Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Carla's Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World by Caral Hall

Having read so many cookbooks in my life, at this point, it's difficult to find ones with new and different perspectives. Which is why I was so excited to read Carla's Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World. The premise of this book is that all cultures have their own versions of comfort foods and if you look at the base recipes, many are similar. In the southern U.S. we have grits, in Italy, it's polenta. In Spain they have paella; in Latin America it's arroz con pollo.

So rather than the typical cookbook layout of appetizers, main dishes, desserts, etc. Carla's Comfort Foods is laid out by different types of dishes (tomato soups, creamy soups, slaws, pickles, rice, potatoes, seafood, etc.) and each individual dish is labeled with the culture that dish came from at the top of the page. Hall also includes a handy-dandy chart at the beginning of the book to help readers see what herbs and spices are most prevalent in each type of cuisine.

Something else Carla Hall does in this cookbook that home cooks will appreciate is she adjusts ingredients for the home cook. Despite the fact that these are dishes from other cultures, Hall wants to make shopping for ingredients as painless as possible, so she has made sure to swap out hard to find ingredients with those that are easier to find in regular grocery stores. Some may criticize this move as inauthentic and a cop out, but I see it as Hall catering to her audience and knowing that she wants her cookbook to be used, not put on the bookshelf and never opened again.

I've only tried one recipe from this book so far but I will definitely be trying more. I made an Indian rice dish that was so full of spice and flavor that I will be adding it to my rotation of favorite side dishes. I've included the recipe below.

I want to thank Carla Hall for thinking outside the box and creating a new and unique cookbook concept. After reading through the wonderful recipes in Carla's Comfort Foods, I will definitely check out anything else she publishes in the future.

Chitrana Peanut-Coconut Rice

Serves 8

2 cups basmati rice, rinsed
Kosher salt
1/4 cup roasted, salted peanuts
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used olive oil)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon crushed chile flakes
2 tablespoons flaked unsweetened coconut
1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons torn fresh basil leaves

Chitrana Peanut-Coconut RiceBring a large saucepan of water a boil. Add the rice along with 1 & 1/2 teaspoons salt. Boil, like pasta, until tender, about ten minutes. Drain thoroughly and spread out on a large baking sheet to cool and dry (I didn't follow this step to the letter. Instead, I cooked the rice in the rice cooker and didn't drain it because all the liquid had been cooked out).

Meanwhile, grind the peanuts and sesame seeds together in the spice grinder. Transfer to small skillet and toast over medium heat until fragrant (about three minutes), stirring frequently. Transfer to a plate to cool.

In a large dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-low heat and add the garlic. Cook and stir until fragrant, about one minute. Add the mustard seeds and chile flakes and cook for thirty seconds. Then stir in coconut, brown sugar, turmeric, lemon zest, peanut-sesame blend, and rice. Continue stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is heated through. Fold in the basil and lemon juice and serve immediately.

Carla's Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World by Carla Hall
Published: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 240
Genre: Cookery
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: Library Copy
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  1. I'm all about authentic ... in theory. I'm happier when I know I can find the ingredients! This sounds like a good addition to a cookbook collection.

  2. Ooh, this does sound like a great cookbook. I have been frustrated quite a few times trying to find ingredients that just aren't available in my area. Love that she includes easier to find substitutes.

  3. Now on my library list. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

  4. Carla Hall is such a fun person and I have used several of her recipes.

  5. Fabulous - this sounds like a great cookbook (I'll definitely be on the look out for that one), and I love the dish that you chose to make.

  6. comfort foods are wonderful regardless where they come from. Sounds like a great approach for a cookbook. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.