Cookbook review: The Immigrant Cookbook

January 19, 2019

 

As the grandchild of immigrants as well as a second-generation American, “The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes that Make America Great” speaks to me on a very personal level. My grandmother and great-grandparents immigrated from southeast Poland in the early 20th century and my grandmother would frequently recall the steerage class ocean crossing on the SS Lapland as well as take out her copy of the Ellis Island Cookbook. No slouch in the kitchen, she recreated the flavors of her homeland, at times using New World substitutions or would have friends bring staples like kielbasa and farmers cheese from distant Chicago. Luckily their new community had a large, vibrant Polish community (which has sadly diminished with the passing of the older generation) and I was raised to appreciate the Polish language, songs, culture, and most of all, cuisine.

America has and will always be a nation of immigrants; this includes the Cajuns of Louisiana, Mexican-American and Tex-Mex communities, the vibrant Polish communities of Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee, Dearborn’s Arab enclave, and the many Greektowns and Chinatowns. “The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes that Make America Great” is the panacea to the current atmosphere of anti-immigrant rhetoric and reminds us of the richness that these many new Americans have contributed to our collective cuisine. In addition to being the grandchild of immigrants, I have also been honored to teach students from over 100 countries, including war-torn ones like Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, and South Sudan, and I treasure my discussions about food and culture with my students (some of them even cooked for me!).

Divided thematically into nine chapters, Leyla Moushabeck has collected 75 recipes that pay tribute to the richness of the immigrant experience. From crispy pork belly, smoky eggplant dips, coconut-infused “dream fish” and the smoky spice of chipotle-lime chicken to desserts rich with syrup and rosewater and the showstopping fruit pavlova crowned with mango, pineapple, sand passion fruit, there are recipes that will appeal to everyone.

You’ll find such notable names as Daniel Boulud (Lyonnaise Salad with Lardons), Jose Andres (Tichi’s Gazpacho), Joanne Chang (Mama Chang’s Hot and Sour Soup), Salma Hage (Vegan Lebanese Moussaka), Najmieh Batmanglij (Pomegranate and Walnut Khoresh), Ana Sortun, Martin Yang (Steamed Fish with Ginger Wine Sauce), Aaron Sanchez (Carnitas Tacos), Curtis Stone (Pavlova with Coconut Cream and Tropical Fruit), Einat Admony (Fenugreek Fried Bread), Dominique Ansel (Mini Madelines), and Joan Nathan (German Plum Tart) alongside up-and-coming young chefs showcasing recipes proudly representing their homelands. I loved that there is an alphabetical list of contributors including detailed biographies (and bibliographies). Some of the recipes are already a mixture of immigrant influences, such as Peru’s Japanese-infused cuisine, or Israel’s rich melting pot.

Many of the included recipes are homestyle dishes that can be put together fairly quickly; I particularly loved the salads like Kurus with Spoon Salad, Reem’s Muhammara, Smoky Eggplant Dip with Pomegranates and Walnuts and the Gazan Hot Tomato and Dill Salad, which I like to serve as a meal as a spread of several hot and cold vegetable salads accompanied by homemade naan and fresh fruit. Others like Sicilian Frittedda embrace seasonal veggies like artichokes, fresh fava beans (which are currently in season here in Japan) and asparagus with a surprising whisper of mint that brightens the vegetal notes.

Measurements are given in both US and metric, which I appreciated. As a vegetarian, I was happy there are many recipes that are vegetarian friendly or can be made so.

Interlink Books (the same publishing company behind the bestselling fundraiser “Soup for Syria”) has produced another beautiful, welcoming book that is certain to inspire you to expand your own culinary repertoire (in addition to cooking my family’s Polish cuisine, I am also well-versed on Japanese, Turkish, and Middle Eastern / Persian cooking). It’s also commendable that Interlink publishing will donate a minimum of $5 from the sale of each book to the American Civil Liberties Union to support the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. Please join me in supporting this worthwhile cause by purchasing this great book! 

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