The food books reviewed below, diverse though they may be, have one element in
common: An appreciation of flavors and an eagerness to share stories and research work.
Khabaar: An immigrant Journey of Food, Memory and Family by Madhushree Ghosh, University of Iowa Press, Pages 179, $19.95
Although this well-written essay collection—a food memoir, really—contains few
recipes and illustrations, it unveils a broader theme. It is that of migration, the adjustments one must make to their adopted land. The title, Khabaar, means food in Bengali, the language spoken by Ghosh, who lived in Kolkata as a child. While still young, she relocated to New Delhi with her parents. Much later she moved to the U.S. Through all this, she would retain her knowledge of Bengali cuisine, as well as an admiration of the Bengali language. “Khabaar tells you about the land and food we left and still love dearly,” she says.
Away from her family, Ghosh continues to observe Indian celebrations, such as Diwali,
the Festival of Lights. On that special occasion, as part of her way of adapting, she serves a feast for her friends. “Society doesn’t give enough credit to friendships that are sometimes closer than family, nor does it give friends the respect we give to spouses,” she says. “Every Diwali is my unproblematic Thanksgiving.”
Green Chili and Other Imposters by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau, University of Iowa Press, Pages 264, $17.00
Everyday ingredients we employ in our kitchen, such as potatoes, chili, lime, and tea,
however commonplace they might seem, have traveled long distances to get to where they’re now. Missouri-based Nina Mukherjee Furstenau, born of Indian parents and a Fulbright-Nehru Global Scholar, offers us a research-based memoir that looks at the origin and uses of many such ingredients. In doing so, she showcases one of India’s top regional cuisines, that of Bengal. This cuisine incorporates flavors, techniques, and ingredients from various sources in a creative fashion. Recipes such as the classic Panta Bhat (Cilantro Lime Rice), Aloo Makallah (Slow-Fried Potatoes), and Kolkata Chili Chicken are examples.
In a chapter titled, “When Life hands you Uncommon Limes,” she mentions her favorite
gondhoraj lime that she comes across in Kolkata, a variety that flourishes with “a swashbuckling verve in plates in Bengal.”
To describe how to drink a cup of Silver Tips Imperial (a variety of Darjeeling tea), she
says: “(P)ut your nose near the infused leaves, inhale deeply, make a slurping noise to oxygenate the sip, indulge in contemplation.”
In “Eating India,” she says: “A recent discovery traces turmeric, ginger and garlic on old
crockery back 4,500 years to the sophisticated urban centers of the Indus Civilization . . . . (It) makes curry the longest continually eaten food in the world.” Yet another interesting discovery that is to be found in this book.
Rice: Recipes and Stories Celebrating the Word’s Most Essential Grain by Caryl Levine & Ken Lee, Chronicle Books, Pages 255, $29.95
Rice is the most revered grain in Asia and this book pays tribute to it. Levine and Lee,
founders of Lotus Food, an organic and specialty rice company, make the following comment:
“This book was more than twenty-five years in the making—a love story of sorts, about the
incredible diversity of a common grain that sustains half the world’s population.”
For those interested in knowing more about this grain will find much to study here:
history of rice, the varieties that are cultivated around the world, the link between water and rice, and the future of rice. Also included are tips for fried rice, how to choose a rice cooker, and how to troubleshoot.
The colorful food photography will entice cooks to try out the recipes. Yet another
comment comes from Levine and Lee: “As we developed recipes for this book, we looked to the great rice cultures of the world for inspiration.” Some recipe examples are, Scallion Rice Cakes with Dipping Sauce, Basmati and Pea Pullao, Sticky Rice with Mushrooms, and Horchata Milkshakes. All in all, this is a book worth having.
Bharti Kirchner is the author of eight novels and four cookbooks. Her latest novel is
Murder at Andaman: A Maya Mallick Mystery.