The best cookbooks for the summer and two new vegetarian recipes

Summer is coming which means summer reading which, of course, means cookbooks and food books enough to tempt any appetite.

So, this week, I am going to look at three types of books:
  • Darn interesting cookbooks
  • Cooking not from these shores
  • Vegetarian or vegan or just great vegetables cookbooks
So go find your Amazon password or credit card or whatever (or search for a Borders coupon; they tend to have good, albeit short-lived, ones) and let's find some great books!

Today, I'm going to start with the darn interesting cookbooks. Later this week, I'll cover cookbooks covering food not from these shores (including Japanese noodles - divine!) and cookbooks that are vegetarian or vegan or have great vegetable recipes.

So we've pretty much got all the bases covered.

Darn interesting cookbooks
If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you know I get the vast majority of my recipes and inspiration from non-vegetarian / non-vegan / non-vegetable-oriented cookbooks. Why? Well, no slur intended, but for the most part I find they are better: More interesting, more flavorful, more inspiring.

Yes, I know there are exceptions, but for every Chez Panisse Vegetables, there are a ton of other books that calls for ingredients ranging from soy cheese (which runs the gamut from tasteless to gummy) to all sorts of manufactured products that, were they not sold as "healthy" would never be purchased by anyone possessing a single taste bud (there are exceptions, of course, such as tofu which I adore).

So let's flip some pages and find something nice to eat.

Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes
by Tessa Kiros

The cover alone is so pretty I am already salivating. But it's the contents that count, so let's crack open the book and look inside.

Think fragrant foods from Finland, Greece, Cyprus, South Africa, and Italy: Lemon and cinnamon, garlic and olive oil, yogurt and rosemary. And think pictures: Of toys and nature and those glorious, glorious dishes.

And think of all this punctuated with fascinating stories and histories.

But, most of all, think recipes. Such as: Lentils, rice and red onion salad. And cinnamon and cardamom buns.

See, I told you I would find you a nice vegetarian recipe in a non-vegetarian cookbook. But if you don't believe me, keep reading. Because both of these vegetarian recipes are at the end of this post. Enjoy!

Family Style Meals at the Hali-Imaile General Store
by Beverly Gannon and Joan Namkoong

Half of the fun of this book is imagining yourself eating something lovely (papayas come immediately to mind!) at the base of Maui's famous dormant volcano, Haleakala which is on the same island as this restaurant.

Now, the pictures are great fun (think informal and lots of color, not surprisingly for an Hawaiian cookbook) but what will really grab you are the recipes. Such as Shiitake mushroom bread pudding. And Dry-fried long beans with cumin and chili. And Butternut squash soup with coconut and ginger (can't you just smell how fragrant that would be?).

So skip past the meat recipes (and there are a lot of them) and head straight for the vegetarian recipes ones; they are worth hunting down.

Gale Gand's Brunch
By Gale Gand.

Well, I don't have to tell you how wonderful brunch is, so I won't belabor that point. Instead, I'll list some of the recipes so you can see for yourself: Almond Ciabatta French Toast and Iced Coffee with Cinnamon-Coffee Ice Cubes; Quick Pear Streusel Coffee Cake and Ginger Scones with Peaches and Cream; and onion tarts and crêpes and quiches and doughnuts and pancakes and, well, all sorts of delights.

Yes, there are plenty of temptations to be found here, but it is in the pastries that this book really shines. Meaning there are all sorts of recipes that can also be used for breakfast, lunch, and even dessert.

It's like four cookbooks in one!

City Tavern Cookbook: Two Hundred Years Of Classic Recipes From America's First Gourmet Restaurant
by Walter Staib

The book itself it so sumptuous you'll want to eat it. But, don't. Instead, browse the recipes.

Now, this inn is so old that it once held a banquet for George Washington as he passed through Philadelphia en route to New York for his presidential inauguration. So you know the recipes are rich with history. But, more importantly for those of us that plan to cook them, they are rich in flavor, as well.

So what can we find? Well, how about Martha Washington’s Chocolate Mousse Cake? And Thomas Jefferson’s Sweet Potato Biscuits? And poached pears (poached in Madeira so they end up this incredibly deep rose color), apple and golden raisin turnovers, cabbage salad, spicy corn relish, creamed spinach, and (predictably and delightfully) cherry pie.

And, you know, for such sophisticated recipes, a lot of them are pretty simple. So even if you are not an expert chef, you could still try you hand at many of these recipes. Matter of fact, I recommend you do!

And speaking of recipes, here are the two vegetarian recipes I promised. If you give either of them a try, let me know how to works out ...

Vegetarian recipe: Lentils, rice, and red onion salad
2 red onions, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves (1 chopped, the other whole)
1 large ripe tomato, peeled and chopped
2 2/3 cups brown lentils
3 3/4 cups long-grain rice
juice of 1 1/2 lemons
1 small red chili, seeded and finely chopped
5 1/2 oz plain Greek yogurt

Rinse the onions and drain in a fine sieve. Keep about a quarter on one side and put the rest in a bowl. Cover with cold water, sprinkle with the salt and leave for 30 minutes or so.

Heat 3 tablespoon of the oil in a saucepan. Add the handful of onion and the chopped garlic and saute until golden. Add the tomato and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the tomato has melted and the water evaporated and you can see the oil actually frying. Remove from the heat and keep aside.

Rinse the lentils and pick out any hard odd bits. Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Drain, then return to the saucepan. Add about 1.5 litres (6 cups) hot water and season with salt. Bring back to the boil, then lower the heat slightly and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. Add the tomato mixture and cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the lentils are soft but not mushy and there is not much liquid left. Stir occasionally to make sure they don't stick to the pan. If it seems like the lentils are drying out, add a little more water.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a saucepan and add the whole clove of garlic. Add the rice, season with salt, mix through and cook for a minute. Add enough water to come about 3 cm (about an inch) above the top of the rice and bring to the boil, stirring once. Cook uncovered for 3-4 minutes, until a lot of the water seems to have evaporated and there are some holes on the surface. Drizzle with a tablespoon of oil, cover the pan and lower the heat to a minimum. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the rice is dry and steaming, then fluff it up with a fork to make sure it hasn't stuck to the pan. Remove from the heat and leave the lid on if you are not eating immediately.

Drain and rinse the soaked onion in a fine sieve. Mix with the lemon juice and chili and a splash of olive oil and season with salt and a little pepper. Arrange a pile of lentils, a pile of rice, a small pile of onion salad and a dollop of yogurt on each plate- some people will eat them separately while other like to stir it all together on the plate.

Vegetarian recipe: Cinnamon and Cardamom Buns
Bun dough
1 cup tepid milk
3 1/2 oz superfine sugar
2 packets active dry yeast
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 1/2 oz butter, softened
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp salt
5 1/4 cups flour

Cinnamon butter
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 3/4 oz superfine sugar plus 1 tbsp. for sprinkling
2 3/4 oz butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten

Put the milk and sugar in a bowl and crumble in the yeast. Leave for 10 minutes, or until the yeast begins to activate. Add the egg, butter, cardamom and salt and mix in. Add the flour, bit by bit, mixing it in with a wooden spoon until you need to use your hands, and then turn it out onto the work surface to knead. It may seem a little too sticky initially, but will become compact and beautifully soft after about 5 minutes. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with a clean cloth and then a heavy towel or blanket, and leave in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

To make the cinnamon butter, mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Divide the butter into four portions and keep on one side.

Put the dough on a floured work surface and divide it into four portions. Begin with one portion, covering the others with a cloth so they don't dry out. Using a rolling pin, roll out a rectangle, roughly about 12 x 10 inches and 1/8 inch thick. Spread one portion of butter over the surface of the dough with a palette knife or blunt knife. Sprinkle with about 3 teaspoons of the cinnamon mix, covering the whole surface with quick shaking movements of your wrists. Roll up to make a long dough sausage. Set aside while you finish rolling out and buttering the rest of the dough, so that you can cut them all together.

Line two large baking trays with baking paper, or bake in two lots if you only have one tray. Line up the dough sausages in front of you and cut them slightly on the diagonal, alternating up and down, so that the slices are fat 'v' shapes, with the point of the 'v' about 3/4 inch and the base about 2 inches. Turn them so they are all the right way up, sitting on their fatter bases. Press down on the top of each one with two fingers until you think you will almost go through to your work surface. Along the sides you will see the cinnamon stripes oozing outwards. Put the buns on the baking trays, leaving space for them to puff and rise while they bake. Brush lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle a little sugar over the top.

Leave the buns to rise for half an hour and preheat your oven to 350. Bake them for about 20 minutes, or until they are golden. Check that they are lightly golden underneath as well before you take them out of the oven. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature and, when they are cool, keep them in an airtight container so they don't harden.

Makes about 35 buns.