Cookbook Review: Local Food with Spice
Long, red-and-green stalks of rhubarb are plentiful at the farmers market these days, but very few people — save for the savviest cooks and chefs — know what to do with them. Now there’s a cookbook that will help food-knowledge-deficient folks like me incorporate both usual and not-so-usual seasonal produce into their meals.
Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, written by Louisa Shafia, a chef and caterer of Iranian descent, organizes more than 85 recipes by season. The now abundant rhubarb — when boiled and softened — makes a wonderful topping for yogurt, says Shafia in the cookbook. It’s also excellent as a spritzer. How about fava beans? Or the scary-looking stinging nettles? Shafia offers recipes for these too.
Lucid Food is packed with gorgeous photographs of nature’s bounty. The author writes in an earnest tone, urging readers to become “earth-friendly” eaters, meaning consumers of food grown sustainably through low-carbon agricultural practices. She provides a list of the top items consumers should always buy organic: bananas (who knew?), olive oil, sugar, coffee, berries, and poultry and eggs. These items, says Shafia, take an especially high environmental and social toll when produced using modern industrial farming practices.
Shafia offers a number of suggestions for making us better “ethical eaters.” She exhorts readers to use shrimp shells and other kitchen scraps to make soup stock and to return egg cartons and other packaging to farm vendors. She even suggests that diners bring their own chop-sticks to Chinese restaurants to reduce the felling of trees.
But some suggestions are impractical, particularly for space- and time-constrained New Yorkers. She encourages people to forage for food in city parks and “keeping a few chickens” to ensure a fresh supply of eggs.
Ironically, some of the recipes call for exotic ingredients and expensive spices. The yogurt with rhubarb, for example, requires rosewater, commonly used in Iranian dishes and desserts but hard to find in New York. My search for rosewater turned into a fun urban adventure; I found it in an Indian grocery store in Manhattan.
Still, the main entrée for the cookbook as a whole is firmly rooted in local food. Sprinkled in from time to time are tiny helpings of far-away items. I call it a cookbook for local food with spice.