This gal Susan’s got spunk. And guts for sampling from food carts and markets all over the world. The amusing short essays chronicling her adventures – and the photos – convey a big personality and an infectious enthusiasm for learning and life. The book meets the dust jacket claim that Susan will shake up home cooking repertoires with exciting new flavors. She does. Consistent with being literally all over the map, this is a highly personal repertoire and, for my taste, a collection of potential party food. I can’t wait to make Coconut Curry Caramel Corn (page 18) and Spiced Millet Puffs (page 27) for a big picnic in July.
I especially liked the sidebars on what, to some, might be exotic ingredients, particularly the herbs. I happen to grow some of those in my pot garden: shiso (perilla), so-called Mexican coriander (shado beni), epazote, lemongrass, and Thai basil, to name a few. Now I have some new uses for them and I’m grateful for that. I wish I had a curry plant (neem) but, like bay laurel, it would be hard to keep alive in our climate. I get dried curry leaves in bulk from a spice shop and reconstitute them, but it’s not the same, I’m sure. Ditto for kaffir lime leaves.
I started cooking from the book early in the month, which was helpful since I was on the road on and off for several weeks. Tunisian Chicken Kebabs with Currants and Olives (page 34) was based on a marinade made with sweet and tangy peppadew peppers from the deli counter paired with roasted red pepper, currants and olives, was a little sweet, so I added a little pepper and extra olives to the relish to balance things out. I grilled whole chicken breasts and served them, sliced, on a bed of orzo and chickpeas.
Mostly, I thought all the recipes I tried were too sweet, but that’s my personal taste. No one else thought so. The Five-Spice Marinade (page 161), for example, was sugary, but maybe that’s because I used brown sugar instead of palm sugar. Even so, its use in Thai Drunken Shrimp with Rice Noodles (page 130) made a great dish for a communal going-away feast. I was especially excited to discover wide-cut flat rice noodles, which imparted a substantial scale to the dish. The paste of cilantro, mint, Thai basil and hot peppers is worth remembering for other applications.
Even though, because of travel schedules, I cooked only a few dishes from the book, I got on a roll with herb pastes, repeating the theme a couple more times. Thai Curry Paste (page 171) combines lemongrass, shado beni (a type of coriander), Thai basil, mint and mint, along with coriander seeds and peppercorns. I substituted pink peppercorns for green. I used the curry in a vegetarian dish of zucchini and snap peas, thickened with coconut milk and served over medium bean threads (rice noodles would have been fine too). Yum. I’m so glad to experiment with fresh herb Thai curry since the stuff in the jar is a little nasty.
A third herb paste was the basis for the delicious Coconut Curried Mussels with Smoky Chorizo (page 118). Here the paste included cilantro and parsley, ground with orange zest and juice. The recipe made so much liquid that I used leftover mussels in a soup with very thin bean threads. This dish – influenced by a bunch of sources including Thailand, India and Spain – epitomizes how personal Susan’s cooking is. While I appreciate authenticity in food from faraway places, the eclectic combinations in this book are fun. I would never have adventured into it had Meg and Briggs not put it on the list. Thanks!