My recent favorite cookbook is Exotic Table: Flavors, Inspiration, and Recipes from Around the World – To Your Kitchen by Aliya Leekong.
If you’re proficient in the kitchen, have an adventurous palate (not afraid of heat or exotic spices) and want to be challenged to try new flavor profiles, this is a well-written book by a skilled chef.
There are 10 chapters full of new ideas: 1) Spices, Ingredients and Equipment; 2) Hors d’Oeuvres and Snacks; 3) Soups and Salads; 4) Fish and Seafood; 5) Poultry; 6) Beef, Pork, Lamb and Goat; 7) Vegetables and Side Dishes (my favorite chapter); 8) Breakfast, Savory Tarts and Breads; 9) Desserts; 10) Drinks.
The title is spot-on. The recipes are from around the world, including lesser-known exotic locales in Africa, Caribbean, South America and Indonesia. Some people can get awfully riled up about whether something is “authentic,” but Aliya Lekong understands that there is an inevitable loss of authenticity when you move food out of its culture of origin and prepare it half-a-world away in your own kitchen. I agree with her—in my kitchen, making food taste delicious is more important than following bad recipes that claim to be authentic.
Her recipes are not replicas of food you would eat if you traveled the world, instead her recipes are inspired by dishes found around the world. It’s like jazz-cooking, improvising on a theme. As she says in her introduction, “I work with what I can find, have on hand, or simply prefer flavor wise. I encourage you to follow the same idea…”
That’s the way I cook, and this book has given me enough new ideas to keep me buzzing with culinary creativity for at least the next 6 months.
How important is authenticity to you? Are you a recipe-follower or a recipe innovator?