If you're looking for photographs of mouthwatering dishes, Anya Von Bremzen's The Greatest Dishes! Around the World in 80 Recipes (HarperCollins, 2004, $27.50) probably isn't for you. There's not one illustration; no color-filled pictures to tingle the taste buds, forcing the body to get up, gather ingredients and get out a deep-fryer, stockpot or saucepan.
Is this a fault for the 350-page cookbook?
Not at all. With a lineup of recipes like apple pie, pad Thai, gnocchi, Korean barbecued short ribs and a hamburger, who needs pictures?
Odds are, these dishes and your palate already have an agreement with one another anyway -- whether it's love, hate or indifference. As Bremzen says in her introduction, the recipes are "classics. Like a Cole Porter tune, Chanel No. 5 or a venerable steakhouse. ... They are timeless and irresistible." The recipes speak for themselves. Well, with a little help from the author.
Along with each recipe and easy-to-follow instructions, Bremzen provides the dish's history, including its geographic origins. Think there's nothing more American than a hamburger? Think again.
But Bremzen does more for the reader than provide a brief history lesson in food. She "schlepped to the drab town of Suwon, Korea, to find the best barbecued short ribs," but it wasn't just to entice the reader to cook. She trekked to regions of the world like New Delhi, France and Venice to gather the "greatest hits, authentic recipes we know, love and want to cook time and time again," all so we would have only to lift a fingertip, flip to page 86 for eggs Benedict or page 132 for Malabar shrimp curry.
Add to this varied spread of cuisines Bremzen's writing, which is at times as tantalizing and irresistible as the recipes she's collected. She speaks honestly, directly to the reader, not with obscure, culinary language, but as a person sharing her love for excellent food.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 tablespoons tamarind pulp (do not use concentrate)
1/3 cup boiling water
5 small long red Thai chiles, chopped
4 large garlic cloves
3 medium chopped shallots
2 1/2 tablespoons palm sugar, light-brown sugar or maple syrup
4 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 pound dried wide-rice noodles
1/4 cup water or chicken broth, or more as needed
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons peanut or canola oil
12 small fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined, with the tails left on
1/2 cup diced firm tofu
1/4 cup small dried shrimp (optional)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1/3 cup coarsely ground roasted unsalted peanuts
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon thinly sliced fresh chiles
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
1/4 cup cilantro
1 lime cut into wedges
To prepare the sauce: Soak the tamarind in the boiling water for 15 minutes. Stir well to dissolve, then strain if the pulp has seeds. While the tamarind is soaking, place the chiles, garlic and shallots in mini food processor and process to a coarse paste, adding a little water if needed.
Reserve 2 teaspoons of the chile mixture and stir the rest into the strained tamarind liquid. Stir in the sugar, fish sauce and lime juice. Taste and adjust the balance of sweet, sour or spicy.
To prepare the noodles: Cover noodles with warm water and soak for 20 minutes to 30 minutes. Drain well.
To cook: Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in large wok, or deep saucepan, until almost smoking. Stir-fry fresh shrimp and tofu for 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove them to a bowl. Add the dried shrimp, if using, and stir for 1 minute.
Add 2 more tablespoons of oil and the reserved 2 teaspoons of the chile mixture and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add noodles and stir-fry 1 minute. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of water or broth and stir-fry for another minute. The noodles should be soft and just slightly resilient. Add a little more liquid if they are too chewy.
Push noodles to side of wok or saucepan. Drizzle in 2 remaining teaspoons of oil and add the eggs, breaking them up with chopsticks as they cook. When the eggs are just set, stir them into the noodles.
Stir in the reserved fresh shrimp and tofu and the bean sprouts, then drizzle in the sauce. Stir-fry everything together over high heat, tossing and stirring until well-mixed, about 1 more minute. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Transfer to serving dish and top with all the garnishes. Serve at once.
Per serving (based on 6 servings, excluding garnishes): 358 calories; 13 grams protein; 14 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 48 grams carbohydrate; 2 grams fiber; 86 milligrams cholesterol; 1,098 milligrams sodium