Next to researching plane tickets, cookbooks provide the best kind of armchair travel.
I’ve been daydreaming about trips all over the world lately. Sweden, with my sister, to visit the town where our family came from. Mexico, to introduce my parents to a new world right next door. They might be in South America next year, and I’ve been wondering if I might be able to invite myself along.
These are the kinds of vacations that have been percolating in my mind, and the multitude of international cookbooks that come to my desk expand that world even further. It’s like the Olympics of food, all year round. You find out the stirring story behind the dish. You root for the dish. You root for the country.
These cookbooks caught my eye for this very purpose — to find out a bit about a country’s geography, people and cuisines, while learning how to make the flavors you hope to one day taste or, if the book is a souvenir from a trip, would like to remember for a long time.
On this hypothetical cookbook-inspired journey, we start with pisco sours from Peru, a recipe from “Lima The Cookbook” by Virgilio Martinez and Luciana Bianchi, which includes a buying guide to pisco so you know what you’re asking for in the liquor store.
Then, it’s time for the Iberian Peninsula, with “Authentic Portuguese Cooking” author Ana Patuleia Ortins’ Portuguese shrimp stew. In “The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito” from Alex Raij and Eder Montero, who run several Basque restaurants in Manhattan, you can learn about the ingredients essential to the cuisine of this corner of northern Spain, like the guindilla peppers in this tapa. (You can buy them at specialty shops such as Spec’s or online through a retailer such as Donostia Foods.)
Heidi Swanson, author of the popular 101 Cookbooks blog, loves this dance of traveling and cooking, and that led to her latest book, “Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel.” I chose the vegetarian harira, a chickpea and lentil dish that calls for a hint of saffron.
Can you believe the garlic and parsley on those Ukrainian rolls? Olia Hercules, author of “Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine and Eastern Europe,” tells us they are known as pampushky. I want to eat them alongside the Circassian chicken, a paprika-walnut-chicken dish I’d never heard of until I dived into the beautiful “Eat Istanbul,” an exceptional look at the center of Turkish cuisine from noted photographer David Loftus and food writer Andy Harris.
I did include a recipe and book that might inspire a different kind of culinary exploration, one that’s as easy as stopping into a restaurant or market from a cuisine you don’t know well.
”Koreatown” is a book from New Yorkers chef Deuki Hong and writer Matt Rodbard, who spent two years eating at Korean-American markets, restaurants and homes. Kimchi pancakes are a great introduction to Korean food if you haven’t had them.
If you find an ingredient in any of these recipes that you’ve never heard of, let that lead you down a path that might take you to Fiesta or any of the international markets around Central Texas. (Go to http://atxne.ws/1E9lfjj to find an interactive map to more than 30 of them.)
But be forewarned: If you go far enough down that road to recreate the tastes of wanderlust at home, you might end up booking those plane tickets after all.
Pisco is the national drink of Peru. It is consumed in its pure form or in cocktails and is also used for cooking. This unique distilled drink is made from grapes and is produced in a similar way to cognac, using copper pot stills but without the aging process in wooden barrels. There are three types of original Peruvian pisco: puro, mosto verde and acholada (blends). For cocktails, you should use puro or acholado pisco. Mosto verde pisco should be drunk in its pure form, just as you would a fine cognac.
— Virgilio Martinez
3 oz. (1/3 cup) pisco Quebranta
4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. simple syrup
1 egg white
8 ice cubes
2 drops angostura bitters, for garnish
Add all the ingredients except the bitters to a cocktail shaker. Shake for 15 seconds. Strain and pour into a cocktail glass. Garnish with angostura bitters and serve immediately.
— From “Lima The Cookbook: Peruvian Home Cooking” by Virgilio Martinez and Luciana Bianchi (Mitchell Beazley, $29.99)
Manzanilla Olives, Pickled Peppers and Anchovy
The most iconic pintxo (Basque equivalent of tapas) of them all, the banderilla (a skewered, one-bite snack) known as gilda is a layered skewer of Manzanilla olives, pickled guindilla peppers and an anchovy. It is traditionally layered to suggest a woman’s figure, specifically that of Rita Hayworth in the 1946 movie “Gilda”: an olive for the head, the peppers for the arms, the anchovy and another olive on the bottom for more curves. But what’s even more compelling than the shape are the flavors, which are best friends and support one another perfectly. Stacked just right, the ingredients also look like a Basque dancer, arms out and embracing the sky.
— Alexandra Raij
12 Manzanilla olives, pitted
6 olive oil-packed anchovy fillets
12 pickled green guindilla peppers, stems trimmed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Have ready six 4-inch bamboo skewers or toothpicks. Thread each with two olives, two peppers and an anchovy, weaving the anchovy around the olives, if desired. Place the skewers in a shallow dish and cover with the olive oil.
— Adapted from “The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito” by Alexandra Raij, Eder Montero and Rebecca Flint Marx (Ten Speed Press, $29.99)
Most often you hear of clams cataplana, but if you are allergic to bivalves, here is a variation using shrimp. Garlic and heady spices mingle and infuse shrimp as they simmer with cherry tomatoes, white wine and a bit of heat. Although this dish is named for the hinged, tin-lined copper pot that resembles a clam shell, you can use a deep 4-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid.
— Ana Patuleia Ortins
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. linguiça or chouriço sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
4 to 6 large scallions, trimmed of heavy darker green stems and cut crosswise into thin rounds (about ½ cup)
2 tsp. paprika
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. crushed dried chili pepper or hot sauce
1/2 cup white wine
12 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 lbs. extra-large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro or parsley or to taste, divided
1 tsp. coarse kosher salt, as needed
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
2 to 3 Tbsp. softened butter
Black olives, for garnish
Heat the oil in the bottom of a cataplana pan or 4-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid. Toss in the sliced sausages and cook just to give them some color, about 2 minutes.
Mix in the scallions and cook just until they are translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in the paprika, garlic, bay leaf and crushed chili pepper. When the garlic is very lightly golden and aromatic, about 1 minute, pour in the wine and tomatoes and stir. Simmer for just a minute, then add the shrimp, turning them in the base to coat.
Mix in 1/4 cup of the cilantro. Sprinkle the salt and pepper over all as needed. Cover and cook for 2 more minutes, until the shrimp are opaque pink and the tail is curled over but not too tightly. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp. Remove from the heat. Discard the bay leaf. Add the softened butter, give a toss with the shrimp, and serve immediately with the olives and remaining 1/4 cup cilantro to garnish. Serves 6.
— From “Authentic Portuguese Cooking: More Than 185 Classic Mediterranean-Style Recipes of the Azores, Madeira and Continental Portugal” by Ana Patuleia Ortins (Page Street Publishing, $32)
Hearty, filling and beautifully fragrant, this is a spice-forward vegetarian version of harira, the traditional soup eaten to break the fast each day during the month of Ramadan — it’s also a staple on many menus throughout Morocco. There’s a long list of ingredients here, but don’t let that dissuade — you likely have many of them on hand. I like to introduce cilantro leaves and stems at multiple points in the cooking process for the best flavor. Also, seek out lentilles du Puy or black lentils here (or use a blend of the two); these varietals keep their shape best throughout the cooking process. For a gluten-free version, substitute 2 to 3 tablespoons of cornstarch for the all-purpose flour, and omit the pasta.
— Heidi Swanson
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
3 celery stalks, diced, leaves reserved
6 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
Pinch of saffron (about 30 threads)
2 1/2 tsp. fine-grain sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 1/2 cups dried lentils, picked over and rinsed
6 cups water
4 to 5 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
Scant 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh marjoram or oregano
3 oz. angel hair pasta, broken into 1-inch pieces
Chopped fresh dates, to serve
Chop the cilantro stems finely and set aside in a pile. Chop the leaves and reserve separately. Heat 1/3 cup of the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, diced celery stalks, garlic, ginger and cilantro stems, stir to coat, and cook until everything softens a bit, 5 minutes or so. Grind the saffron with the salt into a powder with a mortar and pestle and add to the pot along with the cinnamon, sweet paprika, red pepper flakes and cumin. Stir well before adding the chickpeas and lentils. Stir in 4 cups of the water and bring to a simmer.
In a separate large bowl, gradually whisk the remaining 2 cups of water into the flour, a splash at a time to avoid lumps. Add the lemon juice, tomatoes with their juice, and most of the remaining cilantro. Stir well, breaking up the tomatoes somewhat.
Add this mixture to the soup and bring to a simmer, stirring often. Once at a simmer, cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are cooked through. When you have about 5 minutes left, stir in the marjoram and pasta. Once the pasta is cooked, adjust the seasoning and serve topped with dates, the remaining cilantro, the remaining olive oil, and the reserved celery leaves. Serves 6 to 8.
— From “Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel” by Heidi Swanson (Ten Speed Press, $29.99)
Ukrainian Garlic Bread
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. superfine sugar
1 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups (390 grams) white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
3 Tbsp. sunflower oil, plus extra for oiling
1 1/2 Tbsp. green or regular garlic, crushed
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten, to glaze
First make a “sponge,” which is a type of yeasty starter. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Add half of the flour and mix roughly. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to proof in the refrigerator overnight.
The next morning, add the rest of the flour and the fine sea salt to the starter and knead on a well-floured work surface until the dough is smooth and comes away from your hands easily.
Divide the dough into eight pieces and shape into round buns. Arrange them side by side in an oiled round ovenproof dish or a 9 1/2-inch round cake pan, cover, and let them proof again, this time in a warm place, until doubled in size. They will join together just like hot cross buns do.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Stir the crushed garlic through the 3 tablespoons oil with a small pinch of sea salt and the parsley, then let it infuse.
When the rolls look plump and ready, brush them generously with some beaten egg to glaze and bake until they form a glistening golden crust, 20 to 25 minutes. Take them out and baste them with the garlic oil. Serve immediately. Makes 8 rolls.
— From “Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine and Eastern Europe” by Olia Hercules (Weldon Owen, $35)
This is a famed Turkish dish — shredded chicken mixed in a walnut paste — and often eaten as a mezze (appetizer). It’s an excellent buffet option for a crowd.
— Andy Harris
1 whole chicken
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
2 Tbsp. fresh flat-leaf parsley, including stems
4 whole cloves
4 whole peppercorns
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. milk
5 slices of stale ciabatta-style white bread, crusts removed, roughly torn
1 2/3 cups shelled walnuts
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika, fried in a little olive oil
A few roughly chopped walnuts and a simple green salad
Put the chicken in a large saucepan over medium heat and cover it with cold water. Add the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves, parsley, cloves, peppercorns and 1 tablespoon sea salt, and bring to a boil. Skim off any froth that forms on the surface with a slotted spoon. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 1 hour or until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a wooden board and let it cool. Remove the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves, parsley, cloves and peppercorns from the pan with a slotted spoon and discard. Reserve the chicken stock.
When the chicken has cooled, peel off the skin and shred or tear the chicken into strips. Place it in a bowl. Use a mortar and pestle to pound the garlic clove and 1/2 tablespoon sea salt to a paste.
Put the milk and stale bread in a bowl and let it soak for 5 minutes. Put the walnuts in a food processor and blend them to a rough paste. Add the garlic paste and soaked bread, season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and blend again to a rough paste. Add about 2/3 cup of the chicken stock and blend to a smooth paste.
Combine this mixture with the chicken and mix it with your hands or a spoon. Arrange the chicken on a serving platter. To serve, drizzle with the paprika oil and sprinkle with the roughly chopped walnuts. Accompany with a simple green salad, if you like. Serves 6.
— From “Eat Istanbul: A Journey to the Heart of Turkish Cuisine” by Andy Harris and David Loftus (Quadrille Publishing, $29.95)
Crisp and chewy pancakes are an incredibly popular menu item a Korean restaurants. They are fun to pull apart and offer diners little hints of kimchi (or scallions and seafood), mellowed out with crunch and elevated by a soy-vinegar sauce.
We’re starting with the most basic, kimchi jeon. By using extra-fermented kimchi and a nice amount of kimchi juice, the pancake really packs a lot of flavor.
We use packaged pancake mix, which is available at any Korean grocery. We like how the mix of flour, baking powder, cornstarch and light seasoning binds together and tastes … and in our experience, almost all Korean restaurants and homes use it, too, so this will give you the flavor you know and love. The real key is finding the right ratio of vegetables or seafood to dough. We aim for just enough batter to bring the filling together.
When frying, it’s important to follow our method: take refrigerated batter and drop into a hot pan before lowering the heat. This will help to cook the pancake evenly, with crisping throughout. And always keep your eye on the prize at all times, as they can burn quite quickly if the flame gets out of control.
— Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard
1 cup Korean pancake mix
1 cup ice-cold sparkling water
1 cup diced extra-aged kimchi
1/2 cup kimchi juice
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. doenjang (fermented soybean paste)
1 tsp. coarsely ground gochugaru (dried red chili powder)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
Vegetable oil, as needed
Jeon Dipping Sauce (recipe follows), for serving
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except for the oil and dipping sauce and refrigerate for 15 minutes to allow everything to mingle and marry. Heat the oven to warm, or the lowest temperature setting.
Generously slick a large cast-iron skillet with vegetable oil and heat it over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, drop 1/2 cup of batter into the pan for each pancake. Drop the heat to medium-low and fry 4 to 5 minutes until light golden brown along the edges, then flip and fry the other side for another 3 to 4 minutes, until also golden and the pancake is cooked through. Fry longer if you like it crispier, but take care not to let it get too dark. Repeat with remaining batter, stirring between additions, and reheating and oiling the pan between batches.
Remove pancakes from the skillet and place on a paper-towel-lined plate, turning them once to remove the excess oil. Place the pancake on a cutting board and cut to your preferred size and shape (we like ours squared off). Keep pancakes warm in the oven while you make the rest. Serve with Jeon Dipping Sauce. Makes 8 small pancakes.
Jeon Dipping Sauce
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
3 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. finely ground gochugaru
2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. This will keep in the fridge indefinitely. Makes 1/2 cup.
— From “Koreatown: A Cookbook” by Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard (Clarkson Potter, $30)