Cookbooks – Taste&Travel Magazine For people who love to Read, love to Eat, and love to Travel Sun, 29 Mar 2020 18:53:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cookbooks – Taste&Travel Magazine 32 32 The Atlas Cookbook Thu, 26 Mar 2020 16:04:28 +0000 Charlie Carrington takes an innovative approach to global cooking.

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“Who the *** is Charlie Carrington?” is how the The Atlas Cookbook opens. If you’re Australian, you probably don’t need to ask. Twenty-five-year-old Carrington is the chef/owner of a Melbourne restaurant that has already earned its first ‘hat’ – Australia’s equivalent of a Michelin star. Carrington’s concept is unique – his menu features a different global cuisine every four months. The restaurant closes completely for a spell each year to allow the chef-protégé to travel and dive deep into the culinary culture of a particular country. Back home, he and his team develop recipes inspired by the techniques and ingredients encountered during his research trip.

Can an itinerant visitor become proficient in an unfamiliar cuisine in just a few weeks? In many cultures, culinary skills are handed down through generations and complex recipes may take years to master. Surely it is better to focus on a single cuisine and learn to execute it well than to skim the surface of many? These were the doubts that crossed my mind when I first paged through The Atlas Cookbook. I’ve eaten in many of the countries Carrington writes about and have lived in a number of them. I wondered how his brie, intense encounters would measure up.

Each of the 20 chapters (divided among four seasonal sections) in The Atlas Cookbook opens with a brief description of the culinary culture of the country in question and lists the key ingredients. A few salient statistics (language, land area, population, currency) are provided. But when it comes to recipes Carrington goes off script. Instead of replicating the classic dishes that distinguish a particular cuisine, he uses them as a springboard for ideas, interpreting and riffing as a musician might tinker with a jazz standard. Authenticity is not the goal, creativity – evidently — is.

And how does this play out in the kitchen? I started out in Vietnam, where, Carrington writes, food is “fresh, vivid and fragrant – a balance of sour, sweet, salty, bitter and spicy.” In a nod to the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine, his first offering is a salad of Boiled Egg with Asparagus, Lettuce and Fish Sauce Butter. The dressing – essentially a beurre blanc with fish sauce and lime juice taking the place of white wine — was delicious and the salad a lovely mix of crisp and creamy textures. But it looked nothing like the beautiful photograph in the book. The recipe directs us to slice the hard boiled eggs and marinate them in dark soy sauce, which turns them an unappetising shade of almost-black. The eggs in the picture are gorgeously yellow, with no trace of soy in sight. And the salad has been liberally garnished with sliced green onions, which are not mentioned in the text.

Boiled Egg with Asparagus, Lettuce and Fish Sauce Butter

On to Lebanon, where I learn that the official language is Arabic, the capital Beirut, the land area 10,400 sq km, the population just over six million, and the currency the Lebanese pound. The culture is “hospitable, generous and family-driven.” I chose to cook Za’atar Roasted Chicken with Fatteh. “Tangy, herby za’atar is the queen of the spice blends in Lebanon, and every family has its own version,” the headnote states. I wish Carrington had provided a recipe for his version of the spice mix as I couldn’t find za’atar on supermarket shelves and resorted to online research to make my own. The chicken, rubbed with the spice and roasted in the oven, is served with a yogurt-based sauce flavoured with pomegranate molasses, fresh herbs, and more za’atar. On the side, tinned chickpeas stirred through tahini add a textural dimension. This was an interesting presentation of traditional roast chicken and, providing you can source za’atar and pomegranate molasses, a breeze to make.

With the remaining za’atar, I made Fattoush, also from the Lebanon chapter. Carrington’s version of the bread/tomato/cucumber salad features stale pita breads blitzed into crumbs and fried in butter, and a lemon dressing spiked with feta cheese and sumac, which was tangy and delicious.

“The Argentineans are a carnivorous lot,” Carrington informs us in a chapter that includes recipes for tomahawk steak and beef cheeks. I opted instead for Potato and Rocket Salad with Orange, which he states is “a favourite at every family barbecue.” His confidence is not misplaced. With its orange juice and mustard vinaigrette, interesting mix of textures (rocket, cold potatoes, orange supremes, toasted almonds), it is a real winner, and a salad I’ll be happy to add to my repertoire for summer grilling.

Potato and Rocket Salad with Orange
Potato and Rocket Salad with Orange

Stuffed Mushrooms with Chive and Black Pepper Butter from the Cambodian chapter were also utterly delicious. Fresh shiitake mushrooms are stuffed with soy-and-spice flavoured butter, roasted, and served with a scattering of chopped cashew nuts. I served them as a side dish but the meaty mushrooms are so substantial and flavourful they could stand on their own as a vegetarian main course. Again a small discrepancy between recipe and photo – the mushrooms have clearly been de-stemmed but this important step (shiitake stems are very fibrous and need to be discarded) is not mentioned in the method.

Stuffed Mushrooms with Chive and Black Pepper Butter
Stuffed Mushrooms with Chive and Black Pepper Butter

Any doubts I had about Charlie Carrington’s interpretive approach to global cuisine were dispelled by the dishes I cooked, all of which were easy to execute and enjoyed at the table. My only quibbles were with the editorial and food styling production teams who could have paid closer attention to the testing and photographing of recipes.

With the exception of sweetbreads (from the Syrian chapter), which I don’t care for, I’m looking forward to cooking every recipe in the The Atlas Cookbook. Carrington’s food is vibrant, delicious and simple to make. Recipes are creative, with flavour pairings that work in harmony and textures that complement one another on the plate.  Best of all, these are restaurant-quality recipes that are bold in concept and exciting, but eminently doable for home cooks. Bravo Charlie!

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Andina Sat, 25 Jan 2020 22:01:53 +0000 Martin Morales celebrates the traditional cuisine of the Andes.

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“For me, the Andes region is one of the most fascinating regions in the world. It’s a world in its own right,” says Martin Morales, restauranteur, chef and author of Andina: The heart of Peruvian food: recipes and stories from the Andes.

There are some parts of the world that have a profound effect on us, because they are so extraordinarily different from all we have previously known. For me, Peru, and particularly the remote, rugged region of the high Andes, was such a place. This spare, lofty land, enfolded by jagged mountains at an altitude that leaves you gasping, seems indeed like a world apart — a secret, soulful place on the roof of the world.

Macchu Picchu is the main reason that tourists come to this part of Peru, where until the Spanish came in search of gold, the Inca civilization flourished in spectacular isolation. Their ruined city clings to the slopes of an impossibly vertiginous peak, as close to the gods as these ancient people could be. Their culture was rich, their agricultural science highly sophisticated, and their cuisine well developed.

Flying in to Cusco, descending through a narrow cleft in the Andes into a high mountain valley, is a spectacular experience. With cobblestone streets and a handsome Spanish cathedral, Cusco is a picturesque colonial capital. But it is also a modern city with cutting-edge restaurants riding the Nuevo Latino culinary wave that started in Lima with chefs like Gastón Acurio and has since swept around the world. But travel a few miles into the countryside beyond Cusco and you will find farmers tending fields of corn and quinoa, their dwellings simple adobe houses with earthen floors, an open hearth for cooking and guinea pigs scurrying under foot, waiting their turn in the pot. Cuisine is rustic, peasant fare, based on indigenous ingredients, many of which are unique to the region, and a nose-to-tail philosophy that sees nothing go to waste. How, I wondered, when I picked up Morales’ book, can a cuisine so deeply rooted in place be translated for an international audience?

Unlike other recent cookbooks that celebrate modernist Peruvian cooking, Morales focuses on the traditional home cooking of Andean women – (the Andina of the title). And he is quick to point out, there are eleven regions in the Peruvian Andes, each with its own climate, topography and gastronomic identity. Morales doesn’t attempt a comprehensive survey of Andean cuisine but presents a representative selection of recipes either from, or inspired by, each region.

It’s this pragmatism that makes Andina a successful cookbook. With four popular Peruvian restaurants in London, Morales has had ample opportunity to test his recipes, tailor them to available ingredients and make them palatable to diners in one of the world’s most sophisticated restaurant cities. And since the recipes are rooted in domestic cookery, they translate well for the home cook.

To be honest, I won’t be roasting a guinea pig, simmering a lamb’s head, or digging a pit to cook Panchamanca over hot stones, but if you are inclined, Morales tells you how to do it. I’m glad these recipes are included because they provide insight into traditional Andean cuisine, at the same time underscoring the authenticity of Morales’ approach.

At the other end of the scale are recipes that may be unfamiliar but are well suited to weeknight cooking. All the recipes I tested, I’ll be making again. Pesque de Quinua, a savoury quinoa pudding laced with cheese, is comfort food at its best and an interesting way to cook the quintessential Peruvian grain (risotto style). Solterito, a salad of broad beans, tomato, feta cheese, olives and purple potatoes is as tasty as it is colourful and substantial enough to stand on its own for lunch or a light supper. Kapchi de Setas, a soup/stew of mushrooms with a kick of chile, is earthy, complex, and delicious. Picante de Huevos (Fiery Eggs), which Morales says is a favourite brunch dish at his restaurant, is a knockout.

Kapchi De Setas

There are a few key ingredients you’ll need to seek out in order to capture the unique flavours of Peruvian food. I found panca chile paste and aji amarillo paste in a Caribbean grocery store but if there is none in your neighbourhood, Morales gives instructions for how to make them from scratch. For harder to obtain ingredients he suggests substitutions (such as coriander, tarragon and mint for the fresh herb huacatay). The only hiccup I encountered was with using feta in place of queso fresco. Feta is quite a bit saltier than Peruvian (or more widely available Mexican) queso and while it is fine used as a garnish, it can overwhelm when used in quantity. If you’re making Pesque de Quinua, I’d suggest using replacing half the feta with cottage cheese.

Andean cuisine makes abundant use of vegetables and there are plenty of recipes in Andina that will suit non-meat eaters. There are chapters on salads and soups, and one dedicated to ceviches, including the sassy Peruvian version called tiradito. Breakfast and dessert offerings are creative – think Sweet Potato Pancakes with Coconut Whipped Cream from the Desayunos (breakfast) chapter and Cheese Ice Cream from Postres (desserts).

Eleven stories (one from each Andean region), with charming watercolour illustrations close out the book. In these heartfelt tales we come to know the people of the Andes through Morales’ eyes and his deep attachment to the ancestral culture of his homeland. They make sense of all that has gone before.



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South Fri, 13 Dec 2019 16:45:50 +0000 Sean Brock shines a fresh light on the cuisine of Appalachia.

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Sean Brock (author of Heritage and the newly released South) is, undoubtedly, an important figure in the American culinary landscape. Writers like Edna Lewis, James Villas, Craig Claiborne and Ronni Lundy have covered similar ground, singing the praises of the homespun cooking of the American south, but that was before the era of the tattooed, rockstar chef and the advent of locavorism as a driving force in the restaurant industry.

The farm-to-table movement is probably the biggest trend to emerge in North American culinary scene in the last quarter century and it has proven to be remarkably durable. Alice Waters, who opened Chez Panisse in Berkley California in 1971, is the acknowledged founder of the movement and her influence continues to reverberate, with chefs honing their focus on local, seasonal ingredients, and the cooking methods – conventional to molecular — that enhance their innate qualities and flavour.

In some parts of rural America, farm-to-table is nothing new. It is the way people whose access to ingredients is limited – whether by geography, season, economic constraints or a mix of all three — have cooked for generations. But as modern chefs have pushed the technical boundaries of their profession and urban palates have become more sophisticated, country cooking is often seen as homespun and lacking in refinement.

Sean Brock set out to change all that, using only ingredients from the South in his acclaimed restaurants Husk and McGradys in Charleston in Nashville. The chef has been a James Beard Award finalist seven times, and took home the award for Best Chef Southeast in 2010.

In his latest book, and the new restaurant he is planning to open in Nashville, the focus is tightened to the cuisine of Appalachia, the region where he grew up, learning to cook at his grandmother’s side. He writes:

“The kitchen was always buzzing at my grandmother’s home in Pound, Virginia. There was rarely a time when some sort of food preparation wasn’t going on.  If you were watching television, you were snapping beans. If you were porch sitting, you were shucking corn or grating cabbage.”

The majority of recipes in South are for classic dishes – shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, catfish, slow-cooked greens, cornbread, biscuits and the like – that are cooked throughout the South and can be found in any number of cookbooks. But interpreted by Brock, whose laser-tight focus and obsessive attention to detail are legendary in cheffing circles, these standards are elevated to new levels of sophistication and taste.

One reason why I chose this book to review was because I was working in Florida at the time and knew I would have access to at least some of the ingredients Brock’s hyper-local recipes call for. Brock provides a list of his favourite artisan food producers in the back of the book but since his premise is to cook with what is native to your region, resorting to mail order seems counter-intuitive. Instead, I concentrated on recipes using ingredients I could find within a 20-mile radius of my lodging.

White Lily flour, country ham and andouille sausage were available in my local supermarket. A farmers’ market yielded pastured beef, turnips with their greens, farm eggs, green tomatoes and sweet potatoes. A seafood market on the coast offered shrimp, crabs, oysters, grouper and catfish. I couldn’t locate Brock’s recommended Anson Mills grits but Dixie Ice Cream Yellow Speckled Grits stone ground by Nora Mill Granary (established 1876) “located in the historic district of Sautee-Nacoochee Valley, 1 mile south of Helen, Georgia” seemed like a pedigree Brock would approve of. Nowhere could I find sorghum syrup or fresh lard, which disqualified a bunch of recipes.

Many recipes in South are pretty basic, but have a twist that lifts them up. Cornmeal-dusted grouper is simply dredged in fine cornmeal and pan fried – but it is brought to life with a zesty, brilliantly green herb puree. Strip steak cooked over charcoal is rested in “love sauce” (a concoction of Worcestershire, fish sauce and garlic) that adds an intriguing complexity to the steak. There are recipes throughout the book for preserves, pickles, ferments and condiments that demonstrate Brock’s knack for refining –redefining even — a rustic cuisine using its own ingredients and techniques.

Strip Steak with Worcestershire

In Brock’s hands, humble vegetables come to life. Sweet potatoes, baked and blended until smooth with milk and vegetable stock, are brightened with fresh orange juice. Adding a dash of soy sauce to mushrooms cooked on the charcoal grill amps up their natural umami. Turnips I cooked several ways – charring them on the grill (the little globes were crisp and slightly blackened on the outside and toothsomely tender within) and cooking their greens directly on the coals. Others I braised in butter, stock and vinegar, a technique Brock says can also be used for carrots, butternut squash or onions. Finally I followed the instructions in an essay titled “How to Cook a Pot of Greens” to use up the leftover turnip tops, with delicious results.

Sweet Potato Puree

The biggest revelation came in Brock’s recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes, which I love, but which are messy to make and so often disappointing when ordered in a restaurant. As Brock explains:

“The problem with most bad fried green tomatoes is overbreading, which can muffle the character and flavour of the tomatoes.” I hear you!

He dispenses with the messy egg wash and flour breading in favour of a bath in buttermilk and a dusting of cornmeal. The secret to success is to allow the tomatoes to rest in the fridge before frying, so that the breading adheres, instead of falling off in the pan. I was so pleased with the result and amazed at the simplicity of the method that I made a second batch just to be sure it wasn’t a fluke. But, yes, I now have fried green tomatoes DOWN!

I’ve also been making Brock’s buttermilk biscuits by the batch. They’re laminated by folding puff-pastry style and baked in cast iron skillet which promotes a quick fluffy rise and a lovely golden crust. They are so easy to make and so delicious, I now understand why biscuits are a staple of the Southern diet.

The only failure I had during recipe testing was with pressure cooking grits. I followed the instructions, soaking the grits for eight hours and pressure cooking for 15 minutes. When I opened the pot, instead of Dixie Ice Cream, I was faced with a pool of gritty glue and a concrete-like mass stuck to the bottom of the pot.

As a control, I cooked the same grits using Brock’s traditional, stovetop method which involves about an hour of standing by the stove and stirring. The result was a creamy and delicious base for an improvised topping of andouille sausage, tomatoes and bell peppers.

Cooking this way from scratch is time consuming. I had to wash those turnip greens in three changes of water to rid them of sand and grit before cooking. The pretty little turnips each had to be scrubbed, topped and tailed; grits have to be soaked, dry beans hydrated. The reality for most of us is that we don’t have time to cook this way, except on weekends. It’s ironic, and more than little sad, that we go out to restaurants in order to eat as if we had cooked at home.

Cornmeal-Dusted Grouper

It remains to be seen if Sean Brock’s impact on the American culinary landscape will be as enduring as Alice Waters’ but following a (well documented) stint in rehab Brock has emerged with an evangelist’s commitment to the pursuit of a wholesome lifestyle, which translates into the type of food he is cooking. These dishes, rooted in the Appalachian foodways of his family, belong to a time and place far removed from rockstar chefdom and workaholic pursuit of perfection. They are dishes designed to renew and celebrate our connection to the land and to the relationships that sustain us.

Ultimately, South is a book for the reader or cook who has more than a passing interest in the culture, cuisine and culinary history of the American south. It goes deep and speaks of spiritual connections – to Europe, West Africa and rural America — that cannot have the same resonance for those of us who are not born of this cultural lineage. But we can learn about resilience and the importance of food and family from Brock’s Appalachian stories, and discover new kinds of deliciousness in recipes that are detailed and clearly written, and in my experience, produce excellent results. Even if you don’t buy a copy of South, do yourself a favour, invest in a cast iron skillet and bake Sean Brock’s biscuits using the recipe included below. Then offer up thanks for this Southern chef’s generous gift.


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Cucina Siciliana Mon, 23 Sep 2019 18:07:58 +0000 Sunny Mediterranean flavours from Sicily in a new edition of Ursula Ferrigno's cookbook.

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The vibrant cover, showing lemons and sprigs of fresh oregano, with its little purple flowers, strewn across a background of blue Mediterranean tiles, grabbed my attention when I first laid eyes on this book. Then the mouthwatering food shots (by photographer David Munns) within. Cucina Siciliana was full of food I wanted to eat!

Ursula Ferrigno is an acclaimed food writer and cooking school teacher in the UK. She is the author of numerous cookbooks — this one being a re-issue of Flavours of Sicily, which was published in 2016. At first glance the books seem much the same – Munns’ lovely food shots are still there, the Introduction and text chapters are the same, but flip to the recipe index and it becomes apparent that quite a lot of tweaking has been done to this second edition.

The letter Q has gone altogether (along with the entries for quails and quinces). Gone too are zhug, baklava, tagines, and boiled eggs with dukkah. Jams and conserves have vanished. Not one of the four recipes I chose to test from Cucina Siciliana were included in that earlier volume. Some explanatory notes to accompany the second edition would have been useful.

But on to the cooking. Some recipes look like weekend projects – Cassata, for example, which calls for making your own sponge cake and lady fingers from scratch, in addition to an elaborate ricotta, nut, chocolate and dried fruit filling, and an all-day Pappadelle with Duck Ragu – but for the most part, the recipes are suitable for weeknight cooking.

Braised Lemon Chicken

First up Pollo al limone (Braised Lemon Chicken), which came together quite quickly for supper. Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs are dusted with flour and fried until the skin crisps, then braised in wine white with onions, lots of lemon zest, and two sprigs of sage. Once the browning step is done, the dish looks after itself, simmering away on the stove top for about an hour.

While that was going on, I made Insalata di cavolfiori (Pickled Cauliflower Salad) which relied on pantry staples (green olives, capers, roasted red pepper, sun dried tomatoes) plus a handful of parsley from the garden. The cauli is blanched briefly, otherwise no cooking required. And since I had some leftover boiled potatoes in the fridge, I also made Insalata di patata di pantellaria (Pantelleria Potato Salad), which combines the spuds with chopped tomatoes, capers and black olives. Both salads are dressed in olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Two hours after donning my apron, dinner was on the table. The chicken needed a squirt of fresh lemon to punch up the flavour and the once-crisp skin was now flabby and pushed to the side of the plate, but the meat was moist and tender and the braising liquid reduced to a lovely sauce.

The two salads were delicious, with bold flavours and pleasing textures. Served side by side they competed for attention but both are easy and excellent recipes and either one would make a tasty meal simply paired with a piece of grilled meat, chicken or fish.

Pickled Cauliflower Salad

Interspersed among the recipe chapters are short feature articles about different aspects of Sicilian gastronomy — citrus fruit, bread, fish, aperitivo (cocktail hour), gelateria – that make interesting reading and include some fascinating tidbits of information about this Mediterranean island (such as the reason for the Mafia’s interest in owning citrus groves, and the origin of the Americano cocktail).

An essay about Sicilian wine inspired me to pay a visit to my local bottle shop to see what, if anything, I could find from this region. I came back with a bottle of Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Bianco Sicilia, a blend of three Sicilian grapes (and some chardonnay). It was one of two Sicilian whites on the shelf, and at around the $15 mark, I thought, worthy of a risk.

Provolone con olio do’livia (Pan-fried Provolone with Olive Oil) from the Antipasti chapter, seemed like just the thing to serve with the wine. The cheese (bought as a block, not the ubiquitous slices) is cut into batons and briefly fried in olive oil that has previously sizzled a sliced clove of garlic. When the cheese is getting oozy, it is sprinkled with white wine vinegar and a few leaves of oregano, and served with crusty bread.

Oh my! Chewy bread, warm cheese, fruity olive oil and a marvelous glass of vino. The wine was a lovely match — beautifully dry and crisp, with an herbal note that picked out the oregano, and just enough acidity to balance the richness of the cheese. The dish took all of five minutes to make and was utterly delectable — a simple and spectacular showstopper that transported me to the sunny shores of Sicily. If there is one recipe that justifies the cost of buying a cookbook, this is mine for Cucina Siciliana.

Pan-fried Provolone with Olive Oil

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Coconut Lagoon Tue, 02 Jul 2019 14:40:45 +0000 The first cookbook from Ottawa restaurant Coconut Lagoon.

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Coconut Lagoon is a restaurant in Ottawa that specializes in South Indian cuisine. Its owner and principal chef is Joe Thottungal, a native of Kerala who has called Canada home since 1998.  Coconut Lagoon is his first cookbook, penned in collaboration with Ottawa-based writer and restaurant reviewer Anne DesBrisay.

I know them both. Thottungal won gold in the Ottawa round of the Gold Medal Plates competition in 2016 (now rebranded as the Great Canadian Kitchen Party) and was a fellow judge when I joined the judiciary panel in 2017 (that year Thottungal also won silver in the national Canadian Culinary Championships.) DesBrisay, one of the most respected figures in the Ottawa restaurant scene, has been a contributor to and senior editor of this magazine since its inception in 2011.

It was a proud moment when Thottungal and DesBrisay presented a copy of Coconut Lagoon to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Rideau Hall in April this year, soon after publication. Perhaps not so surprising — it’s rumoured that the PM may have slipped into Coconut Lagoon, the restaurant on St Laurent Boulevard, incognito from time to time.

But none of this matters in a cookbook review – it’s about the book, and more importantly, the recipes.

Thottungal is a master in the kitchen and it fell to DesBrisay to translate his culinary vision into words. A chapter called The Road from Kerala traces Thottungal’s journey from his family’s pepper plantation in India to Canada, by way of Mumbai and Saudi Arabia. DesBrisay has a gift for the human story and tells Thottungal’s with an immediacy that touches the heart. While not exactly a rags-to-riches saga (Thottungal’s family were considered middle class) it is the story of a self-made man who had the initiative and drive to carve out a career quite different from the one that was expected of him. DesBrisay sensitively conveys the combination of innocence and ambition that drove a boy who was happy doing chores in his mother’s kitchen to strike out for an unknown land and a career that has ultimately brought him a slew of accolades.

South Indian cuisine is characterized by the use of ingredients such as coconut milk, cardamom, curry leaves, mustard seed and peppercorns, native to this coastal, tropical region of India. Other spices and flavourings may be less familiar but a chapter devoted to Keralan ingredients explains their uses and gives advice on substitutions where appropriate. Two items you will definitely need before starting to cook from this book — a jar of coconut oil and a supply of curry leaves (frozen are okay).

The recipe chapters are divided thus: Basics, Breads, Appetizers, Earth, Sea, Land, Rice, Drinks & Desserts. The titles are a bit whimsical but once you figure out that Earth means stuff that grows in it, and Land is creatures that live on it, you’re good to go.

The first dishes I chose to cook were Broccoli Thoran and Masoor Dal and Spinach Curry from Earth and Nadan Khozi Curry from Land. The score — after much chopping of onions and measuring of spices — three out of three. Broccoli, stir-fried with chilies, grated coconut and spices, was simple to prepare and delicious. The dal, laced with green ribbons of spinach and finished with coconut milk, was creamy and rich. Made with quick-cooking red lentils (masoor dal), it was also a snap to prepare.

Masoor Dal and Spinach Curry

The chicken curry was a bit more work, most of it measuring and prepping the 20 ingredients called for. But the bone-in chicken pieces, cooked in their bath of spice-laden gravy, emerged tender and deeply flavourful, a result worthy of the labour that went into the dish. Indian cooking is not difficult but it can be complex — made up of a lot of little steps that require some forethought and planning. You’ll spend a lot of time chopping onions, garlic and ginger, for example, so it would make sense to get out a food processor if you’re intending to cook more than one recipe, and to make the sub recipes (ginger-garlic paste, garam masala, ghee etc) in batches.

I invited dinner guests for my next round with Coconut Lagoon.

The menu: Beef Curry (Land) , Pumpkin Erissery (Earth), Kerala Raita (Basics), Masoor Dal and Spinach Curry (repeat!), Mango and Sago Mousse (Desserts). And in a fit of confidence I decided to try my hand at Malabar Parathas (Breads).

The beef, cooked with curry leaf, coconut milk, tomatoes and a host of spices, was delicious. Thottungal uses quick-cooking beef tenderloin at his restaurant but says that stewing beef will work as well. He suggests a pressure cooker for the tougher cut but I used a Dutch oven on the stove top with a fine result.

Pumpkin Erissery was a surprise hit at the dinner table. The squash is cubed and cooked down to an almost mash, then mixed with adzuki beans (that have been soaked and cooked beforehand), spices, fresh chilies and toasted shreds of coconut. The chilies packed a wallop that welcomed the cooling Raita made of yogurt, tomatoes and spices.

Pumpkin Erissery

Spinach dal was on the menu because I had so much of it left over from round one! The recipe (to serve four) yielded easily enough to serve eight or more. But reheated, with a little extra water to loosen it and a fresh cup of spinach stirred in, the dal was every bit as good – better even — as the first time around.

There is always a risk when restaurant recipes are scaled-down for the home kitchen. Thottungal cooks for 50 or more people at a time in his restaurant and presents his food buffet-style. A serving of dal might be a cup or more for a vegetarian, and just a spoonful for someone who wants a little taste of everything. I ran into the same scaling problem with dessert, which yielded way more than we could eat. Fortunately my niece loved the creamy mango pudding so much she went home with the leftovers.

And then there was Paratha. After much needing, resting, stretching, rolling and apprehensively winding strips of dough around my finger, I heated up a cast iron skillet and waited for the magic. Paratha are laminated breads, like croissants, and a good one is a rich, flakey delight. They are one of the stars of the south Indian culinary repertoire and I’d never had the courage to try making them. Now I know why. Mine were tasty enough (slathering on ghee will see to that) but the layers didn’t separate and puff up the way they should. I don’t think this is a fault of the recipe as much as it is a matter of mastering a centuries-old technique. My dinner guests thought the meal was fantastic and my copy of Coconut Lagoon, now spattered with ghee and coconut oil, gets an unequivocal thumbs up. But when I next need a paratha fix, I’ll hop in the car and head down St Laurent Boulevard to Coconut Lagoon.

Beef Curry

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