, seeded and finely diced
Freshly grated zest of ½ lime
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons freshly chopped cilantro
¼ cup mayonnaise, ideally home made
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring water to a boil in an oval casserole or saucepan that will hold the asparagus spears. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt per 2 cups of water. Prepare the asparagus spears by snapping off the touch end where it bends naturally. Lay the asparagus in the boiling water and cook for 4 minutes, depending on the thickness. The asparagus should still be crisp and al dente for this recipe. Removed the asparagus with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into cold water. Refresh under cold running water and drain thoroughly.
To make the Thai mayonnaise, stir the garlic, chili, lime zest, fish sauce, and chopped cilantro into the mayonnaise. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Mix the crabmeat into the mayonnaise and set aside.
To serve, broil or toast the bread. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and scatter a few arugula leaves over each slice. Pile the crab mixture on top. Toss the cold asparagus spears in a little olive oil and split each spear in half length wise. Arrange the asparagus over the crabmeat and serve immediately.
Source: 30 Years at Ballymaloe by Darina Allen
Photo Information [top picture]: Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/5.0 for 1/50th second at ISO-1600
The restaurant Noma in Copenhagen is recognized as one of the finest dining spots in the world. On many lists, it considered the best. The Noma cookbook is a best seller and an inspiration to chefs, both amateur and professional, around the world.
Noma co-founder Claus Meyer has produced a new cookbook, one filled with intriguing surprises. The Nordic Kitchen has a very clear subtitle: One Year of Family Cooking. This is not a book of restaurant food, although many of these dishes would grace the menu of any establishment. These are recipes, divided by season, that Claus enjoys personally with his family.
There is a bounty of recipes here, 350 of them. Many of the ingredients are familiar, but used in a different way. For example, here is the Raw Salmon with Lime, Horseradish and Garlic Mustard.
And some of the recipes use a primary ingredient that you’ve probably avoided, like this Leg of Wild Boar.
What you can do with The Nordic Kitchen is play it safe or you can go for that wild board adventure. You can simply pick and choose, knowing that these recipes comes from one of the top food gurus on the planet. Here’s a sampling of ideas, both comfortably familiar and a tad out of the ordinary:
Nettle Soup with Potato Pillows and Smoke Curd Cheese
Pan-Fried Lamb Kidneys
Roasted Duck Breast with Baked Rhubarb and Horseradish
Boiled Leeks with Vinaigrette of Parsley, Anchovies, and Apple Cider vinegar
Cold Cucumber Soup
Roast Chicken and Braised Peas with Baby Onion, Bacon, and Lettuce Heart
Tartlets with Summer Vegetables in Béchamel Sauce
Those ideas are from the first two chapters devote to Spring and Summer. Fall and Winter offer equally exquisite ideas. The Nordic twists are here in terms of the dairy, cheese, and spices often employed. It’s not a sauce-heavy book. We are north of France here.
The recipes themselves are direct, not stark. Some of the recipes use just a handful of ingredients although there are many where twenty or more are at play. Still, the recipes themselves are written in just four or five paragraphs. The writing is short sentences delivering directions in a punchy, no-frills tone. You can easily understand and follow any of the recipes here. It is a “family” cookbook and it is certainly “family” friendly.
With all the recipes here, there certainly is a year of cooking opportunities before you. It’s a book you can employ with confidence. And, who knows, it’s a book that may have you shopping for a leg of wild boar.