Recent Tweets

Follow Me on Twitter

Powered by Twitter Tools

Juicy Bites

Looking for Something?


Two Cookbooks for Christmas: A First Look

Thai Noodles

Because of varied and incompatible schedules the Elves of the Underground held an early gift exchange (by invitation only; sorry if yours got lost in the Christmas mail rush) for select portions of the Clan. I was the winner (of course), as I got a couple of very fine cookbooks from Deniz, Paula Jo’s BFF. The two books are “Complete Thai Cooking” produced by Hamlyn (Octopus Publishing Group Ltd.), and “Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean” by Ana Sortun.

I won’t write full reviews here, as I intend to try some recipes before doing that. I did want to say some good things about these two volumes, though on the off chance you’re looking to buy these for Christmas gifts for somebody on your list. (You can scratch these off my list now; I’ve got’em. However, there are about 4,826 other cookbooks on my list, so don’t give up yet!)

Thai Prawns

“Complete Thai Cooking” is a large-format, square paperback printed on high-quality, glossy paper. While this book is pretty enough to live on your coffee table, it’s clearly designed to be used in the kitchen. Each recipe covers two pages: The left one has the ingredients and procedure, and the right side is a full-page picture of the finished dish. The recipe pages are in large type, ideal for hands-free use when preparing a new Thai dish. Here’s the deal: The pictures are worth the price of admission, even if you never try any of the recipes. Big, bold, and beautiful, your tastebuds are sure to go into nearly-lethal overdrive from just paging through this book. Fortunately, your spit saliva glands will be working overtime too, so your tongue won’t spontaneously burst into flames.

Thai cuisine is an ancient practice that is making its way into mainstream America, and I’ve developed a fondness for several of their dishes, especially their curry dishes. Not always not, as the reputation wrongly indicates, these dishes use spices liberally. They also use lots of fresh ingredients from the land and sea, some of which we couldn’t find over here until the last decade or so. Fortunately I live in an area where there are lots of specialty Asian groceries, so I can get just about anything called for in these Thai recipes. And I plan to try a bunch of them!

Middle Eastern Spices

Ana Sortun’s volume has been on my wish list for a while, as I would like to learn a lot more about the dishes and seasoning strategies used in Arabic-inspired Eastern Mediterranean cooking. Chef Sortun hasn’t focused on a particular country, though there are perhaps more Turkish-looking recipes in her book. This could be because she’s spent more time in Turkey; at least that’s the impression I get from her personal introduction to the book.

”Spice” is a sturdy hard-back volume of some 380 pages, with an extensive index. There are generous two-color illustrations throughout, with an insert of lovely, full-color photos of selected dishes. The paper is a pleasing cream color, and the recipes themselves make use of a light, reddish-brown background color as background for the ingredients. Those boxes make the recipes easy to read and follow. Each recipe has an introductory paragraph or two, up to a full page, of descriptive introduction. The writing in these descriptions is clear and simple, and causes pretty much the same effect in my mouth as the pictures in the Thai cookbook.


The procedure portion of each recipe looks easy to follow. This is especially important for cooks who aren’t familiar with the cuisine of the region being explored. Since that includes me and most Americans, I’m grateful. It also opens the book up to a wide audience, provided they have three things: An experimental mindset, access to the actual spices, and tasters to share with. The last is easy for me, and I’m always ready to experiment with new cooking.

What about the spices? Actually, the vast majority of them aren’t that hard to find anymore. Ana begins with a section dedicated to exploring the spices by themselves, and I love the way she starts: With the Three C’s, Cumin, Coriander, and Cardamom. As a cook who grew up in the Southwest I’m intimate with cumin. Coriander we often eat here as the fresh herb cilantro; Ana’s recipes almost always use the seeds, though, which is not well-known here. And cardamom? Unless you’re into Asian cooking you’re almost unfamiliar with that one, I bet. It’s a wonderful aroma and flavor, though, and crucial to many of the dishes presented.

I can hardly wait to dive into these dishes early next year. Maybe I’ll hold a theme month and try out a whole bunch of these! A running book review, of sorts, like I did for “660 Curriesa while back. I can hardly wait…

Crank Up the (Cookbook Reading) Heat!


Comments are closed.