Flavors shine through book, even if the details are a little murky

June 08, 1994|By Rita Calvert | Rita Calvert,Special to The Sun

Whether you're a novice cook or an experienced home chef, Sheila Lukins' first solo effort, "All Around the World Cookbook," provides a rewarding opportunity to be an armchair traveler and experience an array of tastes from exotic lands.

Her approach to international cuisine is fun and light-hearted, with the charming visual appeal of her early books co-authored with Julee Ross. There are side bars, charts, picture postcards, "souvenirs to savor," and slices of global life, which make the book entertaining reading and cooking material.

This is not a book for purists, however. Those who religiously follow the regimes of Paula Wolfert, Alice Waters or Madhur Jaffrey might take offense at the glib turns and tweaks that Ms. Lukins gives to her Americanized interpretations of ethnic cuisines. For the nonpurist, her international recipes are very accessible, with ingredients for the most part readily available and substitutions suggested for hard-to-find ingredients.

The "Andalusian steak rollos" is a wonderful combination of flavors worthy for company and easily made ahead for convenience. It's a delightful balance of salty Spanish olives and prosciutto, with sweet golden raisins and smoky roasted bell peppers.

The sunny flavors inspired by Bali and the Caribbean were readily apparent in the "citrus cream shrimp" and "papaya salad." The mood created by the recipe was just right and flavors well worth the effort. I do find fault, however, with recipes that call first for the juice of a fresh orange and six ingredients later call for the grated zest.

The "cha-cha corn chowder" sounded delicious, but after all that trouble cutting fresh corn from the cob, simmering the cobs in homemade chicken stock and then chopping additional fresh vegetables and herbs, the chilled finale was terribly bland to the point of boring.

A few recipes, such as "Thai coconut ratatouille" or "Mexican lentils with pineapple and bananas," go a little too far in their quest for cleverness and I wouldn't recommend spending the time or money in the attempt. It requires a very accomplished and precise cook to make unusual dishes like these work at all.

Some recipes also left me a bit puzzled due to the lack of clarity in the directions. Are the "yogurt kebabs" a warm entree or a layered mix of hot and cold? Can the citrus cream shrimp and papaya salad be assembled in advance or is this a last minute throw-together? This type of information is invaluable for the cook who is attempting to coordinate an entire meal. Overall, though, the book is an excellent choice for those interested in experimenting with global cuisine, but not overly concerned with the smaller details of authenticity.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Sheila Lukins All Around the World Cookbook"

Author: Sheila Lukins

Publisher: Workman

0$ Length, price: 591 pages, $18.95

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