Sunlit bushels of spices, olives, grapes, pomegranates spilling over at markets; streetscapes in Istanbul and Athens; small towns set against the dramatic blue Mediterranean.
Pulling back to explore their three cuisines, all of them gorgeously heavy on grilled meats, herbs, fresh cheese, olives and Cézanne-worthy fruits and vegetables, she writes, “You can begin to see similarities where political borders insist upon division and difference.” Khan, who first fell in love with the region on a family trip as a kid, is a travel writer at heart, and every recipe is rooted in a real sense of place. A sheet pan pomegranate and sumac chicken comes from a Syrian doctor who runs a restaurant on the Greek island of Lesvos. A halloumi and produce-packed salad takes advantage of Cyprus’s magnificent bounty in the late summer. Fish kebabs find her “crossing borders” and “using Turkish fish marinade alongside a garlicky Greek potato sauce.” And in a year without travel, it’s hard not to pore over the photography that breaks up the standard recipe shots: sunlit bushels of spices, olives, grapes, pomegranates spilling over at markets; streetscapes in Istanbul and Athens; small towns set against the dramatic blue Mediterranean.
✹‘Rice marched across the South in the hands of the enslaved and enslavers.’
On the subject of recipes that connect — in the introduction to RICE (University of North Carolina, 120 pp., $20), Michael W. Twitty, a culinary historian, recalls a favorite childhood dish: his Alabama-born grandmother’s red rice, a spicy tomato-based pilau, which also serves as a tidy metaphor for the whole book. “If you followed that one dish back through all of the mamas and grandmas that came before her,” he writes, “you would go overland from Alabama to South Carolina and then across the Atlantic,” eventually landing in Sierra Leone, where jollof rice, an antecedent of red rice, is still a staple of West African cuisine.
Twitty’s slim, jampacked volume is part of Savor the South, a series dedicated to recognizing the history of the region’s rich food landscape (see also: “Okra,” “Ham,” “Pecans” and “Peaches”), and here, he highlights the various ways “rice marched across the South in the hands of the enslaved and enslavers.” He has a gift for presenting the historical in a manner that is both accessible and personal. A recipe for Limpin’ Susan, the okra-and-rice “staple from the shores of West Africa to the shores of the American South,” reads like just the thing to eat for a Tuesday night family dinner; a recipe for the Afro-Creole dish jambalaya is presented by a fellow chef, Wanda Blake, in three short paragraphs; and Twitty himself shares his recipe for groundnut (peanut) stew, made all the more tantalizing by the way it recalls his first trip to West Africa.
✹You’ll need to shop for things like 62 cinder blocks and seven lengths of rebar.
Fast-forward to the modern-day American South, where fans who line up for the pulled pork on white bread at Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, a Charleston restaurant that became iconic practically on the day it opened its doors, will be delighted to know about this latest launch: RODNEY SCOTT’S WORLD OF BBQ: Every Day Is a Good Day (Clarkson Potter, 224 pp., $29.99), written with Lolis Eric Elie. But whether you’ve eaten at one of Scott’s restaurants or not (there are now three locations), the book will deliver.
There are, of course, the old-school no-frills classics — with surprisingly short ingredient lists — like potato salad with Duke’s mayo and boiled eggs, fried chicken, wings, smoked turkey breast, hush puppies and cornbread with honey butter. What makes this book not the one-note, just-in-time-for-Father’s-Day grilling primer is the memoir section in the front where Scott, a James Beard Award-winning chef and pitmaster, describes growing up in Hemingway, S.C. Cooking his first whole hog when he was just 11, Scott learned from the hard-driving tutelage of his parents, whose m.o. was, “When you’re old enough to walk, you’re old enough to work.”
“You can’t boil those years down into a quick conversation,” he writes, and what follows is a drill-down on every part of the process of barbecue, from building the pit (a different kind of recipe; you’ll need to shop for things like 62 cinder blocks and seven lengths of rebar) to constructing burn barrels and choosing the right wood. Only after that will you learn how to cook the whole hog. For a certain kind of reader, this is at the very far end of the aspirational spectrum, but even so, there’s value in knowing you won’t look at that pulled pork sandwich order the same way ever again.
✹François is really just a hippie at heart who wants to spread the love through cake.
For people who think nothing of pulling out a blowtorch as they bake, there is no better Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift than ZOË BAKES CAKES: Everything You Need to Know to Make Your Favorite Layers, Bundts, Loaves, and More (Ten Speed Press, 272 pp., $30), by Zoë François, the Minneapolis-based pastry chef and teacher whose hypnotically photographed confections have gained her an enormous following on Instagram. Even the most novice bake-o-phobe will be unable to resist flagging every page with a note that says “This one! This one for my birthday!” before handing it off to someone else in the house to tackle. Fans will be happy to get a little how-to on all the Zoë signatures: those distinctly graphic, cross-sectioned loaves and cupcakes with cloudlike piles of frostings and whipped cream; her spiky blowtorched (natch) meringues; cakes topped with fresh flowers or rimmed in fences made of candied carrots.