We had been expecting a book like this for a long time, and this one is well worth the wait. Mrs. Sahni has a clear mind, the talent for explaining the most delicate techniques, and, above all, an excellent taste. She relies less on the southern Indian tradition for fiery meals than on the exquisite style of northern Indian cookery, deeply influenced by the taste of the Moslem Moghul conquerors. Every dish we tried was delicious. We could eat forever the Chicken in Creamed Coconut Sauce (a great favorite of our little boy), although we have to confess we do not prepare the milk from a “fresh unshelled coconut.” The Shrimp Poached in Coconut Milk with Fresh Herbs is outstanding. The Dry-Cooked Spicy Ground Meat is one of the best preparations one can use to stuff fresh vegetables, especially when made with ground lamb. It has the great merit of stretching one pound of meat to six servings, and we have used it, as well, to make meatballs. We could go on with this list. Let us just mention one more: the Fish in Velvet Yoghurt Sauce, for which we used filets of the firm-fleshed monkfish. It was a delight. The cook should take the time to read carefully the first chapter, devoted to seasonings, meal planning, techniques, and so forth. This is the first time we have seen thorough guidelines on how to brown onion slices, a technique we now use for our French onion soup. The cook, we suggest, should also use all the ingredients listed for each recipe. Exotic spices, such as cardamom, are now readily available. Fresh coriander (or cilantro) leaves, which release an addictive fragrance, can be found regularly in many chain supermarkets. The lazy cook can even find some canned, unsweetened, coconut cream, imported from the Philippines. It will not destroy the recipes. The publisher thinks this book will rank with Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking, Marcella Kazan’s Classic Italian Cooking, and other basic cookbooks. We agree.
This lovely book is a just reward for the cook who, duty done, likes to take off his (her) shoes, put on (his) her glasses, and read a bit about. . .food. Mrs. Grigson presents ten famous gourmets, from the 17th-century gardener, Sir John Evelyn, to Marcel Proust. She brushes a quick, lively portrait of each, their friends, their tastes, and then offers their favorite recipes, along with charming anecdotes. We find here the marvelous, year-round “salad calendar” established by Evelyn to plan Sayes Court gardens. We discover a Jane Austen, “very fond” of housekeeping, pondering over the preparation of a dish of ox cheeks. Here are Mr. Jefferson, with a recipe among others, for a Terrine de Paysanne (sic), Emile Zola, entertaining Turgenev and the Goncourts, and Alexandre Dumas preparing dinner himself for Courbet and Monet. When the famous did not provide their own recipes, Mrs. Grigson chose them from the best-known cookbooks of the day, Eliza Action’s or Urbain Dubois’s, for instance. We regret that she does not introduce us to rarer, not reprinted great classics like the 19th-century Tendret or the early 20th-century Nignon. Their recipes for Proust’s favorite “Boeuf a la Mode” are much better than the one printed here.
From Greece to Afghanistan, through Iraq, Israel, Oman, and 14 other countries, this handsome book presents some of the oldest cookeries of the world. The people of the Middle East have had to deal with meager resources and a hot climate under which food spoils quickly, among other predicaments. Therefore, as we all know, their cooking relies heavily on ground meats stretched with cracked wheat, for example, and is strongly spiced. Even in Cyprus, the delicious Kanellonia, or meat-filled pancakes, are flavored with cinnamon. The excellent Syrian lamb pasties are touched up with allspice and served in a yoghurt sauce freshened with mint. Further east, in the Gulf States, the meat will be flavored with cloves, cardamon, cinnamon, turmeric, more pepper, as in the Machbous, or spiced lamb, that we recommend as an eye-opener. The cook can play with these recipes. Lamb meat can often be replaced by beef or even pork, which is not eaten by Moslems and Jews. All the ground meat preparations can be used to fill eggplants, zucchini, or tomatoes. We shall admit that we are so fond of them that we even use them in lasagnas or enchiladas, and have used the superb lamb, almond, and apricot filling of the Gulf States Kebat in many different ways. A word of warning: American meat, especially lamb, has much less flavor than that from the Middle East. The cook may want to be generous with the seasoning to correct this.
We love this “special” book. One of the most difficult recipes presented here is for Fried Eggs. And the most ambitious one is for Beef Stew: it calls for 1 lb. stewing beef, already cut, 8 oz. can tomato soup, 24 oz. frozen stewing vegetables, 2 cans water, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Yes, you guessed it; this cookbook was written, with love and care, for people of all ages for whom, given the limited skills they have been endowed with at birth, turning out a nicely fried egg is, indeed, a great achievement. We applaud, for we think that cooking, any cooking, gives the cook a sense of creativity which is absolutely necessary to all of us—and should not be denied to those who do not have all the skills usually required. More important, it is an open door to enjoyment with others. Sharing, in this “special” world, provides the kind of satisfaction that we regard as happiness.
For those who cook fish only occasionally this may be perfect. The great virtue is the wide range of flavors achieved by the recipes. The cook will find a delicious Turkish fish stew where basil and cummin add a new interesting taste. Thai Noodles with Seafood and the Portuguese Crab in Cilantro Butter will surprise and please any guest. The classic fish dishes are also here. A perfect gift for the cook who is intimidated by fish.