Renowned chef Mark Bittman has penned a new recipe collection that provides the same level of enjoyment as his previous bestseller How To Cook Everything. This time, in The Best Recipes in the World, he gathers recipes from the globally community, pulling some from countries Americans routinely borrow from, such as Italy and France, and others from countries that tend to be overlooked, such as Scandinavia and Asia.
One of Bittman’s literary goals is to appease the fears of would-be cooks who might be hesitant to delve into the world of international cuisine. To this end, in terms of the gathering of ingredients, he explains that there is no longer a need to spend extensive period of time visiting specialty stores; most ingredients needed for international cooking can now be found in ordinary markets. Similarly, in terms of preparation, he explains that just because a recipe is “international,” the preparation skills may not be foreign. He says that his extensive travels to research this book confirmed what he already knew--that while ingredients vary from country to country, basic cooking techniques do not. Specifically he says “[t]hink about it; how many ways can you actually cook? It’s the flavors that change.” He illustrates his point by discussing food wrapped in some type of dough, then baked, fried, or steamed; while such creations could be called dumplings, pot stickers, ravioli, empanadas, gyoza, manti, or perogis, among others, depending upon where they are made, the techniques for creating them remain fairly consistent.
This cookbook provides recipes for everything from appetizers to soups, salads, meat, vegetables, grains, sauces, drinks, and deserts. Each recipe is user-friendly, providing clear and concise directions and includes the country of its origin, the preparation time, and the number of servings you can expect to prepare.
What is surprising is that in many cases, absent the language indicating the recipe’s origin, there is not much of an international flair as one would expect. For example, Spicy Cold Celery is from China, and Sautéed Spinach with Sesame is from Korea. There are other recipes, however, that do have a more exotic flair, such as Miang Gung (Green Leaf Wraps) from Thailand, Chawan-Mushi (Savory Egg Custard) borrowed from Japan, and Shchi (Sauerkraut Soup) from Russia. It is not surprising that the recipe for Curried Cauliflower comes from India, but it is interesting that the recipe for Potato Puffs come from France.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on sauces since most contain only a few ingredients and will enhance the flavor of whatever you are cooking, whether it is grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, or even a baked potato. The recipe for a Fast Fresh Tomato Sauce from Italy even states it can be used over pasta, fish, meat, chicken, or in any way you would use salsa. The same would likely be the case for the Sweet Garlic Soy Sauce from Greece that is made with dark soy sauce and brown sugar.
To Bittman’s credit, this cookbook never feels overwhelming despite the hundreds of recipes it contains, and this emphasis on the organizational structure does not go unnoticed. He treats each chapter as a separate collection, organizing the recipes within it in a way that is relevant for each respective topic. For example, the appetizers are arranged based on the preparation time, since this is a key factor when deciding which to prepare.
Even though the organization of this volume is sufficient to guide you through it, Bittman goes further to provide other useful and unique tools. The menu guide near the back of the book provides full menus, pulling together recipes from various chapters of the book that come together to create a well-balanced meal. There is also a useful recipe guide, offering an alphabetical organization for the recipes, and a straightforward chart indicating whether the item can be prepared in advance, whether it should be served room temperature, and a range of preparation times.
If you looking to add an international component to any meal, you can reach for The Best Recipes in the World with confidence knowing you will be able to find the ingredients and prepare the dish with ease. Enjoy! Savoure! Gustare!