There are a lot of cookbooks out there. Too many of them come from expected sources and feature too many of the same recipes highlighting whatever ingredient du jour is making the Iron Chef circuit.
I tend to skip right past those books when I am choosing a cookbook to bring to you here. Thatâ€™s because I love the cultural aspects of food and cooking as much as I do the eating! There is so much to learn about other parts of the world and other peopleâ€™s lives and food is a great avenue towards understanding other cultures.
These are the reasons I was drawn to this book, Nirmalaâ€™s Edible Diary. This book is satisfying to me on many levels. It is colorful and simply laid out. There are (almost) enough great photos of interesting dishes and beautiful places to keep me glued to this book for long stretches of reading pleasure.
What makes this book special though is the adventurous spirit that weaves itâ€™s way through the pages. The author herself, Nirmala Narine, personifies that spirit.
Nirmala Narine, founder of the spice company Nirmala’s Kitchen, brings the reader on a culinary journey through South America. This latest cookbook is a vibrant travelogue covering 14 countries, including her birthplace, Guyana.
I was taken with the travel sections of this book as much as I was the food. Her observations and her deep understanding of the diverse culture of South America is what separates this book from other cookbooks and travel guides.
Covering the food traditions of an entire continenent is a very bold undertaking. One that seems to be handled here in very broad strokes. I sense there is a lot of Nirmalaâ€™s personal taste in all these recipes. I see her experiences and her love of food expressed on every page. Neither the recipes nor the travel observations steer too far from the comfortable. Which makes this book a wonderful introduction to both the food and the culture of many countries most of us may never see.
The impression I am left with is that South America is a culinary melting pot, far more nuanced and complex than gaucho beef and chimichurri. Recipes like Sardines Stuffed in French Baguettes and a duck quinoa recipe she calls Paella la Valenciana have strong European influences.
Inspiration from the east is also represented. There is an Indonesian Bami Goreng (stir-fried noodles with chicken) from Suriname, and a Coconut Milk and Shrimp Soup whose rice-stick noodles hint at an Asian provenance.
Of course the tropical and Caribbean influence is strong through out this book including a fascinating Cream of Sweet Potato Soup with Plantain Chips.
South American classics like the Peruvian cocktail Pisco Sour, in this case with guava; and native Roasted Tamarillos & Purple Potatoes make appearances. Of course what would a discussion of South American cooking be with out empanadas? Nirmalaâ€™s have a sweet and savory filling of beef tenderloin, cumin and spiced black beans. They look remarkably less time consuming than I might have guessed.
With musings on her travels through the continent, Nirmala is able to intice our tastebuds, then satiate us with a tightly edited collection of personal recipes and observations. Making this book a marvelous read and an inspiring new direction for this cook to explore. I have made it available in my Open Sky Store. I hope you will click over there and have a look.
I have chosen an unusual cookie from Ecuador as the recipe I want to cook from this book. Caraway Seed Cookies with Dulce de Leche. Nirmala describes caraway seeds as “more pungent than anise and dill with a fruity aftertaste”. Which sounds intriguing but I have to admit it’s the drizzle of dulce de leche that sold me on these cookies.
The cookies are quite thin, buttery to the point of almost greasy, with a wonderful fragrance. The recipe says to cook them 12 minutes, but I settled on 8 in my convection oven. They remind me somewhat of Florentine cookies, with a strong and quite addicting spiced fruitiness that comes from the caraway seeds. But as I suspected it is that touch of dulce de leche that makes these cookies both familiar and exotic.
The thing about dulce de leche is it’s hard to keep around the house very long. By the time I got around to photographing these delightful cookies, some little gremlin snuck into my refrigerator and finished the jar off! The cookies were nearly as nice with a simple glaze of milk and powdered sugar as pictured here but I could have served them alone too. In fact Nirmala suggests that possibility in the book herself.
- 1 1â„4 c super fine sugar
- 7 T unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 t lemon zest, grated
- 3 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 T whole caraway seeds
- 1 1â„4 c all-purpose flour
- 1 t baking soda
- 1 cn (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
- 1â„4 t vanilla extract
- 1â„4 t freshly grated nutmeg
Sift the flour and baking soda into the butter mixture and stir until just combined. The dough will be quite soft.
Place the dough on a large piece of plastic wrap and form into a 1 1/2‑inch-diameter log. Twist the ends of the plastic securely, then place in the freezer until hard.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap the dough and cut into 1/4‑inch slices. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake until just golden, about 12 minutes.
Allow the cookies to cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet then slide them onto a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.
To make the dulce de leche: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Pour the condensed milk into an oven proof pie dish, add the vanilla and nutmeg, and mix well. Cover with foil, place the dish in a hot water bath, and bake until the mixture thickens and begins to caramelize, about 2 1/2 hours. Remove the foil and let cool. Refrigerate in a glass jar until ready to serve.
To assemble the cookies into sandwiches: Use a spatula to spread about 2 tsp of dulce de leche onto the flat (bottom) side of a cookie, then place another cookie on top.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD