Saturday, June 04, 2016

(Cook) Book Report: Two Books That Define Eating Well

Two new cookbooks just came out that are perfectly timed to coincide with the peak of the harvest that is starting to flow in from local farms. Each is authored by veteran a cookbook writer known not only for the quality of her prose, but also the merciless testing of recipes, so you can depend on the accuracy of the descriptions and the measurements. (Why this type of rigor should be unusual in the cookbook biz puzzles me, but there you go…)

The first is the Portland Farmers Market Cookbook: 100 Seasonal Recipes and Stories that Celebrate Local Food and People by the inestimable Ellen Jackson, herself the author of several cookbooks (including co-authoring the Grand Central Baking Book) and a fine writer and chef in her own right. The book, released on the market's 25th anniversary, is as much a love letter to our region's producers and its bounty as it is a guide to cooking through the seasons.

As Jackson writes in her introduction, the book "represented an opportunity to capture both the agricultural glory of the Pacific Northwest and the pride of place we share as Portlanders. Nowhere is that ethos more evident than at our farmers' markets." Sing it, sister!

The book, arranged by season starting in the spring, is a terrific guide to seasonal cooking and eating for beginners and experienced cooks alike. Particularly useful to me is that the table of contents lists the season and then each recipe in that season by main ingredient, a helpful organization for those of us who hate flipping back and forth from the table of contents to the index in the back. From easy main dishes like curried chicken pilaf and deviled eggs to more complex flavors and textures like French-style scrambled eggs with morel-chive cream sauce or chestnut-tofu dumplings in matsutake mushroom sauce, there's something for every palate and occasion.

The second book is one I'm very excited to dive into, written by my friend and prolific author Marie Simmons. Titled Whole World Vegetarian, it is Simmons's paean to a life of international eating, from her mother's Italian-American table to the global table she explored in her early life in New York to the one that she now cultivates in her kitchen in Eugene.

"At the Saturday market in Oregon, where I now live, local goat and sheep farmers offer feta so perfectly creamy, with the right balance of sour and sweet, that it makes my knees weak," she writes, noting that our tables, not to mention our markets and stores, "are fed by globalization…fueled by mass immigration and our insatiable desire for travel."

Peanut vegetable stew…so good!

From Iranian Borani esfanaaj, a spinach and yogurt spread that is eaten out of hand with flatbread, to a shredded carrot and jicama salad that would be at home on a Mexican or South American table, to the deeply flavorful and delicious peanut vegetable stew, a dish emblematic of Ethiopian cuisine that includes a pungent blend of spices called berbere.

If you've been wanting to go beyond Meatless Monday and start including more fresh, seasonal vegetables in your meals every day, you can't miss with this book. And believe me, they're packed with so much flavor you won't miss the meat.

Read the review I wrote about Marie Simmons's book, Taste of Honey.

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