I have been inspired by two new cookbooks from the library recently. It so happens that they are both thrifty, although in different ways.
The CSA Cookbook: No-Waste Recipes for Cooking Your Way Through a Community Supported Abriculture Box, Farmers' Market, or Backyard Bounty
by Linda Ly is a new book (so I can't renew it and I just keep paying the fine because it's a rental fee, a donation to the library - right?). Ly's parents were first-generation immigrants from Vietnam and they used every scrap of the food they bought.
I knew that rhubarb leaves were poisonous, so I guess I extrapolated that to mean that other leaves are not good eating either. But: Tomato Leaf Pesto and Ginger-Spiced Chicken Soup with Wilted Pepper Leaves (and others!). I have already made her recipes for Chard Stalk Hummus and Kale Stem Pesto. I didn't care for her specific recipes (she put lemon in the pesto and I like my hummus recipe better), but the concept is brilliant. I definitely will not be composting kale stems again!
Ly brings in a number of ethnic cuisine recipes, which makes sense because other cuisines are adept at using parts that we Americans ignore or discard. Chimichurri the Way an Argentine Makes It, for example, and Watermelon Rind Kimchi which has convinced me to seek out a Korean pepper paste at my Asian store.
My only pet peeve with this book (and it's not Ly's fault) is that it is a hardcover book which is difficult to wrangle in the kitchen where, ostensibly, a cook would want to have the book in order to use it. Hey, cookbook publishers, make the cookbooks kitchen-user-friendly, like with a spiral binding or a three-ring binder. I know the industry tips towards coffee-table book food porn, but I want a practical book.
The other cookbook I'm renting is paperback - a bit easier to manage as I cook. It's Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day
by Leanne Brown. It grew out of her master's project to make good recipes for people living on SNAP (formerly known as food stamps).
I am absolutely fascinated by this book because I deeply desire to get people, especially people with few resources, into the kitchen to cook and eat well. Brown is attempting to reach a population that could really benefit from kitchen knowledge and cooking. I bump into people like this frequently at my kids' school, although I usually start up conversations with less-dangerous topics than cooking and eating.
Her tone is friendly and matter-of-fact and she has an impressive range of recipes and ideas for all kinds of cooks - I picked up several tricks along the way (corn cob broth, frozen melon cubes for a quick sorbet, savory breakfast oatmeal). Her recipes focus on vegetables with just a bit of meat here and there; I am particularly charmed by the Half-Veggie Burgers, and the Chorizo and White Bean Ragu. I love her suggestions for hot dog toppings. She divides her recipes into truly useful chapters: Breakfast, Soup and Salad, Snacks, Sides, &Small Bites, Dinner, Big Batch, Pantry, Drinks & Desserts. The final chapter of desserts is a tiny chapter and although Brown doesn't preach anywhere that sugar is bad, that tiny chapter is an unmissable statement.
Most of the time, Brown explains any fancy ingredients and techniques. Sometimes, however, she forgets these cooks and accidentally shows her NYC roots. Her dal recipe specifies black mustard seeds and cumin seeds in addition to other spices; these are not common spices, nor do they have wide application in a number of dishes. There are dhal recipes with more common spices (mine, for example
), or she could list a variation with ground spices. A recipe calls for a "handful of Thai basil" - this is a rarity unless you have a garden or a fancy (probably urban) grocery store. She doesn't advise what to do with a partial can of coconut milk (I would freeze it in cubes for other recipes) and she generally specifies fresh hot peppers, which have unpredictable heat so you could accidentally make a dish too spicy to consume or burn your fingers and lungs in the process. For a stroganoff, she airily advises cooks to "ask your butcher" if you want to use a cut other than chuck. Most cooks don't have a butcher to ask, let alone a novice cook who is overwhelmed simply by the grocery-store display of meat.
Both these cookbooks have inspired new dishes in my kitchen, which is nice. I cook for my family daily which occasionally bogs me down into a rut where I feel like I've cooked everything already. And now that I have told you about these books, I will return them to the library on the walk to school tomorrow. Possible purchases in my future. . .