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Cookbook, Spring 1980

ISSUE:  Spring 1980

Everyone interested in cooking should have Louis Saulnier’s Le Repertoire de la cuisine, and, happily, it is now available in English. It contains the whole classic French cuisine in short compass. The virtues? If you travel, it reveals the menu: DuBarry means cauliflower is in the dish. Better yet, the carefully organized sections on every food provide suggestions beyond your imagination for sauces, garnishes, and the rest. If you have a fancy and combine consommé, tapioca, chicken parts, mousseline, and crayfish tails, you know it is called Belle Gabrielle. Perfect for cooks who can take the hint and essential for those who cannot. This edition contains comments on its use by Jacques Pepin and George Lang. Every great chef keeps this book at hand.

New Menus from Simca’s Cuisine, by Simone Beck with Michael James. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $12.95

Mrs. Beck’s great quality is her tender feeling for food. Tasty, elegant, and unusual, her dishes always possess that rich mellowness which we all associate with “mother’s cooking” at its very best. Her Poulet en Persillade, an easily done but exquisite dish, should become an everyday classic. We used the same preparation with pork chops, by the way; they were equally good. Another dish worthy of fame is Mrs. Beck’s Aillade d’Agneau, a lamb shoulder smothered in a fabulous garlic sauce. As in her last book, the recipes are gathered in menus set for family affairs, elegant lunches for friends, or elaborate feasts for important guests. The author could not resist adding a chapter on “More Desserts.” She also introduces each menu with an excellent commentary full of many secrets for cooks. One learns, for example, how to cook a dish ahead and still serve it with a freshly made taste. Mrs. Beck does not offer short cuts or one-dish meals pulled out of a hat in five minutes. She takes time to prepare complete, exquisite meals which are meant to be savoured quietly by civilized diners. But she is aware of the new diet fads and offers “thin” sauces made with evaporated milk. She still uses many American ingredients like bourbon, maple syrup, cheesecake, and American techniques, as in her Hamburgers a la Provengale. This book is a must for anyone who wishes to know what “creative cooking” really means.

Cuisine gourmande, by Michel Guérard. Morrow $14.95

When the French edition appeared, we wrote that we thought this book would become a classic. We believe this now more strongly than ever. Guerard’s sauces bound with purees of fresh vegetables have been copied everywhere. Philip and Mary Hyman have done painstaking work in providing this translation. It is a good one, but it does contain a few errors. They are not always perfectly accurate when giving proportions, and occasionally they omit Guerard’s suggestions for shortcuts. When he calls for “3 chicken bouillon cubes diluted in 3 quarts of water,” they use “13 quarts of chicken stock.” They have added notes after many recipes which sometimes give helpful hints but sometimes offer misleading substitutions. But these minor flaws will not bother the knowledgeable cook. Guérard’s Cuisine Gourmande is a great book.

Mediterranean Cooking for Everyone, by Kay Shaw Nelson. Dover $3

This little book is a gem. The region surveyed has been influenced by many important civilizations, yet each country has a strong national character. Herbs and spices abound around the central sea, but most of the land is poor. Cooks there have been obliged to devise ingenious ways to stretch food, tenderize tough meat, and vary an everyday diet of grain. Through 220 recipes Kay Shaw Nelson manages to describe all the local cuisines. The dishes are simple and rather quickly prepared. Some are light fare for summer, like the Greek Vegetable-Cheese Salad or the delicious Stuffed Mushrooms, Others are solid “country” dishes like the Baked Eggs in Zucchini or the Costa Brava Canalones whose excellent filling of cream, tuna, and spinach will work just as well in lasagnas. Meatballs, pilafs, and daubes are here, as well as fish stews and soups, and, of course, many of the classic sauces which were invented near the Mediterranean. We regret only that Mrs. Nelson is very shy in using our favorite spices—cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, and the like—which are so important in Moslem cooking. But anyone using this excellent little book can add fragrances to his or her taste.

The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam, by Bach Ngo and Gloria Zimmerman. Vietnamese Cooking, by Jill Nhu Huong Miller. Ngo and Zimmerman, Barrons $16.95 Miller, Tuttle $5.25 paper

The flavors of Vietnamese cooking are amongst the most subtle in the world. These two books bring them to the American kitchen at last and very successfully. Mrs. Bach Ngo is a Vietnamese housewife and gourmet who had to leave the country in 1975, carrying with her nothing but the recipes she had collected all her life. Mrs. Miller is working for the American army. Therein lies the main difference between these two books. Mrs. Bach Ngo’s is genuine and extensive, offering true Vietnamese delicacies such as Shrimp on Sugar Cane, an exquisite pate wrapped and cooked around pieces of cane and served with the traditional accompaniments of fresh leaves of lettuce, coriander, and mint. Mrs. Miller’s has fewer but excellent recipes if one avoids her suggestions for adapting the dishes to American kitchens. Her remarkable Barbecued Whole Duck, one of the very best in both books, suggests, for example, that the cook can substitute celery tops for citronella leaves. The result would be about the same as substituting turnips for bitter oranges in a duck bigarrade. Both authors offer the classic dishes of the country: the stews flavored with delectable spices and the pungent nuoc mam (fish sauce) of Southeast Asia, the subtle soups, the flavorful vegetables, and the various rolls which are so irresistable that one can make a dinner by eating a plate of them. Mrs. Miller’s Vietnamese Cookery is an excellent and inexpensive introduction to a new world of fragrances. Mrs. Bach Ngo’s handsome, beautifully designed volume is a must for anyone addicted to Southeast Asian cookery. Her book also provides a few pages of illustrations of techniques in the manner of Jacques Pepin, who wrote the introduction, and a welcome list of mail order suppliers.

Flavors of Southeast Asia: Recipes from Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, by Horsting, de Lannoy, Davis, and Cao. 101 paper $5.95

Here are three countries with the same basic food but with very separate and distinct cuisines. This collection presents the rather heavy sauces of Indonesia which rely on peanuts, cummin, and turmeric, the wonderful and fiery Thai curry pastes often bound with coconut milk, and the mixed fresh vegetable and herb sauces which characterize Vietnamese dishes. The recipes are foolproof and excellent. The adventurous cook will have great fun comparing the different treatments given to a piece of pork or a handful of shrimp and may even cross the borders boldly and combine some recipes. We confess that we did, and the results were always good.

Cooking from Mainland China. Authentic Recipes from The People’s Republic of China, edited by Sumi Hatano. Barron’s $9.95

It is clear, from this book, that the Chinese housewife has the same problems that we do. The recipes presented here all come from the Masses Cookbook published in China in 1966, and all of them are contrived with an eye to economy. There are no vast displays of expensive meat, no recipes for banquets, no lacquered duck, in short. Instead, there are sound nourishing dishes which rely heavily on bean curd, vegetables, and inexpensive meat cuts or offal. More than in any other “ethnic” cooking book, we discover here how versatile vegetable preparations can be. A touch of spice here, a spoonful of flavoring meat there, a coating of shiny, golden sauce, and the celery or eggplant suddenly becomes a pretty and palatable dish. We found the stuffed cucumbers a welcome change from ordinary meatballs and the meat omelets in soup a perfect one dish meal for a cool evening. Following the Chinese tradition, the book does not indicate how many portions each recipe will yield. Served with rice or noodles, we find that one dish can be stretched to serve four.

The Book of Latin American Cooking, by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz. Knopf $15

Anyone who has been turned off Latin American cooking by unsubtle Tex-Mex food or too many refried beans should read Mrs. Ortiz’s book. It is a delightful panorama. The most difficult task for the cook, after reading the simple, clear recipes, will be to decide what to choose. The Shrimp in Coconut Milk, with a “soupcon” of lime juice aftertaste, is a superb beginning. The Beef in Fruit Sauce from Ecuador or the Pork Chops with Dried Fruit from the Dominican Republic open a whole world of possibilities—and children will love this new approach to sweet and sour dishes. All the Seviches are perfect summer fare. The Lamb in Chili and Vinegar Sauce will please even the most recondite chili gourmet. All the stews and pot-au-feu, which are one-dish meals, are precious for the housewife. Some vegetables used are rather difficult to find, like the real yam or the arracacha. But by going back to the excellent chapter where the author discusses all the ingredients she uses, one can decide what to substitute. Other products, like fresh coriander leaves (a must in some dishes), taro, or plantain, are more and more available in at least one chain of supermarkets. The author is wise in her use of chilies. She provides concise descriptions of the most important ones, but she also suggests that any fresh pepper will do. There are welcome pages on local drinks and on sources for ingredients, a good conclusion to a book which is a must for the adventurous cook and the bored gourmet.

Flavors of Mexico, by Angela de la Rosa and C. Gandia de Fernandez. 101 $4.95

The pretty paperback cookbooks produced by 101 prove to be, one after another, the best introductions to exotic cuisines. Flavors of Mexico is no exception. It presents about 200 recipes selected from two books originally published in Mexico. The reader will find here all the classics, like Pork Loin in Green Chili Sauce, or Chicken with Onions. And there are also recipes which offer delicious new combinations of flavors. We liked the Pork in Orange Sauce, where golden raisins and capers marry their tastes in a deeply fragrant sauce. The recipe for Pompano in Garlic Sauce, where orange juice counterbalances the pugency of garlic, can be used successfully with any firm white fish. There are enough recipes for tacos, tortillas, and enchiladas to allow the cook to make a choice. The publisher has added a list of mail order sources, which is most welcome. Highly recommended for a first venture in a decidedly original cuisine.

Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico, by Diana Kennedy. Harper & Row $12.95

The author of this handsome book has become so enchanted with Mexico after writing two books on that country’s cooking that she has decided to settle there permanently. This volume is a highly personal account of her Mexican experiences, sometimes charming, sometimes a trifle chatty. Occasionally her erudition overcomes her good sense. She devotes more than seven pages to descriptions of various chilies which the average American cook has probably never seen and will be unable to obtain. It looks as if each recipe calls for a different small pepper. But the cook who is not intimidated by all this knowledge will find some treasures here: the Pork in Green Peanut Sauce is excellent, the Chicken and Fruit Casserole refreshingly new. The chapter on sauces and salads is good. An interesting book for the aficionado.

Notes From a Country Kitchen, by Jocasta Innes. Morrow $19.95

If we were living in the country, we would probably read Mrs. Innes’s book once a week until we knew every page by heart. All the techniques of homemaking are presented here: how to build a smokehouse including how to set the chimney pipe properly along with the smoke funneling pipe; how to brew ale; how to harvest wild mushrooms; or how to pickle grapes. Of course, the methods have been known for some time. But Mrs. Innes, being clever, highly educated, and well traveled has “modernised” them with great skill. She does not ignore the present beer making kits, and she tells you the difference between the quick new techniques and the old-fashioned ones. She adds the American FDA recommendations to her own method of preserving. But she obviously relishes doing things at a proper pace, with her own hands, and following her own experience. Each chapter—grain, cheese, smoked fish, and so on—includes recipes, all of them well chosen from all around the world, including her beloved Scotland. We liked her classic Kedgeree and her pasta sauces and fillings but found the sausage chapter a touch brief. Extremely well written, beautifully illustrated with drawings in color showing techniques and raw food, and with superb photographs of an old-fashioned kitchen, this is the prettiest and most entertaining book one could offer to a country lady.

Ban Appetit Country Cooking, edited by Heather Maisner. Viking $25

This is a handsomely produced survey of home cooking in Europe and North America. As is often the case with cookbooks covering a large geographic area, the cook will find more interest in the simple fare of smaller countries than in recipes for wellknown classic dishes. The Roumanian Chicken with Apricots, the Portuguese diced Salt Cod Turnovers, the Belgian Pork Tenderloin cooked in escabeche are all unusual, simple to prepare, and very flavorful. Each chapter devoted to a different country starts with a pleasant introduction which describes the various influences, historical and geographic, upon the cuisine. The photographs, mostly in color, are so beautiful that even a noncook will love browsing through the book.

Antoine’s Restaurant Cookbook, by Roy F. Guste. Legacy $14.95

It is difficult to imagine a cookbook more handsome than this one. Some of the watercolors depicting the fresh products used in Antoine’s kitchen are worth framing. Throughout the book they convey a mouth-watering feeling of freshness. And freshness, of course, is one of the eminent qualities of the food served in this grand old New Orleans restaurant. The fifth-generation proprietor, Roy Guste, has assembled the great recipes which have made Antoine’s reputation since 1840. The famous Trout Marguery is here, and it comes out very much like the original in its fragrant sauce. Mr. Guste also offers his recipe for the celebrated puffed potatoes at Antoine’s. New Orleans restaurants are justly renowned for their rich sauces, which they often like to combine in a single dish.


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